Inside a gangster’s funeral
Shooting in the air – sometimes with tragic results – spinning cars and drinking expensive whisky are increasingly common at the wakes of ‘amagintsa’
Wild revelry, guns, shooting in the air, spinning cars, scantily clad women and the constant flow of alcohol.
This is the increasingly familiar scene of a funeral “after-tears” party, a signature-style wake to mark a death in the gangland underworld of Nelson Mandela Bay’s townships.
But the celebration itself can also be deadly – as the devastated family of 11-year-old Mbasa Dlamini found out when the child was killed by a stray bullet at one such shooting “salute” at alleged igintsa (gangster) Siyamthanda “Ncuncu” Ndema’s funeral after-party in Kwazakhele last weekend.
“Sometimes these gangsters shoot their guns and spin their cars in front of police, especially at the graveyard, because they come there like an army and everyone is carrying their own guns,” a funeral director from New Brighton, who declined to be named, said.
He said he had seen a rise in the popularity of such funerals.
“When we release the casket the shooting at the graveyard starts and they also pour whisky inside the grave and sing their own anthem, which they all seem to know.
“I’d say this started two years ago because we started seeing unusual things like the attire at funerals – girls wearing colourful underwear underneath mesh [or] lace skirts that were see-through and they do all these funny things.
“I would say the families condone this because you hear relatives saying ‘ hayi ibiyinto yakhe ’ [this was his thing]. “When making arrangements the families also request flashy cars, so then you know to take out your best hearse.
“We know that when we’re burying igintsa there’ll be shooting, especially if the deceased died by a gun, as most of them do.
“When we’re at the family home, they usually observe an hour of silence but after that they start.
“Recently I witnessed one of the guys giving a speech standing in between people smoking hookah pipes.”
A Zwide undertaker said: “The shooting and spinning of cars and tyres screeching seems to be a trend people have become accustomed to.
“Nothing is being done by the police to stop it. One time one of the gangsters jumped on top of the bonnet of my hearse and I could not do anything because these guys are unpredictable and you don’t want to provoke them.”
A KwaNobuhle funeral director said: “There was an occasion when they were busy spinning at a funeral, the car smashed into my hearse.
“I couldn’t take it forward because I didn’t want to risk being targeted by these guys. We agreed to talk about it when we returned to the family home, but the guy disappeared and I left it at that.
“I honestly hate those funerals. I don’t like being around shooting of guns – they could hit anyone, but I don’t have a choice because it’s my job.
“The gunshots are always frightening – I can never get used to it,” the undertaker said.
A former igintsa, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained the significance behind the shootings and car spinning. “The shootings at the amagintsa funeral is an old tradition they take pride in,” he said.
“Ubugintsa is a job just like any other. If, let’s say, you were specialising in hijacking, at your funeral we will spin the cars to show respect and honour for the time you served.
“To amagintsa it is like a police[man] or a soldier – we have to show respect and make sure he is buried in dignity.”
Asked about the recent death of the child, he said it was painful but nothing could be done about it.
“The salute has to be done and when a stray bullet kills someone no-one will ever go forward and inform the police and live to tell the story.”
He claimed many police officers, especially in the townships, were on the payroll of amagintsa.
“Police give them ammunition and guns and some pay them a safety fee.”
Police spokesperson Captain Andre Beetge said: “The issue of policing these funerals is not only about the ‘after-tears’ [parties] but about us monitoring the entire event, from start to finish.”
He said the “after-tears” party tradition was well known in the gangs and, in some cases, encouraged by residents.
“We have had several operations over the years where police stop-search cars [were present at] the funeral.
“When the gangs realised this was happening, they seemingly moved their shooting to the after-party.
“In some cases, there are three or four venues [where] the gangs meet up to have their shooting before going back to the after-party,” Beetge said.
“In other cases, when we have stopped to search known suspects attending the funeral, it has materialised they had given the firearms to the women and children to smuggle into the service.
“These criminals simply adjust their plans based on the police action.”
In one case in Motherwell in 2018, police stopped and searched the hearse after suspecting firearms were being transported inside the vehicle.
Motherwell cluster commander Major General Dawie Rabie said police were worried about the impression created in the community by brazen displays of power at funerals.
“They spin their car tyres, make a noise and shoot randomly in the air. The impression given to the youth is they are untouchable and can get away with it.
“Reality is, once they flee the scene and we get the information, we go to their houses and pull over their cars. In some cases we arrest them. But the community and youngsters do not see this part,” he said.
“Residents need to know these are not heroes – they are cowboys whom we hunt down and arrest.”