Surge in SA: Organised crime really does pay best
Discover the alarming rise of organised crime in South Africa, driven by corruption and a broken justice system.
Photo for illustration: iStock
Photo for illustration: iStock
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While the South African economy languishes in the doldrums, there is one business which is booming – organised crime.
And it’s growth is set to soar, thanks to the involvement of corrupt politicians and political parties, as well as bent cops and a broken criminal justice system.
Experts believe elements of organised crime often lie behind seemingly disparate criminal incidents, including kidnappings, the “construction mafia” and illegal mining, which have all been on the rise.
According to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, organised crime is an existential threat to South Africa’s democratic institutions, economy and people with the majority of illicit markets (10 out of 15) increasing in presence, incidence or influence.
In its strategic organised crime risk assessment report, the organisation stated connections between illicit markets took many different forms.
“The connections suggest a shared criminal logic where the modus operandi, actors involved and illicit economies are sufficiently distinct to be categorised as separate markets,” they said.
Head of justice and violence prevention at the Institute for Security Studies Gareth Newham said with regards to cash-intransit (CIT) heists and organised crime in general, there had been a big increase over the past five to 10 years, affecting most economic sectors of the country.
Since January, there had been 249 CIT robberies, a 30% increase on the same period last year. This had sparked concern among those in the industry.
In the 2022-23 fiscal year, Stats SA reported the number of kidnappings in South Africa was 15 343. Gauteng had the highest incidences with 7 818 reports.
KwaZulu-Natal followed with 3 081 cases in the same period. The rising phenomenon of the “construction mafia”, who invade construction sites, intimidate and disrupt the delivery of projects resulted in the opening of 605 cases.
Newham said this was partly because of high levels of poverty and unemployment and there were many people “who could be foot soldiers for a variety of illicit and illegal activity in order to make a living”.
“In particular, it is also because of the massive deterioration in the capability of the state to uphold the rule of law, to address corruption and to ensure that the criminal justice system is working effectively,” he said.
Although there had been a lot of work done since 2019 to address this, with improvements seen in most agencies such as the National Prosecuting Authority and the Special Investigating Unit, Newham said it would still take a long time to rebuild what was broken.
He said the one agency where there was no attempt to improve was the South African Police Service (Saps). Saps was the most important agency because it was the largest single law enforcement agency, with the most people.
“We have seen largely a collapse in its accountability mechanism, ability to manage performance and its ability to hold police (officials) accountable, particularly those involved in brutality and corruption.”
The problem posed by organised crime was outstripping the current responses and proposed solutions.
Newham said large numbers of police officials were working with crime syndicates, particularly in the more organised fields of cash-in-transit heists and truck hijackings, and most syndicates had police officials on the payroll, whether they were local syndicates or operating at a provincial, national or transnational level.
“We are starting to see that organised crime is actively funding some politicians or political parties at a local, provincial and national level. That is the root of the problem,” he said.
State capture during the term of former president Jacob Zuma meant there was severe damage done to all intelligence agencies – the police, State Security Agency, National Prosecuting Authority and the SA Revenue Service.
Newham added these were all structures that had the kinds of capability which could get on top of organised crime, but were severely weakened in order to enable Zuma and his loyalists within the ANC to extract large amounts of public money for their personal and private gain.
“Very few of the Zondo commission recommendations have been implemented,” he said. “None of the top people implicated in corruption by the (Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, chaired by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo) have been arrested and prosecuted, or very few of them, at least.
“Many of them still hold key positions in the ANC and in government, state institutions and (on) boards,” he said.
“There’s no clear plan to try and halt the decline in policing.
“And so the decline continues and as a result – organised crime will continue increasing and so other subjects of that crime such as CIT heists, extortion, these criminal networks that call themselves business units or forums will continue to blossom.”
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