South Africa

South Africa

Ridealong: Into the heart of Cape Town’s gangland

Gang violence makes Cape Town one of the most brutal cities in the world. In the pilot episode of his web series Ridealong – which offers first-hand glimpses into South Africa’s least accessible professions – Shaun Swingler plunges the viewer headlong into the heart of Cape Town’s gangland. Ride along with the Cape Town Metro Police Gang and Drug Task Team as they battle gangsterism, crime and drug abuse in one of the most notoriously violent places on earth. By SHAUN SWINGLER for DAILY MAVERICK CHRONICLE. (Words by Andrea Teagle.)

Death is a frequent visitor in Lavender Hill on the city’s Cape Flats. News of it – a warning shout or the sound of gunshots – is carried on the same wind that brings calls to prayer. Its presence is too ubiquitous to disrupt everyday life; although, for many, it has come to define it.

Largely because of hotspots of gang warfare, Cape Town is the ninth most dangerous city in the world by murder rate, with 61 deaths per 100,000 people. It is also the most dangerous in the country. As residents of this neighbourhood can attest, postcard scenes of a peaceful, prosperous city – smiling tourists and hipster cafés set against a whimsical mountain – mask a deeply divided and violent reality.

The scars of apartheid’s forced removals run deep in the area known as the Cape Flats, historically designated for “nonwhites”, where poverty feeds into entrenched and sophisticated gang structures. Numbers vary wildly, but most experts estimate that there are at least 100,000 gang members operating in the province across 130 or so gangs. Drugs and gangs go hand in hand. The Western Cape has the highest rate of drug related arrests in the country (a recorded 88,000 incidents last year), with Cape Town being the worst offending city in the country. The most widely abused drug is methamphetamine, or tik, as it’s easy to manufacture and relatively cheap. Other common drugs on the cape flats are mandrax, marijuana and heroin.

For decades, police have struggled to interrupt the intricate gang networks, headed up by gangs such as the Americans, the Hard Livings and the Funky Junky Kids, that terrorise the communities of the Cape Flats and surrounds.

In 2011 a special, cross-departmental unit known as the Cape Town Metro Police Gang and Drug Task Team was formed to step in where previous units and the police had failed. These officers face a real threat of retribution attacks by gangsters for the work they do. In this first Ridealong episode, Chronicle’s Shaun Swingler takes you behind the scenes to show a little of what it’s like to battle gangsterism, crime and drug abuse. What you see in the accompanying video is Cape Town as many know it.

Welcome to gangland. DM

Photo by Shaun Swingler / Daily Maverick Chronicle.