The Number Gangs in South African Prisons

Ich habe mir hier in Südafrika ein absolut großartiges Buch gekauft: Heather Parker Lewis’ “Gods Gangsters?” erzählt “the history, language, rituals, secrets and myths of South Africas prison gangs”. Ausgehend von der Gründung der Gangs durch Mzozephi Mathebula, der später den Namen Jan Note annahm und dann nur noch Nongoloza (Giver of Rules) genannt wurde, beschreibt Parker Lewis (!) die Organisation und internen Codes der drei Gangs, die 26, 27 und 28. Die Achtundzwanzig wurde um 1880 von Mzozephi gegründet, diese Gang vereint Sexualverbrecher (Mzozephi wurde wegen seiner Homosexualität eingelocht). Die 26s sind die Betrüger und Fälscher, die 27s sind die “Manskap von Bloed” oder “Men of Blood” – die Mörder und Gewalttäter.

Ich hab’ das Buch erst angelesen, kann’s aber nur dringend empfehlen, es ist ein superfaszinierender Einblick in eine Welt, die man wohl niemals sehen wird. Leider gibt’s das Buch nicht in Europa, auf Amazon (siehe Link unten) ist es nicht lieferbar und die Hardcover-Ausgabe kostet gebraucht 60 Euro. Dafür aber habe ich gleich zwei Fotoserien gefunden, die sich mit den Number Gangs beschäftigen, eine von Mikhael Subotzky, die andere von Araminta de Clermont.

This series is an exploration into the tattoos, and lives, of members of South Africa’s ‘Numbers’ prison gangs (the 26s, 27s & 28s) after having been released back into society, normally after many years, if not decades, of imprisonment.

Tattooing has always been forbidden in the South African prison system, with severe penalties, but the drive to create these marks is so strong that tattooing equipment will be created somehow.Pigment will come from grinding up rubbish bins, industrial rubber washers, batteries, or bricks. This will then be mixed with saliva, and will be pushed under the skin with nails pulled out of furniture, or sewing needles.

Tattoos may convey rankings within the hierarchy of the Number, may be testimonies to a crime committed, or may sometimes be a rather more personal statement: like a message of blame, threat, or regret, or a tribute to a loved one. A “Numbers” gangster can read another’s life story simply through the markings he has. The gallows symbol signifies that the bearer faced the death sentence, before it was outlawed. Many of the most highly tattooed men that I photographed, had been given the death sentence, before Mandela’s reprieve, and thus they had never believed they would be released, never imagining “a life after’.

Snip aus einem sechs Jahre alten Artikel zu den Number Gangs von der Autorin des Buchs: Author of God’s Gangsters writes challenging article for Argus newspapers.

The Number was originally a criminal movement that began and operated at maximum potential outside of the prison system. (Their first hideout was in the hills south of Johannesburg in what is now Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve.) The Gang split into two, probably around the time of The Boer War. The division in the ranks was caused by a palace revolution when a senior general, a Pondo named Ngilkityane (meaning the man who bumped the stone), challenged the same-sex practices of Nongoloza. In this way the Gang of 27 separated from the Gang of 28 and it was only some years later, possibly as late as 1908, and after the senior leaders of the first two divisions were all arrested, that a third arm was created — The Gang of 26. The role of the 26 Gang is to keep the prison alive by the illegal acquisition of commodities. Prison staff, well-versed in gang behaviour, state that recent murders in the community have been deliberately committed by men eager to be imprisoned for the purpose of being initiated as 26s.

The commodities the Number deals in include money, drugs and sex. With the increase in drug trafficking since the 1990s it made sense for these powerful gangs to once again form an external base. This adjustment to a change in circumstances is a sign of a healthy system. It has caused a degree of strife within the prison gangs, because those recruited outside are not well versed in the oral history and laws of the gangs and have not earned rank on the inside, but gang operations do not appear to have been weakened.

Das ganze Thema ist extrem faszinierend und ich kann nur dazu raten, sich das Buch auf irgendwelchen Wegen zu besorgen. Und: Die Font-Auswahl (Jugendstil-Schrift und ein Font basierend auf Walt Disneys Unterschrift) für’s Cover ist fast genauso interessant, wie das Thema selbst.

Amazon-Partnerlink: God’s Gangsters?: The Number Gangs in South African Prisons

Disclosure: Dein Südafrika und Mini haben Isabelle, Nico, Sarah, Camilla und yours truly für 7 Tage nach Südafrika eingeladen, wo wir eine kleine Tour durchs Land machen und uns die Gegend anschauen.