Murder on Long Street: Congolese bouncers and the private security industry

2015-07-06 13:21

Cape Town - Joe-Louis Kanyona, a 32-year old Congolese resident of Cape Town, was hired as a doorman at craft beer megabar Beerhouse on Long Street last December, reports GroundUp.

At 22:37 on Saturday 20 June, while standing guard at the entrance, Kanyona, a smaller man than his occupation usually dictates, was approached by four men and stabbed in the neck. Without withdrawing the knife from his flesh - "it was a steak knife, like something from a restaurant," an eyewitness said - Kanyona tried to run upstairs, where his brother Julian was working, but faltered after a few steps. He died a few minutes later. His last words, spoken in French and repeated three times, were: "Lord, I put myself in your hands."

Kanyona was a private employee of Beerhouse, which also has a branch in Fourways, Johannesburg.

Beerhouse on Long Street. (GroundUp)

When contacted last week, owner Randolf Jorberg said that Kanyona "was paid an hourly wage like all other operating staff", although he was unwilling to confirm the amount.

Congolese bouncer sources on Long Street, who requested to remain anonymous, said that they typically earned between R250 and R300 for a ten-hour shift. Jorberg declined to comment other than to acknowledge that this sounded like an "average" figure.

Extortion rackets

Kanyona's murder has been linked to extortion rackets that criminal researchers say have controlled nightlife in central Cape Town for more than two decades, forcing club owners to pay for bouncers and other 'protection' services from Mafia-like private security firms.

Since opening in 2013 Jorberg has repeatedly refused to sign up a company currently believed to represent the syndicate, stating that he saw "no value" in working with them. "If the only purpose … is to protect me from a threat that they cause themselves, [then] I'm not going to feed that," he was quoted saying two days after the attack.

The leaflet for Joe-Louis's funeral. (GroundUp)

John Davidson, the owner of Bob's Bar & Bistro further down the street, has been outspoken about racketeering in Cape Town since the murder, telling radio station Cape Talk that extortion was a "huge problem" for his business.

"If you don't go along with them you're inviting trouble. I've been paying the monthly fee because it keeps my staff and customers safe," he said in a separate telephone interview last week.

Davidson has publically shared a R1 518 invoice - for "Responce & Consultation" (sic) - issued to his bar by a company called Lifestyle Entertainment Security Service (LESS) on May 30 this year. Director Richard van Zyl, whose details appear on the bill, previously worked as a manager at Specialized Protection Services (SPS), a controversial security company that was shut down in 2012 for not being legally registered. Van Zyl refused to respond to questions last week.

‘A hard-working man’

SPS formed out of the merger of two rival security firms a few weeks after feared crime boss Cyril Beeka, whose bouncers allegedly controlled local clubs from the mid-1990s onwards, was assassinated in 2011.

Owners Andre Naude and Mark Lifman - a Sea Point businessman with purported connections to the Cape underworld - have repeatedly denied involvement in Beeka's death, or any racketeering activities. Jerome 'Donkey' Booysen, a former SPS affiliate believed to be the leader of Belhar's Sexy Boys gang, said that he had "heard nothing" about the Beerhouse murder when contacted four days after the attack.

Before it was disbanded SPS provided security at nearly 200 venues in Cape Town, employing some 400 bouncers. Like Joe-Louis Kanyona, most of their workers were Congolese.

Shortly after Kanyona arrived in Cape Town in 2009 he found work as a private security guard, entering an industry that has become tightly entwined with the city's Congolese diaspora in the last two decades.

One of his first guarding jobs was at Pick 'n Pay in Parow, where he met Patrice*, another immigrant. "Joe-Louis was my best friend," Patrice said at Kanyona's funeral last Tuesday. "He was a hard-working and selfless man. We spent a lot of time together. His death is a tragedy."

As he settled Kanyona moved into a shared house near the supermarket, on a street occupied predominantly by Congolese families, and took a South African girlfriend, who this year gave birth to their first child. He left Pick 'n Pay to work as a bouncer in Parklands, near Tableview, later moving to join Beerhouse, where his brother, Julian, was employed.

"You find work through people you know," explained David*, a Long Street doorman. "After a while maybe your boss starts to trust you - then you can suggest your own people when there are vacancies. We get jobs for other Congolese. That's how it works."

Former soldiers working as bouncers

Few members of the Congolese community were prepared to talk on record for this story, citing fears of being targeted by the people who killed Kanyona. Beerhouse management was unwilling to comment on whether Kanyona was hired through his brother.

According to Khalil Goga, a criminal researcher at the Institute of Security Studies and the co-author of a 2014 paper on local protection rackets, the disproportionate representation of Congolese men in the Cape Town bouncer trade - as high as 85%, according to industry sources - is likely a consequence of three main factors: the long history of military conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the existence of strong diaspora kinship networks (such as those described by David), and the fact that the DRC immigrant population is among South Africa's largest.

"Across the world soldiers, fighters and police are often involved in protection businesses," Goga said. "Many of those involved in protection need to have a level of skill in terms of violence, and the military often provides that."

Certain trades, like nightclub security, tended to attract "violent entrepreneurs", he explained: people accustomed enough to physical danger and aggression to make dealing with it their business. "This certainly cannot be applied to all the bouncers," he said, "but there are many soldiers from the DRC working in South Africa."

According to statistics from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) there are currently more than 30 000 refugees and 12 000 asylum-seekers from the DRC living in South Africa, making theirs the third-largest official population of asylum seekers in the country, after Zimbabweans and Somalis.

Well-educated refugees

Forced migration from the DRC - Zaire until the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 - has been increasing since the late 1980s, driven by political instability and a series of civil wars. As recently as last year fighting between rebel groups and Joseph Kabila's government triggered fresh waves of exodus: more than half a million DRC refugees were recognised worldwide by UNHCR in 2014, placing the DRC sixth on the list of source countries for displaced people.

In South Africa the Congolese refugee population is considered unusual because it comprises a high number of educated, middle-class individuals. According to an ISS review paper by Jonny Steinberg in 2005 nearly one in two forced migrants from the DRC have some form of tertiary education and fewer than one in 20 was unemployed before leaving home.

This presents a stark contrast to immigration patterns from Zimbabwe, Somalia, Mozambique and other African countries. "The spectacle of social dislocation is striking," Steinberg wrote. "A group of well-heeled young men leave home to find themselves rubbing shoulders with the inner-city poor in a foreign country and in the midst of foreign languages."

Long Street, Cape Town. (Photo by Flickr user mikkelz)

Congolese bouncers interviewed for this story said that they did not aspire to work in the private security industry, but took their jobs out of necessity.

"It puts food on the table," one man said. "You can pay rent, send your children to school or save to start a business. Everybody needs to survive."

Kanyona, who grew up in Kinshasa, studied medicine after school, but quit early to begin working.

He was a capable wrestler and enjoyed leading church choirs: at least one of his 11 brothers was a preacher. In Cape Town he was a devout churchgoer, attending services on a Parow backstreet off Voortrekker Road, less than ten minutes walk from where he lived.

The church where Kanyona's funeral was held is located in a bare room with red and yellow curtained walls. It is flanked by hair salons, a Pan-African restaurant and a wholesale shop that sells fish from home.

Operation Fiela

In the days leading up to Kanyona's funeral it became clear that his death had become a political event.

South Africa's Congolese diaspora is notoriously fragmented. One 2005 study found 11 different community organisations, known as 'families' or 'tribes', in Cape Town alone. This means that there is no central authority to defer to in times of crisis.

Kanyona's murder took place the very same day that officials shut down Cape Town Station's taxi terminus as part of Operation Fiela, the South African government's response to an outbreak of xenophobic violence across the country in March and April this year.

"We want South Africans to understand that being a foreigner doesn't mean that we are weak or stupid, or that we can't defend ourselves," said Mike Alomba, also known as President Mike, who heads the Cape Town chapter of the 'Combattants', a global coalition of militant anti-Kabila protestors.

Alomba had just finished addressing Kanyona's memorial service, which drew more than 300 people to the church in Parow last Tuesday, and was standing on the pavement outside, surrounded by very large men.

"We are one of the biggest communities in South Africa. I'm talking about 100 000 people or more. We're not in a position to be scared. We have to stand up and fight."

The Combattants are purportedly aligned with Étienne Tshisekedi, a popular Congolese politician many believe was cheated in a controversial 2011 presidential election, but are known to attract members who do not share these political sentiments.

‘Young men who enjoy getting angry’

Before the funeral, Alomba's entourage allegedly threatened to disrupt proceedings if they were prevented from taking Kanyona's coffin to protest outside Parliament and Beerhouse.

"They want to send a message that this murder is unacceptable," explained a family friend, who asked to remain anonymous.

"But what difference can a protest make? Joe's family has already lost him. Did people need someone to die to try and fix the situation?"

Commenting on the Combattants, he said that they were "very powerful" and disposed to "making a noise for no reason".

"They attract young men who enjoy getting angry," he said.

Mourners carry Joe-Louis Kanyona's coffin through a street in the Cape Town suburb of Parow. (Kimon de Greef, GroundUp)

Kanyona's funeral coincided with the DRC's 55th anniversary of independence, which many in the Cape Town diaspora chose to shun as a protest against Kabila's government, heightening the day's symbolic relevance.

In the end the funeral was delayed by more than two hours while Kanyona's coffin was driven to Beerhouse, where a section of the street was cordoned off while Alomba's entourage chanted and waved flags.

"It's part of our culture," said Alomba, framing the detour as ritual and not protest, "that a person's body gets taken back to where they died before proceeding with the burial."

Trio in court for murder

Beerhouse owner Randolf Jorberg refused to comment, other than to say that the crowd was outside his bar for less than half an hour. "I'm not familiar with Congolese culture so I'm not sure what they were doing," he said.

In Parow, well-dressed men stood talking in groups as the sun burned off a thick mist. Inside the church Western gospel music alternated with devotional soukous. Black and white A4 signs, printed in English and French, had been stuck in adjacent shop windows to advertise the funeral, which was scheduled to start at 11:00. Shortly after 13:00 cars started arriving from town, followed by a white hearse. The crowd swelled. Kanyona's coffin was carried inside and the service began.

His body was flown home to Kinshasa, where both of his parents still live, last Thursday (July 2), and buried on the weekend. Fundraising efforts by Beerhouse, which had raised more than R100 000 by the time this story was published, helped pay for the funeral and the flight.

Last Monday (June 29) three men arrested in connection with the attack - Ubaid van der Bergh, 20, from Zonnebloem, Toufiq Essa, 21, from Woodstock and Nasbie Edwards, 27, from Ruyterwacht - appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court, where prosecutor Dail Andrews claimed that they had each been paid R1 000 for the hit.

*Names have been changed to protect people's identities.

- Kimon de Greef is a freelance journalist and researcher from Cape Town.

Read more on:    cape town  |  gang violence  |  crime

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