An estimated 150 000 people belong to 100 gangs on the Cape Flats, some of which date back to the 1940s.
Gangsterism is a global phenomenon. It includes groups’ formation to commit violence and crime and defend themselves physically against the violence of other groups. Gangsterism is often characterised as antisocial behaviour.
Gangs emerge from within communities and have many root causes, like socioeconomic conditions (unemployment, low-income employment, and poor living conditions) leading to poverty and deprivation.
‘Drugs are the main currency of gangs—peddling drugs is the most lucrative activity. In addition, kingpins run other ‘legitimate’ businesses to launder money – from garages, nightclubs, and shops to funeral parlours. As a result, gangsters have become the foot soldiers of a much more sophisticated underworld economy, engaging in serious and violent crime, money laundering, human trafficking, drugs peddling and arms smuggling.’ Leonard Ramatlakane.
What types of gangs are there?
- The scavenger gang’s crimes and transgressions are usually unplanned, and this group’s members are often low achievers or school dropouts.
- Territorial gangs are well-organised, and gang members have initiation rites that separate them from non-members. Often, prospective members must prove their loyalty to the group by fighting.
- Corporate gangs are highly structured criminal conspiracies that sell drugs – teenagers as young as fourteen could become members. All gangs have names and recognisable symbols.
The poverty, misery, violence and lawlessness of cities led to the growth of many gangs. In particular, the numerous youth gangs or tsotsis reflected the instability of the urban African family. Both parents need to work, and parental control of their children is absent. As a result, juvenile delinquency rates are incredibly high.
How do kids become involved in gangs?
When families become dysfunctional and discordant, many children leave the family home, opting to spend their time on the streets, where they gradually get involved in gang-related and criminal activities.
When does a family become dysfunctional?
A family becomes dysfunctional when domestic violence, substance abuse, poor bonding between parents and children, delinquency or parental psychological problems present in the home. Other factors that can also cause dysfunction include the poor educational level of parents, low income, unwanted pregnancies, and parental violence history. Some families even live in communities where high levels of violence, poor service delivery, and high levels of substance abuse are the norm.
Such communities usually have a high unemployment rate, increased inequality and social exclusion, many firearms, gender inequality and discrimination, weak law enforcement and social norms that justify violence.
From what age are kids drawn into gangs?
In a school setting, learners who become easy recruits for gangsterism are those learners who are underachievers, poor learners or have language difficulties who see themselves as losers in the academic environment. Unnurtured at home, the children often suffer emotional, physical and even sexual abuse in their homes. In addition, they witness violent and abusive relationships between parents from a young age.
Within schools, particularly in the Grade 4 year, the following behaviours become prevalent: poor academic performance, learning difficulties, truancy, and attrition antisocial behaviour due to low self-esteem.
They can be easily approached by a gang and recruited into the organisations. Last (2001) explains this well – they become “someone”, part of an organisation of kids just like themselves. They have a new “family” with whom they tend to spend more and more time. Teenagers are searching for a sense of security and comfort. These gang leaders recruit younger members who are unhappy and struggling. They lure them with the promise of fraternity and brotherhood with money, drugs and girls. Leaders convince kids that the worst that can happen if they commit a serious crime is two years in a juvenile facility, a small price to pay for belonging.
For example, a child who witnessed his mother’s abuse by her partner is often also exposed to harsh parenting, with corporal punishment used as a means of discipline. As a result, he seeks affirmation outside the home, gets lured into petty crime by the local gang, and drops out of school.
How do gangs pressure kids into becoming gang members?
- The easiest way is where family members already belong to a gang – kids follow in their footsteps.
- Gangsters often pick kids that lack nurture from parents and offer them protection from peers
- Gangsters threaten the safety of friends or family members.
- They offer vulnerable kids money to perform simple tasks like delivering a small package and roping them in.
- They offer vulnerable kids drugs for free.
- They invite kids to parties where gang-related activities are occurring.
What are the consequences of gang involvement for a child?
- The child gets in trouble with the law because of their illegal activities or destructive behaviour at home or school.
- The child might drop out of school – because gang activities are more enticing and make them feel powerful.
- The child tends to withdraw from their family – hiding their activities and school bunking.
- There is a risk of injury to the child by other gang members.
- The child gets involved with drug trafficking/weapons.
- The child gets involved in doing the “dirty work” for the gang, including hurting other people.
Are you aware that children as young as 14 have committed gang-related murders in the Western Cape Province of South Africa?
- The child misses out on getting an education or a legitimate job because of bad behaviour and school dropout.
- Some youngsters land up in juvenile prisons.
- If the family is not involved in gangsterism, the child loses connection with family and friends.
- They carry the risk of injury from stabbings and shootings.
- The life of a gangster’s family is always at risk of retaliation.
- They live a life filled with constant threats, assaults and drive-by shootings.
What early warning signs are that your child might be involved with gangs?
- Graffiti: Marking territorial boundaries is how rival gangs warn one another. They also use markings to convey messages between crews.
- Hang-out places: They hang out in public parks, nightclubs, fast food joints and convenience stores.
- Increase in crime -Gang-related acts such as vandalism, assaults, burglaries, robberies, and random drive-by shootings.
Can one do something about gangs?
- Do something
What goes on in your neighbourhood and community? If you see something, say something. Report any incidences of vandalism, loitering and drug activity to the police or community forum immediately.
- Clean up graffiti!
As a neighbourhood, photograph, report to law enforcement or community policing forums and then clean up graffiti as soon as you see it.
- As a parent
Look out for changes in your children – for example, how they dress, who they are hanging out with, school bunking, staying out late, lying or bad behaviour. Can they account for expensive items or cash they have? Gang activities can be curbed if parents, neighbourhoods and law enforcement get involved and work together.
- Gang-Fighting Tips
Often a single call to local officials has minimum impact. Instead, create a WhatsApp group chat that includes concerned parents, neighbours, area security companies, ward counsellors, and police. That way, everyone is immediately informed about an incident, and security companies or police can quickly mobilise neighbourhoods to take action in cases of gang violence, robberies, burglaries, vandalism and drug dealing. Toll-free numbers are available to report gang activity – where you may remain anonymous.
- Report any crime you witness immediately to the police.
You can do a quiz to learn more about signs of gang involvement: Gangsterism quiz.