The Numbers Gang is a crime organization that started as a prison gang with one of the most fearsome reputations in South Africa.
The gang is divided into groups or camps named the 26s, 27s and 28s or the other non gang members called ‘weifies’ partially meaning women.
The 26s’ duty is to accumulate wealth for all the numbers. The 26s have no private line and a wyfie may not join the gang. Although a member of the 26s may take a wyfie for himself, it is strictly against the laws as set out in the book of 26s.
The 28s are the blood line of the gang and are responsible for fighting on behalf of the three gangs (26, 27 and 28). They are divided into two lines – the gold line and the silver line.
The gold line are the warriors, the descendants of Nongoloza. They fight the gang’s battles.
The silver line are the female, and are the descendants of Magubane. They are considered to be the sex slaves of the gold line.
In the 28s it is important to prove your manhood and move up in the rankings. A member moves up the ranks through the stabbing or killing of rival gangs, prison guards, or disobedient members. Should a member stay in the lower ranks, he will be considered a woman and will be sexually abused until he proves his manhood.
Recruitment into the 28s
When a new prisoner is assigned a cell he will be introduced to the person in charge of that cell, known as the “cell cleaner”. The cell cleaner will welcome the new prisoner to the cell, and will either leave him alone for the evening, or will demand intercourse.
The new prisoners will be observed by a senior member of the gang known as “die glas” (the binoculars). The glas’ job is to conduct gang business in die bos (the bush), the parts of the prison where the 28s are not active. The glas will confront a potential new recruit and give him a riddle. How the new prisoner answers the riddle will determine which department of the gang he will fall under.
The glas will generally watch the way new members interact with other franse (non-gang members). He will watch how the new prisoner deals with conflict, the way he solves problems, and the way he walks and talks.
The glas then approaches the new prisoner and says, “I am going to ask you a question. Think very carefully before answering. It is raining. You are standing under an umbrella. I say to you, I am getting wet; I may get sick. What are you going to do?” The new inmate’s answer will determine his future in the prison. If he says, “I invite you to share my umbrella,” he will become a sex slave and will not become a member of the 28s. If the new inmate says, “I will come out into the rain with you,” it means that he is prepared to live like the other man; they are brothers and they will live and die together.
After the glas is satisfied with the answer of the new inmate, he is given a task to become a member. This task could either be the fatal or non-fatal stabbing of another inmate or warden. The new recruit will be given a knife whose length is determined by another senior member of the gang known as the nyangi (the doctor). If the gang wants the stabbing to be fatal, the nyangi will give the new recruit a longer blade; if the gang wants a non-lethal stabbing, he will be given a shorter blade.
Once the stabbing has taken place all the gang members watching will shout, “Nangempela! Die nommer is vol!” (The number is complete.)
The 27s are the most secretive division, and enforce gang law. They negotiate problems and communicate between the 26’s and 28’s. Little is known about their structure
Relationship between the numbers
The two 28s are not allowed to speak directly to the 26s. They communicate through the 27s. When the 28s recruit a new member, the 28s inform the 27s who then inform the 26s. This is seen as a “hands off” warning to the other gangs.