Are our numbers up? Cape Town’s 26, 27 and 28s gangs up the ante by becoming tech-savvy
While the 26s, 27s and 28s gangs have been committing violent crime for decades, they are also evolving and upping the ante in Western Cape, South Africa’s gangsterism capital.
Gangsters have eyes in the sky and can discreetly monitor some of us from above. It is not only the South African Police Service that uses drone technology to track people.
Based on information from several sources with ties to security and policing, Daily Maverick understands that, aside from its high-calibre weapons, the 28s gang is one of the organised crime mobs with access to drones, meaning gang members can keep tabs on members, rivals and even cops.
This week, Western Cape police spokesperson Colonel Andrè Traut acknowledged that “the Fourth Industrial Revolution brought about many changes in how things are done” – but not just for good.
Drones in the wrong hands
“Criminals and gangsters are not isolated from the transformation of society, but then again [neither are] the police,” he said. “We are also applying technology to our advantage, and have resources at our disposal to deal with any occurrence we are faced with.
“We will not allow … a drone in the wrong hands to derail our crime-fighting capabilities or outsmart us.”
Sources say that, aside from trying to stay a step ahead of crime-fighting technologies, gangs also have corrupt cops on their side. This makes them especially brazen.
The 28s name cropped up recently when gun-wielding gangsters chased Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) contractors away from doing repairs on railway lines in Cape Town on 29 August.
A video of two gunmen waving and firing with high-calibre firearms, apparently intended as a warning to Prasa staff, also surfaced on social media. Repair projects along some of Cape Town’s most vandalised railway routes were indefinitely halted.
Daily Maverick recently reported that gangsters aligned to the 28s, were angry with Prasa over the awarding of security contracts and the allocation of jobs in the security sector, and were using intimidation and extortion to get what they wanted.
Three shades of gangsterism
The gang problem in Western Cape runs much deeper, though – as is becoming evident in court cases playing out in Cape Town.
Earlier this year, Jeremy Vearey, a former Western Cape policeman who headed investigations into gangsters and who was controversially fired in May last year, testified about the numbers gangs in a trial unfolding in the Western Cape High Court.
The 26s, 27s and 28s, with roots stretching back more than 100 years and into prisons, had been “corrupted” and transformed into street gangs.
Vearey testified that:
The 28s gang was “a paramilitary structure” and the “political authority” or “the parliament”, and it was organised along the lines of the British army. The 28s controlled so-called gang laws and 28s members were reared to commit robberies.
The 26s gang represented the “economics sector” or “business people” tasked with getting money by using their brains.
The 27s acted as a type of mediator between the 26s and 28s and were exceptionally violent.
Men of blood
Vearey said 27s gangsters were “your men of blood, they are soldiers … [who] only wage war” and who killed in a particular way: “there will be a lot of blood”.
Another ongoing court case in Cape Town has revealed suspected activities linked to the 27s gang.
This case centres on the murder of international steroid smuggler Brian Wainstein in Cape Town in 2017. One of the accused was William “Red” Stevens, whom the state believes was a leader of the 27s. Stevens was also accused of being a pivotal figure in a decades-long battle over control of nightclub (and other venue) security, which peaked in Cape Town in 2017.
Crimes associated with these private security battles, which hint at how gangs have infiltrated parts of the security industry, include extortion and intimidation. It is in this arena that the state, in the Wainstein case, claimed Stevens was approached to see that assassinations were carried out.
According to police, figures on the one side of the Cape Town nightclub security saga include Mark Lifman, Jerome “Donkie” Booysen (a decade ago a police officer testified that Booysen was head of the Sexy Boys gang but he was not charged for this) and Andre Naude.
Stevens was allegedly aligned to this group and faced charges with them in the Wainstein murder case.
The alleged rivals of Stevens and his co-accused include Nafiz Modack, who has been charged with an array of other crimes.
Among the cases involving Modack is the assassination of detective Charl Kinnear in September 2020. Kinnear had been investigating Modack as well as fellow police officers, some suspected of fraudulently creating firearm licences for suspects. There were suspicions that rogue cops worked for the alleged Lifman-headed group, as well as the Modack one.
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Suspected 28s links and gun licences
Added to this broader underworld and related crimes matrix are further suspicions relating to the 28s gang.
In July 2017, suspected 28s boss Ralph Stanfield, based in Cape Town and an alleged associate of Wainstein, was wounded in a shooting in Gauteng.
According to the state’s summary of facts in the Wainstein murder case, Wainstein suspected that Lifman was behind the attempted hit on Stanfield.
It does not appear that anyone has been charged with that shooting.
Stanfield, for his part, is an accused in another case involving allegations that corrupt police officers helped him to get firearm licences.
Politics, ex-26s and Hard Livings
Back to Stevens. On 2 February last year, Stevens was assassinated in the Cape Town suburb of Kraaifontein, roughly a week before a court appearance in the Wainstein case.
Part of his background is linked to politics. In 2013, the Sunday Times reported on who was behind the Patriotic Alliance political party, headed by Gayton McKenzie and Kenny Kunene, who both previously served jail sentences for crime and subsequently became involved in business.
McKenzie is a former general of the 26s gang.
According to the Sunday Times, founding members of the Patriotic Alliance included a daughter of Stevens, as well as a daughter of former 28s gang boss Ernie “Lastig” Solomon.
Daily Maverick previously reported that Hard Livings gangster Rashied Staggie, while on parole after time in jail, became a member of the Patriotic Alliance.
Around the time of the 2013 Sunday Times article, and subsequent similar news reports, McKenzie hit back at those who said the Patriotic Alliance was a party of gangsters, asking on Twitter: “Why are politicians so scared of this new entrant, how can we be a gangster party if there is not a single gangster in leadership?”
‘Led by the numbers gangs’
At roughly the same time, there was a tug-of-war over Staggie’s political party membership. Ivan Waldeck, a pastor with a history linked to gangs and who in May 2013 was wounded several times in a shooting, said Staggie was actually a member of his party, the Progressive Alliance.
This is where 26s gang suspicions fit in.
In 2013, Vearey was quoted as saying McKenzie and Kunene’s Patriotic Alliance was led by members of the 26s gang, and that Waldeck’s Progressive Alliance was led by the 28s gang.
Nothing came of that, and the hype around both parties fizzled out before the Patriotic Alliance gained momentum again.
McKenzie is now the mayor of the Central Karoo District.
Before taking up that position, he spoke at Stevens’s funeral in February last year.
In a video of his eulogy posted on YouTube, McKenzie said several people had called him during that week because he was a member of the “fastest-growing party in South Africa” and they asked if he thought it was correct to speak at a gangster’s funeral.
McKenzie, who described himself as “one in a million” for getting out of gangsterism, said he had told them they did not know Stevens’s story.
“Red was a gangster; I was a gangster. But that’s die helfte van die storie [half of the story],” McKenzie said, explaining that some people had “perfect” lives and were quick to judge others without knowing their full stories.
There were those, he said, who were born in hospitals and bundled into their parents’ cars afterwards and driven home safely in their mothers’ arms, while others were born and taken home in dangerously speeding taxis with blaring music.
Dead ends and developments
“Death was always near us even on the first day of our lives.”
The next time someone saw a person “like Red, like Gayton, like Staggie, like Ernie Lastig”, McKenzie said, “and you wish to criticise our past, just tell our full story”.
The lives of three of those mentioned by McKenzie ended in assassination – Staggie of Hard Livings infamy was murdered in December 2019, ex-28s boss Solomon was gunned down in Gauteng in November 2020, and suspected 27s boss Stevens was killed last year.
Meanwhile, the Wainstein murder case, in which Stevens was accused and which touches on an array of criminality as well as suspicions about the 27s and the 28s gangs, is set for trial in February next year.
An overview of this and other court cases, as well as certain crimes, in the Western Cape hints at how various layers of gangsterism are evolving. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.