“When you are looking at a gang such as one here in Cape Town, you could have a small gang but their influence and connections could be far more reaching.” This is the view of Khalil Goga, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). The institute recently released a report entitled ‘The Drug Trade and Governance in Cape Town’, which looked at the roots of local gangs as well as their connections with global foreign partners. The report was compiled through social network analysis, in a bid to determine how Cape Town based gangs were constituted.
Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat on Friday, Goga said their research had uncovered that gang structures were not as hierarchical as initially perceived. Rather, many were far more flexible and far reaching than before.
These gangs had vast international links that, whilst not the most important when it came to gang activity on the ground, were vital when it came to the trade of things such as weaponry or drugs. He noted that in the case of cocaine trade, links between foreign partners and local gangs were already established during the 80s. Those links came to fruition during the 90s, where an influx in foreign nationals coming into SA helped enforce those ties.
“If you are looking at what we call the Nigerian organised crime, or West-African organised crime, that came through the 90’s, and those links were already well established. They needed local distributers, and so they managed to work with local gangs,” he said.
He said that many of these gangs were working like businesses, similar to trans-national criminal organisations. Furthermore, he said most of the bigger gangs, including the Americans and Hard Livings, were in effect operating like franchises. This meant that instead of being one central organisation, they were operating in small groups all linked to the main gang.
Whilst certain organised crime fighting units such as the Hawks were yielding good results in the fight against gang activity, local law enforcements haven’t been as successful. Goga suggested it would be hard to determine whether the country’s current enforcement capability was strong enough to tackle these gangs.
“What we actually argue in the paper is that in order to remove the drug economy, it is more important to build on the social economic. Without that, the enforcement becomes less necessary. Once people can move out of the drug economy, once we start reducing drug addiction and increase employment, once we start focusing on that along with enforcement, you’ll have a better success,” he said.
He added that in many of the poorer communities, where many were struggling to find employment, there was some reliance on gangsters and ‘criminal philanthropy. Whilst to the benefit of the community, it helped strengthen the gangs hold on people, and on a larger scale the country’s economy.
“The larger the gang problem is, the more it can distort the economy and create major problems,” he said. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)