This week’s Special Assignment brings you a less documented but serious social problem of gangsterism in the Eastern Cape. Our programme titled “Malightas van Sonop” exposes this phenomenon, which according to the South African police, has already claimed 27 lives since 2010. Over 123 cases of attempted murder linked to gang activity have also been reported.

“Malightas van Sonop” is a prison term used on the streets to refer to a young gang member who is affiliated to the 26 number gangs known as hustlers and money makers in prison.

The number of young gang members in the streets affiliated to the 26 gangs has increased substantially over the past 3 years and these “Malightas van Sonop” are more aggressive and brazen than their older counterparts. There are 21 street gangs or more operating in the Port Elizabeth area alone. Our story focuses on the Helenvale area, where there are more than 10 gangs and 43 drug posts. We highlight the recent assassination of Julian Baartman, a prominent businessman who allegedly had a strong association with the Upstand Dogs – one of the prominent gang groups in the area. We also speak to his family which is living in fear, especially because no arrests have been made in relation to this murder. Many of these young gang members are initiated at the age of 13 and by the time they reach their 16th birthday, they are already hardened criminals with a litany of serious crimes under their names. We also speak to Eugene Afrika, a former prisoner who was part of the 26 number gang. He is ranked as a Nongidela, which is an experienced gang leader that grooms new recruits. But, he says he is no longer part of the gang structure.

The hardest hit areas are Helenvale and Gelvandale and the community is desperate for swift action from the police. The warring gangs signed a peace deal in 2012, but this lasted for one year. Several retaliatory attacks have since led to the murder of numerous gang members over the past 3 years. Innocent bystanders have also been shot, killed or wounded in some of these attacks.

Watch “Malightas von Sonop” produced by Lee McCabe. It will be broadcast on Special Assignment – aired Sundays on SABC 3 at 20:30PM.