Academic says right laws can beat gangs

07 April 2019 - 00:00 By TANYA FARBER

Terrified people living in gangster hot spots say they have given up hope these will ever change.
But now, a warrior against gangsterism has taken a ground-breaking approach: delving into the law of the land to give it more teeth. And he has the government's ear.
For someone like Michael Lewis, 60, in the gang-infested Cape Town suburb of Lavender Hill, daily life would change if gangsters were stopped in their tracks.
His grandson Zain, five at the time, got caught in gangster crossfire in 2012 and was shot in the leg. He is now 12, and Lewis looks after him because his daughter, Zain's mother, is a drug addict.
"The children were playing in the communal yard and I grabbed them all when I heard the gunshots. We stood behind a stairwell but Zain got hit in the groin," said Lewis. "Teaching a small child to sprint or lie flat if they hear shooting is no way to live. But it will never change. Decades it has been like this."
Delano van der Linde refuses to believe it will never change, and his 400-page doctoral thesis at the University of Stellenbosch shows how amendments to the law could make it easier to identify, catch, prosecute and jail gangsters.
First, he suggests establishing a gang database to assist in prosecutions. "It must consist of photos of known gang members, the modus operandi, and insignia such as tattoos and colours of specific gangs and specific gang members," he said.
Van der Linde said the Prevention of Organised Crime Act was based on a Californian model which relies on a gang database, but omitted that vital component.
Second, he called for longer sentences for gang-related crimes because the existing jail terms of three to eight years, with the option of a fine, were insufficient to "dismantle the criminal structure".
Defining "specific crimes for gang bosses with a potential lifelong sentence" and criminalising gang formation and membership would also be important.
"Some might argue that would constitute a violation of the freedom of association but we must remember that constitutional rights may be subject to limitation," he said.Also, "it is debatable whether criminal organisations fall within the scope of protection of the freedom of association, because that is not the case under the international instruments".Finally, Van der Linde proposes that civil injunctions or public nuisance orders could be used to nab gangsters, especially those in the lower ranks."This involves a process of gathering sufficient evidence against gang members and prohibiting them from entering certain areas where they are known to have been a public nuisance," he said."This is not a criminal case, and so the burden of proof is much lower. If they fail to adhere to the injunction, they will be in contempt of court and will face a prison sentence. This is a fairly easy and effective manner in potentially addressing lower-level members."Criminologist Don Pinnock, who has researched and written extensively on gang violence, attributes the rapid rise of gangsterism to forced removals, the breakdown of the extended family unit and unemployment.Van der Linde said he believed gangsterism could be curtailed, and said his research was a result of "governmental interest in amending the Prevention of Organised Crime Act".

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