The amazingly detailed origin myth of The Numbers, the largest South African prison gangs. Jonny Steinberg
details the three largest gangs' (tenuously) shared myth, which accounts for their strangely symbiotic relationships by dictating who may steal, who may rape, and who may judge.
And so the three camps were formed, each with their self-made philosophies of banditry and their collectively assigned roles. The 26s were to accumulate wealth, which was to be distributed among all three camps, and acquired through cunning and trickery, never through violence. The 28s, in turn, were to fight on behalf of all three camps for better conditions for inmates. They would also be permitted to have sex, in their own ritualised manner, among themselves. They were never to touch a 26.
As for the 27s, they were the guarantor of gang law; they were to keep the peace between the three camps...And they would right wrongs by exacting revenge: when blood was spilled, they would spill blood in turn.
Today, in 2004, that is how South Africa's three major prison gangs understand their origins. In the 26s and the 27s, sex between gang members is formally outlawed and subject to severe and violent punishment. Although, as you will soon see, this ban on sex is breached all the time, and the ways in which it is breached are interesting.
The 28s, in contrast, are divided into two parallel hierarchies, two lines. There is the gold, or gazi, line which is the military line and consists of soldiers who fight the gang's battles. At the apex of the gold line is its first ancestor, Nongoloza. Then there is the silver, or private, line, which is female. At the apex of this line stands its first ancestor, Magubane.