Major coup in the war on gangsComment on this story
Cape Town - In what police vow will be the start of a major crackdown on notorious gangs, the Western Cape High Court yesterday destroyed the core leadership of one of the province’s most violent street gangs, sentencing some senior members to life behind bars, and others to lengthy terms.
The head of the Fancy Boys gang in Atlantis, Mallick Petersen, received three life terms. He and his 15 co-accused, who terrorised the small West Coast community for more a decade, were each jailed for offences ranging from murder to dealing in drugs and possessing illegal arms. Some of the offences dated as far back as 2004.
The men were also convicted of gang association in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (Poca).
Yesterday’s sentencing is the second success in a week for Operation Combat, the Western Cape police’s drive to eradicate drug and gang activities, headed by Major General Jeremy Vearey.
In passing sentence, Judge Elize Steyn praised the task team for its patience and hard work.
In the first case earlier this week, the leader of the 28s gang in Valhalla Park, Saliem John, was convicted along with six co-accused of several charges, including murders dating back to 2007, and attempted murder and drug dealing. John is the nephew of ganglord Colin Stanfield, who gained notoriety in Valhalla Park before he died from cancer in 2004.
But Vearey warned yesterday that “it’s not the end of the war”, and that “Poca cases are going to become the norm”.
One of the major criticisms against state efforts to counter the endemic gang problem on the Cape Flats has been the fact that too often arrests do not lead to convictions, or that sentences are too light and that gangsters carry on their criminal enterprises with impunity.
But Vearey warned that Operation Combat was starting to bite.
Speaking to Weekend Argus yesterday, he offered a detailed account of the operation, saying the unit had spent two long years investigating the Fancy Boys. Its efforts had resulted in the inner workings of the gang and its reign of terror being exposed by some of its own members.
Vearey said the two cases this week proved that legislation was being put into practice successfully. He said a number of similar cases were headed for the High Court – some this year – which involved the leadership of other infamous street gangs across the province.
The unit was also targeting the activities of the shadowy Numbers gangs, which rules inside the South African prison system.
Vearey stressed that success did not come easily, as securing convictions required intensive and time-consuming investigations.
His task team worked tirelessly studying police dockets at stations across the province, looking for ways to get to the bottom of unsolved crimes, homing in on the roleplayers within known gangs, and then working out a detailed plan and setting targets.
The gangs who become their targets were studied, with investigators separating the weak members from the strong ones.
“We break them from within,” Vearey said.
If the gang’s operations extended beyond a particular area, provincial police were brought in to assist, he added.
Through various interventions, Operation Combat disrupted the targeted gang’s activities, while constantly analysing and reassessing the situation as new information was gathered.
At the same time, the affected community was mobilised to act as a “counter civic force” against the gangs, providing the State with key witnesses.
Vearey said police often knew the identity of the culprit, but lacked concrete evidence. Through working with communities, however, Operation Combat obtained their trust and boosted their confidence to enable them to spill the beans. This strategy had even seen parents turning against their own children who were members of gangs.
“We make (them) see who (their) children really are,” Vearey said.
The Fancy Boys gang members before court yesterday were convicted in December of a range of crimes committed between 2004 and 2010.
They included the murders of Shelton Gouws, Gabriel Davids, Andrew Lloyd, Leon Pietersen and David Davids – all of Robinvale in Atlantis.
Other charges included assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, attempted murder, dealing in drugs, and the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
The court found that the first accused and leader of the gang, Petersen, had put hits out on rival gang members in 2009 when there had been a bloody turf war between the Fancy Boys, Americans, G-Force and Rasta gangs. And while Petersen was identified as the leader, Rushdien Koeberg was the “operations manager” in charge of drug money when Petersen was not available.
Elrico Thompson, Isaac Lotz and Brandon Rhodes each received two life sentences, while Moeneeb Pietersen was sentenced to one life term. The remaining accused received sentences ranging from three to 27 years.
Vearey said that while police were doing their part to clamp down on gangsterism, the socio-economic circumstances that produced gangsters needed to be addressed by other government departments.
He explained that many children in affected communities were surrounded by violence, and grew up with the understanding that violence was the only way to resolve conflicts.
When he looked at some of the children in gang-infested areas, Vearey said, he knew that they, too, would one day end up in a courtroom, unless their circumstances changed.
- Weekend Argus