Podcast #301

Welcome Witbooi – Gangster Leadership and Business Management 

I mean, for me, disclaimer, that the conversation is not in any way because I often get this a lot when people listen to my talks. Number one, I'm not glorifying the Number or the gangs in any way. I'm also not nullifying the responsibility and accountability that rests upon them. And the fact that each man and woman and child needs to change their lives to become law abiding citizens, if they are in gangs, I'm not promoting any gangs. I will be speaking from my own experience, and I'll be sharing from my experiences as to what happened to me and why I was there. And also what led to me making that decision to join the gang.

Welcome Witbooi

Experienced Life Skills Programme Specialist, Actor & Inspirational Speaker with a demonstrated history of working in the Life Skills programme development industry, with a special focus on Gang Culture, Youth at Risk, Boys & Girls caught in gangs. Strong professional with a Higher Certificate in Adult Basic Education & Training NQF5 (UNISA, 2008), and an Advanced Certificate in Management Practice NQF6 (Henley Business School, 2020) and currently doing an Advanced Diploma in Management Practice NQF7 (Henley Business School, 2021) …

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Well today I’m talking to Welcome Wibooi about that. And we talk about how he got into gangs and what that meant. And then we move on to the hierarchy where we talk about how does the structure of such a gang or such an organization work because it’s been around for a while. So, how does it police? How does it govern? How does it operate? What are the operational parameters? What are the sales parameters? What does your supply chain look like? How do you manage all of that? And then how do you discipline? How do you make choices that you know, could cost someone their life? Not just that. How far do you think that through?

Podcast Notes

Welcome Witbooi is a former leader of notorious South African criminal organisation, the Numbers Gang. The gang is a well-known prison gang with one of the most fearsome reputations in South Africa if not the world. They are known to operate primarily in the Western Cape prison of Pollsmoor, however it is believed that they control most of the South African prisons. 

Welcome Witbooi’s journey to joining a gang 

Welcome grew up in the Cape flats, an area known to be one of the most violent and dangerous places in South Africa. Growing up here, Welcome was exposed to communities where gang life was and still is a prominent part of local society. The life that many young boys are exposed to in this area offers limited options for what path they will take. Welcome explains that you can either become a pastor, join a gang, go to prison, or die. As gang life was prominent in his community many young boys grew up admiring gang leaders, but they also grew up having negative opinions about the importance of education. 

Before he entered the gang life, Welcome was a straight A student, a school monitor, and a school prefect. Being a studious and hardworking student in his community was rare and he was considered strange by his peers. Due to his lack of popularity in popular groups, he was not seen or treated as a ‘real’ man and was teased a lot. It was from the age of 12 that Welcome started engaging and spending time with a local gang of younger boys. Boys who had nice things and that were popular with the girls. The group of boys had a reputation for being tough and robbed people, wore different clothes, looked different, and asked people for money. Welcome says he saw a type of freedom in this life and wanted to be a part of it. A few years after joining the group he was invited to join the Numbers Gang where he eventually became a leader for the 28s Number Gang. 

As years went on Welcome felt convicted to turn away from this dark life of crime and he decided to make an active change in his life. He was able to obtain a bursary and studied adult basic education and training and went on to specialise in human and social sciences. By starting a new path in life, he decided to give back to society by using what he had learnt by teaching in prison and helping other inmates. Upon his release he was offered a job in the prisons empowerment programme and later went on to found the Heart and Soul Foundation. Today Welcome has become an actor, having acted in the international film, The Forgiven. Today he is also the director of the BrightSpark foundation.  

With his experience of being a leader of organised crime, Welcome’s journey has meant he is able to understand the juxtaposition between management in both corporate and criminal organisations. 

Leadership in gangs versus leadership in business 

How does Welcome’s experience of rising in leadership compare to the traditional working world? When working in the business world there is a journey to becoming the CEO of a company and gaining a leadership role. In a workplace environment we are given various deadlines and have those deadlines extended when necessary. The harder we work the more likely we are to be recognised and rewarded for our efforts. 

In a criminal organisation, such as that of the Numbers gang, Welcome explains that there is also a similar system in place to that of an organisation with regards to seniority and rank. For example, in the Numbers gang there are the 26ths, 27ths, and 28ths. Welcome states that “within a numbers gang, you will get the 28ths which would normally be the CEO, or the director of the company, the 27ths are comparable to the HR function, because that’s the group that lets you know all the dynamics of how the number actually works and the rules and regulations.” 

The way in which the Numbers Gang operates is not too much unlike that of corporate governance and policing for the 27ths. Additionally, with the 28ths they have a position similar to that of a CEO, as this group makes decisions on how operations should occur and how different situations should be handled. As for the members of the 26ths, they have a position like that of a salesperson, and are responsible for bringing money into the gang. In terms of operations and structure there are some similarities between a criminal organisation and a regular one. 

Punishment in a gang vs accountability at work 

In the business world the action an employee takes are accepted by the organisation while mistakes are typically not punished. That being stated, however, within a criminal organisation they don’t have a similar approach or mindset as it depends on who is in charge inside the prison. 

The way in which the prison system operates depends on who is in what hierarchical position. Welcome explains that “the 26th have their own hierarchy, the 27th have their own hierarchy and the 28th have their own hierarchy.” The hierarchical system for the 26ths, 27ths, and 28ths differ from one another, however one aspect remains consistent and that is that each prison has a general who is part of the 28ths.  

In prison when the gang gives a deadline, either it is met, or you are made an example of and are killed. In times of crisis when an investigation takes place, the independent sections of the gangs hold their own investigation to determine the cause of events. If an issue cannot be resolved, or if there are no other options for the gang to proceed with, then the general is called on and kills the individual to make an example of them. 

The ways in which organisations in the corporate world operate holds a degree of similarity to those in organised crime. Having a hierarchical structure can be beneficial as there is a clear chain of command and leadership with the organisation and should an employee require guidance, they know who to report too. One aspect that the corporate world could adapt to is having consequences for employees not fulfilling their duties, legal ones that uphold human rights, of course. Should there be a valid reason then there can be an exception, however, as leaders we can also relate to the need for setting expectations on how a business and our teams should operate and be held accountable.  

Podcast Timed Index

00:00 Opening

02:43 Origins

26:40 Hierarchy

44:49 Loyalty

1:02:27 Lessons

1:39:18 Conclusion

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More quotes from Welcome Witbooi
“We used to have all of these gang leaders that we used to look up to. And we used to sit at their feet as they were talking. And they spoke of education in such a way that it wasn't really respected. They spoke of education as a tool that white people use to dominate and to exploit the black man at that time, the coloured men because we're very specific. You had blacks, you had coloured whites or Indians, we weren't regarded as black. we were regarded as coloured. So we had a different way of seeing things, and we're educated differently.” (10:00)

“I was raised in a conservative family. So there were a lot of standards and things that I needed to throw overboard in order to be part of these guys. So I had to forget a lot about myself in order to be part of them. What was right, was no longer right with them, it was now wrong. So I had to change my values, and not just change them, but actually literally throw them out. This doesn't work, it's do what they do, and just basically focus. And it was the small things that got me involved, the house robberies that I was starting to do, the breaking in, it was small things, but they had a huge impact.” (17:00)

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