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Prison Journalism: The Number Gang

22/02/2024

Prison Journalism: The Number GangDean Mashimbwe, a Zimbabwean migrant residing in Cape Town, was incarcerated at Pollsmoor Correctional Centre from 2016 until 2017.

by Dean Mashimbwe

22-02-2024 10:25

in Prison Journalism

Prisoner. Image by Pexels/RDNE Stock project

The Number Gang is a criminal organization predominantly found in South African jails. From the very first day you get arrested, as you enter the police station, you will realize that the world you are about to enter is now different. Upon arrest, you are subjected to searches and may even be robbed of your belongings if you are not a gang member. Non-gang members are referred to as Mbatha in Xhosa or Franse in Afrikaans. To ensure safety, one must belong to one of the gangs, which are categorized into three groups: 26, 27, and 28. For first timers in jail, survival is particularly challenging.

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Gang Hierarchy and Personal Curiosity The Number Gang operates with a structured hierarchy, and leadership governs it. The more notorious you become, the higher your rank. During my incarceration in Pollsmoor, I was intrigued by the Number-not with the intention of joining, but to uncover its secrets.

Survival Strategies in Prison In prison, survival options are limited. You can either be a gang member or a non-gang member with privileges. For instance, non-gang members who receive visits and gifts from their families, such as sugar, milk, deodorant, or cigarettes, may find themselves liked by gang members who aim to benefit from these goods, resulting in your belongings being shared half for you, half for the gang members.

Joining the Gang Another survival strategy involves joining the gang, which demands dedication and perseverance. Membership is not easily granted; it comes with difficult initiation rites. Once in, there is no way out. Membership involves committing crimes even while in custody.

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Earning Ranks and Respect To attain a high rank within the gang, one must be bold and willing to take risks. Members who exhibit fearlessness and boldness are given the title Gabadin. To earn this title, one must be recruited and learn specific codes of conduct.

The Prison System and Gang Culture Based on my experience, I conclude that the prison system itself inadvertently promotes gang culture. In Pollsmoor, each block has five cells, with one reserved for gang members. Rituals and recruitment activities occur in these designated spaces.

The Perpetuation of Gang Culture The culture of the Number Gang is perpetuated in South African prisons, passed down through generations. However, the gang system does offer some benefits to wardens since inmates can control each other, maintaining peace and discipline. Gang members also regulate the movement of illegal items within the prison in a well-organized manner, viewing each other as brothers. Any infraction requires an explanation, and punishment can be severe, ranging from beatings to stabbings.

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Risks and Consequences Valuable items such as weed, cell phones, drugs, or cigarettes must be handled carefully. Non-gang members found with these items risk severe consequences, including death.

Adapting to Prison Life Some inmates enter jail with no intention of joining a gang, but long sentences and the prevailing jail culture often led them to eventually become part of the Number, as it dominates the activities within the prison.

DISCLAIMER: Submission published as received

Should you wish to assist in the rehabilitation of former inmates and help put money into the pockets of those who have struggled to earn a living during and after incarceration, click HERE

RESTORE is an NGO based in Cape Town, South Africa, providing inmates at Pollsmoor Prison with restorative justice opportunities.

If you have any questions you would like to ask our prison journalists, WhatsApp us on 060 011 0211.

Do you have contact with a prison inmate who would like to write for The South African website? If so, send an email to info@thesouthafrican.com or a WhatsApp to 060 011 0211.

You can also follow @TheSAnews on Twitter and The South African on Facebook to get the latest prison journalism articles.

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