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The Firm: Gang with ‘deep drug roots’ surfaces in 28s accused Ralph Stanfield’s case

The Firm: Gang with ‘deep drug roots’ surfaces in 28s accused Ralph Stanfield’s case
Mandrax tablets and dagga ‘stops’ in Pollsmoor Prison, Cape Town, 9 July 2003. (Photo: Gallo Images / Roger Sedres) | Ralph Stanfield at court on 7 October 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger)

The Firm, a gang conglomerate with extensive roots in the Western Cape, was recently named in the case against suspected 28s boss, Ralph Stanfield. Journalist Caryn Dolley’s book, ‘To the Wolves’, details a string of decades-old suspicions linked to The Firm.

The Firm has been spoken about in police circles in South Africa for decades.

Most recently, the gang surfaced in a case playing out in the Cape Town Magistrates’ Court.

There are five accused in that case, including alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield and his wife Nicole Johnson.

Charges against them include fraud and car theft.

During court proceedings on Wednesday, 11 October, an affidavit by the investigating officer, Lieutenant Colonel Christiaan van Renen, was read out.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘I want to empty a gun in his head’ – chilling affidavit about alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield’s ‘plans’

It alleged two of the accused in the case were “members of the criminal gang named The Firm, which is headed up by [Stanfield].”

Previously in court, Stanfield denied accusations against him.

Daily Maverick has previously reported that his uncle, Colin Stanfield, was believed to have headed The Firm before his death in 2004.

Journalist Caryn Dolley’s book, To The Wolves: How Traitor Cops Crafted South Africa’s Underworld, details suspicions about Colin Stanfield and The Firm.

Here we include an extract from the book:


Colin Stanfield reached for the squat telephone positioned on a cluttered table in his lounge.

It was late one weeknight in 1987; the sprawling and usually frenetic house was peaceful with the hum of the fridge the only remaining sound, the whirr and hooting of distant cars finally having ceased. 

A thickset man, Stanfield pulled the receiver up to his ear with one hand and started dialling with the other – a finger jabbing a number in the plastic rotary dial, pulling it all the way until it snapped back, ready for him to pull the dial again.

The call went through and a woman answered.

Skipping all formalities and speaking in Afrikaans, Stanfield asked her in a low voice: “How many bags of potatoes? Sixty?” She answered immediately, equally brusque, confirming the 60.

The bizarre conversation – discussing spuds in the dead of night – was apparently not out of the ordinary for Stanfield. He often referred to mandrax as “aartappels” (“potatoes” in Afrikaans) when speaking to his confidant Katy-Ann Arendse.

Stanfield was from the Cape Flats suburb of Valhalla Park. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, he headed a gang cartel known as The Firm, which still today has a heavy 28s gang following, and was suspected of mass mandrax dealing. 

Arendse is rumoured to be the only woman to have ever climbed the ranks within The Firm, in which she was highly respected.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Pagad hit squads decimated gangs operating on the Cape Flats in the late 1990s

Stanfield used this code word, “aartappels”, it was believed, because he anticipated – or was tipped off – that authorities were listening in on them. 

Stanfield was not paranoid: while he was cosy in his sprawling home in the Cape Town suburb of Rondebosch East, a policeman was holed up about 13km away in a chilly, messy cubicle inside a building in the city centre’s Loop Street.

This policeman, huddled between walls sprouting cables and wires, was holding a device up to his ear and listening in on Stanfield and the woman. 

The building was a base of the apartheid police’s security branch and the booth was one of several used for clandestinely dipping into phone calls to glean incriminating information.

Aside from being investigated for possibly pumping mandrax around the Western Cape and indirectly fuelling gang warfare, Stanfield’s name had also been linked to prominent local figures as well as powerful international smugglers, who some police believed had protection from corrupt cops and politicians.

There were strong suspicions Stanfield had worked with Vicky Goswami (but this was never proved in a court), and that he was connected to a group of men in Johannesburg, some acquainted with top-level businessmen and politicians in the making.

The suspected syndicate Stanfield was thought to be part of was presumed to have pushed mandrax into and across South Africa, its members growing rich as their clientele became addicted, and living large as their peddlers were assassinated for reasons including to ensure their silence. 

One of Stanfield’s suspected local associates was Bhekizulu Tshabalala, a snappy-dressing businessman from the upmarket Cape Town suburb of Camps Bay.

Between 1985 and 1988, cops sniffing out drug shenanigans noticed massive cash deposits, one totalling R680,000, being made to an FNB branch in the Cape Town city centre, and destined for a post office in Diepkloof in southwest Johannesburg.

Further investigation revealed that Tshabalala was the one depositing the money in Cape Town.

“Tshabalala brought the cash to the bank in a trommel (drum),” a source claimed.

Suspicions mounted that Tshabalala was pushing the proceeds of mandrax sales by way of Stanfield, from Cape Town to Johannesburg, and police flagged him as a suspected middleman.

He often flew between Cape Town and Johannesburg and his movements were closely monitored by cops trying to sniff out exactly what he was up to.

Cops kept their watch over Tshabalala over the years, but long-term investigations into him were not to be; on 4 June 1996, Tshabalala’s body was discovered in the boot of his car at Cape Town International Airport. 

The businessman was killed assassination-style with a gunshot wound to the head.

A man, alleged in media reports to have known Tshabalala’s wife, was eventually convicted of the killing.

Another of Stanfield’s suspected local associates was a man by the name of Noor Edwards, better known as “Vuil Allie”, who operated in the city centre and the nearby suburb of Woodstock.

He was also murdered in June 1996.

The story goes that he was shot through the door of a hotel room somewhere in Cape Town over a soured drug deal.

Stanfield was never convicted of drug dealing, but he and his cronies were suspected of planting hardy seeds that grew into some of South Africa’s most robust drug networks, attracting not only crooks, but also a fair amount of murder and mayhem.

It was suspected that the reins were simply handed to associates and relatives as those in control died – or were killed off. DM

Caryn Dolley has spent years tracing the footprints of crime/drug kingpins from across the world. In her latest book, Clash of the Cartels, Dolley provides unprecedented insight into how specific drug cartels and syndicates have operated via South Africa, becoming embroiled in deadly violence in the country and bolstering local criminal networks. Available now from the Daily Maverick Shop.


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