How soap, skincare and ‘bananas’ influence SA’s notorious gangs – axed top cop Jeremy Vearey testifies during trial
The intimate inner workings and rituals surrounding some of South Africa's most notorious criminal gangs were revealed in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday when former policeman Jeremy Vearey testified in an organised crime case involving 20 suspected gangsters.
A potential gangster recruit who chooses scented soap over Sunlight soap – or who has a skincare regime involving products like Vaseline – could, through these preferences, determine where in a gang he is placed.
If the potential recruit “washes himself in a manner perceived feminine”, is unable to hide pain, uses products to treat his skin or is seduced by a gangster ranked a “Sergeant One”, the recruit is deemed to be a “wyfie” (female) and will serve as a wife to other ranks of gangsters.
These and other details about South Africa’s notorious numbers gangs – the 26s, 27s and 28s – came to light in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday when axed provincial detective boss Jeremy Vearey testified in a case centred around the Terrible Josters gang.
The case is against 20 suspected gangsters, among them the main accused and alleged gang leader, Elton Lenting. They face more than 150 charges, including several counts of murder.
Vearey was meant to have testified in the case last week, but did not due to security issues relating to him.
When the 20 accused appear in court, there is a visible police presence. Tactical Response Team officers have also monitored proceedings. Security for Vearey has been reinstated and was also visible on Tuesday.
During his testimony, Vearey referred to a document titled, Nongoloza’s legacy: Prison and street gangs in the Western Cape as something he had written when training intelligence operatives to deal with gangs in 1996.
It dealt with, among other issues, the histories of the number gangs, signs and symbols these gangs used and how street gangs had corrupted the number gangs.
During his testimony, Vearey focused on the 28s gang, whose main purpose was robbery. He also touched on how gangs had evolved.
He said some members were using cellphones with codified software to keep documents. They could also meet virtually – physical presence was no longer mandatory.
Vearey explained that the 28s gang was styled along the lines of the British army, with words and symbols demonstrating this. His testimony implied the 28s did not tolerate women.
Vearey said the 28s had a tier known as the “gazi line”, also known as the “bloedlyn” (bloodline) or “gouelyn” (gold line).
Roles and relationships
Members of this line were “dominant male homosexuals”.
Gangsters ranked as “soldiers” in the “gazi line” were not permitted homosexual relationships as “wives” were viewed as poison to them, and it was believed wives would destroy their fighting spirit.
Another tier in the gang was the silver line which “constitutes all the feminine homosexuals” and included gangsters ranked as “wyfies”.
“Contrary to what is believed,” Vearey said, “28s gangsters don’t form homosexual relationships out of their fold.” If they did, they faced disciplinary actions for such “transgressions”.
“Within the 28s gang, leaders view women as potential spies who cannot be trusted,” Vearey said. “They are considered poison. They are rumour mongers.”
Codes of conduct
Vearey said “soldiers” of the 28s “gazi line” followed a specific set of so-called laws.
There were eight of these, Vearey explained.
- Related to taking the possessions of others outside the number gangs.
- Gang members may not gossip about other members.
- Gang members will not abandon fellow gang members.
- “Jy’t niks van jou eie nie” (“You have nothing of your own”). Gang members have no personal possessions – everything belonged to the gang.
- “Jy sal nie werk met die boere nie.” Gang members will not work with white people or authorities; for example, correctional services or police officers.
- Soldiers in the “gazi line” would not do the work of “wyfies”.
- A gangster sacrifices their life for their “brother” under the law of the 28s flag.
- A gangster would not have sex with another in the private “silver line”.
The “wyfies” in the private “silver line” also followed a separate, but similar, code of conduct.
One of the points under this code was that if caught having sex with someone outside the 28s gang, they would be killed.
“Wyfies” were also not meant to complain to “the boere” – white people and authorities.
Recruitment processes in prison
Vearey testified that the 26s recruitment process involved a 28s gangster ranked as an “inspector”, identifying and approaching potential recruits.
Older individuals referred to the “inspector” as the magnifying glass, as they were effectively meant to be a detective who investigated or scrutinised potential recruits and crimes.
Unlike the 26s’ recruitment process, the 28s’ procedure involved an outside member approaching the gang and expressing an interest in joining it.
This person was known as a “mpata” that was looking for work.
“Even if a potential recruit is approached directly by members of the 28s, he’s indirectly nurtured and influenced by a 28s gang member until he indicates his interest,” Vearey said.
He explained that sometimes individuals were coerced into joining the 28s. This could involve a potential recruit being “repeatedly robbed of his possessions” until he expressed interest in joining the gang.
Or it could involve a potential recruit finding himself “in a tight corner in a cell” with other gang members. That potential recruit could be harassed into asking authorities to be placed in another cell.
Vearey said that if a prisoner indicated his interest in joining the 28s, the “inspector” would refer the individual to a “sergeant”. The “sergeant” then took the potential recruit to the “draad”, an intelligence operative.
The term “draad” was derived from the Afrikaans word “draadloos”, which means “wireless” in English.
The 28s recruitment process involved potential members having to be detained for eight days, which the 28s viewed as a symbolic eight years “outside of the camps”.
Bananas in a bag
Vearey said once this detention ended, it would be clear where a potential recruit was headed in the gang.
At this point, the “sergeant” would envision himself sitting at a crossroad with a symbolic bag slung over his shoulder.
This bag would contain “piesangs” (bananas) which symbolised the penis, as well as “kerrie” (curry), which represented strength and courage.
Vearey said the potential recruit was asked to choose something from the bag. If they chose the banana, he said, the “sergeant” view the potential recruit as someone who was better suited as a “wyfie”.
A recruit who chose the “kerrie” was “deemed man enough” to be in the “gazi line”.
Vearey testified that other aspects relating to potential 28s gang recruits were also looked at. For instance, the “sergeant” controlled their food and toiletries.
Potential recruits were monitored, and this was where they were watched to see, for example, if they preferred Sunlight soap or scented soap. Their preferences could play a role in determining whether they became “soldiers” or “wyfies”.
Uniforms, training, tasks and languages
As part of the recruitment process, gangsters deemed “soldiers” were provided imaginary uniforms removed from an imaginary storeroom.
“The ‘inspector’… checks the uniform to ensure that it’s properly equipped with necessary attachments,” Vearey said.
A “wyfie” was “provided with a white uniform”, which Vearey explained was styled like that of an army nurse.
“Wyfies” were trained for their roles. “This training includes seduction techniques, homosexual sex and domestic chores,” Vearey said.
He also referenced the 25s gang.
Vearey said members of this gang were effectively viewed as outsiders, because originally there were only supposed to be the three number gangs – the 26s, 27s and 28s.
If there was a “relatively attractive” 25s gangsters, he could be made into a “wyfie”. Vearey added: “If not recruited, they are killed.”
A 25s gangster who was “relatively old and unattractive” could be made a 28s soldier.
Earlier during Tuesday’s proceedings, Vearey explained how each of the three main number gangs had an original dialect. He said he was well-versed in each, which seemed to amuse accused Elton Lenting, who laughed upon hearing this.
Vearey explained that “sabela” was not a gang language, but rather a verb used to describe when an individual spoke in one of the gang dialects.
While many of the accused were alert at the start of proceedings, a few appeared to fall asleep as Vearey testified. At the end, some waved at and tried to greet Vearey.
The trial resumes on Thursday when Vearey is expected to continue providing expert evidence on gangs. DM
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