Frontline: Cape Town: Deadly groups cause mayhem in Junkie Funky gang wars

IN WEST SIDE Story, The Jets take on The Sharks. In the latest instalment of the far less lyrical Western Cape Story, The Americans, regarded as one of the most powerful gangs in South Africa, have a new challenger, the British Citizens.

These new kids on the Cape Flats - a dusty, bleak area of two million people outside Cape Town - know not the joys of warm beer, cricket on village greens and New Labour. But they have got the message about Cool Britannia.

In their short life, the British Citizens have already spawned another gang, Forever British. Both join a long line of wackily named killer groups, including JFK (The Junkie Funky Kids), The Naughty Boys and the Hard Livings. The Cleaver Kids are another group of newcomers and there is some dispute as to whether their correct name is actually the Clever Kids.

"Spelling is not really their big thing,'' said Wilfried Scharf, a Cape Town criminology professor who spent four years following the Total Pipe Killers. "The gangs derive their names in many ways. From their location, from movies, from television or from their specialism. I am not sure where the British thing came in but it is very new.

"The Total Pipe Killers, now disbanded, were particular about their smoking styles. They worked out all sorts of ways to smoke dagga [marijuana] and mandrax through the broken necks of bottles.''

The British Citizens came to national prominence this week in an everyday report of the violent war to control the drug and arms trades of one of the world's most lawless places. Police arrested one of the gang's members after the shooting and stabbing of two occupants of a Cape Town house used by The Americans.

The day before, four people died in a clash involving The Terrible Gang. But the incident could as easily involve The Sexy Boys, The Cobra Kids or any of the other dozens of gangs whose stars can rise or fall in the time it takes to score a crack "hit'' on the Cape Flats.

Everyone knows the gangs are powerful - and kill dozens of people every year - but no one can rank them in importance. Fifteen years ago, Don Pinnock, then a Cape Town academic, said the Flats had 80,000 gangsters. No one has updated the figure and Mr Pinnock thinks it an under- estimate, given that nowadays only 20 per cent of Flats dwellers have jobs.

Turning to the police is not much good. In the apartheid years, they used the gangs to mete out punishment beatings, so they are hardly considered impartial. Besides, the gangsare more powerful than the police, especially when organised into super-syndicates, such as The Firm. Mr Scharf said: "New gangs are formed all the time because you have gang alliances and sub-groups. Anyone who uses the suffix `Dog', as in American Dog, is a particularly brave and vicious gangster."

At a shebeen in Belhar, a Flats area partly controlled by The Firm, children are offered juice and biscuits on feast days by the same men who are prone to driving through the streets, shooting randomly, at the mere whiff of a defection or territorial threat.

In the Cape Flats, no one changes sides, and The Firm's painted shebeen mural provides a flavour of the prevailing morality: "Rumours are spread by jealous people'' is one slogan. The other: "No excuses, no explanations, no apologies, not to anyone, not ever'.'

Mr Pinnock said: "Being in a gang is about killing. That's how you get respect, and once you've killed you need the gang to defend you.''

Initiation rites in this brutal world include rape, and women are known as "pomp dinge'' (things for pumping). That is perhaps why a few women have started their own gang, The Smart Cookies, who live by offering shoplifting to order.

Efforts have been made by the community to end the gangs' hold on the Flats, but each has merely spawned new groupings. First came People Against Gangsterism and Drugs, better known under its acronym, Pagad.

When Pagad, which has Islamist affiliations, became so powerful two years ago that Cape Town's unsuccessful 2004 Olympic bid committee asked for its endorsement, a bunch of hardened gangsters decided to get together and keep them in check. They created a rival grouping under the inoffensive-sounding banner of Community Outreach (Core), and signed up a Christian pastor.

Now Pagad, elements of which were blamed for the Planet Hollywood bombing in August last year, fights its own supremacy battles with Core.

Alex Duval Smith

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album