Softening the 'Iron Hand': Re-Thinking Punitive Approaches to Addressing Gang Subcultures in South Africa

Authors

  • Theodore Petrus University of the Free State, South Africa.
  • Chijioke Uwah University of Fort Hare, South Africa.
  • Desira Davids Helenvale Youth Empowerment Programme
  • Branton Jonas Department of Safety and Liaison, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.

Keywords:

Gang subcultures, gang-related crime, South Africa, gangsterism, Port Elizabeth, Covid-19

Abstract

Shortly after the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the South African government instituted a nationwide lockdown, in an effort to curb the spread of the disease. However, a critical part of this process was the policing of communities under lockdown. In various communities throughout South Africa afflicted by gang-related crime, while the lockdown initially had an impact on gang activities, this did not last long. Gang subcultures continued despite the lockdown measures, as well as the joint military and police operations to maintain order. This article focuses on the relevance of punitive approaches to addressing gang subcultures in South Africa, particularly in the context of the Covid-19 and post-Covid-19 environment. It is based on research conducted by the authors in a gang-affected community in the city of Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha), located in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. The main argument is that punitive approaches are no longer effective (assuming they ever were), and are certainly no longer relevant for addressing gang subcultures in the Covid-19 era.

Author Biographies

Theodore Petrus, University of the Free State, South Africa.

University of the Free State, South Africa.

Chijioke Uwah, University of Fort Hare, South Africa.

University of Fort Hare, South Africa.

Desira Davids, Helenvale Youth Empowerment Programme

Helenvale Youth Empowerment Programme

Branton Jonas, Department of Safety and Liaison, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.

Department of Safety and Liaison, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.

References

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Boraz, S. and Bruneau, T. (2006). Are the maras overwhelming Central America? Military Review, November-December, 36-40.

Brantingham, P.J., Tita, G.E. and Mohler, G. (2021). Gang-related crime in Los Angeles remained stable following COVID-19 social distancing orders. Criminology and Public Policy, 20(3), 423-436.

Brewster, B., Robinson, G., Silverman, B.W. and Walsh, D. (2021). COVID-19 and child criminal exploitation in the UK: Implications of the pandemic for county lines. Trends in Organized Crime. Available at https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-021-09442-x (Accessed 17 January 2022).

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Del Carmen Guttierez Rivera, L. (2011). Security policies from a spatial perspective: The case of Honduras. Iberoamericana, 11(41), 143-155.

Densley, J. (2011). Ganging up on gangs: Why the gang intervention industry needs an intervention. The British Journal of Forensic Practice, 13(1), 12-23.

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Monaghan, R. (2004). ‘One merchant, one bullet’: The rise and fall of PAGAD. Low Intensity Conflict and Law Enforcement, 12(1), 1-19.

Nel, J.Y. (2003). The constitutional rights of children and the Prevention of Organised Crime Act 121 of 1998. Journal for Juridical Science, 28(1), 97-119.

Parliamentary Monitoring Group. (2017). Hawks illegal firearms unit; SAPS Anti-Gang Strategy; Quarter 1 performance; Vetting senior management. 23 August. Available at https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/24881/ (Accessed 10 March 2022).

Petrus, T. (2013). Social (re)organisation and identity in the “Coloured” street gangs of South Africa. Acta Criminologica: African Journal of Criminology & Victimology, 26(1), 71-85.

Petrus, T. (2021a). Addressing crime, violence and socio-spatial deprivation in a vulnerable community: An interdisciplinary perspective on the Safety and Peace through Urban Upgrading (SPUU) initiative in Helenvale, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Development Southern Africa. DOI: 10.1080/0376835X.2021.1879628.

Petrus, T. (2021b). Towards meaningful social development in the Covid-19 era: Strategies for capacity-building in a gang-affected community in Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha), South Africa. International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology, 13(3), 84-90 DOI: 10.5897/IJSA2021.0923.

Petrus, T. and Uwah, C. (2019). Theatre of the street: Drama and performance as a potential gang intervention strategy and social development resource in affected communities in South Africa. Journal of Social Development in Africa, 34(2), 89-112.

Pijoos, I. (2022). ‘The country was burning’: SANDF chief relives getting the call for deployment for July’s unrest. News 24, 2 March. Available at https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/the-country-was-burning-sandf-chief-relives-getting-the-call-for-deployment-for-julys-unrest-20220302 (Accessed 14 March 2022).

Pinnock, D. and Pinnock, R. (2019). Strategic roadmap towards implementation of the National Anti-Gangsterism Strategy in the Western Cape: Provincial response to the National Anti-Gangsterism Strategy. Cape Town: Western Cape Department of Community Safety.

Prevention of Organised Crime Act, 121 of 1998.

Rauch, J. (2001). The 1996 National Crime Prevention Strategy. Johannesburg: Centre for the study of Violence and Reconciliation.

Rosen, J.D. and Cutrona, S. (2021). Understanding support for Mano Dura strategies: Lessons from Brazil and Colombia. Trends in Organized Crime, 24, 324-342.

Schuberth, M. (2016). Beyond gang truces and Mano Dura policies: Towards substitutive security governance in Latin America. Stability: International Journal of Security and Development, 5(1). Available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=2899068 (Accessed 17 February 2022).

Swanson, K. (2013). Zero tolerance in Latin America: Punitive paradox in urban policy mobilities. Urban Geography, 34(7), 972-988.

Ten Velde, L. (2012). The Northern Triangle’s drugs-violence nexus: The role of the drugs trade in criminal violence and policy responses in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Drugs and Conflict Debate Papers, 19. Amsterdam: Transnational Institute.

The Sentencing Project (2018). Punitive responses to gang violence are not effective. 28 March. Available at https://www.sentencingproject.org/news/punitive-responses-gang-violence-not-effective/ (Accessed 12 January 2022).

Thomas, K., Shaw, M. and Ronan, M. (2020). A city under siege: Gang violence and criminal governance in Nelson Mandela Bay. Geneva: The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

TimesLive(2021). Five gang suspects nabbed for murder of teenager at PE drug house. Sunday Times, 10 January. Available at https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2021-01-10-five-gang-suspects-nabbed-for-murder-of-teenager-at-pe-drug-house/ (Accessed 6 January 2022).

Umana, I.A. and Rossini, D. (2012). Youth violence in Central America: Lessons from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Geneva: Geneva Peacebuilding Platform.

Ungar, M. (2009). Policing youth in Latin America. In: Jones G.A. and Rodgers D. (eds),Youth Violence in Latin America. Studies of the Americas. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Available at https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230101333_11 (Accessed 16 February 2022).

Van der Linde, D. (2020). The criminalisation of gang activity in South Africa: Re-assessing the rationale. South African Crime Quarterly, 69,35-44.

Van Santen, E. (2019). Inclusive peace mediation in the city: Spatial segregation of violence and urban politics of “social” inclusion in gang truces. Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal, 4(2-3), 201-219.

Viltoft, C. (2021). Deconstructing gangsterism in South African legislation and policy: Reframing anti-gang strategies by utilising at-risk definitions. Proceedings of the3rd International Academic Conference on Research in Social Sciences, 10-12 June 2021. Berlin: Diamond Scientific Publishing.

Wolf, S. (2017). Mano Dura: The politics of gang control in El Salvador. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Young, T., Fitzgibbon, W. and Silverstone, D. (2014). A question of family? Youth and gangs. Youth Justice, 14(2), 171-185.

American and Caribbean Blog, 28 May. Available at http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/104860/1/latamcaribbean_2020_05_28_covid_19_is_increasing_the_power_of_brazils.pdf (Accessed 17 January 2022).

Bergmann, A. and Gude, R. (2021). Set up to fail: The politics, mechanisms and effects of mass incarceration. Latin American Law Review, 7(1), 43-59. Available at https://doi.org/10.29263/lar07.2021.03 (Accessed 17 February 2022).

Boraz, S. and Bruneau, T. (2006). Are the maras overwhelming Central America? Military Review, November-December, 36-40.

Brantingham, P.J., Tita, G.E. and Mohler, G. (2021). Gang-related crime in Los Angeles remained stable following COVID-19 social distancing orders. Criminology and Public Policy, 20(3), 423-436.

Brewster, B., Robinson, G., Silverman, B.W. and Walsh, D. (2021). COVID-19 and child criminal exploitation in the UK: Implications of the pandemic for county lines. Trends in Organized Crime. Available at https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-021-09442-x (Accessed 17 January 2022).

Businesstech. (2019). South Africa’s most violence provinces in 2019. 14 September. Available at https://businesstech.co.za/news/lifestyle/340755/south-africas-most-violent-provinces-in-2019/ (Accessed 22 March 2022).

Casales, R. (2018). Gangs born out of civil war: Factors leading to the creation of MS-13 and 18th Street gang. Colloquium: The Political Science Journal of Boston College, 2(2). Available at https://ejournals.bc.edu/index.php/colloquium/article/view/10672 (Accessed 22 February 2022).

Daniels, T. (2021). Gangsterism glorified in Port Elizabeth: SAHRC. SABC News, 4 February. Available at https://www.sabcnews.com/sabcnews/gangsterism-glorified-in-port-elizabeth-sahrc/ (Accessed 6 January 2022).

Davids, D.J. (2017). Experienced based lessons from males in the Northern Areas of Port Elizabeth regarding factors protecting them from becoming involved in gangsterism. Unpublished MA dissertation. Nelson Mandela University: Port Elizabeth.

Del Carmen Guttierez Rivera, L. (2011). Security policies from a spatial perspective: The case of Honduras. Iberoamericana, 11(41), 143-155.

Densley, J. (2011). Ganging up on gangs: Why the gang intervention industry needs an intervention. The British Journal of Forensic Practice, 13(1), 12-23.

Department of Safety and Liaison. (2016). Provincial Safety Strategy Eastern Cape Province. Available at https://www.saferspaces.org.za/uploads/files/Provincial_Safety_Strategy_2016-2020.pdf (Accessed 4 April 2022).

Garda World (2020). Brazil: Sao Paulo state to shut down for fourteen days from March 24 over COVID-19 concerns/update 6. 21 March. Available at https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/325351/brazil-sao-paulo-state-to-shut-down-for-14-days-from-march-24-over-covid-19-concerns-update-6 (Accessed 21 September 2021).

Heinecken, L. (2021). Military not a magic bullet: South Africa needs to do more for long term peace. News 24, 28 July. Available at https://www.news24.com/news24/analysis/analysis-military-not-a-magic-bullet-south-africa-needs-to-do-more-for-long-term-peace-20210728 (Accessed 14 March 2022).

Holland, A.C. (2013). Right on crime? Conservative party politics and mano dura policies in El Salvador. Latin American Research Review, 48(1), 44-67.

Hume, M. (2007). Mano dura: El Salvador responds to gangs. Development in Practice, 17(6), 739-751.

Jonas, B. (2015). An evaluation of intervention strategies addressing gangsterism in the Helenvale area. Unpublished MA dissertation. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University: Port Elizabeth.

Justice Policy Institute (2007). Groundbreaking new report: Gang suppression tactics fail to reduce crime, can worsen problem; Pervasive myths about gang members and gang crime debunked. 18 July. Available at https://justicepolicy.org/press/groundbreaking-new-report-gang-suppression-tactics-fail-to-reduce-crime-can-worsen-problem-pervasive-myths-about-gang-members-and-gang-crime-debunked/ (Accessed 12 January 2022).

Krause, K. (2014). Supporting the iron first: Crime news, public opinion, and authoritarian crime control in Guatemala. Latin American Politics and Society, 56(1), 98-119.

McCain, N. (2022). Eight killed in three days, as gang violence flares up in Manenberg, Western Cape. News 24, 14 March. Available at https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/eight-killed-in-three-days-as-gang-violence-flares-up-in-manenberg-western-cape-20220314 (Accessed 22 March 2022).

Martin, J.L. (1994). Family and gang involvement: An analysis of the effect of family function and family structure on gang involvement. Graduate and Student Theses, Dissertations and Professional Papers, 5307. University of Montana: Montana.

Monaghan, R. (2004). ‘One merchant, one bullet’: The rise and fall of PAGAD. Low Intensity Conflict and Law Enforcement, 12(1), 1-19.

Nel, J.Y. (2003). The constitutional rights of children and the Prevention of Organised Crime Act 121 of 1998. Journal for Juridical Science, 28(1), 97-119.

Parliamentary Monitoring Group. (2017). Hawks illegal firearms unit; SAPS Anti-Gang Strategy; Quarter 1 performance; Vetting senior management. 23 August. Available at https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/24881/ (Accessed 10 March 2022).

Petrus, T. (2013). Social (re)organisation and identity in the “Coloured” street gangs of South Africa. Acta Criminologica: African Journal of Criminology & Victimology, 26(1), 71-85.

Petrus, T. (2021a). Addressing crime, violence and socio-spatial deprivation in a vulnerable community: An interdisciplinary perspective on the Safety and Peace through Urban Upgrading (SPUU) initiative in Helenvale, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Development Southern Africa. DOI: 10.1080/0376835X.2021.1879628.

Petrus, T. (2021b). Towards meaningful social development in the Covid-19 era: Strategies for capacity-building in a gang-affected community in Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha), South Africa. International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology, 13(3), 84-90 DOI: 10.5897/IJSA2021.0923.

Petrus, T. and Uwah, C. (2019). Theatre of the street: Drama and performance as a potential gang intervention strategy and social development resource in affected communities in South Africa. Journal of Social Development in Africa, 34(2), 89-112.

Pijoos, I. (2022). ‘The country was burning’: SANDF chief relives getting the call for deployment for July’s unrest. News 24, 2 March. Available at https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/the-country-was-burning-sandf-chief-relives-getting-the-call-for-deployment-for-julys-unrest-20220302 (Accessed 14 March 2022).

Pinnock, D. and Pinnock, R. (2019). Strategic roadmap towards implementation of the National Anti-Gangsterism Strategy in the Western Cape: Provincial response to the National Anti-Gangsterism Strategy. Cape Town: Western Cape Department of Community Safety.

Prevention of Organised Crime Act, 121 of 1998.

Rauch, J. (2001). The 1996 National Crime Prevention Strategy. Johannesburg: Centre for the study of Violence and Reconciliation.

Rosen, J.D. and Cutrona, S. (2021). Understanding support for Mano Dura strategies: Lessons from Brazil and Colombia. Trends in Organized Crime, 24, 324-342.

Schuberth, M. (2016). Beyond gang truces and Mano Dura policies: Towards substitutive security governance in Latin America. Stability: International Journal of Security and Development, 5(1). Available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=2899068 (Accessed 17 February 2022).

Swanson, K. (2013). Zero tolerance in Latin America: Punitive paradox in urban policy mobilities. Urban Geography, 34(7), 972-988.

Ten Velde, L. (2012). The Northern Triangle’s drugs-violence nexus: The role of the drugs trade in criminal violence and policy responses in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Drugs and Conflict Debate Papers, 19. Amsterdam: Transnational Institute.

The Sentencing Project (2018). Punitive responses to gang violence are not effective. 28 March. Available at https://www.sentencingproject.org/news/punitive-responses-gang-violence-not-effective/ (Accessed 12 January 2022).

Thomas, K., Shaw, M. and Ronan, M. (2020). A city under siege: Gang violence and criminal governance in Nelson Mandela Bay. Geneva: The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

TimesLive (2021). Five gang suspects nabbed for murder of teenager at PE drug house. Sunday Times, 10 January. Available at https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2021-01-10-five-gang-suspects-nabbed-for-murder-of-teenager-at-pe-drug-house/ (Accessed 6 January 2022).

Umana, I.A. and Rossini, D. (2012). Youth violence in Central America: Lessons from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Geneva: Geneva Peacebuilding Platform.

Ungar, M. (2009). Policing youth in Latin America. In: Jones G.A. and Rodgers D. (eds), Youth Violence in Latin America. Studies of the Americas. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Available at https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230101333_11 (Accessed 16 February 2022).

Van der Linde, D. (2020). The criminalisation of gang activity in South Africa: Re-assessing the rationale. South African Crime Quarterly, 69, 35-44.

Van Santen, E. (2019). Inclusive peace mediation in the city: Spatial segregation of violence and urban politics of “social” inclusion in gang truces. Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal, 4(2-3), 201-219.

Viltoft, C. (2021). Deconstructing gangsterism in South African legislation and policy: Reframing anti-gang strategies by utilising at-risk definitions. Proceedings of the 3rd International Academic Conference on Research in Social Sciences, 10-12 June 2021. Berlin: Diamond Scientific Publishing.

Wolf, S. (2017). Mano Dura: The politics of gang control in El Salvador. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Young, T., Fitzgibbon, W. and Silverstone, D. (2014). A question of family? Youth and gangs. Youth Justice, 14(2), 171-185.

Published

2022-08-05