The Numbers Gang
The Numbers Gang (or the Numbers Gangs and associated with different numbers in different prisons) is a prison gang with one of the most fearsome reputations in South Africa. They are known to operate primarily in the Western Cape prison of Pollsmoor, however it is thought that they control most of the South African prisons.
The 26s’ duty is to accumulate wealth for all the numbers. The 26s have no private line and a wyfie may not join the gang. Although a member of the 26s may take a wyfie for himself, it is strictly against the laws as set out in the book of 26s.
The gang has a very specific hierarchy and is structured as follows:
In the number 2s and the number 1s there is a twelve point ring which makes gang decisions according to their jurisdictions. Each rank has its own assigned office and duties which include training lower rank members in the duties and codes of the gang.
The 26s have historically been considered[who?] an inferior gang and have lived in the shadow of the 28s; however in some prisons they have risen up against the 28s and controlled the prisons. (See “general elections”, below)
The 28s are the blood line of the gang. They are divided into two lines – the gold line and the silver line.
The gold line are the warriors, the descendants of Nongoloza. They are responsible for fighting the gang’s battles.
The silver line are the female, and are the descendants of Magubane. They are considered to be the sex slaves of the gold line. This is however strongly disputed by silver line members who consider themselves to be the thinkers of the gang.
The emblem of the 28s is the Zulu shield, whose skin is made out of the legendary Rooiland cow’s remains.
Each substructure of the gang consists of four men and is named respectively the “four points of the ones”, the “four points of the twos” and then “four points of the threes”. These four points refer to the places in Rooiland’s carcass where the legs join the body. The function of each officer in the gang is signified by a part of the bull’s anatomy.
The magistrate is given the hooves which are his four stamps: red, green, white and black. He uses these stamps to mark a member for promotion or punishment.
The gwenza gets the legs which are his four pens: red, green, white and black. He uses these pens to note the record of every member.
The glas (binoculars), who communicates the gang’s decisions, gets one of the horns which is his bugle. He uses this bugle to announce conclusions to the gang’s deliberations.
The draad (intelligence officer) is given the eyes. Being given the eyes signifies that he can see all that happens.
In the 28s it is important to prove your manhood and move up in the rankings. A member moves up the ranks through the stabbing or killing of rival gangs, prison guards or disobedient members. Should a member stay in the lower ranks he will still be considered a woman and will be sexually abused until he proves his manhood.
Recruitment into the 28s
When a new prisoner is assigned a cell he will be introduced to the person in charge of that cell known as the “cell cleaner”. The cell cleaner will welcome the new prisoner to the cell, and will either leave him alone for the evening, or will demand sex.
The new prisoners will be observed by a senior member of the gang known as “die glas” (the binoculars). The glas’ job is to conduct gang business in die bos (the bush), the parts of the prison where the 28s are not active. The glas will then confront a potential new recruit and give him a riddle. How the new prisoner answers the riddle will determine which department of the gang he will fall under.
The glas will generally watch the way new members interact with other franse (non-gang members). He will watch how the new prisoner deals with conflict, the way he solves problems and the way he walks and talks. The glas then approaches the new prisoner and will say “I am going to ask you a question. Think very carefully before answering.” The glas will go on to say, “It is raining. You are standing under an umbrella. I say to you I am getting wet; I may get sick. What are you going to do?” The new inmate’s answer will determine his future in the prison. If he should say “I invite you to share my umbrella” he would become a sex slave and would not become a member of the 28s. If he should say “I will come out into the rain with you” it means that the new inmate is saying that he is prepared to live like him; they are brothers and they will live and die together.
After the glas is satisfied with the answer of the new inmate, he is given a task to become a member. This task could either be the fatal or non-fatal stabbing of another inmate or warden. The new recruit will be given a knife whose length is determined by another senior member of the gang known as the nyangi (the doctor). Should the gang want the stabbing to be fatal the nyangi will give the new recruit a longer blade, and vice versa in the event the gang wants a non-lethal stabbing.
Once the stabbing has taken place all the gang members watching will shout “Nangampela! Die nommer is vol!” (The number is complete).
The new member then meets with the tribunal and is told to strip down to his underwear. The glas circles him slowly, scrutinising his skin for vuil papiere (dirty papers – the tattoos of other gangs). If he is found with the mark of a rival gang he is beaten and his recruitment halted. This ceremony takes place on a Saturday, the day the gangs consider the “day of wrongs”.
On a Sunday, the “day of rights”, his ceremony is performed. He is once again ordered to stand in the middle of the room; however this time he is surrounded by several people. The first person to approach him is the nyangi. The nyangi then takes a gold pipe and slaps it on the new recruit’s right wrist, then takes a silver pipe and slaps it on the new recruit’s left wrist. He then checks the recruit’s pulse and declares either “Die man se pols klop twee keer per jaar” (This man’s pulse beats twice a year) or “Die man se pols klop drie keer per jaar’” (This man’s pulse beats three times a year). Should he mention that his pulse beats twice it would mean the new recruit is being recruited onto the silver line, if three times it means he is being recruited onto the gold line.
The gwenza (senior member) then places a handkerchief on the floor and slips a knife under it. He stands and says to the recruit: “From today you are no longer a frans. You are a 28. You will never swear at your brother. You will never hurt your brother. You will never do anything that reflects badly on the camp. If you leave the camp, you leave by your own blood.”
The landdros (magistrate) will then come forward and take out his green and white stamps and give the new member his approval. The landdros carries four stamps – white, green, red and black, which signify the four hooves on the Rooiland.
These stamps signify promotion. When a member of the silver line is promoted he takes out his green and white stamp; if the member is from the gold line he takes out the green and the red stamps. The black stamp is reserved for the death sentence.
The landdros then steps forward and takes out his white and green pens to inscribe the new member’s recruitment into the 28s’ record book.
The ending of the ceremony is signalled by the new recruit being marched out of the circle. The 28s then take the new recruit to the 26s and 27s.
The new recruit will then sleep alongside different members of the 28 gang and be told what his duties are. He will also begin to learn the history of Nongoloza and Kilikijan. It will only be a brief fragment of the story, for he is still too junior to hear the whole story.
Finally he is taken to a section of the gang called the mambozas (forties). These 28s are senior but inactive due to being too old or too injured for active duty. Another reason a person could be a mamboza is because his position has already being filled by another member. A prison cannot have two active nyangis for example, and if another nyangi is transferred from another prison he is considered dormant – he sleeps in the forties.
The mambozas begin to teach the new member to sabela (speak prison language). It is a long and gruelling process. The new member has to sabela all day and night with his blackboard (teacher). The first two months being a member of the number means that a new member is not allowed to receive visits, write letters or read books. They must focus on the number. If somebody learns too slowly the punishments are severe. New members can be stripped of all their clothes and thrown into an ice cold shower until they “find the number” (get it right).
One of the last things new members learn is about a position in the silver line held by a man named Mtjoetijies. This man is dead but his place in the hierarchy is left empty. Legend has it that Mtjoetijies was a translator, for Nongoloza who refused to speak the language of the white oppressor. Nongoloza grew increasingly wary about what Mtjoetijies was saying to the white officers, and decided to take action and kill him as a precaution. The position remains open as a reminder that the 28s do not negotiate with words, they negotiate with action.
This ritual, however, has now changed. The fundamental principles remain the same; however, in modern 28 law the man who trains you is now allowed also to have sex with you. This change came along because of the war between the silver and gold lines of the number.
The 28s War
In the late ’80s a decision was taken to stop bloodlines (no stabbing). The silver line complained that the gold line were now not doing their jobs. The gold line complained about the silver line being greedy with the food. In the days when the bloodlines were still open the gold line members had a very strict diet to follow as they were not allowed to get fat. They were not allowed to eat eggs for example and were never allowed sugar with the coffee and their porridge. All these items went to the silver lines instead. Upon the closing of the bloodlines the gold line demanded that they get the food they wanted since there was no longer a need to stay fit. The silver line refused, and thus the gold line declared war on the silver line.
The silver line trounced the gold line. The soldiers were beaten by the thinkers. Within months hostilities had ceased. The hospital beds were filled with soldiers from the 28 gang.
The gold line formally offered their surrender. The silver line then set out their terms. They closed down the gold line and vowed that it would never be opened again. They threw the soldiers out of their ranks and filled these ranks with silver line members. They then decreed that nobody would have to take blood to join the 28s again. They also changed the initiation rules: they stated that any person who wished to join the 28s had to have sex with their teacher.
The rule of the blood has, however, changed. Modern members are now expected both to kill upon order of their general as well as have sex with their teacher, they are also expected to know the “Number” to the extent that the new members would be waken up in the middle of the night and asked the “Number” if they get it wrong they would have to have sex with any fellow brother or be asked to kill an inmate.