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Vigilantes in South Africa Murder Suspected Drug Dealer in Fight Against Gangs and Drugs


September 1996

Vigilantes in Cape Town, South Africa known as People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD) allegedly killed suspected drug dealer Rashaad Staggie while crusading to fight crime in their community (Alexander Zavis, "S. Africa ponders slaying," Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 1996, p. A2; Lynne Duke, "Vigilante Justice in S. Africa," Washington Post, August 17, 1996, p. A18; Bob Drogin, "Anti-Gang Fury Roils in S. Africa," Los Angeles Times/Washington Edition, August 13, 1996. p. A1).

On August 4, about 200 members of PAGAD were allegedly protesting outside a house Staggie was believed to have owned when shots were fired from inside. Police arrived at the scene, but were unable to clear the angry crowd. When Staggie drove up in his truck, masked members of PAGAD shot him in the head and threw a Molotov cocktail at Staggie, who burst into flames. "What has happened tonight shows what happens when you put your trust in Allah," said one masked speaker to the worshipers. "Yes, we can clean our society and rid our society of scum." PAGAD membership is primarily Muslim.

"They see how our youth is undermined by drugs, and they experience the totally unacceptable actions of the ... gangs on a daily basis," said Hernus Kriel, the premier of Western Cape Province. "I think that people were basically frustrated because the criminal justice system takes so long to take its course," said Norman Jenkins, a social worker who specializes in gangs and formerly counseled Staggie in jail.

Staggie and his twin brother, Rashied, founded the "Hard Livings," one of South Africa's most vicious criminal gangs, in 1971. Rashaad was buried on August 5 in front of a crowd of about 700 gang members and supporters. Rashied, a confessed killer, defiantly addressed the crowd, "I dare the Muslims that killed my brother to come out and kill me, because I will kill them."

In recent months PAGAD has led a populist movement aiming to rid thier community of violence and drugs. They have shot up and held demonstrations outside the homes of suspected drug dealers chanting "Kill the Merchant!" They also demonstrated at the home of Justice Minister Dullah Omar to protest law enforcement inaction, which prompted Omar to move his family for protection. After an August 11 melee, which injured nine people and involved about 5,000 PAGAD supporters and police, some politicians called for a state of emergency in the Cape region. In response to PAGAD's campaign, local gangs have threatened war against the Muslims (Reuters, "Muslims in Drug Protest Riot in Cape Town," New York Times, August 12, 1996, p. A3; Brendan Boyle, "Protest Over Drug Dealing Turns Ugly in South Africa," San Francisco Chronicle, August 12, 1996, p. A13).

PAGAD, a group linked to the Gatesville mosque, is made up mostly of conservative, working-class Muslim men and women from the Cape Flats area just east of Cape Town. Police say that about 140 gangs plunder the community. PAGAD contends that the new government is incapable of dealing with the high crime. People on the Cape Flats "feel they've asked police [to stop crime] and the police haven't done it, so now they will do it," said Sheik Sa'dullah Khan, director of the Gatesville Islamic center. PAGAD's actions represent "a very serious backlash against the government," said Ebrahim Moosa, director of the Center for Contemporary Islam at the University of Cape Town. More than half of the one million Muslims in the nation of 43 million live in the Cape Town region.

The populist vigilantism has exposed a rift in Nelson Mandela's new democracy. Since apartheid ended in South Africa, black leaders have been faced with spiraling crime, an understaffed and underequipped police force, and an international drug trade. Gangs in Cape Town have been operating for decades, but have become more entrenched during the volatile transition to democracy. The problems have worsened with police corruption. Police who originally colluded with criminals for political aims under apartheid, now are corrupted by money and fear of exposure of their past malfeasance, according to criminologist Wilfried Scharf of the University of Cape Town. Under apartheid, black South Africans, skeptical of the white-led judicial system, held "people's courts" and sentenced some criminals to beatings or death. Now, Muslims, who supported the anti-apartheid movement, feel betrayed by the new government's liberalism, including its abolition of the death penalty.

Opponents of PAGAD worry about how Islam is being used by some in the vigilante movement. Some PAGAD leaders, such as Muhammed Ali "Phantom" Parker and Farouk Jaffer, use words like jihad or holy war. An internal police report, leaked from the province's largely white police force, claimed that Muslims are trying to establish an Islamic state. Police arrested a PAGAD leader, Moegamat Nadthmie Edries, for murder and sedition. The sedition charge has Muslims claiming that the government is cracking down harder of PAGAD than on the drug dealers. "We are not a fundamentalist group," said Hanif Peterson, who turned out at Wynberg magistrate's court to support Edries. "We are just a community."