CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
THE Daily Mail has lately been publishing articles on the notorious gangs of teenagers that, until recently, had been terrorising Kitwe and the efforts by police to smother them out of existence.Recently, Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja stormed the mining city, reminiscent of a Wild West sheriff, to show the young ‘terrorists’ that their days are numbered.
Zambia’s top cop drove through the home townships of the Tokota Boys, 100s, 90 Niggas, Sons of the Devil, Ba Mbwambwambwa and other gangs in a show of force.
Accompanied by heavily armed police officers Mr Kanganja had an opportunity to get first-hand information from crime-weary residents, some of who served up some free grassroots consultancy on how to rid the city of the malcontents.
Kitwe has a history of notorious gangs and solo thugs.
Most of the gangs of old were dismantled by hard-working police officers or simply disbanded on their own under pressure.
A number of them fell to police bullets, some were murdered by their own ilk while others crawled into hiding and later silently re-integrated into society after reforming.
In their heyday the mere mention of their names inspired a mixture of fear and resentment.
You will be reading about some of those gangs and solo thugs in the coming days.
One of the most notorious thugs to walk the streets of Kitwe was Twigee Lee, an unbelievably violent small fellow who lived in Chamboli township in the 1980s.
He used to live with his grandmother before he went to live with his fellow gangsters.
Also known as ‘Bon Burrows’ Twigee Lee led a gang of ruthless, dangerous criminals who plied their nefarious trade in the mining townships of Chamboli, Wusakile, the two Miseshis and Mindolo.
He was known for stabbing his victims with knives.
Some of the members of his gang were Ali Zanda, Toronto, Shikalubula, Jack Zindo, Failembo, Kasafa and Bob.
A Kitwe resident who lived in Chamboli at the time Twigee Lee and his fellow thugs were spreading terror in the mine townships recalls that the gang committed horrendous crimes, including rape, robberies, unlawful wounding and kidnappings.
As the leader of the gang Twigee Lee used to wear military-type denims and an American flag head band like Sylvester Stallone, then starring as John Rambo in the First Blood movie series.
The gang was largely inspired by the war and gangster movies shown at the popular – now defunct – Astra Cinema on Matuka Avenue in the city centre.
Rumour had it that Twigee Lee used to periodically rape his grandmother at knife point as a ritual to allegedly ‘recharge’ his charms on the instructions of a witchdoctor.
It was also rumoured that he had gouged one of his grandmother’s eyes for ritual purposes.
The Daily Mail source said his memories of those days are still fresh.
His mother used to sell at Chamboli Market then, and when he was not at school or playing with his friends he would accompany her.
“I used to be with my mother in the market. One day in the morning while I was selling salt as an eight-year-old boy, I witnessed a very serious incident.
Twigee Lee and his gang raided the market while wielding knives. They ordered all the marketeers in the shelter to contribute dried fish, kapenta (lake sardines), fresh fish, meat, beans, tomatoes, onions and salt.
No-one dared challenge them because they were very violent. They packed the food they extorted from the hapless marketeers in a sack and disappeared into the bush near Chamboli cemetery.
Twigee Lee and his friends cooked the food in stolen pots. It was a big feast. To wash it down, they went into a tavern and grabbed all the chibuku beer miners were drinking, which they put in containers and returned to the bush for a big drinking party,” the source said in an interview in Kitwe recently.
He said sometimes, the gang would seize illicit spirits called kachasu from traders coming from Chandamali and Malembeka and traditional liquor – katubi, katata, imbote – from shebeens and drink it in the bush.
Twigee Lee and his minions loved patronising drinking places, their favourites being J Bala Bar or J Bar, where they would grab beer from patrons and cigarettes from mishanga boys (illegal cigarette sellers).
Patrons would voluntarily surrender their beer to the gang to avoid trouble.
“They would just come where you were drinking and take all your beer without a word. If you asked any question they would beat you to pulp or even stab you with knives and leave,” the former Chambolian said.
There were also criminal groups in Wusakile. Each bar had its own gang such as C3 Bar, C5 Bar in Wusakile and Mushipi Tavern in Chamboli.
When these gangs met at the same bar there would be bloody fights, often with knives.
Twigee Lee and his gang actively participated in the 1986 food riots that rocked Kitwe as the UNIP government struggled to implement IMF-prescribed austerity measures in an attempt to breathe some life into the then ‘gasping’ economy.
When the government unleashed the feared commandos from Mushili Barracks in Ndola, popularly known as Ba Red Beret, in reference to their trademark maroon coloured berets, belts and lanyards, the gangsters went into hiding in the bush.
They only returned to Chamboli after the commandos had left.
The thugs used to move in a group with Twigee Lee in the middle.
If you did not give way for them, they would stop you and force you to pay homage to Twigee Lee as if he were some royalty.
A resident of New Ndeke recounted how he escaped an attack as a stranger when he failed to run away at the sight of Twigee Lee and his boys.
“I did not know it was him. He forgave me and let me go because I was new in Wusakile, but stabbed my younger brother in the leg with a screw driver,” he said.
At the mere mention of his name residents would shiver.
It was baffling how such a small person, who could not win any straight fist fight, would command servile loyalty from over a dozen huge, muscular youths and men.
In the next article read about Twigee Lee’s downfall.
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka