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Gangs, politics and dignity in Cape Town

Gangs, politics and dignity in Cape Town

Vivid study of the day-to-day experience of living in a working class neighbourhood on the Cape Flats
Jensen, Steffen
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978-1-86814-471-6
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Gangs, politics and dignity in Cape Town

Author: Steffen Jensen
Publisher: Witwatersrand University Press
Johannesburg, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-86814-471-6
Paperback, 15x24 cm, 240 pages, several bw photos and maps


Description:

This is a vivid study of the day-to-day experience of living in a working class neighbourhood on the Cape Flats. It deals with issues of criminality and the search for dignity in a harsh, economically depressed urban landscape.

Gangs are the main focus of the study, but gang members are presented on a broader canvas as family members, neighbourhood friends, members of sports clubs, employees.

Within this intensely claustrophobic world devout Christians and Muslims, drug dealers, cops, gangsters and welfare workers all rub shoulders.

Mothers, despite being disempowered in many ways, are hugely important figures in 'the courts', commanding respect within the family and even from gangsters.

Criminality is a blurred concept in the township, where alternative and competing moral codes have emerged.

Central to this analysis is the complicated and diverse concept of dignity. How is it constructed? What is its basis? How does it differ among the various protagonists of the township?


About the author:

Steffen Jensen is a Senior Researcher with the Rehabilitation and Research Center for Torture Victims in Copenhagen. He is also a research affiliate with the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) in Johannesburg.


Contents:

Introduction
The production of subjects & spaces
The violence of the 'other side'
The back streets
Winning back the Cape Flats
Policing the Cape Flats
Politics of respectability
Negotiating masculinities
Epilogue


Introduction:

In August 1996, a relatively little-known group of respectable Muslim men took to the streets under the acronym Pagad (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs) to protest against the destructive culture of drug peddling and powerful gangs in Cape Town, South Africa.

One night, they congregated outside a house occupied by Rashaad Staggie, one of the city's fiercest and most powerful gangsters and drug dealers. As the group - all wearing balaclavas and many of them armed - shot and killed the drug dealer in front of rolling cameras, the South African post-apartheid democracy seemed to enter a new phase.

Frustration with high levels of crime and violence was by no means new to the coloured1 areas of Cape Town. At least from the 1940s, coloureds had organized against crime in different ways. However, at that moment in 1996, the everyday experiences of violence seemed to intertwine with the uncertainties that the passing of apartheid had heralded.

It increasingly appeared as if crime and violence had become the unintended consequence of the transition; crime and violence animated a new political reality in which security dominated the political agenda.

Anxieties about crime and violence have characterized life on the Cape Flats and other depressed areas for decades. However, some commentators2 argue that such anxieties are radicalized in periods of democratic transition.3 The anxieties, whether caused by an acute crisis of transition or the perpetual crisis of poverty, are often embodied in the image of young, indigent men in urban gangs.

These anxieties are global phenomena, as evidenced by recent social upheavals in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, Latin America, Asia and Africa, where rising crime levels and transition seem to have accompanied one another. South Africa and Cape Town in the 1990s provide a particularly apt illustration of these processes. The demise of the apartheid regime and the ANC's relatively peaceful takeover of power in 1994 were events that lent themselves to notions of a South African miracle.

A few years into the transition the miracle appeared increasingly threatened, both economically and socially, by crime and violence. In this way, decade-old anxieties merged with contemporary uncertainties of transition.

While other studies have explored the general intersection between crime and political change,4 this book takes a more localized and historical approach. Through an ethnographic exploration of a particular township, it explores the actions of male and female residents, gangs, police officers and local government officials as they negotiated the intersecting processes of democratic transition and violent crime to forge a future that seemed within reach, but which in the late 1990s appeared increasingly threatened by insecurity and impending chaos.

It traces the ways in which township people sought to maintain dignity and officials tried to maintain professionalism in the execution of their duties in the face of hardship and danger.
It is often assumed that transition impacts on people's lives. It does, and the impact is complex and historically situated. However, notions of danger often rely on stereotypes of race, gender and class that date back centuries.

This is as true of Cape Town as anywhere else. For almost a hundred years, notions of danger, violence and moral transgressions in Cape Town partly revolved around the figure of the skollie. This Afrikaans term can best be translated as 'scavenger'; someone who refuses to work for a living. In Cape Town it also came to denote a violent hooligan or thug, lurking around urban spaces, seizing the moment and terrorizing hard-working people.

He was always poor, coloured and male. A central claim in this book is that this figure has animated state and popular perceptions about coloured men on the brink of becoming a skollie.

Clearly, the social and political fate of coloureds was not produced only by interventions against the skollie. Large political, economic and cultural forces determined the fate of coloureds in Cape Town. For one thing, the apartheid state placed coloureds in a buffer zone between Whites and Africans. For another, the emerging capitalist economy of the Western Cape demanded cheap labour for industry and agriculture.

Finally, a combination of the legacy of colonialism and pseudo-scientific racism meant that attitudes towards coloureds were permeated by racial discourses.6 However, stereotypical notions of the coloured man helped to stabilize racial categories and animated the government interventions that produced separate coloured areas on the Cape Flats.

Government intervention after 1950 was based on the ideology of separate development or apartheid, in which the regime applied different modes of governance for different racial groups. Although the interventions were introduced in incoherent and inconsistent ways, and in many instances failed outright, the apartheid regime was remarkably efficient in producing de facto coloured spaces.7

These interventions have had lasting effects on the possibility for people in townships to live what they themselves consider moral lives. Apartheid policy impacted on the intimate sphere of the family, on the possibility of producing livable communities; on the scope for local politics and especially on those embodying the 'danger', namely coloured men in townships. As an indication of the power of this apartheid invention, many coloured township residents, men and women, have internalized the skollie stereotype.

Although most were clearly not skollies, many accepted the existence of an abstract coloured man as a problem. They did not, however, accept the stereotype as an image of themselves, but rather split the idea of the problematic coloured man from the concept of self. Thirty-something Rashaad, who was one of my oldest friends in Cape Town and whose family had been crucial in allowing me to enter the township, provided a rich illustration, as he tried to explain coloured criminality to me:

'That's just the thing about the coloureds, the coloured people. No matter where they work - some of them in any case - no matter where they work, they steal. I don't know if it's because they earn too little money or because they have a culture of stealing.'

Rashaad established a link between coloureds and criminality but immediately qualified it. He talked of coloureds as 'they', thereby effectively excluding himself from the category of those who steal. Coloureds, especially young men, were acutely aware of the stereotypes linking criminality and their bodies. Moubin, a nineteen-year-old man with whom I spent many hours walking and talking and who at times helped me gain access to younger men, exclaimed: They keep it against you if they hear you're from the township:

'Oh, that place it is violent! You must be a gangster'. At first they will [say], 'Wow, he is from Heideveld.8 I wonder what kind of gangster is he now? Does he have a gun on him? Does he carry a long thin pointed knife? Is he going to rob me, is he going to kill me? Is he going to steal from my house?' - such things, man.

I mean, people always look at you other ways, man. I don't know, man. I can't explain. You have to be from Heideveld and you have to be brown [coloured] to experience that. I can't explain it to you.

The central character of this book is, in other words, an abstraction of a working-class coloured man who is the embodiment of danger and crime in Cape Town - an urban menace. He is the obstacle preventing the creation of a full, unquestioned coloured identity. He is the object around which political struggle and identification revolve. He is tangible and real, on the one hand, and incarnates utter intangibility, on the other.

His centrality lies precisely in this intangibility, as he cannot easily be permanently dispelled. Although real-life personalities are more rounded, complex individuals, they relate to this figure when they engage with dominant society and relate to other people in the township.

In every sense, these people are the heroes of the story told in this book. It explores the often claustrophobic relationships between township people, gangs and police officers and local government officials in a period of large-scale transformation of Cape Town and South Africa's political and social economy.

These characters co-exist in an intimate relationship, and their individual and collective practices and imaginaries animate one another. Women have to negotiate tensions between the behaviour, constructed and real, of their male kin, while making a living. Men have to negotiate the expectations and fears of their families and the gaze of the state, with the ever-present possibility of incarceration, while surviving the mean streets of the impoverished, marginalized and violent township.

Some of them turn to gangs, while others stake their claim to dignity in religion, politics or sport. State representatives must honour the new democratic ethos of professionalism and fairness, even as their duties in the transformation of South Africa often take them into unknown and dangerous territories. The power struggles and negotiations between the actors are all, to some extent, animated by notions of the skollie.

Hence, the contested naming and ever-evasive stabilization of men as him, through practice and discourse, is a key point of the book. These battles are fought in a field between structures of domination and the quest for dignity.

The skollie

The skollie is for all intents and purposes a stereotypical figure.9 As Stuart Hall notes, stereotypes 'reduce people to a few simple essential characteristics'. They draw on 'vivid, memorable, easily grasped and widely recognized characteristics of a person, and reduce everything about the person to those traits, exaggerate and simplify them, and fix them without change or development' (Hall, 1997: 257, 258).

Hall's analysis is concerned with race rather than gender and class. However, it seems clear that the stereotypes are particularly effective in relation to lower-class coloured men.10 As a stereotype, the skollie occupies an ambiguous place for coloured township residents. [...]


Index:

Abdurahman, Dr Abdullah 23-7
Adhikari, Mohamed 15 n.29
African renaissance 8
Africans 49-50
Agamben, Giorgio 9-10
agterbuurte 17, 91-7, 123, 194 see also
backstreets
alcohol 25-6, 36, 130, 181
Alexander, Claire 98
Americans 57, 58, 60-62, 70, 77, 79, 82,
90, 94, 153-7 passim., 163, 171, 173,
174, 179, 192
ANC 13, 50, 57, 100, 102-7, 109, 136,
137-43, 151, 158, 160, 184, 194
anti-crime organizations 1, 169, 174 n.5,
184, 185, 188-92 see also Pagad
apartheid 5 see also separate develop-
ment 3 n.7, 28, 41
backstreets 71 see also agterbuurte
Bittner, Egon 127-8
Black Consciousness 8
born-again Christians 62-6, 181-2
Botha, P.W. 30
Bourgois, Philippe 14, 92 n.23, 93
boycotts 102, 111-12
Brassie Vannie Kaap 54
Badroodien, Azeem 13 n.22, 15, 35
Butler, Judith 8 n. 23, 10 n.24
Cape Flats 10-15 passim, 48-9, 54, 74,
100, 102-10, 159, 168, 185, 195
Carnegie Commission 22
Cat Pounds 61, 71, 77, 82, 156, 191
Certeau, Michel de 7 n.15, 47, 120 n.l
Chandavarkar, Rajnarayan 119, 126
City of Cape Town 102, 105
class 6, 23, 26-7, 91
colonial policing 119, 126-7
coloured identity 8, 15, 47, 63. 178, 184,
197-8
Coloured Labour Preference Policv 21,
29, 50, 149
coloured question 21
coloureds relations to Whites, Indians
and Africans 2, 16, 18, 22, 24-5. 38,
41, 107, 111, 114 n.30, 127, 140-41,
149, 150-51, 184-5, 193, 195, 197-8
Comaroff, Jean and John 39
Commissions of Inquiry: Liquor 21, 26;
Wilcocks 21-8, 37; f heron 31, 33-5,
37
Community Policing Forum (CPF) 140,
143-5, 160-61
community work 19, 158-64, 179, 192
see also township politics; and liveli-
hood 159; ideology of 159, 161, 166-7
community-state partnerships 102-4,
117, 119, 143-5, 151, 161, 165, 190-92
corruption 112, 120-21, 123, 124-6, 129,
131-2,134, 141, 144
Courts 55, 62, 70, 111-12, 122, 125, 157,
171
Connell, Robert 92
Corbusier, Le 41-2
Coundouriotis, Eleni 9
crime 3, 98, 101, 129-30, 138, 193; fear
of 53, 109; war on 116-18, 141-5, 194
Crime Prevention Unit 122, 125-6,
133-4, 139 see also police
criminalization 71, 97-9, 119, 124, 142-3,
174
Democratic Alliance 101
Dennis, Norman 72, 77
Department of Coloured Affairs 21,
29-40, 105, 193
detectives 121, 131 see also police
Development Facilitation Unit 103-4
developmental local government 102
dignity 2, 4, 7-11, 14, 19, 69, 145, 146,
148, 164, 195-8; and humiliation 10
disenfranchisement 31, 46-7
District Six 43-6, 74, 173, 185
drug dealers 13-14, 75, 87-8, 90, 98, 114,
124-6, 128, 172, 175-6, 181, 186-7
drugs 81, 88, 153, 173-6, 194; and Pagad
1, 185-9
Duffield, Mark 101
Elections 103, 105, 185
Elsies River 12
Evans, Ivan 28-9
evictions 111-13, 116
Fanon, Frantz 78 n.16
Feldman, Allan 60
feminism 19, 146-7
Fleischer, Mark 73
forced removals 50, 51 see also District Six
gam 54, 57 n.14, 66-8, 123 see also
stereotypes
gang fights 76-9, 94-5, 165, 175, 179,
194; narratives 71, 76, 88, 91, 94-5,
171, 175, 177, 194, 195; territorial-
itv 75. 77-82, 87-91, 95, 154-5, 158;
theory 71-4, 96, 97-9
gangs 17-18, 57-62, 169, 185, 194; fear of
53-4, 100, 186,192
gender relations 6, 51-2, 65, 71, 86, 92,
121, 146, 165-7,168-9
Glaser, Clive 16, 73, 74-5
Goffman, Erwin 86
governmentality 2, 5, 12, 39, 98, 193,
195; and apartheid 5, 16, 22; limits
to 6, 47
Gramsci, Antonio 8
Greenhouse, Carol 74 n.l, 98
Group Areas Act 21, 40-46, 48, 193;
debates about 40-41, 75
hair 66-8, 96
Hall, Stuart 4
Hansen, Thomas B. 4 n.9, 6 n.14, 18,
100, 115
Hebdige, Dick 97
Heideveld 11-14, 45-6, 51, 111
Holmberg, Lars 127, 128 n.13
Homeboys 79-82, 88, 165, 178, 180, 182,
190
housing 12, 45, 110-16
human rights 11, 133-5, 136-7, 142
Impossible Ones 78, 87-89, 91, 94, 172
imprisonment 18, 36, 85 see also prison
Independent Complaints Directorate 135,
157
Independent Democrats 101
informal livelihood 19, 55-6, 86, 87-91,
114, 151, 159, 176
Jankowsky, Martin 73
Junky Funky Kids 57-8, 61-2, 79
kak cases 131-2, 134
Khoisan 23, 26
Klein, Malcolm 73
Lacan, Jacques 4 n.9
Laclau, Ernesto 4 n.9, 147
Levitt, Steven 88
Liberals 22-3, 30-31
local government 17-19, 100-88 150
195, 198
Manenberg 13 n.27, 114-16, 117, 146-7
154, 155, 158
masculinity 19, 71, 91-7, 155, 168-92,
195; and politics 183; crisis of 168,
180
Maunen, John van 127-8
Maylam, Paul 40-41
men, young 14, 17, 71, 91. 98, 123-4,
155, 158, 171,190-91
Mirandola, Pico del 9
moral community 11, 19, 66, 68-9, 99,
146-8,151,155-9,163-7,170,195,198
Mowbray 44, 50, 59-60, 90
Mufamadi, Sydney 141
Muslim Judiciary Council 186-7
National Crime Prevention Strategy
136-7, 145
nationalist ideology 28-31
Native Affairs Department 28-9, 31
neighbourhood watch 13-14, 19, 189-92,
196; and the state 190
New National Partv 101, 103, 137
New South Africa 20, 102, 116-18,
138-40, 158, 194, 197-8
New Yorkers 58, 61-2, 70-71, 74-7, 82,
94, 153-7 passim, 171, 179, 184
Non-European Unitv Movement 183
Norval, Aletta 28-9'
number gangs 81-7, 90, 169, 175
Omar, Dullah 139
Pagad 1, 118, 160, 166, 169, 185-9,
191; and state 187-8; Muslims 187-9;
violence 1
Parrell, Philip 74 n.l
perceptions of coloureds 172, 194-5
performance 67-8, 167, 168, 176-7, 180,
182-3
Pinnock, Don 13 n.27, 15 n.28, 36, 41-3,
73-5, 95-6, 149
Pollsmoor prison 85, 94
police 13, 17-19, 70, 88, 99, 119-45,
157, 190; hierarchies 125-6, 132,
140; theory 127-9, 132 n.23; violence
121-3, 134-5, 185;
poor whites 22
Population Registration Act 21
Prevention of Organised Crime Act 142-3
prison 82-7, 171, 175; identity 10, 83-4
privatization (or marketization, corpo-
ratization, outsourcing and public
private partnerships) 101, 106-8
Qibla 187-90
race 6, 140, 146 see also stereotypes and
racial categories; Afrikaans 4 n.10; in
Cape Town 5; and marginalization 14
racial categories 23-4, 33, 67. 101, 117.
122
racialized class divide 54-7, 121-3, 128,
146
Rasool, Ebrahim 160-161
Reconstruction and Development Pro-
gramme 104
religion 57 n.14, 62-6, 153-4, 169,
170-71, 180-83
respectability 10, 146-51, 181, 195; and
politics 157-64, 196; and violence
153-6, 162, 166
Rodgers, Dennis 72, 77
Salo, Elaine 13 n.27, 15, 147, 149, 151,
155-6, 158, 169
sanctions 168
segregation 27-9
separate development 12, 16-17, 21-47,
193, 193
sexual violence 86, 92-4, 157-8, 194
Shawco 113
shifts, the 125, 139 see also police
skollie 2, 3, 4-6, 10, 12, 16, 20, 23, 26,
36, 63, 71, 85, 117, 121-2, 134, 149,
155, 168-169, 172-3, 193, 194, 198
soccer 79, 80, 168, 177-180; as crime
fighting 179
space 17, 196 see also gang territorial-
ity and backstreets; and inequalities
48-56, 194, 198; and livelihood 48-51,
55-6; and violence 49, 59, 153, 154-6;
and race 48-9, 54, 128, 197-8
squatter camps 12, 44-5
Staggie brothers 1, 181, 186
State (the) 2, 4, 6, 12, 17-19, 74. 100-1.
110-11,115, 135-6, 138, 148-9, 190,
194-5; representatives 4, 10, 101, 112,
115, 119, 145; perceptions of coloureds
2, 18, 109, 112-13, 116, 121-3, 145,
152, 198; ethnography of 18, 119;
spectacles 138
Steinberg, Jonnv 13 n.27, 84, 86, 94,
169, 181
stereotypes 4, 14, 54, 149, 198 see also
skollie; coping with 71, 94, 98, 166-7,
169, 174, 180, 194; racial 2, 3, 153,
172, 193
struggle against apartheid 39, 46-7, 103,
118, 119,183-5,196
subcultural stvle 95-7, 134, 177
Surrey Estate 186-9, 191
Tablighi movement 181
Temperance movement 181
Theweleit, Klaus 93
Third Force 138-9
townships 3, 10-13, 40-46, 100, 116,
128, 193, 196-8; African 48, 102,
184, 198; and Pagad 188-9; politics
19, 103, 118, 144, 147, 151, 157-64,
169, 183
transformation 1, 18, 100, 119-20, 135-6,
147, 185; and crime 1-2; and politics
102, 109, 137-43; and government
100-18; and police 133-45; and wel-
fare 149-50
Tshwete, Steven 141-2
Tri-cameral parliament 30, 31, 46-7, 184
tsotsi 16
V&A Waterfront 53
Venkatesh, Sudhir 88
Verwoerd, Hendrik 28, 31
violence 58-61, 70-71, 76-9, 95, 98, 110,
114, 129, 173-6, 178-9, 186, 188, 194,
196
Wacquant, Loic 89
Welcome Estate 42, 46, 54-7, 146, 162,
163
welfare 32, 35, 51, 118; children 35-7;
women 37-9, 149-51, 154, 164
Western, John 15 n.28, 42-5, 50, 53
women 11, 19, 26; and labour market
148-9, 151, 164, 194; and police
120-21
Zero Tolerance 72
Zizek, Slavoj 4 n.9
zones of povertv and social disintegration
108-9, 116