this is a glimpse into how it was to grow up on the Cape flats-south afrika

The true meaning of BLood
by Pearlie Joubert



Igshaan Davids -- alias “Sanie the American” -- is the self-styled leader of Cape Town’s biggest street gang, the 5 000-strong American gang. His father, Frank Sidney Davids, was the first pickpocket in Cape Town and Igshaan’s firstborn, Walied, started hanging out with the Playboys gang until his father recently put a stop to this.

“I told my son that he must walk big circles around my footsteps because it’s no life to have the police constantly on your doorstep and so many people wanting to kill you all the time. In this family, hopefully nobody will follow in my footsteps,” says Davids, who has bought a few over-the-counter drug tests to test his son for tik. Davids is one of eight and has six children of his own.

He claims he is no longer involved in “anything illegal”; he builds houses now. But the police allege he has made and “is making millions selling tik on the Cape Flats through extensive gang networks”.

Davids grew up in a strict Muslim home and has had two families since as far back as he can remember. “What do you do when you’re coloured and you live in Kensington in South Africa in the 1970s. You either join the church or the gangs, and being a gangster was so much more fun,” he says. “I’ve always had two families, my blood family and the gang family.

“My father was a trader and a smuggler. He believed in his kids and he never thought bad things about us. In a funny way he was a law-abiding man. He hated us stealing and always told us that we must work for our money and that nothing in life is for free.

“He was proud of the fact that he was Cape Town’s first pickpocket. He said nobody used to pick the people’s pockets on the trams and trains from the Flats into Cape Town before he arrived on the scene.”

Davids still lives in the house in Kensington where he grew up. “I grew up in a place where there were lots of gangs: the VGV (Vuilgat Varke Gang), the 11th Street Dudes, the Euro-Cats, the Cape Town Scorpions, the Born Free Kids, the Hellstreet Dudes, the Nice Time Kids, the FFFBs (Full Force Funky Bastards),the Nagduiwels (Night Devils) and the Wonderkids. These guys were as familiar to me as my own brothers,” says Davids.

Davids got involved with the Americans through his older brother Thomas, who was friendly with a guy called 80 Whatkind (Shuyb Benjamin), who is regarded as the founding member of the American gang.

“80 Whatkind’s main aim was to always look fantastic and to have money. He started the gang and called it the American Jokers. In those days -- 1974, ’75, ’76 -- there weren’t a lot of guns around. We walked around with pangas, knives, spades, axes ... People died messy deaths then.

“I also wanted to look good and get the girls. The American Jokers did just that. Our uniforms were called tycoon suits. It simply means that your shirt and trousers match. We liked maroon, blue, khaki. We wore what were called Florsheim shoes, soft leather shoes with very thin soles. We polished those shoes so much that you could comb your hair in the shine of those shoes. I spent hours putting polish on my shoes and polishing them. I would polish until I could see my own face in the shoe,” says Davids.

“I grew up in a dangerous world. Death was everywhere and it was as easy to die as it was to eat.”

Davids’s other older brother, Jerome, was a notorious armed robber in Cape Town. His claim to fame was that he robbed every single garage from the West Coast to Muizenberg. In 1985 a rival gang shot and killed him when he left the Athlone Magis­trate’s Court. Another brother, Thomas, was not a gangster but a button-head who smoked loads of Mandrax tablets. “He used to rob depots and containers of cameras and video machines and TVs and would then sell them,” says Davids.

It was “perfectly natural” for a Cape Flats kid such as Davids to become a gangster. “When everything in your life is uncertain, when you’re called a hotnot and you can’t vote and there’s this bitterness in your heart, it gives you a whole lot of comfort to have such a large family with so many guns and so much power. In comparison your own family looks weak,” he says.

The American family was “fun and exciting, something my own family could never be. Saturday mornings we took the bus to town, walked around buying ourselves new clothes on the Grand Parade for the evening’s jol. We had a uniform; we would wear white, red or blue tekkies. The American flag handkerchief would hang out our back pockets. Your shirt and pants had to be the same colour. Hey, we looked great and we pulled all the girls.

“At 10 past one in the afternoon there was a train, train 682, which left Cape Town station. The 682 was our train and the other gangs stayed off that train. When we found other gangsters on the 682 we would give them a choice: either we stab you full of holes or you jump off the train. They usually jumped and then they would die. When we stabbed them, they would also die.”

Today things are different. “I’m older now,” says Davids, “and my wife and kids are now my family. The gang holds one forever. It’s not the kind of family that one walks away from, but I don’t want to walk that road anymore. I’m gatvol of being shot at, of the cops following me. I don’t want people to look at me and see a high-flyer and be scared. I want to build houses and factories and be legal.”

Two weeks ago Davids was leaving a hardware shop when two guys opened fire and took about 20 shots at him on a busy road in Parow. Davids ran away.

“‘In God we trust and die we must’ [the American slogan] is not my saying anymore,” he says. “I don’t want to die anymore.”

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