Cape Town Gangs Expand Under Cover of COVID-19

It seemed too good to be true: Cape Town gangsters, guided by a local pastor, laying down their weapons to hand out food parcels to desperate people in Manenberg. And, of course, it was.

“Today, they will give me a food parcel in front of my son but a few months later they will remind him of the food parcel and tell him to deliver ‘goods’ for them,” one resident told researchers from Global Initiative. Community groups reportedly claimed that some food parcels contained drugs and guns, and that gangsters were simply exploiting the lockdown to grow their territory and recruit vulnerable youngsters.

At least 50 gangs fight viciously for power in Manenberg, a township of 52,000 people crammed into just three square kilometres, and that averages a murder a week. For these gangs, the pandemic presents an ideal opportunity. South Africa’s lockdown has created severe food shortages in the Cape Flats, while temporary restrictions on sales of cigarettes and alcohol means dealers offering black market deliveries have a chance to cultivate new customers – and debts.

Community groups are striving to fill in the gaps, providing meals to thousands in order to keep this dubious charity at bay. But there’s only so much they can do. For impoverished families already struggling to make ends meet, especially the 70% of people in Manenberg who are unemployed, deliveries of food parcels are often the only lifeline – even if they come with long-term strings attached.


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