Pagad hit squads decimated gangs operating on the Cape Flats in the late 1990s
How former foes – struggle cadres and the apartheid security apparatus – pulled together to break the Pagad death squads that emerged in the late 1990s. Pagad was a vigilante movement that shook the new post-apartheid ANC government.
One of the first prominent gang bosses to die at the hands of Pagad was an unusual case. It was unorthodox because she was a woman in a distinctly male world and one of the few women at the top of the city’s gang hierarchy.
Katy-Ann Arendse and Faried ‘“Keusie” Davids had been movers and shakers in the formation of The Firm drug cartel and they managed a complex criminal operation encompassing extortion, drugs, prostitution and legal and illegal drinking houses, known as shebeens.
A police intelligence report compiled in 1996, two years before Arendse’s death, listed her as a major drug distributor.
As a foundation for the business and a vehicle to launder money, she ran a network of shebeens. Upwardly mobile, she also owned property in the fancy suburb of Plattekloof.
Like the handful of other powerful female gang leaders in Cape Town, Arendse rose on the shoulders of her husband, Chris “Langkop” Arendse.
Langkop was a notoriously violent gangland figure from Elsies River, a bleak and poverty-stricken housing settlement.
After he was sent to prison (where he assumed the rank of general in the 26s Numbers gang), his wife stepped into his shoes and assumed his no-nonsense and violent disposition. (Unusually for a boss in the violent gangland environment of Cape Town, where not many in the business survive into old age, Langkop is still around, although dogged by health problems.)
Divorcing Langkop, Arendse hitched up with “Keusie” Davids and the couple sold drugs in partnership with Colin Stanfield of the 28s. She also appeared to dabble in fraud, and like several other gang bosses who started out in Cape Town, by the 1990s she began to travel widely to expand her criminal interests.
“We looked up to her like you can’t believe,” a general in the 27s told me.
“She went to Joburg all the time. Joburg for us was like a foreign country then. It was like going overseas.”
In March 1998, Arendse and Davids were killed in a professional hit that caught them unawares in their car outside a relative’s house in Heideveld.
Hitting victims in their cars became something of a signature modus operandi for the Pagad death squads.
Given the large cast of VIP criminal figures in the city, why Arendse was singled out as one of the first to be targeted after Staggie’s lynching is not clear. Perhaps she was viewed as an easy target, or her association with The Firm made her a justifiable one.
In any case, her death was followed by the striking out of several others of the city’s criminal elite.
By far the most prominent of these was Jackie Lonte, also known as Jakkals (the fox), whose real name was Neville Heroldt.
Lonte was the father of the Americans gang, South Africa’s largest, and a pioneer of the country’s criminal economy. He grew his illegal business in the 1980s on the back of the dagga and Mandrax trade, and by the end of the decade he was an established criminal kingpin in the city – a Porsche-driving wheeler-dealer with a serious cocaine habit.
When trade barriers were lifted after 1994, Lonte was behind the sourcing of exotic new drugs such as Ecstasy and acid to feed the country’s burgeoning party scene.
Lonte’s innovation lay in how he created the symbols that communicated the Americans’ power.
Even his backyard shed where the gang’s strategy was mapped out was labelled the “White House”.
The Americans’ strategy was to mark out gang territory across Cape Town and appoint local leaders, allowing a dispersed operation that raked in profits while ensuring the gang’s tentacles reached into every suburb.
Lonte was not shy of violence and under him the Americans gunned their way to a greater share of the drug market. The gang also worked to ensure operations were resilient in the face of police crackdowns through a strategic campaign to co-opt officers who were willing to be corrupted.
By the late 1990s, Lonte seemed to be reconsidering his way of life.
In 1998 he announced his retirement from criminal activities, perhaps because he wanted to take the Pagad heat off him. The fox must have known he was being hunted.
A few months earlier, Ferrel Human, described as Lonte’s main lieutenant, was hit by 10 bullets outside a hardware store in Manenberg.
But Lonte also had cancer and word was that he wanted to put things right with his maker. Either way, there seemed little doubt he would also be targeted. He was too big a fish to be allowed to get away.
The inevitable happened and he was gunned down outside his brother’s house in Athlone in November 1998.
Rashaad Staggie may have died in public, spontaneously set ablaze in front of a Pagad mob, but Lonte and Arendse died in targeted killings that bore all the features of well-planned professional hits.
The way these murders were executed signified how the war against the gangs had shifted. They symbolised the end of one era and the beginning of something distinctly new.
A week after Lonte succumbed, and with the city’s underworld still reeling in shock, Ernie “Lapepa” Peters – leader of the 28s in Belhar – met his maker.
With typical gangland humour, the diminutive Peters was nicknamed “Big Man”. But what he lacked in size, Peters made up for in the scale of his violence.
He terrorised communities in areas where he managed drug outlets.
With Rashied Staggie and Colin Stanfield, Peters was one of the founders of Core. But his brand of community outreach had a twist: it was standard Lapepa practice to advance drugs to community members, then threaten violence to secure payment.
Once, to send a message, he savagely beat to death a woman who owed him money.
Peters was widely feared – a “sociopath”, as several of my contacts with memories of the period told me. Justice took its painful course: his assassination was not cleanly administered and Peters hung on for a week in a hospital intensive care unit.
If Jackie Lonte was all flash – fast cars, beautiful women and lines of cocaine – Bobby Mongrel (real name Ismail April) went everywhere with his dogs. The gang he led, the Mongrels, was a hardcore street outfit.
It was also one of the longest-established gangs in Cape Town, originating in District Six in the 1960s as one of the so-called corner gangs, which were more like clubs operating in the grey economy than hardcore criminal operations.
The Mongrels, like many gangs at the time, found new energy in the rough and tumble of the 1990s when they aggressively seized a segment of the drug market and defended it viciously.
Bobby Mongrel, a criminal innovator in his own right, was key to managing these developments.
Like Lonte, who used branding to build gang cohesion, he grasped the importance of portraying a widely recognisable criminal persona.
He travelled around with his three large dogs, all carefully chosen mixed breeds to align with his gang’s name.
“When there were gang fights and the dogs were on the field,” said a now ageing one-time gangster, “then we knew Bobby Mongrel was around. The dogs would catch you and he would chop you up.”
“Feral” is how two journalists described the Mongrels in the late 1990s.
In Cape Town’s gangland environment, where violence seemed to ooze from every pore, Mongrel developed a reputation for taking things to even higher levels.
In one gruesome account, he used the serrated metal circumference of a tin can to carve the image of a dog into the flesh of a gang member who had committed some minor infraction.
In another, in a dispute linked to the payment of a drug debt, he cut off his victim’s penis, opened his belly, stuffed it in and had the incision sewn up.
These sorts of stories circulated on the Cape Flats and Bobby Mongrel was – naturally – widely feared.
Like most gang bosses, he blended violence with a certain amount of charm. He was tall, dark and handsome, with an impressive set of tattoos and a mouth full of gold teeth.
And he had a following: his street creed emphasised that you need to stand alone, something that struck a chord among young men with few prospects on the violent edges of the city.
Like Lonte, Mongrel was killed in November 1998, shot dead in a professional-style assassination outside his house in Grassy Park.
After the killing, his gang seemed to go wild and went through a period of bloodletting while contesting factions fought for control.
The Cisco Yakkies also started out as a corner gang, and the story of how it grew to become a widespread criminal organisation is a familiar one.
During the 1980s, fuelled by the lucrative drugs and prostitution markets, the gang expanded, cementing its position first in Athlone then across the Cape Flats in Bonteheuwel, Delft, Elsies River, Mitchells Plain, Blue Downs, Belgravia and Parkwood.
Reflecting the influx of a new generation of recruits, the gang is today known as the Junior Cisco Yakkies. Its influence stretches well beyond Cape Town to Boland towns including Worcester.
Managing the growth of the gang over this period were three brothers, the Khans, and by the late 1990s they were established criminal figures (although they had stepped back from day-to-day management of the gang).
Pagad seemed to have a particular beef with the Cisco Yakkies, and in late 1998 the gang’s ranking leader, Achmat “Amatie” Thomas, was gunned down outside a mosque.
Thomas was considered to be a big-time drug dealer, aggressively clashing with other gangs over turf. But the real targets of the Pagad hit squads were the Khan trio, symbols of criminal success.
The eldest brother, Glen Khan, was widely known across the Cape Flats. A handsome man with the tattoos that characterised older-generation gangsters, Khan was a hit with women.
“A lot of ladies stayed with him and he had kids with many different women,” a community worker told me.
He managed a string of drug houses and spaza shops, and pioneered the local extortion economy, forcing businesses to pay a toll in areas where he had muscle and dominated drug markets.
While he used violence when necessary – “He came across as a gentleman but was cruel-minded,” said the community worker – Khan and his brothers also had a philanthropic side to their operations.
In areas where the Yakkies sold drugs, the Khans took pains to garner community support by helping with cash handouts and other forms of support. This was perhaps one reason why Pagad viewed Glen Khan as an important target, despite his retirement from active gang life.
Khan was attacked in February 1999. He escaped with his life but Pagad killed his wife.
Two months later, Khan was murdered while sitting in his car with three bodyguards. Pagad also dispatched his daughter, Chantine Veldsman, and her boyfriend, Jerome Petersen, a henchman for the Khans.
Glen Khan and his immediate family ceased to exist.
When gang members refer to a leader’s “panel”, they mean the crew close to him, his confidants, and these are often the men who do the dirty work of dispatching errant members or the opposition.
Rashaad and Rashied Staggie’s Hard Livings panel was whittled away in a series of assassinations.
In April 1998, Leon “Chippy” Achilles, the gang’s second-in-command, met his end in Woodstock. Earlier in the year, Ivan Oliver, another Staggie panel member (and reputed hitman) was killed, shot in his car as per standard practice.
Oliver’s murder may have had revenge value, as he was said to have shot at Pagad members after Rashaad’s murder.
One of the first prominent gang leaders killed by Pagad was a woman, Katy-Ann Arendse, and the targeted assassination campaign began to wind down, symmetrically, with the murder of another powerful woman merchant.
They formed female bookends in the vigilantes’ campaign.
Adiela “Mama Africa” Davids was murdered in April 1999. Like Arendse, she challenged the notion that Cape gangsterism was a man’s world.
In the mythology of The Americans, women such as Davids were figures of liberty – a reference to the Statue of Liberty – who “bear the fruit, keep the gang alive and protect its members”.
Davids owned a hairdressing salon where she met her end (the blood-spattered walls discernible in court photographs a stark reminder of the violence with which she was dispatched).
She also managed a network of drug houses and shebeens with her husband, the prominent Americans Hanover Park gang leader Sanie “Oog”. (His real name was Igshaan Marcus and he was killed in December 2021 in a drug turf dispute with the Ghetto Kids gang.)
Davids’s status was also evident from the fact that she was referred to by a code name.
She could call upon a network of hitmen to dispatch unruly Americans members or those affiliated to opposing gangs, and she did not have any qualms about procuring their services.
When it exacted revenge, as was the case with Glen Khan’s family, Pagad not only killed Davids but also her daughter, Feroza Marcus, and her niece, Marlene Abrahams.
In revenge, Igshaan Marcus, Davids’s stepson, killed the son of a prominent Pagad member. Marcus then fled and went into hiding but he was killed in Athlone in 2019.
These killings all took their toll on Cape Town’s gangland leadership.
Ivan Waldeck, one-time leader of the Ugly Americans – who later became a pastor – often acted as an intermediary between gang bosses and the outside world.
He spoke publicly at the time of the assassination campaign: “The gangsters are scared and that’s what makes them so dangerous. Tell me a person who is not scared to die.”
Gangsters could not necessarily even look to their families for support.
Rashaad Staggie’s mother had said she was not dissatisfied with her son’s death, “but the manner [in which it was done]”.
That statement may have been an attempt to fend off other attacks on the family, but it also highlighted the fears of many in gangland in the face of the cruelty and unpredictability of the death squads’ campaign.
The gangs were thrown into confusion by the intensity of the strikes in 1998 and 1999. No gang leader could behave any longer like Staggie had, defiantly swearing in mosques.
Several prominent gang bosses left town: Colin Stanfield relocated to Pretoria and Rashied Staggie to Durban.
In reality, these “highflyers” (a term regularly used in police reporting) were already building a national infrastructure, so Pagad’s assassination campaign probably merely expedited this process.
The seemingly random killing of elite gang figures across Cape Town was not random.
It was the result of a specific form of politics developing within Pagad and a system of targeting kingpins that was both highly organised and reliant on the initiative of a network of ruthless killers. DM
Breaking the Bombers: How the Hunt for Pagad Created a Crack Police Unit, is published by Jonathan Ball.
Mark Shaw is the author of Hitmen for Hire and Give Us More Guns. He is also director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.