Cape Town - It was a drive-by shooting with a difference – the gunman was a 13-year-old boy on a bicycle. The victim, a 23-year-old man, was shot in both legs in Abelia Street in Hanover Park’s Newfields, but survived. He is still in hospital.
The boy, son of a self-proclaimed Americans gang leader, was arrested on Friday. The shooting took place three weeks ago.
Hanover Park police spokesman Lieutenant Lance Goliath said the shooting was the latest in a series in which gangsters used children to do their dirty work, keeping their own hands clean.
“They know children found guilty of crimes do not have to serve their sentences in prison,” Goliath said. “The courts usually extend leniency to juvenile offenders.”
Minors who have committed crimes are often handed over to their parents for supervision or sent to institutions for rehabilitation.
In return for carrying out hits or other crimes, the children are usually paid in cash or in drugs or name-brand clothing.
Mikhail Schippers, 18, a member of the Americans gang in Tafelsig, said young teens were often recruited into gangs with offers of drugs or money.
But a gang insider said the leaders were not to be trusted.
“They will tell you that so and so has R50 000 on his head, which means if you kill that person R50 000 is yours. But once you have done that the same people will order other people to kill you for a lesser amount.”
He said the rate young gangsters were paid depended on the rank of the person they were ordered to kill.
Young gangsters interviewed by the Cape Argus said they linked up with gangs in the first place because no other options were open to them on the tough streets of the Cape Flats.
Joining gangs was not a choice, they told the Argus, it was a means of survival.
Schippers said: “If you operate alone you are digging your own grave, and if you are dumb in this place you are dead.”
Teens needed to prove themselves in gang wars, and had to draw blood to be accepted.
Gang wars regularly flare up in Cape Flats hot spots over turf and territory, drug markets and even seemingly petty disputes about football teams. Or just because each gang wants to be top dog.
In Tafelsig alone three separate gang wars are tearing the community apart.
Dillon, 18, a member of the Rude Boys whose surname cannot be printed, said he was only 16 when he first killed a member of a rival gang.
“You must take blood to be a gangster,” he said.
“We were at war with the Hard Livings gang. The HLs came here to our side (Voelvlei Street) like they want to rob us. They were carrying guns and we only had knives. They started shooting at us, but when their guns got empty they sped off and that’s when we ran after them. We got one of them and stabbed him repeatedly, and he died.”
Dillon said at first he enjoyed being part of the gang, but as he got older he had to do more and more to prove himself in the gang and on the streets.
“At first it’s lekker, but the longer you are in the gang the more dangerous it is for you. There are those days when you need to get out and fight. Fight for turf and sometimes it’s other gangs coming in to look for trouble.”
The Rude Boys gang descends from the Americans gang, but they operate independently. The two gangs share the same colours – red and white – and the American stars and stripes flag.
Just like the Americans gang, the Rude Boys are fascinated by the Nike brand and use it as their signature.
“If you wear a Nike you are an American,” said Schippers.
Brandon, 30, joined the Hard Livings 13 years ago and says he is lucky to be alive - having lost two of his best friends to inter-gang conflict.
“When we were together nothing could have stopped us. We were powerful, but now I just feel lucky to be alive.”
Brandon said after each murder he eased his conscience by telling himself it was either him or the enemy.
“After you have killed, you set your brain that it’s either you or the enemy who dies – and you smoke it off.”
The Hard Livings gang is known for its use of the British Union Jack and its members’ liking for brightly coloured clothing.
Brandon said: “We believe in the Brits’ old way of fighting and this flag shows that.”
Although many initiates dreamt of leaving the gangs, the risks were far too high, they said.
Dillon said: “You can’t leave the gang – it’s blood in and blood out.”
But Schippers said although death was the most usual way of leaving a gang, some gangsters did leave, either through marriage or by converting to a religion.