How Cape Town became a murder capital | The Economist

published on July 2, 2020

Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world

It’s also one of the most dangerous

We’re taking a closer look at a wave of deadly violence

sweeping across Cape Town, South Africa

Over the past decade, a lethal mix of gangs and guns

has caused a surge in the murder rate

Certainly, in many areas there is a crisis

The lid has just been taken off the boiling kettle

and it’s boiling over

Last year, more than 3,000 people were murdered here

The number has doubled in a decade

In some areas, the situation is so volatile

that emergency services refuse to enter

How did Cape Town reach crisis point?

So guys, we are just going to quickly do the update of the weekend

Seven people were shot

Five males, one female and one child was shot

Pastor Craven Engel runs a pioneering project called Ceasefire

based in one of the most violent areas of the city, Hanover Park

It’s happening now, where civilians get shot

this can happen to anyone

Craven and his team monitor gang violence in the district

and, where possible, step in to calm things down

On a busy day there can easily be like

17 incidents of violence in the area

And multiple shots of more than about 60 shots fired here

The team is made up of reformed gang members

We started out by using guys that we recruited from the street

And we help them to recover

We train them strategically to go and help their own kind

They’re known as the “interrupters”

A violence interrupter, he’s at the front end of the violence

but he must also be a credible messenger in the community

and credible with the gangs

Just down here, we had a shooting here about five minutes ago

And there, another shot’s been fired

The interrupters use a technology called ShotSpotter

It employs sophisticated acoustic sensors, set up across the area

to detect and locate gunfire incidents in real-time

There’s a shot coming in here, we can go to the area where it’s been fired

And this is how it is in our community here

Shots get fired, incidents happen, life goes on as normal

Craven’s project is based in an area of the city known as the Cape Flats

a patchwork of townships south-east of the city centre

Last year, nearly 2,500 people were murdered in these townships

almost 80% of the city’s total homicides

In other parts of Cape Town, particularly the wealthier, middle-class areas

the murder rates has remained relatively stable or is non-existent

It’s highly unequal in terms of the distribution of murder

It’s been estimated that there are 93 gangs in Cape Town

with 100,000 members

These criminal gangs are particularly well-organised

but also particularly violent

They are rooted into the community

with a system that’s in place

What’s been happening in Cape Town in the past few years

has been an intensification in gang conflict

Over the past decade, this conflict has been fuelled by deadly weapons

The key issue in South Africa in terms of the murder rate

has been the influx of high-powered firearms into Cape Town

Many of these guns aren’t coming from criminal networks, but from the police

In 2016 Chris Prinsloo, a former police colonel

pleaded guilty to selling 2,400 guns to an arms-dealer

who sold them on to gangsters

It emboldened specific gangs

and those gangs then started to take on others and really

escalated the gang conflict to the stage of a war

Investigators have linked more than 1,000 murders to these firearms

including 261 cases in which children were victims

Under previous president Jacob Zuma, police corruption became endemic

On the ground, gangs recruit corrupt officers, who provide tip-offs about raids

This is taking place in the context of high-level corruption

Senior police officials indicate that there has been some form of collusion

between individuals within the ruling party

and those in the criminal underworld

In Cape Town, the murder rate has risen from

44 to 73 people per 100,000 in ten years

It’s now more than twice that of Johannesburg

One study found it was the 11th most murderous city in the world

not including places that are too chaotic to count the bodies

The crisis in Cape Town is the result of a toxic mix of factors

the roots of which go back more than half a century

Violence in Cape Town also has particularly strong historical driving factors

The city is particularly divided socially and spatially

In the 1960s the apartheid regime forcibly removed mixed-race people

known in South Africa as “coloured”, from the inner city centre

The forced removals saw them being dumped in the Cape Flats

and having to establish new communities

Police rarely investigated the murders of people who weren’t white

Their neglect allowed criminals to terrorise

these black and coloured townships

In these particular contexts you saw gangs flourish

Conditions in many of these communities haven’t changed that much

Today the area still suffers deep-rooted, socio-economic problems

In one precinct, Phillipi East, 93% of households were victims of crime in 2016

You can never cluster so much people in such a small space together

with no economic development, with no recreation, with no job creation

That’s a recipe for self-destruction

40% of young South Africans are unemployed

President Cyril Ramaphosa calls it a national crisis

Apartheid is still happening in its own way

The “whites only” sign has disappeared

but the violence, the negativity, the opportunities

nothing has come the way of this community

Gordon was in a gang from the age of 12

After spending almost a decade in prison

he left the gang seven years ago to become an interrupter for Ceasefire

Today he’s returned to the township where he grew up

This is my world

This is where I come from

You can see, there are no opportunities, no privileges, no nothing

The only survival key inside of here is be a gangster, become a drug dealer

At the age of 12 years old, they shot my one brother there in front

The other one, they shot him inside

Right there is where I did my first murder

We grew up with a heart of stone, like we got nothing to lose

When he was a gangster, it was Gordon’s job

to recruit children to join his gang, known as The Mongrels

This was the only way to make the game continue, to recruit kids you know

But since he started working for Ceasefire

he has focused on preventing children from getting involved in gang culture

Now, rolling with these little kids

I just want to be an example to them, make them believe

you don’t need to be a gangster, a drug dealer, you can travel the world

If I can be the example, you know, show an example to all the kids

that would be amazing

Ceasefire has so far helped 700 gangsters like Gordon

to leave their old life behind and become community activists

But there is only so much a small charity can do

Programmes like ourselves and many others will make a dent

but that dent will soon disappear

Ceasefire is one of the tools for bringing down violence

and it can be particularly effective if it’s linked to other sorts of interventions

The problem, certainly in Cape Town, is that there

has been an absence of those sort of interventions

they have sort of been scattered across the city

And so, they aren’t particularly effective

South African authorities are taking steps to tackle the crisis

In 2018 they set up a specialised anti-gang unit

tasked with bringing down violent gang crime in the city

I want to give a very clear and stern warning to gangsters

your days are numbered

Last year, with the death toll escalating

they even sent the army onto the streets of Cape Flats

Under Mr Ramaphosa, the South African government

is also trying to replace corrupt police and prosecutors with clean ones

Yet, the murder rate continues to rise

Bringing law and order to a place like Cape Flats will take time

South Africa is continually creating perpetrators of violence

Particularly young men, who will use violence against each other

or use violence in intimate relationships, against their wives

against their girlfriends, against their children

We need to do something very seriously

about trying to prevent violence against children

and work with families, particularly families that are

at high risk of this violence happening

South Africa needs more jobs, better policing

and a cultural shift among young men

Apartheid left a legacy of violence

It may take South Africa decades to overcome it

If you enjoyed this film and want to see more

then take a look at our film on Mandela’s legacy in South Africa

You can find that linked in the description below

For more Economist coverage

then click the link opposite for our special report on Africa

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