Foreign nationals were among the criminals behind cash-in-transit heists that had become a daily occurrence in South Africa in the past year, Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Wednesday. He told the National Press Club in Pretoria that more and more criminals executing these crimes came from the SADC region. “However, the statement on its own says very little and may simply fuel xenophobic attitudes,” he said.
Cele told stakeholders – among them national police commissioner General Khehla Sitole and new Hawks head advocate Godfrey Lebeya – nationalities that were never considered to be at the forefront of these crimes had also joined the ranks. “We arrested a couple of guys from Botswana,” he said.
The SA Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric) and the Federation of Unions of South Africa also attended the briefing. Cele said the criminals also came from Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In the past, Cele said, he had worked very closely with Zimbabwean authorities to curb crime in both countries. “We have shared extensive notes on how we can make our countries better.”
But Cele was also quick to sugar-coat the nationality discourse; he changed tune and said blaming foreign nationals for crime in South Africa was nothing new despite the lack of evidence to back such perceptions. “I don’t want to invite xenophobic attacks; in fact let's just leave it there,” said Cele.This year, on average, there has been a cash-in-transit heist almost every day – 159 in the past six months, and 13 arrests within the past 24 hours.
Cele boasted about the 13 arrests, saying among his plans for curbing heists was the re-equipping and revitalisation of specialised units. “No one will be in the barracks; they will be back on the roads.”
He believed police were making progress in apprehending heist suspects. "In less than 24 hours we have arrested 13 suspects, including the second in command kingpin of a cash-in-transit syndicate." Cele said police had raised the issue of bail for suspects with the Minister of Justice as some of the thugs continued with their criminal activity after being released. "One criminal we arrested had been out on bail 41 times before."
Cele said cash heists, gangsterism, political killings, taxi violence, kidnappings and the killing of women and children would be prioritised. The rate of heists so far this year has tripled since last year. A total of 295 heists were reported between August 2017 and May 2018. In Pretoria, six cash-in-transit robberies had been reported in the past five months.
Between August 2017 and May 2018, there were 295 reported cash heists. Of these, 244 were investigated, 130 arrests made, and 44 people convicted. On a more positive note Cele reiterated that “South Africa will be safe again just like in 2010” when cash-in-transit heists were unheard of. In 2010, Cele was national police commissioner, and was credited with a decline in crime.
Sitole meanwhile said the SAPS had a new fleet of fast vehicles acquired to deal with cash-in-transit getaway vehicles. “The response will be much easier and quicker with the new vehicles,” said Sitole. Another great concern was that criminals conducted most of the heists using police and army ammunition. In most cases R5s and AK47s were found, he said.
Asked whether these were inside jobs, Sitole said: “There is definitely a lot of infiltrating within the police and army and a number of arrests had been made.” Sitole said the police together with intelligence had a solid plan for the cash-in-transit crimes. “It’s a pity I can’t share our plans with you, because then the criminals with know our modus operandi.”
The country’s senior police spies would focus on gangsterism, political killings and taxi violence, among other things. Arrests made in the Boksburg and Limpopo heists were examples of “swift action by police in responding to cash-in-transit heists", Sitole said.
Sabric told the briefing heists took place when cash-in-transit vehicles were doing pick-ups or drop-offs. Of the 71 attacks 49 resulted in the write-off of specialised vehicles that cost between R1.1million and R1.4m each, Sabric's Kevin Twiname said. "We do not reveal how much cash has been lost, but the cost of vehicles lost so far this yar is R67m."