In the last instalment of this article I explored some of the primary motivations for women getting involved in gang culture. There has been a notable rise in recent years around the world of women getting involved in gang activity. Furthermore the women joining are serving more innovative and unique purposes to their leaders in these modern times.

Like a persistent and evolving virus gang activity is evolving to pose bigger and more creative problems for those trying to kerb their progress. It seems as if when the authorities take a step forward in tackling gang issues, the gangs themselves take a stride just as great in remaining in power and untouchable.

Well one woman who knows all about gang violence in the infamous Cape Flats in South Africa has provided a great insight for many into female roles in gangs of the region.

Charmaine DeBruine was one of three female gang members in a powerful and feared sector that called themselves ‘The Backstreet Kids’ in Hanover Park, South Africa. She became a gang member at the age of 15 and told reporters that joining was largely motivated at the time by a desire for a sense of belonging and compassion.

Now 35 years of age, DeBruine says that: “I had a tough life at home. There was no mother. There was no father… I wanted that sense of belonging”.

‘The Backstreet Kids’ have since been disbanded. Most of their members, both male and female, lost either to violence or long-term prison sentences. However gangsterism in the Hanover Park region is still a very common and dangerous threat. Just 30 minutes from Cape Town city centre, the Western Cape is believed to be housing between 100 to 120 gangs, the majority of which are made up of non-white members whose families were forcibly relocated in the early 1950s.

Another woman who knows all about the gang violence in the Western Cape is Naboeweiyah Kelly, who at the age of 14 joined the Western Cape’s most feared gang, ‘The Americans’. She spoke of her role as an informant or smuggler for the gang which proved to be crucial in keeping their operations low-key to avoid too much attention from authorities: “I would help them smuggle, sell the drugs, and keep the stuff by my house”. She also spoke of how she often acted as a distraction for the police when The Americans would target rival gangs; “They showed me how to use any kind of a nine millimetre, a 38.calibre, a Glock… Then I just go, and shoot it in the air… If it’s not me, then there is a guy with me who will do the shooting, and I just walk away with the gun”.

What’s more, due to the lack of female police officers in the region it is highly unlikely that any woman will be searched unless they are considered to have direct involvement in any criminal activity. Another example of female gang tactics includes an activity synonymous in British gang culture today that is known as ‘The Honey Trap’. This is where a female gang member will look to entice a rival male gang member – often with the promise of sex, cash and/or drugs – then after luring him towards the safety of her own gang, will see the male gang member captured, tortured or killed by other male members of her group.

With very few women in gangs choosing to “fight on the frontlines” like their male counterparts, a lot of them are rarely directly targeted in gang violence. However due to the modern awareness that rival gangs now have that women are often used as informants and spies the dangers for female members is very real. Any woman who is believed to be spying for a rival gang, risks things such as being gang-raped, tortured or killed on the spot.

Whilst woman are serving a more powerful function in gangs in the modern era they are still very much down the pecking order when it comes to calling the shots. The Western Cape has long been known for being a very male-dominated world. Women having power in gangs, is therefore an extremely rare occurrence. Even in this instance, such women will never have any direct influence on gang activity.

Even so Mrs Kelly told us how she looked to earn her own respect from male members of the gangs by aggressively asserting herself in her own neighbourhood. She admitted to often carrying a knife and also to stabbing other male gang members who she believed looked down at her and didn’t treat her with the same respect as their male friends: “I did stab a lot of guys. For sometimes they must talk right to me. If they don’t know me, and they just want to talk to me like they want to… Then I must show you how you must talk to a lady.

It all depends on how you carry yourself. You need to know when to act like a woman and when to adopt a man’s behaviour.”

In the upcoming, final instalment of this article I will explore the other side of the battle of the gangs. Who are the people looking to discourage this gruesome and unforgiving lifestyle? I will be considering what major and minor efforts are being undertaken by the authorities, and former gang members to tackle and eradicate gang activity in the region. Just as there remains a growing call for women in gang tactics, so there is a growing need from other nations to embrace what some of these women have to offer in the continuous struggle against violence around the world.



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