Cash-in-transit heists – a glimpse into the state of crime fighting - News24

Jul 06, 2018
6 July 2018 - The spate of cash-in-transit heists in recent months focuses attention on South Africa's crime-fighting capacity, and the failure of the State to match its duty of protecting citizens from criminals.

Sara Gon

The spate of cash-in-transit heists in recent months focuses attention on South Africa's crime-fighting capacity, and the failure of the State to match its duty of protecting citizens from criminals. 

Philosopher, writer, lawyer and diplomat Joseph-Marie, Comte de Maistre, who advocated social hierarchy and monarchy after the French Revolution, coined the maxim, "Every nation gets the government it deserves". 

South Africans voted the African National Congress (ANC) into power, but we don't deserve the consequences. 

Irrespective of the foibles, interests, knowledge and ignorance that lead to a person voting for one political party or another, indisputably the ANC just doesn't deserve to be the party in power. It should have no right to continue to govern the country and expect our ongoing trust.

The expectation that Cyril Ramaphosa's government will drag us out of the trajectory of a failing state is fading. And here is one reason why.

The primary obligation of any government is to protect its people. That fundamental duty is carried by the South African Police Services (SAPS). No one would deny the complexity surrounding the creation of a post-apartheid service to serve all South Africa's people equally.

However, as this crucial entity was starting to find its feet and move to fulfilling its mandate more professionally, the government sought to emasculate it almost to the point of uselessness.

A reminder of the poverty of ANC policing in the past ten years is to be found in Anneliese Burgess's searing book, Heist! South Africa's Cash-in-Transit Epidemic Uncovered (Penguin Books). First, some context.

Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi was appointed by former president Thabo Mbeki in 2000. Selebi had no policing experience, but he took the disastrous decision to collapse the specialised units and concentrate on policing at station level. While station-level policing needed improving, this move decimated the capacity of the detective services. Selebi effectively cut the SAPS's investigating legs out from under it.

Then, shortly before Jacob Zuma became president, the ANC took the decision at its December 2007 elective conference to disband the Scorpions in its own corrupt self-interest. 

Former president Kgalema Motlanthe oversaw the adoption of the legislation that disbanded the organisation. Yusuf Carrim, the current chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, spoke for the Scorpion's disbanding before it was voted for on 23 October 2008. This was all achieved in just ten months. 

The Scorpions' mandate was organised crime, organised corruption, serious and complex financial crime, and racketeering and money laundering. The Scorpions had an average conviction rate of 93% due to their resources, skills and the pairing of detectives and prosecutors to work together to see a case through from beginning to end.

The Scorpions were replaced by the police's Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), or Hawks. The Hawks shut down the probe the Scorpions had been conducting into bribery among Zuma allies in a multibillion-rand arms deal. 

Essentially every protective institution of the state was decimated to protect the vast corruption in every sphere of government, and Zuma's state-capture programme in particular.

The SAPS has also been served by a raft of corrupt and/or incompetent police commissioners. The ministers of police have been woeful.

We are reminded of the state of crime fighting by the recent spate of cash-in-transit (CIT) robberies that have stunned the nation, again.

In Heist! South Africa's Cash-in-Transit Epidemic Uncovered, Burgess summarises this category of crime in her introduction: "Sophisticated criminal gangs perpetrate most CIT robberies. The big hits are meticulously planned and teams of specialists are put together to execute specific tasks; drivers, shooters and explosives experts. They invest money in their operation, paying hijackers to source vehicles, and underworld gun merchants for the right firearms. They bribe police and justice officials, and pay lawyers… and then succeed in making massive amounts of stolen money disappear into thin air." 

Burgess interviewed a former policeman who now runs a private profiling operation that focuses on CIT robberies. On the buying off of the criminal justice system, he says: "And don't think High Court judges can't be bought off. It's more difficult, yes, and I certainly don't think it's widespread like the greasing going on down in the Magistrates' Courts, but we know of at least one case where a judge was turned. It was a rock-solid case. DNA, ballistics, cellphone evidence, the works. Conviction overturned. Records cleaned. This stuff goes all the way up the food chain."

Then he makes a remark that's enough to crush anyone's spirit: "If you take corruption out of the police force and the judiciary, the crime in our country will drop by 75 per cent. Nobody will commit a crime if they know they'll get caught and they know they'll go to jail… There is so much pressure on that [the investigating] policeman. When we had specialised units, you'd have commanding officers steeped in field experience… Nine times out of ten now, a detective will have a commander who comes from the uniform branch. Lots of the young guys today don't know what they're doing. They are useless. I can't put it any other way."

Burgess was shown the profile of a man who has received bail on 30 consecutive occasions.

Dr Hennie Lochner, former head of the Serious and Violent Crimes Unit in Limpopo and now an academic in the Department of Police Practice at Unisa, was struck during his research by the ease and frequency with which state officials could be corrupted, particularly policemen and traffic officials, but also Crime Intelligence members and prosecutors.

The core pool of criminals behind the majority of heists is only between about 120 and 150 people.

An intelligence operative interviewed said that in a functional law enforcement environment, with Crime Intelligence firing on all cylinders, it should be possible to systematically crack down on these networks. 

"To work with what we've got, we need to rethink the fight against organised crime and draw on successes of the past – when specialised units of highly experienced policemen worked hand-in-hand with Crime Intelligence and prosecutors. The key, of course is to staff these teams with incorruptible people, and seal these units off from the tentacles of organised crime," writes Burgess.

Just to remind ourselves, the Head of SAPS' Crime Intelligence Unit from 2009 until 2012 was Richard Mdluli. He was on paid suspension until he "resigned by agreement" in January 2018. The suspension concerned the on-off charges against him for murder and fraud.

Half the ANC NEC of 2012 was also on the NEC voted for in December 2017. Even if they wanted to make up for the damage done, could they possibly achieve it?

- Gon is a Policy Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823.

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