Former gangster tells of gangs' powerful hold in northern areas
“Beware of the vicious dog” is the tattoo emblazoned on former gangster Bernard Valentine’s chest.
But these days it is Valentine who is looking over his shoulder as gangsters try to scare him back into the fold.
Just below his tattoo is a ghastly wound as a result of a gunshot which did not kill him – unlike the bullets which ended the lives of two of his four sons.
Valentine’s story is just one in a countless catalogue of accounts of fear and death in streets where the gangster is king and where, as one crimefighter has said, money and power rule because the gangs believe they are untouchable.
Speaking from his Helenvale home this week, at a time when violence and cold-blooded murder have rocked the northern areas with the killing of three youngsters in Booysen Park, Valentine, 58, gave a frank account of how gangs in the area have a vice-like grip on the community.
And he would know, as he has been both a member of a gang and a victim.
“I joined gangs when I was 17 years old – first I was with the Mongrels and then in the 90s I joined the Boomshakas,” Valentine said.
“At the time I thought the only way to defend myself was to take a gun and shoot back at the [other] gangsters who were targeting me.
“But I thank God I never shot and killed anyone.”
Valentine, who went to prison at least five times during what he said was 21 years in gangsterism, said he had turned his back on gangs in 1999.
“I decided, no, I must now withdraw myself from gangsterism for my children’s sake. I didn’t want them to follow in my footsteps or be targeted for things that I have done.”
But that thought was to prove all too prophetic for Valentine, who has experienced a series of shootings at his bullet-riddled home which he believes are due to his knowing who is behind the killing of his sons.
It all began when Valentine’s youngest son, Tiaan, 18, was shot about a dozen times outside his home in 2015.
“I was working inside when my child [Tiaan] got shot. I remember thinking fireworks were going off, but then I heard him crying out for me.”
Valentine rushed outside to see his son’s killer firing “about 12 bullets” into his body before fleeing.
A year later Valentine was again inside the house when he heard gunshots in the yard.
“I ran to the door and saw someone standing at the bottom of the stairs. As our eyes met, the guy started shooting at me. The four shots missed.”
He said there had been children inside the house and he had gone to check on them.
“Luckily all of them were fine and after like a minute I thought to go look outside where my son [Gregory] was.
“When I went outside I saw my son had been shot in the head [but] he was still alive.”
Gregory, 38, died in hospital about 90 minutes later.
In 2017 Valentine almost lost a third child.
Once again at home, he said he had received a call and someone said: “Hey, there are armed guys on their way to your house.”
“I immediately went outside and told the kids.”
But even as they stood outside, gunmen opened fire on him and his two other sons, one of whom was shot through the stomach.
He survived, after spending more than a week in hospital.
Six months ago, gunmen hit yet again, this time nearly killing Valentine.
“I was returning home from taking my grandchild to a nearby creche and I stopped to speak to two friends of mine.
“As we were talking I just heard a car behind me slam on brakes and gunshots going off.”
He was shot in the buttocks, with the bullet still lodged in his body despite surgery, resulting in the wound he bears.
“I believe all these attacks on me and my family are because I know the killers of my sons.
“They want to kill me because I will be able to identify them,” Valentine said.
“They will not succeed because God is on my side. I pray every morning and every night.
“But I still worry about my family. I can’t sleep peacefully at night [because] if they [gangsters] can’t get to you, they will do their utmost to hurt your family to get to you.
“They [gangsters] want me to return to that life, but I don’t want to live that life anymore.
“And one can’t blame the children – where must they play? There are no facilities, they can’t even play in the yards because there’s no space.
“And what makes it worse is people are too afraid to talk because once you talk, believe me that gangster is going to hear.
“Also, when it comes to turning their lives around, some gangsters have the excuse they are not working – jobs are so scarce and so on.
“But give them a job, they are not going to last for long and you know why?
“Because the money they make by peddling drugs per day is what some of them would be paid for a month’s job if they were employed.
“It’s the greed for money and power and the fear they instill within the people that motivate gangsters.
“They like to feel they are strong, they are untouchable and they are immortal.”