CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
THEY only shot to infame between last December and January this year.But the notorious Kitwe gangs of young criminals have been in existence since 2015.
Until recently, they had literally taken the mining city hostage, mugging, raping and brutally assaulting hapless residents with impunity.
The Zambia Daily Mail is in possession of a trove of information on the genesis, age range and methods of operation (modus operandi) of these gangs and their predecessors, dating back to the 1980s.
Undercover investigations conducted in the townships recently in which they live and carry out their criminal activities have unearthed a plethora of socio-economic factors that have spawned them.
This is the first of a series of articles the Daily Mail will be publishing in the coming days on the gangs – current and past – and how they can be eradicated.
They will include chilling accounts by victims, former and current gangsters, teachers, parents and ordinary residents.
Members of the current gangs are 12 to 20 years old.
And look at their weird names – Sons of the Devil (SOD), Tokota Boys, 90 Niggas, 100 Niggas, also known as Hundreds or Zalis, Ba Mbwambwa, 50 Niggas (50s)!
Since last December the SOD, which is based in Bulangililo township, has been in the news for beating up and robbing residents of Bulangililo, Kwacha and Kwacha East townships.
Its notoriety peaked last December when its members forced residents to celebrate Christmas Eve indoors after threatening to beat unconscious anyone who dared venture out.
Not to be outdone, the New Ndeke-based Tokota Boys barrelled into and violently dispersed a crowd peacefully celebrating the coming of the New Year at a popular mall around midnight a week later.
Brandishing an array of weapons, the young thugs violently curtailed the merrymaking and left a number of revellers with injuries.
Few months later, the 90 Niggas went on a rampage, robbing and assaulting residents, including children.
But it was the amateur video circulated on social media by the Tokota Boys last month that ignited countrywide public anger and triggered a police crackdown.
The video showed them brutalising and humiliating a 16-year-old former comrade-in-crime for allegedly ‘defecting’ to the 100 Niggas or Zalis operating in Mulenga, Luangwa and Malembeka townships.
Suspected members of the gangs are appearing in courts for different criminal offences ranging from assault to kidnapping, but residents expect more action from the police.
Leader of the Tokota Boys Mwamba Siame, known as Mayweather of New Ndeke, narrowly slipped through the police dragnet and is still on the run.
Copperbelt Commissioner of Police Charity Katanga, not known to be a fan of lawbreakers, has since taken the war to the gangsters.
Mrs Katanga recently raised the red flag at the Kitwe district command for seemingly adopting a ‘user-friendly’ approach to tackling the gangsters, whose crimes had attracted the attention of political scavengers of every shade.
She was disappointed that the few gangsters her officers had managed to apprehend had gotten away with mere slaps on their wrists.
After spending a day or two in police cells, they would be seen swaggering around the townships again sowing more terror.
Mrs Katanga did not have kind words for the Judiciary either. She boldly called out the courts for allegedly ‘baby-cuddling’ convicted gangsters with token sentences.
Fortunately, the courts seem to have got her message loud and clear.
The other week they sent four of the ruffians to prison, where they will remain in the next five years to atone for their crimes against society.
Residents of Bulangililo, Kwacha, Kwacha East, New and Old Ndeke, Ndeke Village, Mulenga, Robert, Chamboli and Luangwa townships had for a long time been complaining that they were no longer leading normal lives.
The marauding gangs were forcing them to be indoors as early as 19:00 hours for fear of being attacked.
And the potential of unfettered gangster crime to harm national security has not been lost on the Commander-in-Chief and father of the nation, President Edgar Lungu.
He has since commanded the police to decisively and swiftly smother the gangs and put an end to their criminal activities.
In response, Zambia’s top cop, Inspector-General of Police Kakoma Kanganja, has come out firing from the hip.
He assured the President of immediate action and made it clear to the young morons that their honeymoon was over.
His gallant officers would soon squash them under the heels of their boots like pantry roaches, and it is coming “We appreciate the principal’s [President’s] concern. As police, we have so far arrested 11 criminals in Kitwe. We are on top of things,” he said.
Mr Kanganja must have wondered how gangs, of mostly teenagers, would be such a handful for his officers in Kitwe with all the tools of law enforcement at their disposal.
There were even justified suggestions by crime-weary residents that he instruct Lusaka Commissioner of Police Nelson Phiri to unleash his feared C5 crack squad on the Kitwe thugs.
But as if goaded by a live coal from a brazier, the Kitwe officers have finally sprung to action.
Over 20 of the suspected outlaws are now behind bars, and the hunt for the others has intensified.
By the time of penning this article, the gangs were in disarray, probably trying to figure out what had hit them.
“Tokota ali kalipa ukucila kapokola [Tokota is tougher than the police]!” one of the hitherto ‘invincible’ gangs used to force its hapless victims to sing amid beatings.
But are they not cowering in hiding now with their tails between their legs, unable to regroup and plan properly thanks to the police?
Even the mere sight of this writer’s unbranded Daily Mail 4×4 twin-cab motor vehicle had them scampering like rats, thinking it was the police.
The gangsters must accept that their time is up.
It is not too late for them to reform and become useful citizens.
Read about the genesis of the Sons of the Devil in the next article.
CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka