South Africa

PHOTO ESSAY

Braced for a surge in cash-in-transit heists, sector turns to tech to protect lives

Braced for a surge in cash-in-transit heists, sector turns to tech to protect lives
(Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

With the festive season upon us and what the industry calls a ‘cash crime epidemic’, security companies are arming themselves with technology to help curb cash-in-transit robberies. Shiraaz Mohamed spent time behind the scenes at a Gauteng cash-in-transit company.

Cash-in-transit heists are on the increase, forcing money-moving companies to look at new ways of protecting their product.

A rare look at the inside of a cash-in-transit collection and delivery service facility in Pretoria. Every section is marked off and is in full view from the control room. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Real-time video telematics and live video streaming are among the technologies being used to prevent – or at least mitigate – attacks on the cash-in-transit industry. 

Arthur Matthee sits in the control room following the live location of IziCash vehicles. Technology allows them to track their armoured trucks and monitor them with the use of five cameras installed in and outside the trucks. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Speaking during a tour of IziCash, a cash-in-transit collection and delivery service facility in Pretoria, CEO Albert Erasmus explained, “We have to do our utmost to curb these violent attacks on one of the sectors in which some of our most vulnerable fellow citizens earn their living. Cash is still the lifeblood of the South African economy.”

An employee walks past two monitors. Every inch of the cash processing facility is monitored by CCTV. Money-moving companies are increasingly relying on technology to protect their product and their staff. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

South African Banking Risk Information Centre data shows there was a 29% increase in cash-in-transit heists between 2019 and 2020, with Gauteng and Mpumalanga undergoing increases of 173% and 46% respectively.

An AK-47 assault rifle and a handgun on the floor in a vault. Because of the vicious nature of attacks against cash in transit company personnel, they have no option but to arm themselves. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Grant Clark, spokesperson for the Cash-In-Transit Association of South Africa, told Daily Maverick, “We already have 16 incidents above what we had last year and we still have this month (December) to go. Gauteng, like last year, is again the highest-hit province. It is very concerning. Loss of lives has also been extremely concerning this year. We lost 19 staff members this year within the industry.”

IziCash employees handle large amounts of money daily. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Six years on the job and Chester “Gummy” Malow is well aware of the risk. “Every day when I leave my house, I know that I can get killed. I don’t take it for granted, nor do I become complacent.”

It’s a dangerous job, but someone has to do it, Malow said when asked why he takes the risk.

R100 notes are packed away after having been counted. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“Also, if you look at it, how many people are without jobs and I love what I do. The pay is good, but on the downside is that I don’t get to see much of my family. I start work at 4am and I get back at night. I don’t see my kids much. This is my line of work, either collecting or dropping off money.”

Gunner Michael Lee stands guard as a truck returns to the cash handling facility after collecting and delivering money in Pretoria. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Another guard, Rick Coutsoulis, said teamwork was essential. “The driver is in the van, he observes what is happening while we are with a client. The gunner stands and watches outside, and the runner who goes in to collect the cash also observes his surroundings.”

Gunner Michael Lee, right, keeps guard as Rick Coutsoulis offloads money bags in the loading and offloading bay. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Michael Lee, a gunner, added, “We have to have each other’s back all the time. That is why it is crucial to have a good relationship with the team. With us there is a brother bond, we look after each other. We are like family.”

Michael Lee turns on his rifle’s safety catch before handing it in after a long day of collecting and delivering cash. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Meanwhile, Clark said that while there had been an increase in the number of attacks, cash losses were declining thanks to technology. “The technology the guys are using in their vehicles, which involves cash segregation and camera systems, is making it more difficult for the criminals to access the cash. Although they blow the vehicle up, they don’t get all the cash. Or they blow the vehicle up so badly that all the cash is destroyed.”

After six years on the job, crew member Chester ‘Gummy’ Malow still leaves his house every day knowing that there is a risk he might be killed. ‘It’s a dangerous job, but someone has to do it,’ he says. Cash-in-transit heists are on the increase across the country. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

IziCash employees handle large amounts of cash daily and use advanced money-counting, weighing and packaging machines. Every section is demarcated and in full view of the control room. There are safes within safes for storing the cash and the innermost safe is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling reinforced steel walls. The facility is surrounded by high walls with 24-hour guards.

Gunner Michael Lee, right, keeps guard as Rick Coutsoulis prepares to load money bags into a chute for processing. During the festive season, security companies are arming themselves with technology to help curb violent cash-in-transit heists. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Armoured vehicles are equipped with state-of-the-art cameras and a tracking system that allows the control room to monitor their every movement in real time. This gives them a faster reaction time, in the event of an attack. DM

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