Bullet (not his real name) gazes into an open fire, surrounded by his “manskappe” (crew), and talks.
He says drugs and turf are not the real reasons the gangsters of Hanover Park are waging war in the streets.
He fiddles with an unlit cigarette and waves away some of the youngsters who want to talk to him. “Not now, I’m busy,” he shouts.
It’s after 9 on a cold night in Hanover Park. Except for the small group huddled around the fire, the streets are deserted.
“This war has nothing to do with drugs or turf. It’s all about grudges and revenge. A gang member was shot a long time ago and now the others are retaliating. This war between the Ghetto Kids and the Americans has been brewing for a while. Now any American is a target and vice versa.”
The rough tattoos lining Bullet’s arms reveal a lot about his hard journey in his 45 years. “I’ve spent time in jail, but that was long ago,” he says.
He’s one of the lucky ones.
“I have three bullet wounds. They are a reminder of how lucky I’ve been. I’ve tried to shelter my children from the life I’ve been living. Only when they were bigger did they find out that I’m an American.”
He said gang murders would not end as long as local police “continue to favour the Ghetto Kids”.
“They’ve got money and have some of the cops in their pockets.”
Bullet claims he has seen Philippi police carrying food and cellphones to Ghetto Kids in the holding cells.
“It’s not a secret that there are bad apples in the police camp. (The gang) have them in their pockets. When there’s a shooting on Americans’ turf the police will search the homes of the Americans, but the Ghetto Kids, who are the shooters, are not searched.”
Bullet wants peace but says the violence will not be easy to quell.
“Here, on our turf in Hanover Park, we want peace to prevail. But not everybody is sensible about these things. Not everyone can let the death of a family member go without picking up a gun themselves.”
He said some gang members who lost relatives were not prepared to talk about peace.
“You mention peace and it’s almost like you are insulting them. Peace will not do unless there’s more bloodshed first.”
Despite the dangers, Bullet said he would be an American till he died.
According to the rest of the group, the Americans gang was always a force to be reckoned with, but divisions and jealousy had ripped the old gang apart.
“God forbid the old gang reunites, because then these youngsters will see what a true gang is made of.”
Bullet’s crew is loyal – they’ve been through gun battles and lost family members and friends in the ongoing shootings.
“Our rivals have been lying low, planning their revenge. This battle is being fought all over. They shoot any American they can get, although the majority of those shot recently were drug addicts. The Ghetto Kids are part of the more modern gangs with one leader who gives instructions. These guys carry guns, and guns don’t come cheap like in the old days. You can pay up to R3 000 for a gun on the street.”
Another gang member said he had lost a son in the recent violence.
“My son was part of a gang, the Spoilt Brats Americans. But those youngsters mostly hung out together. They were into cars and girls.
“It’s not easy thing putting your own son in the ground. But continuing the bloodshed will not bring him back. Then, despite him being shot a block away, the police come to pick up his own father while the family is grieving. They did not pick up any of our rivals – they came to search our homes.”
He said he wanted peace before other parents had to go through the same heartache.
“It’s only been a few weeks since my son was shot. He was targeted. He was just 20, he should still have been planning his future. When this recent spate of gang violence started he was shot on the corner.”
His son’s former gangmates say they want revenge.
We do not feel satisfied that our friend was gunned down. I don’t care if I have to sit for 20 years to revenge his death.”