Guest Column

Revellers at risk: Exposing Cape Town’s underworld

2017-04-28 09:00

Caryn Dolley

Young revellers walk under a street lamp – smiling, jostling and joking among each other. They look hyped, as if they’re ready for a fun night out in the city centre.

Nearby, clad in a dress and high heels, a young woman strides towards a club entrance. She doesn’t turn around so she doesn’t notice what is happening a few metres behind her. A man stands holding what appears to be a leg-length rifle. Another, further back, is dressed all in black and carrying a shield. Several other men mill about, alert.

This is apparently the new underworld grouping said to be effectively hijacking security at clubs in the city centre and ousting an older grouping. Only metered taxi drivers seem to realise who they are.

From the club the group go in a convoy, including a few luxury vehicles, to a strip club in the city centre, just around the corner from the police station. The man with the massive firearm positions himself opposite the entrance with another burly man alongside him.

This was a part of the Cape Town city centre around midnight last Friday. Police later confirmed that several firearms and ammunition were seized from the group of men, but no arrests were made.

Outside the first club, the metered taxi drivers said it was dangerous to go near the men. A police officer told me outside the strip club that it was a dangerous situation and I should stand back.

Again, the strip club is situated next to the police station. Well. I am thankful for the warning from the policeman, but something about the situation doesn’t sit well with me.

A group of men with guns are moving around the city, apparently as they please. And if police or other authorities are aware, this is even more concerning. It is a massive problem and a warning is a little too weak.

If the situation is so risky, if it is so very dangerous, then why is more not being done to stop these activities? What about those out and about in town and the surrounds who aren’t warned that they are near, or even in, a dangerous situation?

About two weeks ago two patrons were shot in Cafe Caprice in an incident said to be linked to the club security turf war. It doesn’t appear that they were warned. If potential danger exists, should it not be immediately thwarted, or better yet, pre-empted and foiled?

There have been several theories, as well as incorrect information which has been sent to some legitimate individuals, clouding what has become the club security turf war. So let’s look at the incidents, as well as information officially confirmed by police.

Officers intervened when a group of men initially gathered outside the strip club late on March 30. This was said to be the newer grouping. In the early hours of April 9 the older grouping which was previously in control of security at the strip club, but which was ousted, returned there. They blocked the road with their vehicles and police intervened. Then, in the early hours of April 10, dozens of minibus taxis were intercepted, apparently on their way into town, outside a fast food outlet along the N1 highway.

On April 17 two patrons were shot in Cafe Caprice. Late on April 21, last Friday, the new grouping went to a club in the city centre and then the strip club where police seized firearms and ammunition.

That’s five incidents in less than a month. Now let’s look at various scenarios as to what could actually be going on.

Scenario one: Friday night’s actions were a show of force.

The new grouping possibly wanted to show the older grouping how powerful they are. Or they wanted to show others who are not completely relevant.

If real, loaded firearms were indeed seized from them, then that means members of the public nearby them were at risk.
This simply cannot be viewed as acceptable.

People with firearms pose a potential danger, regardless of their intent. Just last week a police officer apparently accidentally shot his colleague. His colleague died.

Scenario two: The club security coup is an elaborate intelligence operation, involving informants, to trip up major underworld players.

Investigations take time. Information needs to be gathered and this is understood. But in this context, two people have already been wounded in a shooting. What more must happen before arrests or more firearm seizures are carried out?

Scenario three: A bunch of possible criminals have free reign to do whatever they wish around town and police will react when necessary.

This should never be the case. One could argue that the situation in the city centre is only a hint of what happens in gang hotspots across Cape Town, and further afield, every day and night.

The difference seems to be that this particular grouping isn’t like a traditional gang. They are apparently more organised, connected, moneyed and resourced with a particular viewpoint of taking over club security.

The warning, especially from the police officer, but also from sources with links to police and the underworld, about the danger they pose, is infuriating.

It’s basically saying, ‘don’t go near there, they are there’.

But since when do we make room for possible criminals (in this particular case a group with guns in a public space alongside a police station) to operate?

It seems for a while now.

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