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TIK IN THE PLATTELAND: Part V

by Karl Kemp / Images by Jaco du Plessis / 03.09.2014

THE MASTERMIND

It’s been overcast the whole day. Atop a hill across a main road, we’re parked by a spaza shop, waiting for the Wolwe gang. Jean-Wil is almost apologetic about the no-show. I’m kind of relieved. Jaco’s gone off to take photos of the surroundings. Die Wolwe are supposed to hang about here; smoking drugs, harassing the town’s folk. They’re the biggest rivals of Jean-Wil’s MC gang; and are supposedly the harder of the two – the tik-users and (alleged) robbers, the kids who show no signs of slowing down.

Jean-Wil has gotten comfortable in our presence and we’re chatting freely now. He tells me that he usually buys his dagga here for R1 a stop. I give him the change from the car’s dash and tell him to bring me back some local pondu. It turns out to be even worse than the stuff the car guards in Stellenbosch will try sell you, but Jean-Wil seems happy, so I gift it all to him along with a few cigarettes when we drop him off. The afternoon becomes a twilight zone and the watery sun that’s been poking through the heavy grey clouds all day is slowly fading. Jean-Wil seems almost sad to see us go. Almost.

We need to leave, so we put De Doorns and the kid-gangs and the violence and the fledgling tik problem behind us, pulling onto the freeway past the young guys selling druiwe.

It’s about four in the afternoon… 26 June – International Drug Awareness Day. We’ve got one last place to visit before we head back home. It’s called Recovering Addicts Empowering Lives (RAEL), and it’s an unregistered rehab facility near Rawsonville, hidden away amongst the thick vegetation and green pastures of the Breede Valley.

We drive up to the massive gate, dividing a high wall. A lurid sign, about a metre by a metre wide reads “Welcome to RAEL Sober City”. RAEL is the brainchild of Antony Hall, a minor celeb in recovery circles who used to serve in the Drug Squad for the SAPS before succumbing to addiction himself, emerging on the other side with an urge to warn others and facilitate their redemption. He’s not here today though. We’ve arrived impromptu, and it takes a while to get a response from beyond the gate.

REAL

We’re fetched by Zander*, a haggard-looking, middle-aged coloured gentleman with an authoritative countenance. He’s slight, hunched, but well-kitted with sharp eyes – a typical drug addict, not a stereotypical one. Zander’s a patient who seems to have been given the reins while Mr Hall is away. We tell him we’re press, covering drug addiction in the platteland. He’s the first person wary enough to ask us exactly which publication we work for. I tell him that we’re freelancers, but we need to call Mister Hall before he’s completely satisfied, which we proceed to do.

Mister Hall is friendly and tells us we’re welcome to speak to his patients, but only three which he has specified. Zander takes over my phone and nods a few times as he takes instructions over the line before hanging up, after which we’re led (reluctantly) inside the house. It’s hot inside, with a high roof. Youths are sitting around smoking, drinking coffee. It’s a house, not a facility or institution, with a maximum of 12 patients. Currently there are nine of them, and they can stay for six months, or even longer.

The atmosphere is frosty, Zander pointing and explaining and guiding but also watching and listening. It’s clear he doesn’t trust us… having arrived unannounced out of the blue, journalists, at an unregistered rehab facility with a celebrity story. Mark* and Sizwe* are allowed to speak to us, on condition of anonymity, but we’re misconstrued from the outset. At one point Zander asks me for media identification, which I manage to shrug off with a laugh and an excuse. Every question I ask about RAEL, about finances or the spiritual side of the recovery process gets interrupted by Zander, who tells the boys to refer me to Mister Hall.  Neither of the guys we’re “allowed” to speak to were specifically addicted to tik – heroin, crack, cocain, yes, but they’re kids from Cape Town, the southern suburbs, and they relay tragic stories, but I’m still struggling to make clear that this is an investigation and not a profile on RAEL, with Zander’s eyes boring into me. He’s on the couch opposite us, keeping stern watch, and with every question I fire to try and steer the conversation to the problem in the platteland, I hear him silently questioning my credentials. By the time I’ve heard Mark’s tale of addiction, Zander’s realised what we’re really after. He quickly loosens up and starts to spill the beans – whether he just wants us out of there, or  he’s figured that we’re not trying to dig skeletons out of the closet, he finally starts talking. And he gives us everything.

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Zander tells me everything I’ve wanted to know since the outset, everything we couldn’t hear from gangsters themselves – the business aspect that addicts and concerned citizens couldn’t tell us. Zander was a big-time drug trafficker in the platteland, and we’ve stumbled upon him by accident, in an unorthodox rehab hidden in the no-man’s land between Worcester and Rawsonville.

He grew up in Mitchells Plain and broke into the media industry, leading a double life as a drug dealer on the side. He operated from Ceres, and he tells us why he started shifting to the platteland: “People are always looking for new markets. And the platteland is a ready-made market. You know what I mean?”

“With the advent of crystal meth, I would say that it has now overtaken all other drugs. You can sell it for very cheap units, get a steady flow. The cycle is that people are taking uppers and downers. Meth to take you up, mandrax to take you down.”

He tells us he started dealing in the 90s. He stopped last year. Tik started making an impact on the Flats around the turn of the millennium.

“At the start of the millennium, around 2000, was when meth usage became widespread. It’s in the last seven years that the platteland has been caught up in the spiral. Because everybody has a market share in Cape Town already. Everybody’s trying to take over everyone’s turf, and people.”

So he started dealing, in Paarl, Wellington, Ceres, and finally Worcester – the entry point to De Doorns, Rawsonville, Robertson and the rest.

“It’s simple: there are large sections of coloured communities and huge unemployment. Dealers know all of this. They not stupid people. People that are interested in money. The people that actually run the drugs become sophisticated because it’s a big money-maker.”

“It’s a big misconception, people think ‘oh local gangsters with drugs’ but they just the runners at the end of the day. The guys who makes the plans, are usually… they have double lives. I was one of these people. People aren’t necessarily looking at you as the person dealing the drugs, because I’m not standing on the street corner. But I’m studying trends… where you can grow your market share of the thing. If you see that you want to distribute to a place, you will usually go and find a guy that you met in prison that you know is local there, who can move into the area, and then he sets up…”

The platteland is far removed and isolated. This means that the town-folk literally don’t know about the drugs, about the dangers, the gangs they bring. Also, there’s a constant reciprocal diaspora between the Cape Flats and the platteland, families going to and fro, creating opportunities for business minded dealers to take advantage of the situation.

Another problem, according to Zander, is that most of the prisons in the Western Cape are in the platteland. “It makes sense that if you go to prison, you’ll find guys that live in Worcester, and they’ll become part of a numbers gang or a street gang, become part of the network system. It just grows. And in the search for new markets, they grow on those markets.”

“A lot of the drugs are obviously controlled by gangs,” he continues. “Foreigners don’t have access to the townships. They can have urban centres and streets like Long Street, or Parow and Goodwood where there’s a cosmopolitan environment. But in actual townships, the way to distribute is through local street gangs. Which is why you’ve seen a rise in gangsterism in Worcester. We’ve seen a rise in gangsterism in Rawsonville too. All the surrounding areas. Gangs like the JCYs and the Dog Pounds. Those gangs have a link to your CT gangs. It’s not new gangs springing up. And because of the brand of belonging to the same gang, the access gets easier.”

tatts

When the connections are set and the platform erected, the drugs are run in from the Cape branches of the Platteland gangs.

“A lot of the stuff comes in with public transport, because it is not as visible, suspicious. The dealers know already that the cops are trained to look for suspicious-looking people and vehicles. So the first thing we do is to transport the stuff in a non-suspicious way, like public transport. Police are highly unlikely to stop a bus with 120 people on, as opposed to a car with two people and a CA registration.”

We tell him about Worcester residents accusing cops of corruption and ask him whether he found this to be true. He smiles slyly.

“Absolutely. There’s no way these things can happen without some of the cops’ help, I’m not saying all of the cops, but I do think, and I know, that you have to have the cooperation of one or two policemen in a particular place. They are the ones giving you information about the roadblocks, or when the raids are gonna come.”

“On a bigger scale, one of the problems that the police have is in their whole approach to crime: they say you can’t solve crime, so they only try and manage crime. On the very notion of ‘managing’, you have to let some survive and others go down. If you intimately know that this is an area and these are the groups operating in this area, then it makes sense that if you can’t solve the problem, if you not having all the factors like poverty and those things in your favour, they manage it. With that premise, they let one gang survive and one gang go down, depending on which gang is the bigger threat.”

Of course, some places don’t have gangs yet. We just saw that in De Doorns. There are simply addicts, and suppliers, and bored children that beat each other with chains, who might form gangs in the future. I tell him this, and he’s rueful about the prospects of any community escaping the epidemic once the drug has appeared.

“I think it’s a symbiotic relationship. The one needs the other to survive. You can’t just have a dealer, because he eventually needs infrastructure and protection. The best way to do that is a gang. For the gang to survive as an outfit needs some kind of income. Otherwise they can’t retain the loyalties of people. They can’t show the flash that draws the youngsters in the first place. The moment you have a gang in an area, you’ll find tik. The moment someone deals tik, a gang will form around him.”

So was the spread inevitable?

“Yes. All you need to do with your drug is to distribute it to ten kids at a local club and in three weeks you’ll have a ready-made clientele.”

“The good stuff is always sold in CT first. Your more discerning buyers would maybe not want something in Mannenberg, because they have options. I would take that batch and come sell it in the platteland.”

Zander concludes, and he seems a lot more comfortable now, assured that we haven’t put RAEL on a hit-list. He shows us the surrounding buildings and then to the gate, where we’re sent off more cordially than we were received. We pull out, and drive down to the N1, and finally head home.

We put Rawsonville, Worcester behind us. To the north is Robertson, De Doorns. Touwsrivier. The Klein Karoo. The most beautiful part of the country.

The information we have gathered confirms the inevitable – tik will spread, gangs will follow, or vice versa. It can’t be stopped – just managed. The tik scene in the Cape is so big that there’s a surplus, and spilling over into isolated areas. Worcester is the indicator for where these towns are headed, what a tik-trade means. A tear in the social fabric that’s compounded by overcrowding, corruption, poverty and apathy, block upon block of cause and effect. But the whole scene is orchestrated, not just a natural result of social ills. People, working with a plan. Taking advantage of compromised communities, families, people. Gangs are buying out the poor with promises of wealth, attracting the already violent kids with flash and money. It’s not an accident that De Doorns and Robertson have developing drug problems. Behind every Pang, every Jean-Wil, there is a Zander. Behind every patient at Toevlug and RAEL, there is a puppeteer that put him there; a deadly mastermind looking to grow his market share in rural farming towns, where people don’t know better, and don’t have anything better to do.

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*Read part 4 here, or start at the beginning of the investigation: part 1.

**Images © Jaco du Plessis

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