At home with the Staggies

2013-09-29 14:00

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Family open up about former gang boss’ day paroleafter 10 years behind bars.

In a grey, nondescript little bungalow built just off the pavement of a street in Salt River lives a family and their small green parrot.

Meet the Staggies – notorious former Hard Livings boss Rashied’s wife Rashieda, the couple’s three daughters and their son. Also, the parrot, whose name is Kokapo.

Daughter Nabeelah (18) explains that the bird is the product of a breeding programme in prison and once went everywhere on Staggie’s shoulder in prison.

He taught it all the words it knows. When the 57-year-old phones his family, he likes to chat to Kokapo. The bird gets excited when it hears his voice.

Nothing about this house is what you’d expect. Staggie and his twin brother Rashaad were once the most notorious, most powerful and richest gangsters in Cape Town.

But the vigilante group Pagad burnt Rashaad alive in 1996, right here in Salt River.

Rashied has spent the past decade behind bars, but his family maintains that the gang rape of the 17-year-old he was sentenced for was an elaborate setup.

The family is nervous about having their comments twisted in the media (which is why they don’t normally give interviews), but once Rashieda starts talking, the words flow from her in a steady stream.

She says the family was “over the moon” about having Staggie home when he was released on day parole on Monday. But that was short-lived. “When they first gave Rashied parole, we understood he would be able to come home and just have to spend his nights back in jail.

“But then?...?when he came into the house on Monday, we only saw him for about 20 minutes. We had organised a celebration with close family and friends.

“They took him away, they said, because he didn’t have any work papers.?He had three job offers, but they refused to accept any of them. When have you heard of a prisoner having a job when he gets parole?”

Daughter Nashiefah (21) says: “It seems they want to belittle my father by insisting he can only accept a cleaning job. He had all these other offers, but they weren’t demeaning enough.”

Rashieda tells the story of how, when she was 21 and married Staggie, he teased her: “One day when I go to prison you’re going to leave me.” But she “made a promise then”, she says, “long before it actually happened”, that she would wait for him, even if he got 10 years.

“So this was almost as if God was testing me too, because I made that promise,” she says.

The children are shy, polite, well-spoken and intelligent when they respond.

Their mother says: “I know the stigma will always be there about who Rashied was. But when is it going to end? My children didn’t grow up in Manenberg. My children weren’t exposed to gangsters.

“They respect everyone. Their teachers used to dread having them in class, but that was before they met them. One of the teachers came to me once – and he is from Manenberg apparently – to congratulate me and tell me I did a good job raising my children.

“It doesn’t mean that if your father is a gangster, you have to be too. They’ve been through a lot, you know, because of this surname. But all my children are doing well in school. They’re prefects, the other one was head girl. Their father is very proud of them.”

Looking around the house, it seems a foolish question, but one that must be asked: What happened to Staggie’s money? The Daily Maverick reported this week that at one point the Staggie brothers were raking in R30?000 a day.

Rashieda tuts.

“People will come here and make jokes about it. But look how we live. How can you come here and say there’s money hidden somewhere? I’ve had a nervous breakdown. I had a stroke. I was in a car accident that gave me a spine problem. I had to ask my mother and other family to come help raise my children.

“If we had money, we would have lived a lavish lifestyle – not in this small house. My children sleep on the floor.”

When the children protest, she raises her voice. “No! It’s honest. You can see people asking where we get money from, because my children dress nicely and all that. But it’s not their business. We’ve got family and friends who love us. And the people who make the comments don’t know us.”

They’ve tried to escape all the attention, but the Staggie name is famous everywhere. At one point, Rashieda even calls it a curse.

“We lived in Pietermaritzburg, and even there the reporters found us. And no school wanted to accept our daughter, so we had to move back to Cape Town,” she says.

What about Pagad, the Staggies’ sworn enemies? Do they take the threats seriously?

“Yes!” says Rashaad’s daughter Jamie, as if it’s the daftest question she’s ever heard.

“They killed my brother-in-law!” Rashieda chimes in. “How can we not? They just said the other day God has given them the power to kill people.”

They say someone, or a group of people, keeps defacing Rashaad’s tombstone 17 years after his death.

“They’re still angry. Every time, after we fix it, they break it again,” says Jamie.

When Rashied is eventually reunited with his family, aside from the challenge of staying out of jail – and the morgue – there will be some adjustments.

He’ll have to get used to family life again. Emanuel (13), his youngest son, was only three when his father was sentenced. He could only see Staggie through a glass partition in the early years.

Later, the family was allowed contact meetings. The children struggle to speak Afrikaans and they say Staggie’s English is not the best. It’s a light-hearted moment and they laugh.

Rashieda says: “Every person deserves a second chance. Life’s too short to hate. He is seriously changed.”

Nabeelah adds: “We know our dad used to be evil. But that was a long time ago. He’s not that man any more.”

On the wall behind me is a striking painting of their father’s famous face hanging over Table Bay. At the top, in Arabic, are the words “the chosen one”.

The painting, by a local artist, is also a bit of a visual pun: man en berg (man and mountain). Manenberg. Clever.

Rashaad’s daughter says there was a big mural that looked just like it around the corner in Salt River of the dead Rashaad with the words: “To murder someone doesn’t solve the problem.”

“They bombed that,” says one of the children.

Staggie is back, but this family simply hopes the bombs won’t be too.

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