Webinar on The Numbers Gang in South African Correctional Facilities: Reflections on Structures, Functions and Culture [25 April 2023]

The presence of an elaborate network of members of the so-called Numbers Gang is a well-known phenomenon in South African correctional facilities or prisons in short.
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  • When 25 Apr, 2023 from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM (Africa/Johannesburg / UTC200)
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The existence of the Numbers is widely associated with ongoing patterns of conflict and violence in South African prisons - between inmates and warders, between inmates, as well as between rival prison gangs. Whilst engaging the ‘problems’ associated with the Numbers gang is central, rather than peripheral, to managing South African prisons according to constitutional guidelines, the Department of Correctional Services is yet to rise to the policy challenges. Substantive engagement with that policy challenge is in turn dependent on good research. This research contributes to that larger quest for understanding the social logic of prison gangs.

This research, completed for a Master’s degree (Criminology, Law, and Society, UCT), sets out to investigate key facets of the Numbers gang in South African prisons. Heinrich Veloen’s experience of 26 years as a warden in Pollsmoor Prison supported by the academic literature, as well as face-to-face interviews with 20 former Pollsmoor inmates, present an up-to-date account of the legends, the structure and operation of these gangs. This is a notable contribution to the field.

This account explores the evolution of the Numbers gang; key initiation practices through which arrivals are integrated; the quasi-military command and rank structures of the three Numbers’ divisions; the role and function of Sabela as a medium of communication, and the meaning of tattoos as a source of gang identification and cohesion. This account yields insights into the form, content, and impact of gangs in South African prisons.

Speaker: Heinrich Veloen



ACJR wishes to acknowledge the Open Society Foundations and the Sigrid Rausing Trust for making this webinar possible.

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