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South Africa: State protection for persons involved in the reporting or uncovering of drug trafficking activities of gangs (1997-1999)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 July 1999
Citation / Document Symbol ZAF32226.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, South Africa: State protection for persons involved in the reporting or uncovering of drug trafficking activities of gangs (1997-1999), 1 July 1999, ZAF32226.E, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


A journalist with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC-TV), who covers gang-related violence in the Cape Flats region of Cape Town, stated in a telephone interview that persons who report crimes are at risk of violence at the hands of gangs and that there is a widespread perception that witness protection is inadequate (8 July 1999). This information was corroborated by an anti-crime activist and former secretary of the Western Cape Anti-Crime Forum who is currently preparing a Master's dissertation in criminology at the London School of Economics on the impact of the political transition to democracy on the Hard Living gang in Cape Town (12 July 1999). The anti-crime activist further stated that the witness protection system in South Africa, apart from specific regimes established for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Goldstone Commission, is very uncoordinated and open to compromise (ibid.). The anti-crime activist provided two recent examples: in the first, a key witness in a case involving the "Sexy Boys" gang was killed prior to trial and in the second a witness in another gang-related trial was assaulted (ibid.).

Referring to the CRIME STOP program, the anti-crime activist stated that persons reporting crimes, including drug and gang-related crimes, could not remain anonymous if they were required to give evidence and that most persons who report crimes directly to the police (rather than through CRIME STOP) would likely do so with the assistance of a third party (ibid.).

An investigator for the Public Protector's office [Ombudsman] who worked on an investigation into police collusion with the Hard Livings gang in Cape Town, is quoted in the attached Mail & Guardian article as saying: "'Most of the residents live in fear and would not dare lodge any complaint against members of the gang ... People who have lodged complaints with the police are mostly intimidated, and in some cases even murdered'" (6 Mar. 1998). 

Although the incidents occurred earlier than 1997, the following reports are included for the purposes of providing general background: In 1996 charges against Hard Livings leader Rashied Staggie were dropped after three witnesses failed to appear in court:

[Police Superintendent] Sterrenberg said the police were well aware that witnesses were often intimidated by gangsters into withholding evidence against them, but at the time Staggie was arrested there was no witness protection programme  available.

A decision to place witnesses in protective custody could not be taken lightly either, Sterrenberg said. A witness who spent months in prison waiting for a case to come to court might end up sympathetic to the accused.

Ministry of Justice representative Barend Heystek said there was a witness protection programme in place which could be reached through the attorney general's office. To his knowledge, no application was made to protect the witnesses meant to give evidence against Staggie.

'The problem with witness protection is that it has its limits. Once the case is finalised, witnesses have to live in their communities where they are vulnerable to attack," Heystek said.

The witness protection programme is being reviewed by a special unit which was established nationally (Mail & Guardian 12 Apr. 1996).

Also in 1996, it was reported that journalists covering violence between Cape Flats gangs and the vigilante organization People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD), were at risk of violence (Mail & Guardian 16 Aug. 1996).

Detailed information concerning witness protection in South Africa prior to 1998 is contained in the attached document from the Department of Justice (11 June 1997). The attached copy of the 1998 Witness Protection Act was downloaded from the Website of the Parliament of South Africa.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg]. 6 March 1998. Andy Duffy. "Baqwa Slates Cape Cops for Shielding Gangsters." [Accessed 9 July 1999]

South Africa, Department of Justice. 11 June 1997. "What the Witness Protection Program is all About." [Accessed 13 July 1999]

South Africa. 27 November 1998. Witness Protection Act. [Accessed 13 July 1999]


Anti-Crime Activist, London. 12 July 1999. Telephone interview.

Journalist, South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC-TV), Cape Town. 8 July 1999. Telephone interview.

Mail & Guardian [Johannesburg]. 6 March 1998. Andy Duffy. "Baqwa Slates Cape Cops for Shielding Gangsters." [Accessed 9 July 1999]

_____. 16 August 1996. "Cape Journos Work in Fear." [Accessed 6 July 1999]

_____. 12 April 1996. Rehana Roussouw. "Gang Leader Walks Free." [Accessed 6 July 1999]

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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