Sat, 25 Jan 2020

"Ek verkrag nie mense nie. Ek is a brutale moordenaar."

Loosely translated this means: "I don't rape people. I'm a brutal murderer."

Not exactly your normal small talk or getting-to-know-you chit-chat.

Then again, Hard Livings gang boss Rashied Staggie did not appear to be a man for trifling conversation. And his reputation certainly preceded him.

It was the early 2000s and he was on trial for rape in the Western Cape High Court, sitting in the Wynberg Regional Court. During an adjournment, Staggie casually approached myself and fellow court reporter Fatima Schroeder to proclaim his innocence.

The thought occurred to me then, and at other times, when I watched him testify - this man could have been anything he wanted to be. He was eloquent, intelligent, charming, charismatic, smart, street smart, feared and respected. He was a leader. But, as he so chillingly pointed out: a murderer. Schroeder concurs.

Rashied Staggie. (Antonie Robertson, Beeld)

But no matter how you sugarcoat it: the man and his henchmen and gang have a reputation as violent criminals who hold the suburbs they operated in and control in an iron grip of fear. It's a cliched Cape Flats reality which persists today and which innocent people continue to pay for with their lives.

During a passage of testimony during the rape trial, Staggie had prosaically and in one of his more sinister soliloquy's threatened the very core of the system by inferring that his influence and how far it reached was incomprehensible to the court, prompting the judge to call time and order the lawyers to his chambers.

A look around the room confirmed this: people were enthralled by him, despite their fear and animus given his reputation as the leader of one of the most powerful and feared gangs to have ever come out of South Africa, let alone the Cape Flats, the Hard Livings.

The twins - he and brother Rashaad - or as they were known, essentially ran Manenberg out of the infamous Die Hok.

Legend has it that they used to drive around the area in their gold BMW 325is cabriolet, tossing wads of cash at people as a sign of their largesse - a kind of perverse Robin Hood of the hood, if you will.

During the rape trial, an inspection in loco in Manenberg was held - Rashied was led around the area with a small battalion of police officers on the ground and a chopper in the sky - this was HIS domain and you could smell the fear off of the cops as literally thousands of people came streaming out of their flats to welcome home their mayor, their president, their benefactor.

Rashied Staggie. (Die Son, file)

The system to which he would later be incarcerated by, didn't mean much to the people of Manenberg - the rest of us were a bunch of (ordinary civilians with no gang affiliation). We didn't get or understand the hood, its villainous princes or ITS system beyond the "straight world".

As a resident told me that day: "I have never been outside of Manenberg. Everything I need is right here. We have our own system - if I need a loan, I know who to go to, if I need food I know who to ask, if I want to buy a new fridge ... "

The Hard Livings, at one point, had gained international notoriety - the BBC interviewed the twins and during one particularly comic lost-in-translation scene, one of them told the English journalist: "They shot me in my (kidney)."

To which the journalist replied: "They shot you in your knee?"

Came the reply with a pointing to the kidney area: "No, in my."

In the interview they explain that the Hard Livings or HLs is what it says on the tin - they grew up on the mean streets of Manenberg and that's where they forged their name, reputation.

Rashied Staggie. (Jonathan Lestrade, Son)

The growth in strength of the Hard Livings and other Cape Flats gangs in the early 2000s - the Ugly Americans, Junky Funkies etc - dovetailed with the emergence of Pagad (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs).

Pagad's infamous G-Force - with their Palestine black-and-white-check scarves hiding their faces - soon came into confrontation with drug lords and, by extension, the gangs running the show.

One August (in 1996) night in London Road in Salt River, Pagad and its supporters were protesting outside the Staggie residence - when Rashaad pulled up. All hell broke loose.

He was confronted and then, bang, bang. Rashaad stumbles from his car. Death is upon him. Managing to stay on his feet, he walks a few steps before a petrol bomb is thrown at him, engulfing him in flames.

Rashied would later proclaim that his twin brother had recited the before taking his last breathe - it isthe Muslim declaration of faith and would therefore guarantee his brother heaven, Rashied opined.

Rashied Staggie was shot dead while sitting in a car in London Street, Salt River on Friday. (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

Rashaad was buried shortly after under Muslim rites by a man known in the community as Doutjie Ching, on account of his Asian features. Ching would later tell me no one wanted to bury Rashaad, so he did his Muslim duty as "only God can judge us".

Rashied, by all accounts, had been living quietly in London Road until his life too was snuffed out by gunmen while sitting in a car on Friday.

One of the last of the Cape Flats' OGs (old gangsters) meeting his maker, like his brother, through the barrel of a gun and in the same street, like some perverse cosmic irony.

In the end, as is the case with the rules of the streets: the hunter inevitably becomes the prey.

- Yunus Kemp is the Opinions Editor at News24

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