South Africa


Life on the mean streets, where at night ‘the gangsters start shooting like mad, like they are in a war zone’

Life on the mean streets, where at night ‘the gangsters start shooting like mad, like they are in a war zone’
A Metro Police officer stands guard while his colleagues conduct a search (not in frame) outside Joyce Court in Manenberg A man was arrested after he was found with Mandrax tablets which he had tried to dispose of when he saw the police. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Following a recent flare-up of gang violence in the Cape Flats, Daily Maverick spent three days in Manenberg accompanying the Metro Police and visiting families to find out about life in gangland.

‘Don’t come now, it’s too dangerous. Rather wait for the shooting to stop,” said Paul*. “They won’t speak with you now.”

Daily Maverick had requested an interview with alleged Hard Livings gang leader Zakier “Jonty” Scheepers, who was shot and wounded a few weeks ago, resulting in a spike in gang violence on the Cape Flats. Paul was trying to help set it up.

After Scheepers was shot, videos went viral on social media showing gangsters at war with each other. In one video, an Uzi submachine gun is being fired. In another, schoolchildren had to duck for cover, as reported by Tamsin Metelerkamp.

Daily Maverick recently spent three days in Manenberg with the Cape Town Metro Police to find out about life in the middle of gang violence and ongoing efforts to reduce the carnage.

Officers search the bottom of a staircase while another watches over a group of men lined up against a wall. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“We are Metro [Police], we will not take your drug money,” shouted an unnamed officer as he and his convoy left a house in Clever Kids territory.

They had just conducted a drug search in the house which is suspected to belong to gangsters. “Voetsek, naaiers! [Go away, f****rs!]” yelled someone from the crowd as tensions ran high.

The officers were part of a team made up of various law enforcement agencies deployed to conduct anti-crime raids in Manenberg and Hanover Park.

A Metro Police K9 unit member and his dog search a house in Manenberg. The officer’s face is blurred to protect his identity. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Despite more boots on the ground, police are overwhelmed. Western Cape MEC for community safety and policing oversight Reagen Allen reported that in some police stations on the Cape Flats, detectives are burdened with 250 dockets per detective, many of which relate to murder and gender-based violence. At the Nyanga police station, detectives have up to 383 murder dockets under investigation.

Residents in the crossfire

Tasneem* has been living in Manenberg for the past 15 years. She would like to move but has nowhere to go.

“I was not happy living here. I have not experienced life like I do here. I have never seen a gun in my life prior to moving here.”

Her young daughter has been caught in the crossfire of gang violence. She was shot in the arm.

“They shot my child. I came down the stairs and saw the blood rushing out. The bullet came out of the other end, but if she was shot higher in her arm she would have lost it.” 

Manenberg residents gather around a fire and queue at a tuck shop. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

These two men were searched by Metro Police officers in an abandoned building in Manenberg. Abandoned buildings are fertile ground for crime. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Tasneem stopped talking as she became uncomfortable, saying the gangsters were watching and would think she was giving information to the police. “Ons can seer kry [We can get hurt],” she said.

Tasneem was gathering washing from the clothesline when she saw a huge convoy of Metro Police stop to search people on a nearby corner. She and others looked to see what was happening.

Another resident, 66-year-old Ismail*, has been living in Manenberg for the past 38 years. He said the police cannot control gang violence.

“The fighting has gone worse. They [the police] come and they go. They will be here during the daytime, but where are they at night? They disappear. When they have to change shifts, they disappear. And the gangsters start shooting like mad, like they are in a war zone. 

“I live in fear. I have to walk and go to the shops. My biggest fear is that they can kill me at any time,” says Ismail.

Despite living in fear, he says he does not feel like a prisoner in his area.

A Metro Police officer holds a bag of dagga found during a stop-and-search operation. The suspect was also found with more than R4,000 in cash. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“At the moment, when there are too many gangs fighting, then it’s terrible. You don’t know where to walk because you can get hit by a stray bullet. If it’s one or two gangs fighting, it’s fine, you can take another route. With many gangs fighting you must lock yourself indoors, you don’t know where the next bullet is flying.”

Even indoors there is still a risk of getting hit by a bullet, as Ismail can attest: “I was sitting in the lounge and the bullet came right through the window. If I was sitting two inches to the right I would have died.”

He says the biggest difference between the older generation of gangsters and today’s generation is respect.

“Those gangsters had respect for each other. If they were at war with each other they would do it in a dignified way. These days they just want to kill and kill until a number of people are dead before they make peace. Respect is the main thing.”

Holding on to hope

Ismail is hopeful that change will come to the Cape Flats. 

“Part of the reason these kids turn to gangsterism is because there are no activities for children. There are no activities for them. [But] all hope is not lost. We need to work on the children. We need to get them involved in sporting activities. This is what we saw when this place was running [well]. They took others from the street and said, ‘Kom, kom, jy gaanie meer drink of drug nie [Come, come, you’re going to stop drinking or drugging].’ And that is how they stopped.”

An officer keeps watch from inside his vehicle. Many residents are afraid to leave their homes at night because of an increase in gang violence. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Pagad’s Cassiem Parker addresses Hanover Park residents on 25 May 2022 following a community outcry. He urged them to ‘make yourself strong to stand against the gangsters’. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Another resident, Rashida*, said people are quick to blame poverty but she questions how parents are raising their children.

“It’s not Manenberg, it’s how you raise your child. I am living in Manenberg with my children and they did not turn to gangsterism. You cannot blame the gangsters. At the end of the day, it is the individual that makes the decision. I don’t blame the gangsters, I blame the children. I raised my children in poverty but they did not choose that life.”

She too believes there is still hope. “All hope is not lost. We just need a helping hand from the community. We as a community should put our feet down and say, come, let’s help the youth.”

Criminologist Irvin Kinnes from the University of Cape Town said: “There has to be hope. The people on the Cape Flats have nothing else. They have to hope that this can change and I think that it becomes everybody’s problem.  

A drone image of Audrey Court (right) as the Metro Police conduct searches. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“There are myriad organisations that have grown up in communities like Heideveld, Manenberg and Hanover Park. You can see the citizens are trying to take the initiative, they are forming organisations and they are wanting to deal with it.

A gang member shows his prison gang tattoos. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“I think the police must form a strong partnership with community-based organisations that want to deal with the gang violence. That is a clear indication that people have hope, the fact that you have so many organisations that have grown out of this gang violence.”

People take to the streets

On Wednesday, 25 May, People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) members addressed Hanover Park residents following an outcry over the recent gang violence. Pagad’s Cassiem Parker called on them to take a stand against gangsters.

“We should stop allowing merchants [drug dealers] to pay our rent money. They only pay our rent money because they want our kids. We must find ways to push back the gangsters and drug dealers,” he said. 

This woman has stitches on her forehead after her partner allegedly hit her with a brick. Gender-based violence is rife on the Cape Flats. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

He also called on residents to work with the police: “We don’t have to be friends with them, we must just work together.”

Parker continued: “There are good neighbourhood watch members, there are good policemen, but there are no good gangsters. A policeman that covers for a gangster is a gangster; a neighbourhood watch member that covers for a gangster is a gangster; a mother that covers for a gangster is a gangster. Don’t complain about the shootings if you are covering up for the gangsters. Make yourself strong to stand against the gangsters.”

Four days later, hundreds of residents, together with the Pagad splinter group Pagad G-Force, took to the streets of Hanover Park, chanting: “An injury to one is an injury to all, down with the gangsters, down; down with the merchants, down.”

While many residents have hope that the marches will make a difference, some believe the efforts are in vain.

Gadija and Dawood Dunn in their bedroom in Manenberg. Dawood says the gangsters respect the elderly. ‘They will warn me, if I am walking they will say, uncle, uncle please, out of the way we are going to shoot now.’ (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Tasneem believes such demonstrations do not make a difference. “Dit gat net aan [it just goes on]. There was a ceasefire recently but it did not work. Nothing works.”

Another scheduled march by Manenberg residents was cancelled because of shootings in the area.

Allen, the community safety MEC, said: “We will work and engage with any entity, organisation and/or institution that makes the safety of their neighbourhoods, communities and society at large a priority. We are fully aware that many of our communities across the Cape Flats are plagued by gangsterism and all other social ills that tie into it. We understand their frustration and anger that this is seemingly not being addressed.”

However, he raised a red flag over Pagad, which has been linked to vigilantism, saying it was “deeply concerning to note the call from communities for an entity that has violent tendencies. History has shown us that violence is never the solution for violence. Instead, what we’ve been seeing is just more bloodshed and more lives being lost. I cannot support entities that act with impunity and outside the parameters of the law.”

A way forward?

While many believe policing is the solution, Metro Police director Jorissen Lee said much more was needed to address the challenges.

“There’s so many governmental and non-governmental entities that are not involved enough in preventing this. Once it gets to policing, it’s too late to try to stop it and there’s a reason it happened.

A man leans against a wall as officers search his house in Manenberg. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“Yes, policing efforts to take the bad guys out of the system will continue. Once the arrests are made, the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] comes into play, our judicial systems come into play, and there need to be long, hard sentences for crimes that have been committed. 

“Policing will continue doing all the efforts to save lives, to prevent the loss of lives, through taking the bad ones out,” said Lee.

Policing alone did not solve the challenges facing young people in the Cape Flats. 

“A lot of attention needs to be given to our children, at our youth growing up in those environments. At their schools, in their churches, in their organisations and social organisations and families – build family structures, that has to be key. Then all other institutions can join hands to stop the scourge.”

Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith recently announced the reimplementation of ShotSpotter, a gunshot-detection technology that helps law enforcement agencies respond to, investigate and deter crime. 

Metro Police officers search vehicles in Manenberg. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“The previous ShotSpotter detection system was temporarily halted in order to divert much-needed budget requirements that saw the roll-out of the Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (Leap) programme in partnership with the Western Cape government,” he said.

“Having now significantly bolstered the operational requirements with additional ground forces, negotiations are at an advanced stage that will see the acoustic detection software again deployed into some of the gang areas. With the added component of boots on the ground, the gunfire-detection software will allow teams to respond with pinpoint accuracy to shooting incidents.”

A family braai outside their Manenberg home. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

MEC Allen concluded: “We have introduced the Law Enforcement Advancement Plan officers to serve as force multipliers and assist SAPS and other law enforcement agencies to combat crime. More than 1,000 officers are strategically deployed in various hotspots.

“Leap officers are currently deployed in 13 areas [including] the top 10 murder areas of the Western Cape… Delft, Gugulethu, Harare, Khayelitsha, Kraaifontein, Mfuleni, Mitchells Plain, Nyanga, Philippi East and Samora Machel. The other high-crime areas where they are deployed are Atlantis, Bishop Lavis, Hanover Park, Lavender Hill, Steenberg and Grassy Park.” DM

* Names changed owing to fear of retaliation.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Where is Crime Intelligence? It would take a half baked PI a week to identify the six main king pins, their bank accounts, cars, houses, underlings. Network of 100 exposed for police and sars to nail and banks to freeze accounts. Nail 4 of those 6. Rinse repeat in three months. Rinse repeat in three months.

  • Keith Scott says:

    The gangs will retain power and continue their lethal turf wars and exploitation of children as long as they control the illicit drug markets. The authorities know this (yet they continue to ignore recommendations in the 2019 report that the Western Cape Government itself commissioned: “Strategic roadmap towards implementation of the National Anti-Gangsterism Strategy
    in the Western Cape”) yet continue the same futile policies that only serve to prolong the misery of many communities. One of the keys to dealing with gang violence is to reform the drug laws and remove this source of wealth from the gangs and other organised crime structures.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Sydney Mufamadi wanted to make it a crime to be a gang member nothing came of that.If you keep doing the same thing you get the same results.You have to do something new,Poca laws when applied can deal devastating blows.Strengthen these laws.Mr Buys describes the problem accurately, and it shows that for all their talk SAPS and SARS are not focusing,on the right way of dealing with the problem.When rdp houses are built, the gangs buy them through intermediaries.The cape flats must become cape houses, break the flats down and build houses.Crime intelligence is so understaffed they can’t cope,and to compound the problem you have senior cops that are allied to the RET group.One helluva problem to solve, if it is solvable, given South Africa’s dilly dallying to create safe enviroments.Besides that you have to stop the large amount of corruption,it has become a major problem in itself.The Provincial Commissioner must get a mandate to implement harsh measure to stop the spreading of gangsterism(compounded by high unemployment and scarcity of jobs)and be allowed to work independent of political interference.Will this ever happen???

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