The Numbers Gang
AUTHOR: RICHARD WAYNE CHARLTON
The numbers gang is a prison gang in South Africa is a very secretive and very understudied. The numbers have started to move outside of the prison walls and are joining the drug and crime market on the outside. South Africa has an extremely high crime rate and by studying the numbers gang, it can help aid in the prevention of crimes in the country.
One notable feature of the numbers gang is that it is a nationwide brotherhood that is prevalent in every prison across South Africa.
Members that betray the gang are not safe in any South African prison, as the numbers control every prison in South Africa. The secretive nature of the gang makes their system of communicating to other prisons unknown. This is what makes them probably the most dangerous prison gangs in the world.
What is a prison gang?
A prison gang is an organization which operates within the prison system as a self-maintaining criminal entity. They usually consist of a select group of inmates, where there is an established code of conduct and this governs the chain of command.
Where does the Numbers Gang originate from?
The history of the numbers gang differs from gang to gang, however, there are a few agreements between the different gang members. The 28’s believe in Nongoloza and the 27’s believe in Kilikijan. The time differs as to when the groups actually got together, however, it has been mentioned that it was sometime between 1880 and 1890.
The two were migrant workers looking for work at a local mine, where Po, a nomad, had seen them and discouraged them from working at the mines. Po had discovered that many of the black youth would go into the mines and would die. Po found that the black workers were treated inhumanly and worked in poor working and living conditions. Po taught the two boys how to rob coaches and black mine workers and how to live a life of crime. Po then found 15 other young men to join the different groups and thus, Nongoloza had 7 people in total in his gang and Kilikijan had 8. The two gangs worked separately, Nongoloza at night and Kilikijan during the day. At one time Po instructed Nongoloza and Kilikijan to go to buy a steer at a local farm, but when the farmer refused to sell them the steer they stabbed him and stole his steer. With this, Po instructed the men to drink the blood of the animal and keep certain body parts, which to this day are seen as icons in many gang tattoos and in the constitution.
With the cow hide, the 2 men were instructed to use the blood to write the constitution on a rock and then use the blood to write on the inside of the cow hide. The rock was given to Kilikijan and the hide to Nongoloza. However, during one of the robberies, one of Kilikijan’s men dropped the rock and it broke in two, one part going into a river. They now only had half of the laws. However, one day the two groups decided to work together. Before they went out, Nongoloza said he was not feeling well and asked Kilikijan if one of his members could stay behind to look after him. When Kilikijan and the rest of the gang returned, they found Nongoloza having sex with this other man. Kilikijan was furious, he and Nongoloza began to fight. Po heard the commotion and came down to sort it out, when he found out what happened, he instructed the 2 men to go to the nearest mine and see if men do sleep with other men. This was found to be true and thus the 28’s see sex with males a normal and natural thing. With this Kilikijan told his gang member to move to Nongoloza and thus the 28’s and 27’s were formed.
They say 2 is for the two men (Nongoloza and Kilikijan) and the 7 and 8 is the total amount of members there were in the gang. After the 2 men split ways, Nongoloza and Kilikijan continued robbing mines, coaches and migrant black workers. Once the two members were caught and arrested they eventually met in a Durban Prison, this was around 1907/1908. This is where the 26’s were formed. Nongoloza tried to take the 6 men for himself as his sex slaves, however, once Kilikijan told the 6 men what Nongoloza does, they refused and began their own gang. There was major conflict between the 26’s and 28’s and thus the 27’s were used as a mediator between the two groups.
During the apartheid era in South Africa, racial inequalities and segregation was a common site. The numbers gangs felt that they were not being looked after properly in the prisons and thus fought for equality and improved prison conditions. They wanted to work against the Boere who oppressed the prisoners. It was here that Nongoloza began working in the prison kitchen and today all around South Africa, only 28’s work in the kitchen, while the 26’s work as cleaners in the prisoners.
Finally the three camps were formed. The 26s were responsible for gambling, smuggling and accruing wealth in general. The 28s were the warriors and responsible for fighting on behalf of all three groups, and the 27s were the guardians of gang law and the peace keepers between all the gangs.
New rules and a strict code of conduct were drawn up. It was decided that when a gangster broke a rule, the blood of a warder or frans (non-gangster) must be spilled to set things right.
How is your number decided?
Once sentenced by the South African Department of Corrections (DOC), the prisoners are classified into 3 different categories. These categories are either economic offense, sexual offence or a crime of violence. According to the category the prisoner is classified under, will depend on the number gang he will join.
How is the 26’s structured?
The 26’s is structured in 2 sections namely the unarmed privates known as the No. 1’s and the officers known as the No.2’s.
The number ones structure:
- The General – Knows all the laws about the gangs
- Inspector One – Ensures that all punishment is carried out; he issues uniforms to new recruits alongside Captain One
- Doctor One – Examines new recruits by looking at their eyes, ears, evaluating any head injuries and thus has the final say if any new recruit is able to join the gang
- Captain One – He is the captain of blood and has permission to stab others. He will have six stars on
The number two’s structure:
The number two’s deal with the initiation of the new recruits
- The Fighting General – Gives permission to the Number ones to arms themselves with weapons. He will have eight stars tattooed on his shoulders, usually four on each shoulder.
- The Inspector Two – Observes all ritual stabbings and ensures that all duties are performed and plays a role in the promotion of members.
- The Doctor Two – Examines new recruits by looking at their eyes, ears, evaluating any head injuries and thus has the final say if any new recruit is able to join the gang
- The Judge Number Two – Sits in for any minor cases of the gang members and overseas any sentences passed down
- The Lawyer – Pleads on behalf of the offender
- The Scribe – Is a secretary and accountant
- Captain Two – Is also known as the wireless operator. He searches for new recruits and memorizes decisions taken at inter-gang meetings. With the inspector two, he also observes all ritual stabbings. He will have four stars on his shoulders, usually two on each shoulder and these are seen in the form of tattoos
* It is important to note that not all aspects are known with regards to the functions of each ranking member. This is because of the extreme secrecy of the numbers gang.
How is the 27’s structured?
- They are the men of blood and the most violent of the gangs
- They are career criminals specializing in violence
- Monitors and enforces the laws and codes of the number
- They negotiate problems and communicate between the 26’s and 28’s
- If one is a 28 and not a ”wyfie”, one can become a 27 by taking blood and lots of it
- Do not allow any same sex relationships in the 27 camp, this is because of the history of Nongoloza and Kilikijan
- The most secretive of the numbers gang camps and little is known about their structure
Traditionally the 28 gang has been the dominant gang.
How is the 28’s structured?
- They are the sexual offenders, who have sex or who are raped in the gang
- They believe in same sex relationships
- They are broken up into either the Gold line, the Silver line or the Third division in the gang
- The 28’s usually work in the kitchens of all prisons and share food equally.
What is the Gold Line?
Also known as the blood line. These are males in the gang who enter by taking blood through the stabbing of a warder.
What is the hierarchy of the Gold Line?
Presides over the high command of the military wing of the camp of 28
The Military Wing:
- The Judge – He hands down any death sentences to members or non-members of the gang and must oversea the sentence. The judge has seven star tattoos on his right shoulder, which are said to be gold, and seven star tattoos on his left shoulder, which are said to be silver.
- The General – Is able to issue weapons, declare war and ensures that a wrong is rightened. A soldier can be promoted to this position if he is bloodthirsty. The General has six stars on his right shoulder and six stars on his left shoulder. Again the stars on his right shoulder are said to be gold and the ones on the left are said to be in silver.
- The Colonel – The colonel is the one who knows and understand all gang laws of the 28’s. He does not carry a weapon. He issues the ranks and punishment to members of the 28’s. The colonel has four star tattoos on his left shoulder and four on his right shoulder. Again the stars on his right shoulder are said to be gold and the ones on the left are said to be in silver.
- The Wireless Operator – He is selected because of his exceptional memory. He is the eyes and ears of the gang and must always be aware of everything that is going on, especially in regards to the 26’s and 27’s. He also reports on any problems with the prison food. The wireless operator has three stars tattooed on his right shoulder and three on his left shoulder.
- The Lieutenant – He controls the flow of information to the upper ranks and to those in positions below him. He thus links division one, soldiers and privates. He is an expert on gang knowledge and history and tests the new recruits of the 28’s camp. He also directs the flow of the bloodline and of the wyfies of the 28’s.
What is the Silver Line?
This group is also known as the female line. This group is designated for the “females” or “wyfies” in the gang who supply sexual favors, on command, to the Gold line.
Hierarchy of the Silver Line – Division one
The high command of the civil wing of the 28’s consists of males who were once “wyfies” but have since risen in status
The Civil Wing:
- The Governor General – Knows all the laws and regulations about the gangs constitution and hands out the law. He is responsible for issuing provisions of tobacco. He has seven gold and seven silver stars tattooed on his shoulders.
- The Doctor – Has six gold and six silver stars tattooed on his shoulders. He will issue the knife that will be used against someone, depending on the type of injury that is required. He examines newcomers to the gang for dirty marks or other gang tattoos. He is also in charge for any medical matters and will even taste the prison food to ensure it hasn’t been poisoned. Most importantly he examines the new recruits and decides whether their hearts beat two or three times a year, thus determining their prison careers. Two beats would indicate a wyfie and three times would indicate a soldier.
- The Inspector – Has six gold and six silver stars tattooed on his shoulders and has the number 28 tattooed somewhere near the stars. He makes sure that all members are schooled in the gang mythology and plays a role in the promotion of members. In addition to this he also looks for new recruits in the prisons, in both awaiting trial and sentenced sections. Finally, the inspector communicates with the other gangs and the warders and he must be informed if a gang member would like to speak to the warder.
- The Clerk – The clerk has four gold and four silver stars tattooed on his shoulders. He is the secretary and the accountant of the 28’s.
- The Magistrate – He has three gold and three silver stars tattooed on his shoulders. When there are problems, either in the gang or out of the gang, the magistrate decides on how to handle the situation. He can decide whether a case can be thrown out, if blood is due or if its a death sentence.
- The Under Magistrate (Public Prosecutor) – Similar to the lieutenant in the gold line. He plays a mediators role in relation to the members above and below him. He displays two tattooed stars on
The Silver Line – Division Two
The silver line (division two) are the supervisors of the probationers. They consist of the following is the different roles.
- Goliath One – He is the female head of the privates. He can go where ever he pleases in the 28 camp and can have sex with anyone he pleases. He does not need any permission from the Lieutenant from the gold line to do so. When a death sentence is passed down, it is the Goliath One who dances around naked, to fill the thoughts, of the people who give the death sentence, with lustful thoughts. The victim’s sentence is then commuted to gang rape. The Goliath One is usually chosen for his youth and good looks and is described as the whore of the 28’s, who must be able to work the men up into a sexual frenzy.
- Goliath Two – He gives the laws to the privates and is controlled by the Colonel of the Gold Line.
- Silver One – His role is to voice his disapproval of the underachievers in the gang. The Wireless Operator in the Gold Line is responsible for him and his actions.
- Silver Two – He cannot be ordered to commit any bloody deed or expected to fight. He records the number of probationers in the gang and schools the probationers about different aspects of the gang. During the period of training of a Silver Two, he cannot have sex in the 28 camp; however, he can have sex with a non-gang member. He also ensures that all probationers observe the rules of the gang.
This is the lowest rank in the private line.
When they wear a shirt or jacket, they must show some of their chest, which shows that they are always available for sex.
They also have the tattoo of the Moliva Boy on their left shoulder, which shows their position as sex slaves.
As wyfies they are never expected to fight and remain pampered and protected.
What is the Third Division?
The third division consists of the fighting soldiers of the Gold line. These members may not take part in any sexual activities and may not have any contact with the Silver line or the “wyfies”.
What is the hierarchy of the Third Division?
Below the Gold Line of the 28’s is the Third Division, which are the fighting soldiers and the non-commissioned officers. They consist of the Captain One, Captain Two and Sergeant One and Sergeant Two.
- Captain One – He acts as the general of the soldiers. His orders come from the Lieutenant of the Gold Line. He is also able to discipline members for minor infringements.
- Captain Two – He is in a complimentary position to that of the Colonel in the Gold Line. Thus he must know all the laws of the 28’s and can issue punishment to the soldiers of the 28’s.
- Sergeant One – He instructs new members of the laws and traditions of the 28 camp. He also ensures that no soldiers become corrupt or behave how they not supposed to.
- Sergeant Two – He keeps tobacco for the wyfies and allocates tasks to the new members of the gang. He is also the jailer when offences are committed and escorts them to the higher rankings when punishment is undertaken.
What are the rules of the soldiers of the 28’s?
The soldiers are forbidden any contact with the probationers or wyfies. Their role is solely to protect the camp of the 28’s twenty four hours a day. They also do sentry duty at night to be on the alert for the arrival of a ward.
Recruitment into the 28’s
When a new prisoner is assigned a cell he will be introduced to the person in charge of that cell known as the “cell cleaner”. The cell cleaner will welcome the new prisoner to the cell, and will either leave him alone for the evening, or will demand sex.
The new prisoners will be observed by a senior member of the gang known as “die glas” (the binoculars). The ‘’glas’’ job is to conduct gang business in die ‘’bos’’ (the bush), the parts of the prison where the 28s are not active. The ‘’glas’’ will then confront a potential new recruit and give him a riddle. How the new prisoner answers the riddle will determine which department of the gang he will fall under.
The ‘’glas’’ will generally watch the way new members interact with other ‘’franse’’ (non-gang members). He will watch how the new prisoner deals with conflict, the way he solves problems and the way he walks and talks. The ‘’glas’’ then approaches the new prisoner and will say “I am going to ask you a question. Think very carefully before answering.” The ‘’glas’’ will go on to say, “It is raining. You are standing under an umbrella. I say to you I am getting wet; I may get sick. What are you going to do?” The new inmate’s answer will determine his future in the prison. If he should say “I invite you to share my umbrella” he would become a sex slave and would not become a member of the 28s. If he should say “I will come out into the rain with you” it means that the new inmate is saying that he is prepared to live like him; they are brothers and they will live and die together.
After the ‘’glas’’ is satisfied with the answer of the new inmate, he is given a task to become a member. This task could either be the fatal or non-fatal stabbing of another inmate or warden. The new recruit will be given a knife whose length is determined by another senior member of the gang known as the nyangi (the doctor). Should the gang want the stabbing to be fatal the nyangi will give the new recruit a longer blade, and vice versa in the event the gang wants a non-lethal stabbing.
Once the stabbing has taken place all the gang members watching will shout “Nangampela! Die nommer is vol!” (The number is complete).
The new member then meets with the tribunal and is told to strip down to his underwear. The ‘’glas’’ circles him slowly, scrutinising his skin for ‘’vuil papiere’’ (dirty papers – the tattoos of other gangs). If he is found with the mark of a rival gang he is beaten and his recruitment halted. This ceremony takes place on a Saturday, the day the gangs consider the “day of wrongs”.
On a Sunday, the “day of rights”, his ceremony is performed. He is once again ordered to stand in the middle of the room; however this time he is surrounded by several people. The first person to approach him is the nyangi. The nyangi then takes a gold pipe and slaps it on the new recruit’s right wrist, then takes a silver pipe and slaps it on the new recruit’s left wrist. He then checks the recruit’s pulse and declares either “Die man se pols klop twee keer per jaar” (This man’s pulse beats twice a year) or “Die man se pols klop drie keer per jaar'” (This man’s pulse beats three times a year). Should he mention that his pulse beats twice it would mean the new recruit is being recruited onto the silver line, if three times it means he is being recruited onto the gold line.
The gwenza (senior member) then places a handkerchief on the floor and slips a knife under it. He stands and says to the recruit: “From today you are no longer a ‘’frans’’. You are a 28. You will never swear at your brother. You will never hurt your brother. You will never do anything that reflects badly on the camp. If you leave the camp, you leave by your own blood.”
The landdros (magistrate) will then come forward and take out his green and white stamps and give the new member his approval. The landdros carries four stamps – white, green, red and black, which signify the four hooves on the Rooiland.
These stamps signify promotion. When a member of the silver line is promoted he takes out his green and white stamp; if the member is from the gold line he takes out the green and the red stamps. The black stamp is reserved for the death sentence.
The landdros then steps forward and takes out his white and green pens to inscribe the new member’s recruitment into the 28s’ record book.
The ending of the ceremony is signalled by the new recruit being marched out of the circle. The 28s then take the new recruit to the 26s and 27s.
The new recruit will then sleep alongside different members of the 28 gang and be told what his duties are. He will also begin to learn the history of Nongoloza and Kilikijan. It will only be a brief fragment of the story, for he is still too junior to hear the whole story.
Finally he is taken to a section of the gang called the mambozas (forties). These 28s are senior but inactive due to being too old or too injured for active duty. Another reason a person could be a mamboza is because his position has already being filled by another member. A prison cannot have two active nyangis for example, and if another nyangi is transferred from another prison he is considered dormant – he sleeps in the forties.
The mambozas begin to teach the new member to sabela (speak prison language). It is a long and gruelling process. The new member has to sabela all day and night with his blackboard (teacher). The first two months being a member of the number means that a new member is not allowed to receive visits, write letters or read books. They must focus on the number. If somebody learns too slowly the punishments are severe. New members can be stripped of all their clothes and thrown into an ice cold shower until they “find the number” (get it right).
One of the last things new members learn is about a position in the silver line held by a man named Mtjoetijies. This man is dead but his place in the hierarchy is left empty. Legend has it that Mtjoetijies was a translator, for Nongoloza who refused to speak the language of the white oppressor. Nongoloza grew increasingly wary about what Mtjoetijies was saying to the white officers, and decided to take action and kill him as a precaution. The position remains open as a reminder that the 28s do not negotiate with words, they negotiate with action.
This ritual, however, has now changed. The fundamental principles remain the same; however, in modern 28 law the man who trains you is now allowed also to have sex with you. This change came along because of the war between the silver and gold lines of the number.
Trial & Punishment
Trial by the Number 28
When a member has committed a gang crime, the Twelve Points meets to decide the case. The judge is the first to speak: he argues for a conviction. The mtshali rebuts him with an argument for acquittal. Then the forum debates the two positions. The judge will then end the discussion by announcing the verdict. He will then suggest a verdict followed by a sentence. If the sentence is death the mtshali stands up and begins an argument in mitigation. The mtshali will then argue that the death sentence be commuted to a “band” (gang rape).
A vote then takes place. Every person except the general and the mtshali votes. If the vote is five for death and five for a lesser sentence, the mtshali casts his deciding vote and the accused’s life is saved. If the vote for death is in the majority the mtshali registers his protest by refusing to vote at all.
At this stage of proceedings, once the accused has been sentenced to death by a majority vote, the “Goliat-one” (man of light) attempts to save the accused’s life. He strips off all his own clothes and then runs around naked round the edge of the Twelve Points. While doing so, he lets out a scream in the most haunting voice he can, pleading for mercy.
Hearing the cry of the Goliat is meant to take the 28s out of the darkness (for their decision to kill one of their own) and bring them back into the light. If this does not work, if the hearts of the Twelve Points are not stirred by the Goliat-one then the accused must be executed.
The accused is not present at the trial. He will not be informed of his own fate. After sentence is passed, three soldiers will be given the order to perform the execution.
The gang have a strict code of conduct and failure to abide by these rules has severe consequences for the perpetrator.
Upon the outcome of the trial a punishment is chosen. The ultimate punishment is death. An execution squad will carry out the order. They could possibly suffocate the offender in their bed or slit their throat. The death punishment is known as a “number one”.
The second worst punishment just short of death is to be raped by a prisoner that is known to carry HIV. This practice is known as “slow puncture”. The offender’s anus is cut open so it bleeds, thus ensuring infection. The gang holds the offender down and the HIV-infected prisoner then proceeds to rape the offender.
Less severe forms of punishment include “klappe” (hits) which involves 10 slaps to the face with an open hand, and the “beker” (mug) which involves blows on the head with a tin cup attached to a sock.
Other forms of punishment include gang rape and what is known as a “carry on” where the offender lifts up his arms and is beaten with padlocks, stick and cups.
Punishments that do not involve any harm to the offender would involve the murder of a non-gang member.
The numbers gang are known to be extremely ritualised. Three days of the week are reserved for a carefully delineated set of functions.
Friday is known as the day of rations. It is then that all possessions in the cell are gathered including the possessions of the franse and are distributed to individuals by rank.
Saturday is the day of wrongs. This is where the various judicial structures of the gang meet to pass sentence. Events which take place on this day range from the passing of sentence on an offender to a new recruit being scanned for illicit allegiances.
Sunday is known as the day of rights. This is where newcomers are recruited into the family, members are promoted and victories are celebrated.
What are the languages of the numbers gang?
The language they use, is a result of the diverse community in prisons in South Africa. South Africa has eleven official languages, which consist of Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. Thus, in order for the different cultures to be able to communicate with one another in the gangs, they speak a mix of Afrikaans, English, Xhosa and Zulu. These are the most spoken languages in the country, thus many of the offenders in prison are able to speak one or more of these languages.
During the initiation stage of a new recruit, they must learn the values and history of the numbers gang in their mother tongue and can mix the languages if they like. The mix of the four languages is known as fanigalore. Fanigalore was developed in the mines in South Africa in the late 1800’s. This was developed as way for the black mine workers to communicate with one another and for the white mine owners to be able to communicate with all of the workers, without having to learn all the different languages.
Does each Numbers Gang have its own salutes?
Each branch of the numbers gang has its own salute. When giving the salute, they will say this is my sign, my flag, my gun and my pen.
The 26’s salute:
Consists of a raised thumb
The 27’s salute:
Consists of a thumb and the index finger
The 28’s salute:
Consists of the thumb and the first two fingers
With the salute of the 28’s gang, the members will combine a salutation of Umsunukonyoko. This is a specific reference to someone’s mother’s genitals.