Cape Town 091207. Undercover cops hold bags of evidence, containing chronic, found during an undercover drug bust. Picture David Ritchie

Cape Town - Brutal Cape gangs are thriving, thanks to being propped up by powerful investors from across the globe. International crime syndicates plough millions into gangs like the Americans who boast thousands of members in the province.

Research by the Institute for Security Studies has found that like some multinational companies, Cape gangs have strong underworld partners in Nigeria, China, Pakistan, India, Russia and Britain.

The report, The Drug Trade and Governance in Cape Town, paints a bleak picture for the families living in neighbourhoods including Manenberg, Hanover Park, Beacon Valley, Tafelsig and Valhalla Park, who hope to escape the gangs’ deadly grip.

The root of the gangs’ success and longevity lies in the clandestine smuggling routes they share with freedom fighters and state police in the days of apartheid, it says.

The report identifies “west Africans” as a powerful partner of the Cape gangs since Nigerian drug syndicates were first noticed here in the 1980s.

As successful middlemen in the cocaine trade, they used the Cape as a transit point to the west, and many settled here to service the huge domestic demand for the drug.

“There have also been concerns over west Africans involved in the transportation of ephedrine from India to South Africa.”

Ephedrine is a key ingredient in highly addictive tik, which has ravaged the Western Cape in the past decade.

Chinese Triads are known to supply gangs with ephedrine or tik in exchange for abalone, while the heroin and mandrax market is dominated by Indian and Pakistani groups, who emerged in the Cape in the 1990s.

“Pakistani and Indian criminals often worked in conjunction with locals and had been at the forefront of the heroin and mandrax-smuggling trades.”

The end of the Cold War also meant more Eastern European criminals could turn their attention to the warmer Cape climate. Some, such as assassinated Yuri “The Russian” Ulianitski, only found death.

And Britain’s drug trade has long looked to South Africa for its marijuana needs, making this country their biggest supplier.

It is a tentacled, global criminal juggernaut, ready to defend its profits and turf with extreme violence.

Anti-gang efforts like Operation Combat have led to a number of arrests this year, including at least 20 members of the Junior Cisco Yakkies gang in jail facing charges under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. But it is just a matter of time before new leadership steps in and the gang restructures.

The report paints a clear picture of entrenched business-like structures operating under the noses of police and lawmakers, with their origins in the era of National Party rule.

“Organised crime has existed and has been concentrated in the Western Cape for decades. Previous research found that the apartheid government’s failure to police non-white areas led to the growth of community-based defence gangs who sought to protect the inhabitants from skollies.”

However, many of these gangs began demanding protection money from inhabitants and thus became part of the problem.

“It could be argued that the continued failure of the apartheid government to include and protect large parts of the population led to the first systematic turn toward ‘organised’ criminal governance during this period.”

Anti-apartheid activists looking to evade state capture turned to these criminal syndicates for protection and funding.

“A number of political connections developed with organised crime groups in townships and ‘more than guns were being run between borders’, because liberation movements needed funds which organised crime networks could provide,” said the report.

Some members of crime networks became involved in politics or business after the Struggle.

The report confirms research that the ANC and SACP alliance were involved in car theft and mandrax smuggling, although “the apartheid state had an important role in the Cape Flats drug trade”.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard that the apartheid state had experimented with mandrax and ecstacy.

“The smuggling of high-value goods such as drugs, currency, diamonds and cars became the medium wherein professional criminals, sleazy politicians, corrupt guerrilla leaders and policemen, and those who gave strategic direction to the armed struggle and counter-insurgency, all developed common interests.”

An interview with a detective about illegal trade routes during apartheid sums it up: “We all used the same routes, the smugglers, the South African intelligence services, all of them together, and the ANC.”

The apartheid state recognised the power of the Cape gangs and used them to inform on grassroots political opponents and threaten or target activists against the state.

“This symbiotic relationship… drastically increased the power and influence of the gangs on the Cape Flats and increased part of the population’s dependence on drugs.

“Furthermore, those who resisted apartheid needed these alliances and were therefore politically beholden to organised crime following the end of apartheid”, as the political linkages and network forged in this period continued and developed.

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Cape Argus