The Seven Most Prominent - And Dangerous - Gangs In South Africa

The systematic segregation that took place in South Africa during apartheid left a lasting imprint on the country. Some have said the rise of gangs in South Africa can be traced to the Group Areas Act of 1950, which displaced Black people from their homes and exiled them to designated regions.

Forced into overcrowded areas, the population was driven to in-fighting and eventually splintered into gangs. Gang membership is reportedly on the rise in South Africa; in 2013, police estimated there were 100,000 gang members in the Western Cape province.

This list explores some of the more prominent gangs in the country. South African gangs have carved out spaces in a nation that continues to struggle with its grim legacy.

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  • The Numbers Gang

    The Numbers Gang is perhaps the most notorious criminal organization in South Africa. It was founded in the late 1800s, when two men fought against inhumane conditions within the mine in which they worked.

    Today, the organization is particularly pervasive in the South African prison system, where the Numbers Gang is divided into three tiers: 26s, 27s, and 28s. The lowest rung, the 26s, specializes in robbery and smuggling goods into the prison. To join the 27s, a potential member must stab a guard or warden. The 28s are typically violent sexual offenders who must assault another male inmate.

    According to some sources, being a part of the Numbers Gang is near compulsory if one wishes to successfully navigate - and survive - the South African prison system.

  • The Americans

    Apartheid led directly to the creation of the Americans. The gang's name references how members relate more to Black Americans than they do Black Africans, having been relegated to the fringes of society via forced segregation.

    Members wear red, white, and blue, and their arms display tattoos reading "USA" or bearing imagery of Uncle Sam. The Americans are the largest gang in Cape Town and are said to control the meth trade.

    Members of the Americans are said to take a serious, solemn oath: They're told that from that day forward, they must be prepared to die at any given moment.

    During the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, members of the Americans delivered groceries to struggling Cape Town families, often wearing red, white, and blue face masks.

  • The Hard Livings

    The Hard Livings are considered the second-largest gang in Cape Town. Twin brothers Rashied and Rashaad Staggie founded the gang in 1971 in the neighborhood of Manenberg, and as their criminal enterprise grew, so did tensions with their neighboring rivals. These tensions came to a head in 1996 when a vigilante group publicly set Rashied Staggie on fire.

    Though Staggie's death was a blow to the gang's leadership, they have remained active in the drug trade and have reportedly been known to ally with the Sicilian mafia and the Chinese triads, taking their criminal activity to an international level.

  • The Sexy Boys

    Founded in the Chestnut Place, Belhar area of Cape Town, the Sexy Boys are known for their drug running and ruthless racketeering. For instance, taxi drivers have to pay a "tax" to even drive through the neighborhood. The Sexy Boys also have a reputation for violence and murder.

    Though much of the gang's leadership went to prison in the early 2000s, they reportedly still flourish as an active criminal enterprise. In 2018, a group of vigilantes beat a man to death after he shot and killed the Sexy Boys' leader and his son.