Illegal alcohol sales during lockdown have flourished in some parts of the country thanks to corrupt police officers who have circumvented stringent no-alcohol and tobacco lockdown regulations.
According to national police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo, 11 police officers have been arrested in connection with alcohol-related crimes.
On Monday, 13 April 2020, a joint operation between police detectives from Montagu, Bonnievale and Worcester in the Western Cape yielded the 11 arrests.
The officers in question allegedly faked a complaint of a triggered burglar alarm and a housebreaking at a liquor outlet in Bonnievale. They were detained at the Montagu police station and are due to appear in the Swellendam Magistrate’s Court.
Residents in some gang-infested areas confirmed to Maverick Citizen that some police officers were enabling the “safe” transport of alcohol to shebeens and taverns during lockdown.
The arrests come in the wake of the arrest of two Delft police officers, aged 45 and 50, after they had attempted to flee after being caught red-handed attempting to buy alcohol at a Strand liquor store during the lockdown. The alcohol was due to be resold illegally elsewhere.
Experts, however, have warned that the trend will be exacerbated by the lockdown extension recently announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Gareth Newham, head of Justice and Violence Prevention at the Institute for Security Studies, said that at this stage it was difficult to grasp the full impact.
“Given that drug networks operate outside of the law and rely on police corruption, it is likely that they would adjust to the new situation relatively quickly. While they may face initial challenges in transporting and distributing drugs using routine routes and networks, the longer the lockdown lasts the more likely they will adapt.”
Newham said the networks would extend into the illegal trade of alcohol and cigarettes which would enable gangs to increase profits and reach.
“It has been reported by the BBC that gangs in the Western Cape have called a truce. This is likely to enable them to adjust to the lockdown and continue their operations.”
On 8 April 2020, the BBC featured a news insert that rival gangs in Manenberg had undertaken a “truce”. The item showed gang members handing out food parcels to residents.
The hidden narrative, say some residents, is that only those households which served to hide the gangs’ drug stash were identified for food relief.
A police officer speaking to Maverick Citizen on condition of anonymity accused some of their colleagues of working for and with underworld figures, drug kingpins and leaders of the 28s, the Terrible Josters and other gangs that operate in Manenberg, Hanover Park, Lavender Hill, Elsies River, Hermanus, Bonteheuwel, Belhar and Mitchells Plain.
The officer confirmed to Maverick Citizen that two colleagues from Delft had been arrested at the Somerset Mall purchasing alcohol from a bottle store.
“The specific liquor store was closed and this raises questions about how the two officers knew the store was open. We suspect that dirty cops transport alcohol or drugs to and from merchants, sell it on their behalf and take it safely to buyers. But it is an impossible task to catch them in the act or get a whistle-blower to spill the beans because community members don’t want to speak out.”
Activist Colin Arendse said the alcohol and drug market had turned into a black market as a result of the lockdown.
“To keep the fires burning and minimise losses, crime syndicates and drug bosses have resorted to using corrupt police officers. It is still business as usual despite the lockdown.”
The total ban on the sale of liquor has also seen a spike in the looting of liquor outlets in the Western Cape.
To date, a Shoprite liquor store in Langa, Tops in Avonwood Elsies River, Diamonds in Halt Road, Elsies River and Picardi in Stellenbosch have been looted. Police have since arrested 21 suspects allegedly behind 16 suspected liquor-related crimes.
Police Minister Bheki Cele, lauding the arrests, also expressed concern about the alleged involvement of police members in some of the liquor-related crimes during the lockdown.
Cele has also called for an urgent meeting of SAPS management to address liquor retailers to work on a strategy to mitigate the risk.
Meanwhile, the national police commissioner, General Kehla Sitole, has, in terms of the SAPS Anti-Corruption Strategy, sanctioned an urgent departmental investigation into the two incidents involving police members. Should the officers be found guilty they would be dismissed from the service. DM
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