Gangsters culture is so entrenched in Port Elizabeth’s Helenvale that some gangs have junior affiliates in schools in the poverty-stricken suburb.

Citing the Spotbouers gang, which has a junior gang affiliate called the Baby Spotbouers, senior Port Elizabeth police officer Brigadier Andrew Louw yesterday sketched a harrowing picture of gangsterism there.

He said the community, including children as young as 10-years-old, were intertwined with the gangs.

Louw’s depiction of gang activity was one of a number of high-level submissions made to a Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) think tank session established to formulate alternative development strategies for Helenvale.

Along with mayor Athol Trollip and metro police chief Yolanda Faro, top academics and professionals in fields ranging from town planners, educators and social development specialists to investigative journalists, authors and gang experts, made valuable contributions to the discussion.

With a large number of the participants being from Cape Town – home to some of South Africa’s most notorious gangs – those present gained first-hand insights and experiences around gangsterism and the efforts and solutions being applied in the Cape.

The session considered a plethora of diverse factors that influence socioeconomic conditions in Helenvale, including the role of schools, poverty, job creation and community self image.

Speakers made it clear the challenges were enormous.

Louw, in his frank assessment of Helenvale gangs, named resources and community trust as two of the biggest challenges facing the police, who he said were simultaneously trying to win the hearts and minds of the community and prevent crime.

With seven police stations under his command, Louw said despite the recent successes police had notched up, resources were “a huge problem” when attempting to deal with gangsterism effectively.

In startling revelations around community involvement in gangsterism, Louw said children were used to remove and hide firearms from shooting scenes, they had been involved in disturbing and removing evidence from crime scenes and used as drug runners and lookouts.

Highlighting the significant involvement of the so-called numbers gangs, the 26s and the 28s, which are highly prevalent in jails and urban environments, including Helenvale, Louw suggested the eradication of the prison gangs could play a critical role in reducing urban gangsterism.