AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Laughing Boys gang leaders jailed for life, but Hanover Park activists doubt crime will be reduced
Three members of the Laughing Boys gang received life terms for several murders committed between 2017 and 2019. The convictions should send a message to prospective gang members, but activists say that due to poverty and unemployment, still many more are signing on for a life of crime.
Kashiefa Mohammed, chairperson of the Hanover Park Community Policing Forum, and Hanover Park activist Erica Kessie painted a bleak picture after the sentencing of three members of the Laughing Boys gang at Pollsmoor Circuit Court.
They said the sentencing of prominent gang and drug kingpins made no significant difference in the gang-ravaged area and had little impact on the ground.
With unemployment and poverty fuelling crime, an increasing number of potential gang leaders are lining up to take the place of those sent to prison.
On Friday, 14 July, Mikyle Davids, leader of the Laughing Boys, was sentenced to five life terms, while his brother Tyron Davids, and Shamieg Matheson, each received three life terms.
Munzeer January, the fourth accused, was sentenced to eight years in prison. January was not a member of the Laughing Boys, but stored weapons that were used to commit murders.
Reign of terror
The sentences stem from the gang’s reign of terror in Hanover Park on the Cape Flats between 2017 and 2019. The charges against the trio related to the murders of Moegamat Hendriks, Abdul Sataar Joseph, Bradwin Duminy, Sidney Moloy and Roeshana Kader.
In July 2019, the South African National Defence Force was deployed to assist the police in gang hot spots on the Cape Flats. This came after a spate of violence that left 73 dead in the first weekend of June 2019. Hanover Park was one of the areas the army patrolled.
In handing down the sentences, Acting Judge Raadiyah Wathen-Falken described the gang members as remorseless, placing no value on human life and having held the community of Hanover Park to ransom through their violent gang activities.
“The community of Hanover Park experienced violence and fear which were rooted in the gang culture that existed. Hanover Park was a fertile ground for gangs, but many people were able to rise above their circumstances,” she said.
Kashiefa Mohammed told Daily Maverick on Tuesday: “Around the Laughing Boys gang, it will definitely make a difference when you have criminals and murderers off our streets.
“My concern, however, is that gang recruitments are happening so quickly in the neighbourhood, so there will be no shortage of gang members in the area even though many gangsters have been slain or convicted.”
Another factor contributing to crime in the area is children dropping out of school and joining gangs.
“High unemployment is another reason why people resort to crime and join gangs to survive. Hanover Park does not have a gang problem. It has a poverty problem. Many people go to sleep without food, and have no electricity… there are no extra-mural activities for our children and the youth,” she explained.
Community activist Erica Kessie pointed to social ills such as parents failing to register children who do not have birth certificates, and children as young as 10 not attending school because their grandmothers are caring for them as their parents are addicted to drugs, selling drugs or are members of gangs.
“I’m aware of some graduates who are unable to find work. They applied for various positions. They sit in the library every day, hoping for a miracle. The poverty, unemployment and crime situation in Hanover Park is deteriorating,” said Kessie.
Gang-infested areas of Manenberg and Hanover Park have been declared red zones for emergency services following deadly shootings. But these areas weren’t among the leading crime hot spot areas identified during the release of the police’s fourth quarter crime stats for 2022/23.
The top three police stations with the most reported murders were Umlazi in Kwazulu-Natal, with 68 murders, followed by Inanda in KZN with 64, and Delft on the Cape Flats with 60 reported cases.
Convictions ‘will make a difference’
Imraahn Mukaddam, an Elsies River community leader, believes the convictions will make a difference. According to Mukaddam, there is a link between prison sentences for high-profile criminals and a decrease in gang-related crime.
“Sentences imposed by courts appear to destabilise that particular gang. Those in line and ready to take over lack sophistication in terms of successful planning.
“We have seen that a gang leader will not normally surround himself with people who can fill his shoes because those people will be a threat to him. They surround themselves with pawns who they can dictate to and control,” he said.
Martin Ewi, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said the purpose of the law is deterrence – to send a message to would-be criminals. He said such sentences send the message to potential offenders that they will meet the same fate if they commit crimes.
Leaders ‘run gangs from prison’
However, he raised concerns that in most of these cases, those sentenced to prison continue to run their gangs from behind bars and are still considered leaders by the members.
Ewi said that while gang leaders can often afford quality defence lawyers and get lower sentences, “if the courts are consistent and systematic in passing out these harsh sentences, it does have a deterrent effect to some extent”.
He said that in some circumstances, convictions weaken gangs when an important individual is removed, but in the world of organised crime, this is not always the case.
The Laughing Boys case was successfully prosecuted by Denise Greyling SC and advocate Alfred Isaacs for the National Prosecuting Authority.
After sentencing, Isaacs remarked: “It was a pleasure to serve and be of service to the community of Hanover Park in our fight to see justice, for justice to be seen to be done for the deceased, their loved ones, and the victims in these crimes.
“We must be thankful that our witnesses remained safe before the trial started and during the trial, as the investigating officer informed me prior to the trial that our witnesses were threatened that if they testify, they will be killed.
“Let our communities take back our areas by saying, ‘No more… we shall not fear to testify in courts against gangsters.’ ” DM