Vanderbijlpark police deny claims they are not doing enough to curb gang-related violence which, in recent weeks, has claimed the lives of two people in Bophelong.
Speaking to The Citizen, police spokesperson Sergeant Gertrude Makhale said it appeared that many residents who witnessed the recent violent killings involving two rival groups, Mopheme and the Diamonds, were just too afraid to provide police with the necessary information.
“For instance, one woman who opened a case of arson with the police later withdrew the case, while a home owner who witnessed an incident where a gang member was killed in his yard refused to be a witness,” said Makhale.
“Our hands as police officers are also tied because if there are no witnesses coming forward with information, chances of successful prosecutions become slim.”
Makhale said that two of the three suspects who were arrested had been released.
One suspect who, according to Makhale, confessed to being a gang member had already appeared in court and will make his third appearance in the Vanderbijlpark Magistrate’s Court today.
She stressed that when the Bophelong incident happened a few weeks ago, police officers only became aware of it when they received information about a murder.
While the issue of gang violence has had many residents of the Vaal area worried, some community leaders say the perception that gangsterism emanates from initiation schools is wrong. They say gangs are established at high schools.
One community leader, Jabulani Dlomo, said following investigations that entailed talking directly to gang members from different groups, it was discovered that in one school there were about 10 gangs.
Despite police reports indicating two gang members were killed recently, Dlomo said there were actually four killings.
He said the police were finding themselves in a very compromised situation, to the extent that fighting the scourge of gang violence had become almost impossible.
“The issue of the police is very sensitive because during one of the public meetings that were held following the Bophelong killings, someone said two police officers travelling in one van were seen following some of the gang members, but did not even attempt to arrest them.
“Some police officers have children and relatives who are part of different gangs,” he said.
However, Makhale said any one who might have information about a police officer or officers having children or relatives who might be part of gangs should go to any police station to open a case.
“We only became aware that there were gangs in Bophelong on November 13 … we will never just sit back and allow gangs to do as they please,” she said.
Elaborating on what their investigations revealed regarding the establishment of gangs, Dlomo said some children watched a lot of movies depicting violent crime.
“Some of these gangs, such as the Wrong Turns, the Diamonds and Alaska, have been around for many years and they have been fighting mainly for territorial reasons, where a particular group wants to be famous. The manner in which they carry out killings, by chopping people’s heads off, is really terrible.
“There also appears to be some satanic elements at play because some of the young boys belonging to these groups told us that there were times when they decided to stop with the killings, but could not do so because they are being instructed by other people to [carry on],” he said.
Asked what the general feeling among the public has been, Dlomo said people were scared to speak out against the scourge.
He said some of the weapons used by the gangs included sharpened objects, knives and pangas, while some even created their own swords.
Bhekumuzi Molaba, who is a sangoma, said he was worried about gang violence and stressed his initiation school did not breed gangsters.
“Gangsters decide to become part of or form gangs on their own, something they teach themselves from the beginning of the year at various schools,” he said.
“Gangsterism can be found in the whole of the Vaal [area] and people are scared to speak out and pinpoint those behind the violence because they might also be killed.”
A gangster who did not want to be named said rival groups were fighting over who was supposed to be the leader.
According to the spokesperson for the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), Nana Radebe, some commuters have called for security on the trains to be beefed up.
While she has not received many direct calls from commuters, she cannot say if incidents of crimes carried out by gangs on Metrorail trains are no longer happening.
Radebe confirmed that Prasa is working hard with law enforcement agencies to ensure that criminality is curbed but said the entity is unable to provide security personnel on each and every train coach as requested by commuters.
Radebe stressed that Prasa was working on special action to ensure it received tip-offs and advised commuters to report any criminal activity to 011-773-6936.