Western Cape policing authorities on the carpet over gang violence

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A Northern Cape police officer allegedly shot his girlfriend before turning the gun on himself.
A Northern Cape police officer allegedly shot his girlfriend before turning the gun on himself.
  • Cracking down on gangsters is not as easy as bundling everyone with a gang tattoo into a Nyala and arresting them, said Major-General Jeremy Vearey. 
  • He and his colleagues told the Western Cape legislature's committee on safety their work involved thorough investigations that could take years. 
  • The police as well as provincial and City of Cape Town security authorities were put on the spot about their strategies to tackle gang violence.  

Solving the gang crisis in the Western Cape is not as easy as pulling over everyone with a gang tattoo, top detective Major-General Jeremy Vearey said on Wednesday.   

"It is not as simple as going out in a Nyala in Manenberg and picking up anybody police think is a Hard Livings [a Cape Town gang]," Vearey added. 

He said it involved painstaking intelligence gathering over the long term to build a case that a court would not throw out.   Vearey, acting provincial commissioner Major-General Thembisile Patekile, the Western Cape's Department of Community Safety and City of Cape Town were summoned to the Western Cape legislature's community safety committee to explain what they were doing to curb gang violence.   

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Three shootings, which left six people dead on Sunday, were foremost on the committee members' minds as they demanded answers from those tasked to prevent these incidents from occurring.  Pieter Marais of the FF Plus wanted to know why the police did not simply round up people who identified with gangs through their dress and "tjaps" (gang tattoos). 

Vearey said: "The case in Mfuleni, and as we find increasingly in Khayelitsha, [requires] that we really relook at the way we think about gangs - and [not] thinking about it as only people with their front teeth out and walking in a certain way in Manenberg." 

He added it was a detailed exercise in gathering intelligence with many agencies within the confines of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act [POCA], and building a case a judge would accept as evidence of criminal activity.  

"In all cases dealt with so far in the Western Cape, we must first prove the gang we are bringing in is a criminal gang. It is not enough to say it is a gang."  

The State must prove criminal activities associated with them, regardless of whether they belonged to the old numbers gangs - the 26s, 27s and 28s - who stated criminal activity in their "code" or to more recent gangs, Vearey said. 

He added POCA dealt specifically with what constituted a gang member, and judges relied on this when deciding on a conviction and sentence. These requirements include admitting to criminal gang membership, being identified as a gangster by a parent or guardian, long-term observation by the police, and physical evidence such as tattoos.   

The tattoos alone, however, were not enough because some people got tattoos as children to pretend they were in a gang, Vearey said.  In the meantime, detectives work on new leads and observe changes in usual activity.   One of these was an observation around 2009 or 2010 that after a shooting, the scene was littered with shell casings.

This was unlike the previous pattern of shooters popping off just a few shots and leaving. This led to police wondering where they got so many bullets that they had enough to change magazines and keep firing. Vearey said investigators eventually found sports firearm licences were being issued out of a police station in Olifantsfontein. With a sports firearm licence, massive quantities of ammunition could be purchased purportedly for "sports practice".   

Twenty-one people, including alleged 28s gang members, and police officers will go on trial in August for this case.  

His colleague, the late Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, was investigating a similar case when he was shot dead outside his house in Bishop Lavis on 18 September 2020. Kinnear's focus was on how some private security companies' were rapidly arming themselves. 

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Patekile said dealing with poverty and providing alternate role models for the youth could play an essential part in preventing gangsterism.  

"There is an alternate governance and economy that the gangs are providing those communities," he told the committee. 

"Now, you must first deal with the attacks - that the community is throwing stones at you. Most of the time when we get there, nobody wants to talk, and they never talk."  The Anti Gang-Unit's (AGU) head, Major-General Andre Lincoln, is in charge of 191 officers of whom 140 are in uniform, 45 are detectives and six provide support.  Their operations are focused on Cape Town and include the Overberg and Worcester where police have identified gang activity. 

The police have also held a workshop on handling extortion, which has emerged as another risk in the province, where gangs demand protection money from businesses. 

The City of Cape Town's director of policing, Robbie Roberts, said the City had 1 462 law enforcement officers, 568 metro police officers and 322 operational Cape Town Traffic Services officers who assisted with the broader policing strategy.   It has a relatively new programme called the Law Enforcement Advancement Plan which is a partnership between the Western Cape government and City that focuses on drugs, guns, and liquor.

The City has horse and dog units, a CCTV network and is planning to use drones soon. However, it only has one CCTV camera in Mfuleni, where the recent shootings took place.  
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