CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
SO MUCH has been written and said about the notorious Kitwe gangs – Tokota Boys, Sons of the Devil (SOD), 90 Niggas, 100 Niggas, also known as Hundreds or Zalis, and Ba Mbwambwa in the last one month.This writer recently spent a week in the mining city excavating for information on the youthful gangs.
Residents, including victims, current and former members of the gangs interviewed heaped the blame at the feet of the local police and parents.
Schools are the primary breeding grounds for the ruthless gangsters.
Some teachers said they have been fighting a lonely war against the scourge with little cooperation from parents and the police.
Three police officers operating at different police posts in Ndeke and Ndeke Village were repeatedly fingered as the young outlaws’ collaborators.
Residents named two secondary schools as among the gangs’ favourite hunting grounds for potential recruits.
The founders and members of these gangs have similar backgrounds: poor performers and notoriously undisciplined, open disrespect for teachers and unprovoked violence.
Others are school dropouts from mostly struggling and vulnerable households, broken homes and victims of peer pressure.
The teachers, who begged not to be identified for fear of being attacked, said they have been able to detect gangster behaviour in pupils quite early and have been alerting both parents and police in good time.
They have, however, often been let down by the lukewarm and sometimes hostile response.
“As soon as we notice bad behaviour in certain learners, we sit them down, punish or counsel them,” a teacher at one secondary school said in an interview.
“But if a particular learner doesn’t change despite those efforts, or is seen to be influencing others, we call his parents or guardians.
“Unfortunately, some parents defend their children and even get annoyed. In such cases, we have had no choice. We have given the erring boys forced transfers or expelled them,” he said.
Another teacher at a different school said sometimes the delinquents gang up with their out-of-school fellow gang members to harass and assault fellow learners, including girls.
She complained that when the offenders are reported to the police and are apprehended, they are only detained for hours or a day and released without being charged.
The gangs almost always consist of school dropouts and struggling learners and those from unstable families.
“Often, when the bad boys knock off, they find their fellow gangsters waiting for them, sometimes just outside the school,” a female teacher said.
A long-time resident, Ben, whose son has close friends in the SOD and Tokota Boys and asked not to be fully identified for his own safety, provided some useful insight into the gangs’ common method of recruiting new members.
He said they all target schoolboys aged between 10 and 12 years.
“They begin by luring or coercing the small boys into joining them in substance abuse, gradually grooming them into disrespectful, aggressive and fearless gangsters with the help of witch doctors.
“By the time the boys are 15 years old or have reached Grade 9, they are already hardened, ruthless thugs whom the witch doctors have deceived into believing that they have supernatural powers,” Ben said.
Sons of the Devil
Findings of Daily Mail investigations indicate that Sons of the Devil or SOD emerged between 2014 and 2015 as a loose bunch of unruly school dropouts and truant pupils in Bulangililo.
They would be openly smoking cannabis and drinking opaque beer and junta (cane spirits in small bottles) at road junctions, popular drinking spots, football grounds and in the streets.
SOD is based in Bulangililo but draws its membership of mostly former schoolmates aged between 12 and 20 years from all of Kitwe’s townships.
“SOD started in 2015 in Bulangililo led by a boy called Gadaffi. Their tactics include coercing small boys and girls into joining them,” a local bar owner said.
“They first introduce the children to smoking a lot of dagga and drinking a deadly mixture of a cough syrup called Benylin, a strong drug used in psychiatry to calm violent patients and junta,” he said.
Curiously, the gangsters call the highly addictive concoction ifinyelele (black ants). Only they know the connection.
Once they get intoxicated with the thick substance, they jokingly say “ifinyelele fyatusuma [we have been bitten by black ants]”.
“At first they were just idling around in small groups, making a nuisance of themselves by openly smoking dagga, drinking beer, shouting, insulting innocent people and harassing girls.
“We just ignored them, but they later graduated to robbing people of parcels and assaulting innocent residents for no reason at all in broad daylight,” the bar owner said.
A marketeer at Kapoto Market said her 15-year-old daughter was almost beaten to death and nearly raped by the young malefactors in April this year.
The boys move in large groups of up to 30 waylaying school pupils or those sent to the market or shops while armed, demanding money from them or grabbing whatever they are carrying.
“They viciously attack those who fail or refuse to give them what they want. Those boys have been assaulting innocent people and raping girls and women with impunity,” the marketer said.
“If they stop you and find that you are carrying a cheap K90 phone, they will angrily throw it back at you and beat you to near death,” she said.
A 67-year-old carpenter, Peter, of Chimwemwe said the thugs attacked and beat his helper unconscious near Changanamai in Kwacha in February this year around 18:00 hours for refusing to surrender the groceries he was carrying in two plastic bags.
“Once those young beasts get hold of you, they will leave you for dead unless you are rescued in time. They always look intoxicated,” the old man said in an interview in the safety of his former council house in Kamwanya section of Chimwemwe township.
Read about the Tokota Boys in tomorrow’s article.
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka