The systematic segregation that took place in South Africa during apartheid has left a lasting imprint on the nation as a whole. It's a country with complicated race relationships that stretch back years, and even centuries. 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 expelled them to designated regions. Forced into overcrowded areas, the population was driven to in-fighting and eventually splintered into gangs. Membership is on the rise in South Africa; in 2013, police estimated that there were 100,000 gang members in the Western Cape province.
This list explores some of the more notorious gangs in the country. South African gangs have carved out spaces in a nation that continues to struggle with its grim legacy. For marginalized groups, this life of crime is often one of the few options available.
The Numbers Gang
Perhaps the most infamous criminal organization in South Africa is the Numbers Gang. It was founded in the late 1800s, when two men fought against inhumane conditions in the mine they were working in.
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, specialize in robbery and smuggling goods into the prison, while the 27s are the blood component - to join them, you must stab a guard or warden. The 28s, the top of the line, are violent sexual offenders who must assault another male inmate in order to join up.
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.
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, being relegated to the fringes of society via forced segregation.
Members wear red, white, and blue, and their arms display tattoos reading "U.S.A." or bear imagery of Uncle Sam. The Americans are the largest gang in Cape Town, and have seized control of the meth trade, often to violent ends.
Once you join up with the Americans, you take a serious, solemn oath: you are told that from that day forward you must be prepared to die at any given moment.
The Hard Livings
After the Americans, the Hard Livings are considered to be the second biggest gang in Cape Town. The gang was founded in 1971 by twin brothers Rashied and Rashaad Staggie in the Manenberg neighborhood, and as their criminal enterprise grew, so did tensions with their neighboring rivals. Things came to a head in 1996 when Rashied Staggie was publicly set on fire by a vigilante group.
Though the death of Staggie was a hit to the gang's leadership, they remained active in the drug trade and have 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 most for their drug running and ruthless racketeering (taxi drivers have to pay a "tax" to even drive through the neighborhood). Despite their more lighthearted name, the Sexy Boys have a reputation for brutality and murder.
Though the gang saw much of their leadership sent to prison in the early 2000s, they still flourish as an active criminal enterprise.