Dagga smoking causes peace amid gang violence in Cape Town
An uneasy truce has been struck between members of rival gangs the Hard Livings and the Americans in Manenberg, on the Cape Flats. 'Friendship fires' were lit throughout the area on Friday night to celebrate what is likely to be only a pause in the violence
The troubled Cape Flats town-ship is enveloped in a cloud of bonfire and dagga smoke.
Streets are brimming with cheerful residents gathered around “friendship fires” quaffing alcohol and puffing “spliffs”.
Just weeks ago such gatherings were brought to a halt when violence between rival gangs – the Americans and the Hard Livings – reached crisis point.
Several people were caught in the crossfire of gang gun battles and sixteen schools were closed as a safety precaution.
Last week the police and city law-enforcement authorities moved into the area in force.
The bloodshed sparked a show of solidarity between the DA provincial government and the ANC.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Premier Helen Zille and Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille met on Wednesday to pave a way forward.
More than 50 people have been wounded or killed in the turf war, driven by the lucrative drugs trade, in recent weeks.
Though Zille and Mthethwa did not agree on everything they concurred that improving socio-economic conditions in the area was essential if gang violence and the drugs trade were to be eradicated.
The next day the Hard Livings and the Americans declared a truce. Community activist Mario Wanza said the Hard Livings donated money for buying the wood for the bonfires lit on Friday.
Walking along Renoster Road, also known as “the road of death”, was an Americans gangster known only as Gatsby.
He said the truce was necessary.
“When I shoot someone, I want to shoot them properly. I don't want children in the way. They have to go to school and get an education,” Gatsby said.
Despite the merriment on Friday night, tension still hung in the air. Locals gazed suspiciously at police vans snaking through the area.
They spoke in hushed tones – they did not want to be seen talking to the media.
“I am worried about my children. If I speak to you openly people will think that I am telling you their secrets,” said a man willing to identify himself only as Joe.
He has a deep fascination with gang culture and owns a collection of documentaries, including one chronicling the Hard Livings – once run by twins Rashied and Rashaad Staggie. Rashaad was killed in a vigilante attack.
In a 2005 discussion paper the Institute of Security Studies' Andre Standing revealed that gang power surged in 1994.
With the opening of the country's borders, international syndicates infiltrated South Africa easily.
“In particular, West Africans and the American mafia, Chinese triads and the Russian mafia appeared on the scene and drugs such as cocaine and heroin became more influential,” Standing said.
“The result of this tumultuous period for gangs was an increase in their power and financial base, and the rapid sophistication in, and the increased brutality of, their business practices.”
Far from the analysis and political bickering, Levi Gideon is nursing a gunshot wound.
He was returning from work to his home in Renoster Road when he was shot.
“I want the violence to stop now because it is getting bad here. You cannot trust the peace accord reached by the gangs,” said Gideon.
“After the elections politicians forget about us.”
The interview was cut short when a man emerged from a dark lane and admonished Gideon for “speaking to strangers”.
Then another man emerged and photographed The Times team and their vehicle.