The genesis of township gangsters

21 Nov, 2021 - 00:11 0 Views
The genesis of township gangsters

The Sunday News

Ekasi stories with Clifford Kalibi
Gangsterism is often characterised as anti-social behaviour frowned upon by polite sections of society. Gangsters can be likened to “social bandits” that were a phenomenon of early African townships during the period between 1964 to around 1974. Evidently the behaviour of gangsters was despised by many as “anti-social”.

During that era many township youths were unable to find jobs easily. Employers were at times reluctant to employ teenagers as they did not have any work experience, and many of them were unable to read or write. They also considered them to be weak and undisciplined.

The poverty, misery, violence and lawlessness of the townships led to the birth of many gangs such as the Spoilers of Sizinda Township, the Night Strollers of Tshabalala Township and the Black Power of Matshobana Township. Njube and Iminyela Townships were home to the Gestapo and Berliners gangs respectively.

It is my guess that the names the Gestapo and the Berliners reflect the gangsters’ admiration for Adolf Hitler whom they saw as some kind of hero!  The Night Strollers gang possibly got its name from a 1960’s film called Night Strollers — Where No Vultures Fly.

A Civil Rights Movement called Black Power was formed in the United States of America in the 1950’s and the name possibly inspired the Matshobana gangsters. It is my assumption that the name Spoilers was coined in remembrance of the fierce battles that took place near Fort Inungu in the Matopo Hills on the 20th and 25th days of July 1896.

The British troops who were being led by Captain David Tyrie Lang suffered many casualties inflicted by the  brave Matabele warriors. The fierce battles ended with Induna Mabiza being given the name: : “The Spoiler of the White man’s Breakfast”.

Gangsters were township-bred and spoke a lingua-franca which was a blend of Ndebele, English and Zulu, know as isitsarambi. These gangsters began as small-time criminals but as time went on they began to resort to robbery, muggings and other violent crimes.

The Sizinda Spoilers were probably the flashiest and most well-known of the gangs during the 1960s. The Spoilers started off from a group of amajida in Sizinda, the grouping of which was composed of friends, brothers and cousins who were small time pickpockets and bag snatchers.

The most notable members of the Spoilers were Bra Strike, Chizela, Kapiki, Bra Sofaya, Edgar (brother to Strike), Mdhala the ringleader (brother to Mbanga), Uncle Boy, Fred Banda, Mwanasawu “Red”, Sgwindi, Moffat “Kashoti”, Masombo “Three Boy”, Foschina Cowboy, Spiliano “Red  Devil”,  Bra Peter (brother to Spilliano), Shadrack cousin to Rupeya and Harris.

The Spoilers did not prey on the Sizinda community; rather they “helped themselves” from city shops and the nearby Railway wagons. To some extent, the Spoilers were the aristocracy of Sizinda. They were in the first place more often lively and intelligent than their law abiding brothers, and were often immaculately clad in elegant cardigans, white and brown pointed shoes and narrow trousers called Bogarts or ibhokathi.

Like the other gangs, the Spoilers were most concerned with protecting their turf, their women and their relatives and also fighting against territorial aggrandisement. Every month the Spoilers would engage in pre-arranged but real fist fights with gangs from other regions. The ring leaders would agree on a date and time of the monthly fights. The Spoilers always fought with the Gestapo,  the Berliners and the Black Power in a bush near Mahleka Dam where Sizinda Flats is presently situated. They fought with the Night Strollers in a bushy area between Sizinda and Tshabalala, which is where Ihlathi Secondary School is situated  presently. You should have seen the fierce fights as the gangsters exhibited their raw power, skills and courage. Their women would cheer them on. No weapons were permitted in these fights. I am reliably informed that the Spoilers were always the victors.

The fiercest and the most dangerous of the Spoilers were probably Bra Edgar, Sofaya, Fred Banda and Mavusani the Tiger. Bra Fred as Fred Banda was known to the Sizinda Community, was a different man to different people, kind to his friends and admirers, and cruel to his enemies — and since he had more of the latter, Bra Fred’s reputation was that of a savagely cruel gangster. Bra Fred later relocated to Malawi with his parents. In Malawi he allegedly continued with his savage life and was unfortunately sentenced to death by the Malawian authorities for a series of heinous and gruesome crimes that he committed in that country.

Edgar was well known for his fist fighting skills. He is said to have had a deadly left punch, and had the reputation of fighting as much as six people at one go, and would always win the fights. I am told that he never lost a single fight in his life as a gangster. As for Bra Strike, brother to Edgar, he was an astute, razor-sharp and cunning gangster who later worked as a Guard for the Railways before being elevated to Marshal Yard Controller in Dabuka, Gweru.

Because of his razor-sharp intelligence Bra Strike the former gangster joined politics while working as a Shunter at Westgate in Bulawayo. He was clandestinely involved in the recruitment of Freedom Fighters/Guerrillas. He was arrested and detained for two weeks by the Rhodesian authorities and was subjected to severe torture whilst in the police cells. Between June of 1975 to August of 1979, Strike would be detained for two weeks per month, and would be allowed to work for the other two weeks, but under strict police surveillance. Bra Strike has retired from the Railways and is now living a peaceful and devout life with his family.

Mavusani the Tiger was a legendary in his day as a Sizinda Spoiler — much hated and much loved — it all depended on which end of his knife you were at. Mavusani was a giant of a man, tall and muscular, broad shouldered, knock-kneed, a squint left eye and he spoke in a deep, vicious and guttural voice.

He lived a violent life and served a number of prison terms for violent crimes such as aggravated assaults, grievous bodily harm and attempted murder. In 1973 he was sentenced to 9 years in jail and was released in 1980 on the first Amnesty in independent Zimbabwe. After his release from prison, Mavusani the Tiger, found to his bewilderment that Sizinda had changed quite a lot. Most of his gang members were now happily married and gainfully employed, some owned houses in either Sizinda, Matshobana or Tshabalala.

Others had died or relocated to neighbouring Zambia and Malawi. His once proud and broad shoulders were now bent and subdued. He was fortunate to get a job at the National Railways of Zimbabwe, where he worked as a Messenger in the Works Yard Department. He married, MaNcube his childhood sweetheart, a local woman from Sizinda. Mavusani retired in 1995 and is still living in Sizinda with old MaNcube and a couple of grandchildren.

Mavusani is now old, wrinkled, white haired and is toothless. But he still has that spark in his eyes and still walks in that gait that is reminiscent of gangsters. If you have the chance of visiting Sizinda ever, you will find Mavusani, the now toothless Tiger, at Sizinda South Beer Garden (Pumula Bhawa), where he hangs around mostly playing “intsoro”.

Probe him a bit, but with caution, and he will gladly give you more stories about the Spoilers. His stories are not for free . . . they come with a small fee. Once a Tiger always a Tiger.

To be continued next week.
Feedback: Clifford Kalibo/0783856228/ 0719866228/ email: [email protected]

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