The Hammermen: Life and Death as a Gang Hitman in Cape Town

Author:  Mark Shaw and Luke Lee Skywalker

Publication Date:  2016

Abstract:  Contract killing and hitmen are underexplored in criminology. Recent studies, including an ongoing project in South Africa, have examined a large number of individual cases relating to contract killings, producing a series of typologies of hitmen. Despite this thematic ordering, few empirically-based studies – incorporating interviews with hitmen themselves – exist, especially given the practical and ethical issues involved. Such information remains essential, however, to more clearly understand the socialisation and criminal careers of contract killers. Our subjects occupy a specific place within the gangs of Cape Town: they are ordered to kill for gang bosses as well as being recruited by external parties to conduct ‘hits’. On the basis of seven interviews with ‘hammermen’ and two with senior gang bosses, we explore the experiences of gang-associated hitmen. We conclude that the current literature, by seeking to identify a series of typologies of contract killers that focus mainly on their level of ‘professionalism’, provides only a one-dimensional and – in some respects – stereotypical picture of the realities of contract killing. Instead, we show that hitmen occupy an ambiguous and tenuous position within local gangs and gang culture: essential to the security of gang bosses, but also a threat to it as a result of what they know and what they do. As a result, ‘hammermen’ express a surprising degree of vulnerability, and may themselves be subject to assassination.

Full Citation:  Shaw, Mark, and Luke Lee Skywalker. ‘The Hammermen: Life and Death as a Gang Hitman in Cape Town’. Howard Journal of Criminal Justice 55 (2016): 377–95. doi:10.1111/hojo.12185.

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