Nelson Mandela Bay gang wars now closer to home
Schoolchildren becoming increasingly involved in gang activity, revenge attacks on family members of rival gangsters, and young pupils having to run the gauntlet to get to school.
This is the latest, startling picture to emerge from Port Elizabeth’s northern areas where there has been a grim toll of nine murders and almost 20 wounded in less than a month.
“I usually say a prayer and watch as my son disappears around the street corner to start tackling the gauntlet of gangsters who are guarding each of the streets on his way to school.”
These are the words of a 34year-old Bethelsdorp mother who said her 13-year-old son is unable to focus in class as he has to think about various lies that will allow him safe passage through the less than 1km stretch to school.
During an interview on Thursday with the Port Elizabeth-based Provincial Organised Crime Unit, also known as the Gang Unit, members highlighted the sudden surge in shootings as being linked to pupils affiliated with gangs trying to make a name for themselves and targeting rival gang members, which in turn sparked revenge attacks.
The team of detectives asked to remain anonymous to avoid compromising future gang-related operations.
Three weeks of shootings in the northern areas have left nine people dead and more than 16 wounded.
In the latest incident, a 37year-old man was shot twice in the chest on Friday morning while walking in Esterhuizen Street in Arcadia. He survived.
While some shootings are confirmed to be linked to an ongoing war between three rival gangs, most of the murders have been of family members of known gangsters who had been targeted in revenge.
The Bethelsdorp mother said her son was being influenced by his older cousin – a gang member – and was being encouraged to leave school and earn a living as a gangster instead.
“My son sees what is happening around him, he hears about the people dying in the area because they had disagreements with the gangsters . . .
“As a human your first instinct is survival and should he join a gang, it will probably be to stay alive,” she said.
“Different gangs each rule over individual streets in the area . . . So my son will tell the one group that he is with them and tell the others in the next street he is with them, or have to make up a lie that he has to do something for the teacher after school.
“All this just so that he can get through the area without too much trouble and find his way to school.
“Then he has to go through it all again in the afternoon.
“I have found weed [dagga] in his bag before but he said it was from one of these gangsters who said he should give it to another pupil . . . My fear is that these lies will catch up with him.”
The gang unit said it had noted a new trend emerging, with gangs now targeting relatives of gangsters.
“If they cannot get the gangster, they will go for the next best thing, which is the mother, father, sister, brother or any relative and friend who is close to the person they are after.
“That is one of the reasons for the recent spate of shootings – the majority are relatives or friends of the gangsters they want to get,” an official said.
Asked about the recent spike, detectives explained that this was due to some gangs branching out across the Bay, including Uitenhage, with others already establishing strongholds in East London, Makhanda, Kirkwood, Addo and Humansdorp.“They have expanded their operation and with expansion comes competition. The recent spate of killings is mostly linked to orchestrated revenge between the Spotbouers and the Good Fellas gangs.“These two gangs spilt in 2016 due to differences and are now at loggerheads.“A recent shooting of a relative from the Preston Shaw Boys gang has now seen them also join the fight.”The unit members went on to say all the gangs are affiliated to one or other main group who give them product, guns and backup when needed.There is also another breakaway group of gangs who are moving around the Bethelsdorp area and are known as guns for hire and they are paid to cause friction between these alliances to better the competitions business.“In other words, this war is orchestrated to [financially] - Opinion Page 14benefit certain gangs who are not part of the war,” a detective said.“If your gang is preoccupied with fighting each other, the other alliances step in and continue the trade [dealing in drugs or stolen property].“Only when their pockets are hit, do they find alternative peace measures as it [gang warfare] hampers business.”The official said all the gangs had affiliates made up of several smaller gangs who now encouraged others to take up arms in the war to gain power.“You must know that their rank structure, their intelligence and their resources are not something to be laughed at.“They are organised and plan each attack, sometimes even using women to lure their target to a house or tavern where gunmen lie in wait,” the official said.“When the attack happens and the rival gang establishes that they were set up, it sparks a series of revenge attacks.“These include schoolchildren who have been groomed from as young as 12 to be in the gang life and peddle drugs.”A principal at a northern areas school, who also asked not be named, said they could feel the influence of gangsterism on their premises.“While we have been fortunate not to have actual shootings on the premises, when the kids get in fights they sometimes will threaten retaliation, claiming they will get this or that gang to assist.“We have also noted conversations taking place between those who we believe to be gangsters and kids through the school fence at break times.“We have never found any drugs on the kids but we know there is a very real gangsterism influence here.”Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu said that in some recent shootings, fingers were pointed to schoolchildren as being involved.“We are aware that some gangs have formed smaller gangs at schools which are aligned to the main gangs.“They have the protection of these gangs,” she said.“The recent shootings near schools in Bethelsdorp are testament that some of these school gangs exist.”Naidu said that while the spate of shootings was receiving urgent attention, several plans had been implemented to curb the ongoing violence, including school visits, bulk deployment of resources, arrests and the confiscation of 119 firearms over the past two months.She said that on Thursday night four suspected gangsters, two of whom are teenagers, were arrested during a joint sting operation in the Bay.These suspects were wanted in separate incidents of murder and illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.Municipal safety and security political head Litho Suka said plans were afoot to assist in addressing root issues.“One of our key focuses is hosting a safer-city summit.“We will invite all stakeholders who will assist with putting a comprehensive strategy together for this metro.”..