When I often tell people about the "gangs" we had while growing up in the South of Jo'burg they look at me in utter disbelief, so it's only if you were around at the time in the area would you be able to relate to this.
Yet to this day there are gangs ... the gangs we grew up with at school had the following names:
There was the "La Rochelle United" who as their name suggests hailed from La Rochelle, South of Johannesburg - La Rochelle was mainly inhabited by Portuguese and Spanish speaking people, and in the mid 70's when Mozambique was at war, a lot of Portuguese speaking people from there made their way to South Africa as refugee's some to be taken in by relatives in the poorer suburbs south of Johannesburg. Although I could never understand why these people were always seen as the poorer class, especially looking back now they always ate, prawns, lobster and really nice stuff that us middle class families could never afford.
Well the La Rochelle United gang mainly attended "Forest High" school in Forest Hill, now there were 2 rival government English speaking schools in close proximity to one another, Hill High and Forest High, depending where you lived you were sent to either of these school. I remember at one stage if you drove down Verona street in Rosettenville and got to High street in the dip, all the kids that lived on the right hand side of the street and up went to Hill High and all the kids who lived on the left and up towards Towerby went to Forest High.
But it really was just a mixture. Because we were rival schools and Hill High was in a better area, we were always thought to be the better school, besides The Hill had churned out well known sportsman, doctors and even politicians.
Okay so back to the Gangs, majority of La Rochelle united attend Forest and spoke Portuguese, The Hill had the "Cockney Rebels" which was started up (I think) by the Falconer brothers. Majority of the cockney rebels would have either been born in Britain or descendants of British.
While trying to see if there was anything on the Internet about the Gangs that I am mentioning her in my blog, I came across an article and found this section very interesting, and very true of the gangs in our days especially the La Rochelle united:
"Look at the gangs in America during prohibition in the 1920s. Most of them were either Italian or Irish gangs and practically all their members were devout Catholics," Mr Wicker says.
"They would go to Mass every Sunday and they gave thousands of dollars to the Church. Yet they would think nothing of murdering rival gang members.
Al Capone even wiped out a rival gang on the feast day of St Valentine."
While these gangs may have been brutal, they still had their own twisted sense of morals. "They wouldn’t shoot someone coming out of Church and Church property was always considered holy ground.
They would even send flowers to the funeral of a rival gang member that they had murdered. Church life and gang life were two separate entities," says Mr Wicker.
As one Irish gang leader put it: "I don’t sell moonshine (alcohol) in Church, and the father doesn’t hold Communion at my speakeasy (illegal nightclub)."Even though these gangs were vicious, they still had respect for the Church and members of the clergy.
While most of the time we only heard about the Gang fights and never saw any violence there were the occasions where it happened on our doorstep. There was the time that Hill High were playing Forest High in a rugby match at Hill, the La Rochelle united arrived brandishing knives, guns and any other weapon they could find, however, the principal had been forewarned and invited the Police. The gang members out numbered the police, but not wanting to be thrown in jail and have their parents come and bail them out, most of the gang members dispersed quite quickly. So the only gang warfare that happened that day was down on the rugby field.
There were other gangs as well, but none that really impacted our school life like the Cockney Rebels and the La Rochelle united, they were:
The Lebs - (A group of Lebanese immigrants), The Greeks, The Italians, The South Hill Gang (consisted mainly of Big Afrikaans speaking guys who all played rugby). But in those days if you professed to know anyone who was part of a gang, you were left alone and people wouldn't pick on you.