Talks with a 27
For Marcelino* there are hardly any rules, nor borders in life. The only borders he knows are that of prison, and the borders outlining his gang’s turf. The rules within these mentioned borders are few. And with a new generation of young gangsters, the rules are even fewer, perhaps even non-existent.
Growing up he and his mother and sister were street vendors. At the young age of 15 years, he greeted Pollsmoor Juvenile for the first time.
“That’s when things got wild”
He began abusing drugs, especially heroin; he became a Hard Livings (HL’s) gang member, one of the largest gangs in Cape Town, and growing in Johannesburg; he joined a prison gang, the 27’s; and he started to participate in criminal activities.
He remembers when the central business district (CBD) in Cape Town, a famous tourist attraction, got their first CCTV-cameras installed in the early 2000s.
“Me and Pratt* were chasing the dragon [smoking Unga, a heroin-based drug] and were always in need of money. So we would go to the city to rob tourists. That was when they first started to put up cameras in town.”
By then he already appeared in court seven times on charges of robbery. But, luckily for him, he was never handed down a sentence.
“My grandmother always said ‘you can be caught 99 times. The 100th time you will go to prison’.
Marcelino’s* 100th time came seven years later in 2007.
“I participated in an armed robbery. They held me [in custody] for two weeks. They’ve beaten me up to get information. They wanted me to piemp my friend Pratt*. But I didn’t. I was sentenced to prison for 16 years, suspended for ten years. I did five years inside prison and 5 years outside.”
He briefly recalls that specific time in prison. He remembers losing his best friend while serving his time.
“Me and Pratt* we had swag.”
But Pratt* was gunned down in 2008. Not because of money or fighting with another gang, but by one of his own gang members. Marcelino* didn’t elaborate on the incident, only added that it was because of jealousy. And that if he did piemped his friend back in 2007 when he was arrested and questioned, perhaps he would still be alive today.
Marcelino* is a captain for the numbers gang 27’s. The 27’s are described as ‘the men of blood and the most violent of the gangs’.
Marcelino's tattoo of the 27's-gang he belongs to.
According to him, he is not an HL-member anymore, only a number. However, he can be summoned by them at any moment. For him, Staggie was his leader. He boasts that while he was in prison he has met the much-feared gangster and leader of the Hard Livings, Rashied Staggie.
Staggie was murdered last year (2019) in Salt River, Cape Town, on 13 December in the same street his brother was murdered in 1996.
“Rashied Staggie was ‘n cool guy. Since his death I’m my own leader”.
He states as an older gangster he knows and understands discipline and respect, while the new generation of gangsters is loose, ‘the youngsters cannot even spell HL’.
How many times has he been in prison?
“I don’t know, probably more than 20 times”.
According to Marcelino* being a gangster hasn’t brought him anywhere in life. He has been shot at and wounded. He survived a shooting incident where he was shot through the mouth by their rival gang, the Americans.
“I was shot so that when I would smoke it would exit at the right side of my mouth”.
Yes, he had different dreams than to be a gangster.
“My father was a boatman; he was on the sea. I also wanted to be a boatman. I have just started to work in the docks when I began to use heroin.”
His father is also a gangster. Marcelino* remembers the numerous times his father came out of prison just to return there again shortly after being released. Good memories with his father are few.
He does remember the time his father assaulted his mother and hit her with a padlock. He also remembers the thoughts of killing his father.
Marcelino* don’t have any dreams right now, except that he ‘wishes the best for everyone, for the community, people must live together, as one”.
Can he just walk away from his life as a gang member?
“It's a dangerous game.”
Can he leave the game?
* not their real names