Caryn Dolley, The Enforcers: Inside Cape Town’s Deadly Nightclub Battles (Jonathan Ball, 2019)

RATIONAL people might assume that there is a clear fault line between police and criminals; yet even in the best-ordered societies the divide can be occluded. Part of the problem is the use of informers. Focusing on Cape Town’s notorious security industry, with the occasional Johannesburg diversion, Caryn Dolley notes that organised crime in South Africa is ‘a gargantuan, entwined, self-sustaining monster that can’t be handcuffed, made to stand trial or cut down in size.’ She also argues that some of its characteristics are a legacy of the end days of apartheid and the criminal activities of the Civil Co-operation Bureau and Directorate of Covert Collection echoed thirty years later in the shifting sands of security and crime. In a book somewhat light on analysis, Dolley labels South Africa a ‘heavyweight in global organised crime’.

Apartheid legacy aside, Dolley points to entrenched gangsterism (73 outfits in the Western Cape, some of them – such as the 28s – as well organised as political parties), deep-seated political corruption embedded everywhere, illicit trade in a wide variety of commodities (drugs, abalone and tobacco, for example), numerous rogue police, and a poorly regulated security industry (nearly half a million employees in 27 000 companies overseen by just 60 inspectors) as reasons for this state of affairs. And she provides plentiful evidence of an underworld deliberately kept ‘amorphous and ambiguous’.

The cast of Dolley’s account is unmistakably Capetonian and she returns constantly to the nightclubs and their troubled security. She uses handy metaphors, writing of the venues where ‘the frivolous can meet the fatal’ and noting that the bouncers who guard doorways determine what happens inside. Security companies use a simple ploy: send thugs to wreck the premises and intimidate patrons; then move in to offer protection. Dolley’s most revealing insight is that security industry violence behaves like a veld fire, skipping great distances and creating reciprocal feuds in apparently unconnected sectors. The potential for conflagration is considerable, although Dolley uses the gentler language of ripples in a pond, an unusual metaphor for what amount to contract killings. Among other tactics is use of a grabber, equipment legal only under licence, to monitor cell phone communication. Helen Zille, former provincial premier, has argued that an alliance of ANC, gang lords and rogue police have been involved in destabilisation of the Western Cape. This might explain the apparently spontaneous and inexplicable combustion of so much railway rolling stock.

The true identity of the murdered Cyril Beeka is key to broader puzzles that may never be unlocked. It is hard to know whether he was businessman, criminal or intelligence operator (or for whom); or all three and, if so, whether simultaneously or sequentially. The inscription on his tombstone says it all: ‘How little we knew’. Indeed, the same might be said of Jerome Booysen, one-time municipal building inspector and rugby club president now a nightclub owner and property developer with dubious friends and even murkier connections.

And then there are characters from the liberation struggle: André Lincoln, Jeremy Veary and Peter Jacobs. To all appearances they moved into space in the police force vacated by the old order and started investigating illegal weaponry. There was ample reason for this. Gangs had close links to apartheid-era remnants of the police and in six years 1 666 murders were committed in Western Cape province using guns sourced from police custody. In the most egregious example, Christiaan Prinsloo, an ex-police colonel, was found guilty of selling 2 000 guns destined for destruction. As Dolley points out, this could make him a mass murderer. Yet amid this barely believable maelstrom of violence Vearey and colleagues were sidelined. Vearey was accused by a well-known gangster and boss of TSG (The Security Group), Nafiz Modack, of working with gangs. The usual narrative of rogue units has been bandied about and Dolley notes that police corruption and crime intelligence dysfunctionality peaked under the criminally inclined Zuma administration. Factor in East European organised crime, some of it linked to Balkan war feuding, and the picture is complete in its complex opacity. It is virtually impossible to disentangle the theories about a high-level intelligence operation and a cover-up of police corruption.  

In the words of former Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois, Dolley has ‘poked and prodded’ away at the topic of organised crime in Cape Town and her book is testimony to thorough investigative journalism in the face of considerable intimidation. Part of its fascination lies in links with the past, and not just the convulsions at the end of apartheid. Appearing on these pages is an elderly Pierre Theron who has new claims about the unsolved murders of Robert and Jean-Cora Smit in 1977.

Guns, drugs, bouncers, cops, gangsters, politicians and even a stray lawyer populate the pages of Dolley’s book. It is a narrative of strong arm protection and jostling for control of nightclub security that broadens out to infect and subvert many key sectors of society.