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Wednesday, 13 September, 2000, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
Pagad: Vigilantes or terrorists?
Pagad vigilantes
South African minister blame Pagad for the Cape bombings
The South African organisation People against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) began with the best of intentions, as Cape Town citizens did battle against crime.

But the organisation now finds itself accused of criminal activity.

Vigilantism began peacefully in Cape Town, as residents patrolled neighbourhoods to discourage drug dealers, many of whom appeared to enjoy impunity from a corrupt and under-funded police.

Most of the drug dealers owed allegiance to one of a number of criminal gangs, who controlled activities such as gun running and prostitution in many of the townships surrounding Cape Town.

A close sense of community and a shared moral stance against drugs meant that the neighbourhood watch groups were strongest in predominantly Muslim areas - and Pagad is still strongly associated with Islamic fundamentalism though it is nominally secular.

Staggie

Pagad hit the headlines in 1996 when Rashaad Staggie, co-leader of one of South Africa's most notorious criminal gangs - the Hard Livings - was shot and then burnt to death by Pagad members.

The Staggie murder gave vigilantism a new and ugly face - but the government for a while remained hesitant about acting against Pagad's extra-legal activities, realising the importance of ordinary citizens in fighting crime.

Since then, the police have taken an increasingly tough stance against Pagad, amid a wave of bomb attacks that began two years ago.

Bombings

One of the first of the high-profile bombings - at the American-themed Planet Hollywood restaurant in Cape Town - was blamed on Muslim fundamentalist groups with links to Pagad.

There was speculation that the attack on a symbol of American culture came in retaliation for the US attacks on a suspected weapons factory in Sudan.

The police have linked Pagad to a spate of similar attacks in the Cape Town area since then, and to an audacious armed robbery at a police station.

South African Government has now formally declared that it is at war against Pagad and has no doubt they are a terrorist group.

Many Pagad members are awaiting trial on a range of charges including possessing explosives, but no one has been charged with carrying out any bombings.

Pagad itself repeatedly denies responsibility for the attacks and says it does not condone violence.

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See also:

13 Sep 00 | Africa
Cape premier 'cheats death'
08 Sep 00 | Africa
Clampdown after Cape killing
09 Aug 00 | Africa
Concern over SA anti-terror bill
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