Cape Town - Cape gangs’ cult-like hold on communities will not be broken with any amount of visible policing, military deployment or peace marches.
“The fact that a phenomenon like the Numbers gang can survive for well over 150 years in its exact structure, with the same rules, bears testimony to that,” said Major General Jeremy Vearey, the head of anti-gang strategy, Operation Combat.
His comments follow an Institute for Security Studies report titled: “The Drug Trade and Governance in Cape Town”.
The report found Cape gangs were born in the apartheid era and had grown into massive organised crime networks with links in Nigeria, China, Pakistan, India, Russia and Britain.
“This power of the gangs in apartheid is important to understand, because it is what has led to them almost becoming part of the social fabric on the Cape Flats.
“The gang threat evolved in response to the lack of policing in the apartheid era.
“The gangs became a supply chain pipeline for goods that poor, disadvantaged people could otherwise not afford.
“That active collaboration with gangs happened under apartheid and is still happening in blatant form today,” said Vearey.
The historic entrenchment made it hard to arrest and prosecute gangsters.
In 1989, the former House of Representatives called for the creation of the Gang Unit. “This was not an investigative unit, but rather a reactive one. It had no sustainable impact.”
In the 1990s the Gang Investigation Unit was born but it resulted in few convictions as cases were mainly built for inquests and not prosecution. This was followed by Operation Slasher in 2001.
“The weakness, however, was that we at that stage did not have the legislation to take on a gang as an enterprise,” said Vearey.
It was only when the Prevention of Organised Crime Act came into effect that the current anti-gang strategy, Operation Combat, could be created.
Operation Combat is based on four pillars, the first being a focus on intelligence-driven information.
“We look at the informant capabilities at police station level and ask, do they have the right informants in the right places?
“It is useless having 100 informants that can tell you about stolen goods but they cannot tell you how drugs are brought in or where guns are hidden,” said Vearey.
The second pillar is “project-driven gang investigation” which sees a suspect identified and targeted with multiple investigations.
“We work all the cases that identify your business enterprise at the same pace to a certain level of readiness, then slap you with 36 cases instead of one,” said Vearey.
The third leg is a strategic approach to visible policing.
“For example, if the HLs in Manenberg have most of their drug sales in Aletta Court then you can lock down that area with a police presence.”
Vearey said people’s call for visible policing was as fruitless as the call for the military to be deployed in gang hotspots.
“There was gang violence here in the ’80s in a state of emergency where the army was deployed in the townships at an unprecedented scale, and even then it did not deal with the problem.”
Vearey said the fact that so little had changed to improve the lives of Cape Flats communities added to the gangs’ power.
This led to the fourth pillar of Operation Combat, community mobilisation.
“We need to know how to counter these influences by gangs, and this is where we need the joint effort of the education and social services departments.”
Vearey said instead of useless peace negotiations which only served to acknowledge the gangs’ power or pointless peace marches, ordinary people could mobilise through existing structures like workers’ unions.
“Show me a political branch of any party that is larger than the HLs in Manenberg or 28s in Elsies. There isn’t any, and this is the problem.
“To counter this you must go back to building the communities’ power and create an environment where they no longer need to rely on the gangs.”