The mid-90s in Cape Town should have been a time to rejoice in the transition to a hard-fought democracy, but for many Cape Flats residents it was a period of fear and turmoil. The Hard Livings gang fought a deadly turf war against the Americans. Pagad, the People Against Gangsterism and Drugs, launched a violent vigilante campaign against the gangsters. There were nightly marches, drive-bys and shoot-outs. And at the heart of it: two brothers. One died in flames. The other will be released from prison today. By REBECCA DAVIS.
Rashied and Rashaad Staggie were twins. Together they ran the feared Hard Livings gang. They were known as “the untouchables”, and compared admiringly to Britain’s violent gangster duo the Kray brothers. The two would reportedly toss R10 notes to school kids from the windows of their cars as they drove by. Anti-gangsterism advocates complained impotently that the Staggies, rumoured to be making over R30,000 a day, were becoming role models for the young men of impoverished Cape Flats communities.
But untouchable they were not. The images seen in 1996 of Rashaad Staggie writhing on the ground engulfed in flames will be easy to summon to mind for many South Africans. The photographs were flashed around the world, emblematic of a post-Apartheid society already more sullied than many had hoped.
In an interview published in the Rhodes Journalism Review in December 1996, photojournalist Benny Gool, who captured some of the most vivid images of Rashaad’s death, explained what it was like to be present on the evening when a Pagad march led to the killing of Rashaad Staggie.
“That night there were about 500 cars, with the police driving on the side all the time. There were easily about two to three thousand people,” Gool recalled. “And when we turned off to Salt River, I knew then we were off to Rashaad Staggie’s house.”
Rashaad Staggie returned home to find an enraged crowd firing on his house. Bullets were fired through Staggie’s bakkie window. One bullet entered Staggie’s head, Gool said. Staggie staggered out of the bakkie and lay in a pool of blood.
“One guy came over and pumped about seven bullets into Staggie. Then there was the ‘whoof’ and the fire got him; the metro [police] guys scuttled away,” Gool remembered. Rashaad Staggie died on the pavement.
“They killed the wrong brother,” Rashied told the UK Independent in 1997, appearing to confirm a popular conception about the twins. Rashied’s nickname was “Mad Dog”; he was rumoured to be the “psycho”, preoccupied with violence. Rashaad was said to be more peaceable, the businessman behind the drugs operation. In an interview in the year before his brother’s death, Rashied offered an LA Times journalist crack cocaine and waved around a Glock pistol, promising to “kill a few of them” [Pagad members].
It wasn’t until 2000 that the men accused of Staggie’s murder were brought to trial: Pagad’s national coordinator Abdus-Salaam Ebrahim and three associates. In 2002 Ebrahim and two co-accused were acquitted of Rashaad’s murder, but convicted on a charge of public violence. Rashied Staggie said at the time that the ruling was fair. His brother’s death, he said, was “something of the past” and he sought no revenge. “Life goes on,” he said.
This Zen language was in keeping with an image Rashied Staggie sought to cultivate after the death of his brother. He claimed to have given up gangsterism and drug dealing, touring schools and telling kids “I am a nothing and a scum”. Around the same time he declared rape to be “the lowest thing”. A few years later, he would order the gang rape of a 17-year-old who had betrayed his trust.
The court later heard that the 17-year-old, originally involved with Hard Livings, had become a police informant. Staggie had her gang-raped at gunpoint. She turned state witness and her 2003 testimony sent him to jail for 15 years for kidnapping and rape. In 2004 Staggie was also found guilty of robbing a police weapons storage facility in Faure, but the two sentences were served concurrently. Staggie’s conviction was considered such a coup that Western Cape Community Safety MEC Leonard Ramatlakane listed it as one of his department’s successes in his budget vote speech the following year.
In May this year, the Breede River parole board announced that Rashied Staggie would be granted day parole. After 10 years in jail, from 23 September he would spend his days (though not his nights) outside prison. At the time, correctional services spokesperson Simphiwe Xako said the decision to grant Staggie parole was motivated by a number of factors: he had committed no disciplinary offences while in prison; he had completed more than two-thirds of his sentence; and his accomplices had already been released.
On Monday, Staggie will be released from Pollsmoor prison, having been transferred from Worcester’s Brandvlei facility late last week. Staggie will wear an electronic tag and his movements will be confined to the Cape Metro. If the data from his tag indicates that he has breached the area, police will be automatically notified. One of the conditions of his parole is that he is not allowed to contact the victims of any of his crimes. Every night, he will clock in at Pollsmoor.
Staggie’s lawyer says that this taste of freedom may be a poisoned chalice. The decision by authorities to make Staggie report to Pollsmoor prison nightly, and not Goodwood, was motivated by a desire to see him dead, attorney Janos Mihalik claims. Goodwood Prison is closer to Staggie’s home and would thus be far safer, he says. He claims that authorities want to see Staggie face a long drive every night in the hope that he can be taken out. “They did this so he can be followed and killed,” Mihalik told the Daily Voice. “The gangsters, government, or whoever, want him assassinated like his brother.”
For a while it seemed that Staggie’s release might be compromised by the discovery of contraband in the cell he shared with 30 other inmates at the beginning of September. It was claimed at the time that the “contraband” could include cell phones and drugs. Mihalik called the discovery a “set-up”, and implied that it had been ordered from on high, saying “there were three generals in this corrupt government that opposed his parole”.
Police have openly said as much. “I was present [at Staggie’s parole hearing] and I definitely opposed his parole,” Mitchell’s Plain police commander major general Jeremy Veary told the Mail & Guardian.
There is no love lost between Staggie and the police. It is no secret that he blames them for the death of his brother: “They knew beforehand that the march would take place. They also knew that blood would flow, and they did not prevent it,” Staggie said in 2002. Other accounts appear to confirm the idea that police did not attempt to intervene to prevent Rashaad’s murder. “Some were clearly sympathetic to a crowd frustrated by the authorities’ failure to stem the flood of mandrax, dagga and harder narcotics into their neighbourhoods,” a report in the UK Independent claimed afterwards. “There’s a shot that I’ve got that shows exactly how many policemen were there,” photographer Gool said years later.
It’s understandable that the police would be feeling edgy about Staggie’s release. Violence on the Cape Flats has flared up since the announcement of his parole in May. Between May and July this year, Manenberg saw at least 14 murders and 56 attempted murders. The M&G quoted police officers in September as suggesting that the increased gang fighting may be “the result of members jostling for position and favours ahead of Staggie’s release from prison”.
Others suggest there is a younger generation of Hard Livings gangsters who resent the return of “the general” and how this might alter the gang’s hierarchy. Nobody outside the Hard Livings gang knows for certain whether Staggie has been supplanted in the leadership position during his time in jail, but a Manenberg police officer scoffed at the idea to the M&G: “Once a leader of the Hard Livings, always a leader of the Hard Livings,” he said.
There is some indication that Staggie’s son Abdul Boonzaaier, 25, may have become involved in the family business while his father has been away. The Cape Argus reported that Boonzaaier appeared in court last week, charged with dealing in drugs, possession of an unlicensed firearm, removal of a serial number, possession of ammunition, possession of counterfeit notes and money laundering. Boonzaaier himself claims innocence; in an affidavit he described himself as a “family man who runs a legitimate business whose standing with the receiver of revenue is good”.
The State responded by pointing to the HL tattoos on Boonzaaier’s hands.
In July, the woman who Rashied Staggie ordered raped at the age of 17 was shot with her boyfriend, Romano Oliver (27), while walking home in Manenberg. Oliver died at the scene. The woman, now a 30-year-old mother of five, was put on life support for some weeks. Her mother told the Daily Voice that doctors then informed her family that they were going to switch off the machines. The family raised money for a funeral and began to make the necessary arrangements.
But in mid-September the curious truth emerged: the 30-year-old was not dead. The story of her death had been an elaborate ruse by the police to keep her safe while they moved her into a witness protection programme. Major general Veary told the Daily Voice that he took full responsibility for the plan. “I exploited the fact that the Hard Livings thought they had gotten rid of her,” Veary said. “I know there were gang members scouring the hospital wards looking for her as well as going to her family’s houses. We needed to protect her.”
The unorthodox nature of this police strategy, as well as the belief that gang members were more than capable of entering a hospital to commit a murder, gives some indication of the ferocity of the force the police think they are up against in the Hard Livings. “We know they are watching us,” the rape survivor’s mother reportedly told the Daily Voice. “If my daughter does recover, she can never come back home because she will never be able to live a normal life.” Two days later, the entire family was collected by a convoy of 40 police cars from their Manenberg home and taken to a safe place.
Two men, both said to be Hard Livings members, have appeared in court in connection with the shooting. Manenberg residents told eNCA that they thought the responsible parties were most likely to be younger Hard Livings leaders worried about the power struggle that might be caused by Staggie’s release. The idea is that they shot the two in the hope that police would pin it on Staggie. Others argue the opposite: that the shooting was intended to demonstrate loyalty to the veteran gang boss before his release.
Little appears to be on record about Staggie’s time in jail. A high-profile recent visitor was businessman Kenny Kunene, who came calling to Brandvlei Prison in late August, ostensibly to discuss new initiatives to address the problem of gangsterism on the Cape Flats. Kunene said at the time that they had asked Staggie: “Are you still going to be the old Rashied, or are you ready for change?” Kunene claimed that Staggie had “given us hope that he will be a very useful member of society once he gets out”.
A similar note was struck in an interview given by Staggie’s nephew Jason Staggie, a filmmaker working on a documentary about the Hard Livings gang. “Give [the Staggie family] a chance to show what they can do when they are free,” he said. “They have repented for what they did. You can only punish them for so long.” These sentiments will likely ring hollow to many, given Staggie’s false claims in the past of having renounced his gangster’s lifestyle.
As of Monday, Rashied Staggie may be back on the streets, but so too is his old nemesis: Pagad has been demonstrating an increasingly visible presence of late. Pagad went underground for most of the 2000s after being declared a terrorist organisation, but they’re very much back now. Recent months have seen Pagad motorcades at night driving past known drug dealers’ homes in a show of strength, and there have been at least eight arson, petrol, or pipe-bomb attacks since early July. For Cape Flats residents, 2013 may be starting to look eerily like the mid-90s. DM
- A Cape cocktail: Pagad, drugs and the dregs of Apartheid, in the Daily Maverick
- Fears ahead of Rashied Staggie’s release, in the M&G
File photo by Terry Shean (Sunday Times).