Gang violence in Western Cape demands urgent strategies to combat rising death toll

Martin van Staden / Midjourney
Martin van Staden / Midjourney

This article was first published by Mail & Guardian on 10 May 2024

According to a study done by GroundUp, at least two people are killed in gang-related violence every day in the Western Cape.

Over the course of 72 hours, from March 29 to April 1, 94 people were killed in the province. The majority of these deaths were caused by gangsters. Most often, the victims of this brutality are innocent bystanders, caught in the crossfire between capricious gangs.

The Western Cape has become an example to the rest of the country with regards to maintaining infrastructure, running efficient institutions and delivering services efficiently and with minimal corruption. Yet, the gangsterism that infests the Cape Flats in particular has become a blight on the Mother City and the Western Cape.

As of 2021, the predicted number of gangsters in the Cape Flats is sitting between 80 000 to 100 000, split between approximately 130 gangs. These violent young men are responsible for 70% of the crimes in the area.

The common adage is to blame gangsterism on poverty. And that is, of course, a contributing factor. Gangs also exacerbate this poverty. Development, community projects, even the provision of healthcare is all thwarted in these areas by violent and opportunistic gangs who murder paramedics and hold construction sites to ransom.

These gangs have to be stopped. But how?

Localise the police

SAPS is not equipped to deal with Cape Flats gangsterism. The national government has neglected the Western Cape’s police budget and refused to embrace needed police reforms to enable crime prevention and investigation.

The Western Cape needs its own local police force that caters to the local context and can focus on combatting gangsterism. A local police force will not only be closer to the ground and able to address issues quicker, but will also be more easily held accountable, as station commanders will be from these local areas and held responsible by residents.

Divorcing a local police branch from the national hierarchy will also ensure that the current corruption that infests national SAPS will not infect local personnel. Without national politics and existing corrupt cadres and officials pulling strings, a local police force can focus on addressing crime.

Stop arming gangsters

Corrupt police and military personnel are responsible for selling an exorbitant amount of firearms to gangsters. This has been well documented in the media, and in Mark Shaw’s definitive expose “Give us more Guns”, which discusses how Cape gangs are equipped primarily by corrupt law enforcement.

Localising police forces will help make police more transparent and minimise corruption. But more must be done to prevent police and military equipment being used for crime.

Watchdog agencies need to play close attention to police arsenals. Police must be constantly monitored and held accountable when their equipment “goes missing”. On top of this, police should not be attempting to confiscate weapons from law abiding citizens based on petty firearm regulations, while their comrades are arming criminals.

Lighten firearm regulations so that already licensed, law abiding individuals can keep their guns in safe hands, without having to hand them over to police who may sell the once legal firearm to a gang.

Remove their income

Gangs receive the bulk of their funding from the drug trade, using this lucrative illicit market to fund its violence. Without the money gangsters make from drugs, they would not be able to bribe cops to look the other way or afford to purchase firearms to wage their wars.

So, decriminalise drugs. Regulate the trade to ensure better health and safety standards than we see now. And watch as corporations and legitimate businesses with better structures and accountability flood the market with drugs that crash the price and seize much of the gangs’ current market.

Not only would this free up police time, as they can focus on real crimes rather than non-violent drug offences, but it would also help addicts, as the legal drugs will be of a higher standard, and they will not need to deal with violent criminals to get their fix. Access to rehab will also become easier without the fear that one will be arrested for being a junkie.

The biggest sin of the drug trade is what it funds. If legitimate businesses can shove gangs out of the market, then they will lose their cash cow, and their power will wane.

Destroy the gangs

Gangs are deeply entrenched in their communities. They are violent, secretive and opportunistic. But, ultimately, the majority of gangsters just want money. This makes them easy to turn. Police should be focusing on infiltrating gang hierarchies with armies of informants, turncoats, and undercover police. This intelligence, combined with skilled detective work, surveillance and overall evidence and intelligence-based approach to crime prevention will allow police to understand what makes a particular gang tick, identify key leaders, and arrest them.

Prisons must also be reformed to prevent leaders from running their gangs from behind bars. Segregating gang members from their comrades, isolating leadership from communicating with their underlings, and implementing a harsh disciplinary system within prisons for infractions may help with this.

Provide alternatives to gangsterism

Even after the gangs are impoverished, disarmed, and taken down by an effective anti-gang strategy, more will pop up if the root cause of gangsterism is not addressed.

Regulations that hold back economic growth and employment opportunities must be destroyed. Black-Economic Empowerment (BEE), the Labour Relations Act, Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the minimum wage must all be either eliminated or changed to augment the creation of business, make it easier to employ more people, and for prosperity to grow in the country.

Without jobs, more people will become desperate and turn towards crime. To remove this desperation, create jobs through a sustainable free market.

On top of that, young men in these communities must be given access to good male role models to teach them that they should not aspire to be gangsters, but rather to be thinkers, entrepreneurs, family-men, providers, and guardians. Not thugs. Churches, community leaders, public gyms, sports and all manner of institutions must work together to ensure that young men, especially orphans or from single-parent households are given the social support that they need so that they don’t seek out affirmation from thugs.


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The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author.




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