‘Our drugs keep the Flats alive’ - The Coloured drug economy FeaturedWritten by Vincent Cruywagen - Daily Voice
Gang shootings and drug dealing have made Kewtown in Athlone a nightmare for residents. In exclusive interviews with the Daily Voice, druglords say the Cape Flats would be worse off without them. The death merchants say that without the multi-million rand drug trade, life on the Flats would become unbearable for the network of families they support. The crime bosses insist they maintain the very same communities they flood with highly-addictive poisons.
The men, who are known drug merchants, have all opted to speak to the Daily Voice on condition that their identities not be revealed. The first point the men make is that they regret the death of innocent children killed in gang crossfire. But they’re quick to add that they won’t stop their risky lifestyle.
“But they will always be replaced by others and there are still many more to come.”
Recently the city has been rocked by a spate of fatal shootings in Hanover Park. Among the dead is young dad Adrian van der Berg, 23, who was shot while holding his two kids. One of the children was hit in the leg during the attack in Cascade Court last week. In blood-splattered neighbourhoods like this, drugs are traded in broad daylight. On nearly every corner there are young drug peddlers waiting for customers.
As the Daily Voice team passes between two streets, we notice armed gangsters patrolling their turf. The men brazenly lift their jackets to show us firearms hidden underneath. “Welcome to a daily phenomenon,” one of the dealers says to us. The 60-year-old man points to his sellers and turf in Manenberg and explains how he runs his “business”.
“They work in shifts on marked corners. Every seller gets paid at the end of the week depending on their sales,” he says. “Whether you are working in Manenberg, Heideveld, Hanover Park or Elsies River, every seller gets paid.”
With chunky gold rings on both hands and gold teeth glinting in the sun, the man looks like he is straight out of a 50 Cent or Lil’ Wayne rap video. But this veteran of the streets has been dealing drugs for more than four decades. And he explains that the upcoming festive season is crucial to dealers.
“People go on shopping sprees at supermarkets during the festive season and at the same time addicts do the same, having a ball of a time with drugs,” he says. The isn’t willing to disclose his profit or how many sellers work for him – but he says he maintains their families as well.
“I pay their water and electricity, see that there is food on their tables and bury those killed in the drug war,” he says. This is backed up by research done by André Standing from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in 2003 on the Flats’ drug economy. His report says druglords have been known to fund community centres that feed underprivileged children, sponsor football teams, give money to churches and provide food to poor families.
“By accepting the money from crime bosses, communities are trapped in this evil way and this is one of the reasons why police find it difficult to penetrate the drug economy on the Flats,” says the report. In Elsies River, one of the new generation of drug merchants, known for their love of flashy cars, tells us why the drug war will never end.
“It will never stop. It is an easy way of making big bucks and living the high life – every mert, including the Chinese mafia, knows it is a booming economy on the Flats.
“So many cops are on the payroll of merts there is no way that the government or the cops are going to stop it.”
Commenting on the ongoing gang violence, the man says it’s all about protecting territory and income.
“Every mert wants to protect his turf and if one enters another’s turf, you can expect the bullets to fly,” he says.
Shrugging his shoulders as if there is nothing he can do about it, he adds: “And yes, we regret the death of innocent children (caught in the crossfire).” -