Politics of the number: an account of predominent South African prison gang influences

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University of Cape Town

The study is a contextual account of various factors that facilitate and promote the continued dominance of the ‘Number gangs’ prevalent in many (if not most) South African prisons. Even though there is a substantial amount of factors that critically influence and sustain the South African prison gangs, this paper will focus upon a few of these influences. An emergent sentiment from exponents within these gangs, and supporting academic literature both argue that these dominant inmate factions are now adapting their mythical credo so as to remain an informal power-player within the scope of a failing South African prison administration. From a managerial perspective, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is often found attempting to give meaningful accounts of itself amidst its failed efforts to transform both itself and the South African prison administration. The policy legislation and administration of DCS thus also contribute to prison gang prominence. The study shows that DCS has embraced a policy of harsher penality, although its official position is that it is transforming into an administration that is focused upon human rights. This paper will thus give brief insight into the prison gangs’ organization and operations, and then focus upon various contexts within which the Number gangs continue to be pervasive, especially due to changing prison administrative policy (or lack thereof) and due to new adaptive strategy employed by gangs to make themselves powerbrokers within this contentious penal discourse.

Includes bibliographical references.