BOOKS: The history of South African Indians through the ages is paved with leaders who fought the struggle for equality but there is another side to the Indian history.
The seedy, sometimes scary world of the South African Indian community – the mobsters, their illicit livelihoods – to deny their existence would be to repudiate a very real chapter of Durban’s rich history. Some of the cadres that ruled the streets of Durban’s East coast of South Africa included the Salot Family, which consisted primary of brothers.
Newsbreak Lotus interviews author Deepak Panday
The Salot’s dominated Overport and later moved their operation, which involved taxis near Kapitan’s Balcony Hotel in Durban Central. The Dutchins laagered around Old Dutch Road and the notorious Warwick Triangle.
However, to a man, all the members of these notorious mobs quaked with fear, an equal part, respect, when the mere name of the Capo was mention, the Crimson League!
This Grey Street gang ruled with an iron fist and operated from the vicinity of Simons Café and near Victory Lounge and taxis as well as other illicit crimes fell under their cover. There were other smaller factions but the above roll of well-dressed thugs consisted of the main players. Indians usually made up the core of each crew and there were a sprinkling of Coloured and a few token African hoods. What was common to each gang was their leader, who was always the most feared member, and he had to maintain his reputation of being the ‘mastermind’ in holding the unholy alliance intact.
‘They had demarcated areas and protected them ferociously from rival gangs. Territorial rights were sacred and thus were guarded with their lives. As we hear in top-notch mafia movies, “It’s all about honour!” Unfortunately, it was just their gangster pride worshipped as honour.
The gangs did not harass residents that lived within their domain although they had a host illicit businesses and enterprises. The Crimson League Gang had its genesis in a vigilante group that was formed in the late forties to eradicate a prominent India based Mafia known as the Pathan Mob who was instilling terror in the lives of shopkeepers in Durban Central.
Extortion that veered out of control necessitated the businessman getting tough and so the nucleus of the League was formed. The call to ‘Turn the streets Crimson’ with the life blood of the parasitic worms gave the League the well-earned adjective that secured their reign in Durban’s history.
Open war was declared between the Crimson League and the India based extortionists and many battles were fought because the latter refused to back down. The League retaliated with weapons as well as intelligence, because as soon as the strong arm of the law showed an interest in the war, they protested that they were firmly on the side of justice and was actually assisting the men in blue. After reigning victorious in a final bloody battle against the Indian Mafia, it should have been mission accomplished.
However, instead of disbanding, they saw an opportunity of rich pickings. After a regrouping ceremony, they established an official cabal and went on to become the crime honchos of Durban’s renowned underworld. One very infamous incident that happen in early and middle 50’s was when two rival taxi gangs clashed with each other causing mayhem on the streets. Running gun battle landed both gangs in court. In those hallowed corridors of justice gang affiliates indulged in a bit of, “How’s your boss?’’ or maybe more appropriately,
“How’s your Capo.’’ What is noteworthy is the similarity of the evolution of Durban’s Underworld and that of the Italian Mafia. The Mafia was formed in Sicily in feudal times to protect the estates of absentee landlords. In addition, just as the Italian’s bosses from the 19th century, The Crimson League had become a network of criminal bands that dominated the countryside. In speaking to much older folk who were in their teens during these gangs sovereign, one fact stands out. The Capo made provisions to protect ordinary Indian folk in the then Durban CBD against racial attacks and late organized the city’s underworld.
Recalling the year of 1949 Indians were subsided into a bloody riot with African counterparts and informal gangs colluded under the League in efforts to safeguard their people.
In no way this justifies any nefarious activities they were involved in! Countless battles are resurrected in this novel and you the reader shall experience real life events as they occurred. Heart sore romance in the wind and the struggle for power reflects elements of Durban’s ‘Mobscurity’, which led to an eternity of illicit shenanigans.