Pubdate: Sun, 17 May 1998
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Contact:  Andrew Malone, Cape Town


IN THE Little House on the Prairie, an illegal drinking den less than 30
minutes' drive from the centre of Cape Town, the rich and powerful of the
"new" South Africa gathered last week to talk politics and money. As the
wind whipped sand across the Cape Flats, a desolate plain that is home to
3m impoverished people, members of the Sexy Boys and Hard Living gangs
sipped cold beers and announced that they were going to war.

Brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle, Sticks "The Mongrel" Nbugane, a
self-confessed mob hitman, leapt to his feet and fired bullets into the
wall. "This is what they have got coming," he cried.

The gangsters who control South Africa's burgeoning prostitution, drugs and
protection rackets have been angered by the plan of President Nelson
Mandela's government to seize their assets. The move is part of a campaign
to contain a crime wave which is threatening the future of the country.

Rashied Staggie, described by police as the most wanted man in South
Africa, regards this lack of "respect" from the government as intolerable.
"Look! Mandela was a gangster who used force against the white government,"
said Staggie, who plans to form his own political party.

"Now they call him a politician. We have had enough. We are going to take
over the country."

In what Thabo Mbeki, the deputy president, acknowledged last week was a
"national emergency", the gangs have become the most potent symbols of the
anarchy sweeping the country.

Staggie, whose twin brother Rashaad was shot and set on fire by vigilantes
two years ago, is funding the United Democratic Alliance, which will
challenge the African National Congress (ANC) in elections next year. He
already controls most of the Cape Flats.

With wealth estimated at 10m, he leads the Hard Living gang, a
10,000-strong force of armed men who trade in drugs and death. He was tried
for the murder of a rival gangster earlier this year, but was acquitted.
People are scared to testify against him. Last week two witnesses to
another gangland murder were gunned down in a Cape Town suburb after they
agreed to appear in court.

Crime is no longer confined to the slums. In March six members of the
Junkie Kids, another gang, were executed outside the Waterfront, a tourist
development in the heart of the city. Another four gangsters were found
dead in a suburb last week.

People are growing nervous. Each day 63 people are murdered in South
Africa. An estimated 1m whites have left the country since Mandela was
elected in 1994. Others have moved from Johannesburg, the crime capital, to
Cape Town, which is regarded as safer - but now many of them are also
preparing to leave.

The police unit charged with tackling Cape Town's gangs believes they are
stronger than ever. Earning 150 a month, the 60 officers of the city's
anti-gang squad are outmanned, outgunned and frequently outwitted. When I
accompanied one patrol last week, officers carrying pump-action shotguns
and backed by an army unit swooped on homes believed to be used by
gangsters. In five raids they recovered 100, three crack cocaine pipes and
a small amount of marijuana.

The occupant of one house fired three shots through the bars of his front
door when the police arrived, then fled down an alley. The officers
returned his fire but he got away. Groups of residents threw stones at the
police. Nobody was arrested.

For the police, the temptations are great. With gangsters earning thousands
of pounds a week, many officers take bribes in exchange for turning a blind
eye. "Everybody needs money," said Ricky Offstander, a member of the unit.
"I would never take the money because these people are scum. But I
understand why some people do."

The biggest problem is the number of guns on the streets. In the Little
House on the Prairie, an AK-47 can be bought for 130. Guns pour in from
war zones across Africa.

With the police fighting a losing battle, groups of vigilantes opposed to
the gangs have sprung up. Pagad (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs), a
force of Islamic fundamentalists allegedly linked to Iran, has carried out
a series of revenge killings.

The prospect of Staggie becoming a political figure horrifies the police,
who fear he may end up in parliament. He reputedly pays the rents of many
people in the townships, where male unemployment runs at more than 70%.

Staggie smiled last week at the possibility of political office. "People
make out that I am some sort of psychopath," he said as his two children
played on his knee and armed men stood guard outside. "I just want to do my
bit for the community."

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