1 July 2008
While organised crime makes up a small percentage of total criminal activity in South Africa, it still wreaks havoc on society and is therefore being paid special attention by the government, says Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula.
He was briefing the media in Pretoria this week, following the release of the latest crime statistics, which point to a continued decline in crime levels in the country – though the government has conceded that they still remain unacceptably high.
“Organised crime continues to be a big problem because of the damage it inflicts on society. Firearms are used in many organised crime cases and people are killed, including innocent bystanders,” Ngakula said.
“Organised criminal gangs are also involved in the illicit drug trade, which is affecting many of our people, especially the youth. The organised gangs also use their ill-begotten financial resources to corrupt people.”
Organised crime groups
The South African Police Service identified and investigated 145 organised crime groups during 2007/08, most of whom were involved in drug-related crime, motor vehicle theft and hijacking, fraud, corruption, and trafficking in non-ferrous metals, precious metals and stones.
“[A total of] 131 syndicate leaders and 375 syndicate members (or runners) were arrested,” Nqakula said. “This means that 27.41% of the organised crime projects that were under investigation for the period under review were taken to court.”
Of the total arrests of 1 274 062 made by the police during the period under review, 170 097 were for social related contact crimes and 24 592 for violent organised crime.
Police analyst Chris de Kock said, however, that there had been a significant decrease in cash-in-transit robberies, which is a highly organised type of crime, with the number of cash-in-transit heists decreasing from 467 to 395 between 2007 and 2008.
Shifting attention elsewhere
However, De Kock warned that the gangs involved could have shifted their attention somewhere else, such as automatic teller machine (ATM) bombings.
“One of the latest developments involves attacks or bombings aimed at ATMs. During 2005, only 12 such incidents were recorded, which escalated to 54 incidents during 2006, 386 incidents during 2007 and a projected total of 538 for 2008.” He said. “The increase between 2005 and 2007 alone stands at 374 cases, namely from 12 to 386 incidents.”
De Kock said that during the past three to four months, since the successful strikes against cash-in-transit robberies, the nature of ATM bombings had advanced.
The criminals involved had recently shifted their attention from less populated areas to the metropolitan areas or cities themselves, with more affluent areas also being targeted.
Previously, the criminal gangs were only made up of two or three members, however, gangs of 10 to 14 heavily armed men in at least two vehicles were now carrying out these robberies. The bombings were also becoming more sophisticated as gangs were using double bomb blasts as opposed to only one.
De Kock said these changes had resulted in more monetary gain and more police casualties.
On the whole, the crime trends show that the government has made various interventions to fight crime in the country, with Police stations being beefed up with more officers and better resources and community or geographic policing being increased to curb crime in informal settlements.
Partnerships with communities, business, labour movements and religious sectors had also yielded positive results.