There will be blood: Gangsterism, underworld elements embedded in towing industry roadside battlefields

There will be blood: Gangsterism, underworld elements embedded in towing industry roadside battlefields
(Photo: Gallo Images / Roger Sedres)

Insiders say underworld thugs are embedded in the industry, turning the roadsides where drivers wait to help motorists into battlefields.

The recent murder of a tow truck driver in Cape Town has turned the focus back on an industry gangsters are suspected of infiltrating – and some insiders warn that if the police do not crack down harder on criminal elements there will be more bloodshed.

Daily Maverick can reveal there are suspicions that, in the weeks leading up to his December 2019 murder, former Hard Livings gang boss Rashied Staggie had a falling-out with another underworld figure at a tow truck yard in Cape Town.

It is understood that during this incident Staggie asked for security as backup from another underworld figure, widely viewed as a rival to the one with whom Staggie did not see eye to eye.

Meanwhile, a jailed gangster has pointed a finger at Nafiz Modack, who is in custody and accused of several crimes, for being entangled in a case involving the murder of a tow truck driver that unfolded about three months before Staggie was killed.

This all suggests deep gang and underworld involvement in the towing industry.

Though violence in towing is rampant in South Africa’s gang epicentre in Western Cape, the volatility is not limited to the province. And it is nothing new.

Tensions in the industry have been simmering for years and there have been several murders. In 2005, Parliament heard that unscrupulous tow truck companies were “hacking” into emergency services’ communication frequencies to monitor accident reports – so they could get to the crash scenes first.

Fast-forward to 2016: the National Consumer Commission said it was the Department of Transport’s “responsibility to develop a regulatory framework to achieve the protection of consumers through the development of standards for tow truck operators”.

Minutes of a November 2019 meeting in Parliament show that Minister of Police Bheki Cele said the “phenomenon of the trouble brought by tow trucks” was a national problem.

“There are investigations that tell us that there are other criminal activities around tow truck operators, like stealing cars, like scrapping those cars and taking out parts. Sometimes they are even involved in drug syndicates,” he said.

‘Blood on their hands’

In the latest violence linked to the towing industry, a driver, Adeeb Groenmeyer, and a woman were shot in Cape Town in August. Groenmeyer died at the scene.

Some in the towing industry declined to talk on record about the broader problems plaguing it, saying they feared retaliation.

They said issues they dealt with ranged from individuals being set up to try to deflect from who was behind certain criminality to unethical tow truckers overcharging clients and some conducting business under fake company names.

There were also suspicions in the industry that some tow truckers were working with corrupt cops.

The potential impact on motorists was they could get caught up in violence between tow truckers or find themselves having to cough up exorbitant fees to rogue towers.

Ettienne Pel, national chairperson of the United Towing Association of South Africa (Utasa), told Daily Maverick violence in the industry flared regularly, especially in Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

A tow truck driver was shot dead in Durban on 2 September, in what was reportedly the fourth such shooting there this year. Three of the attacks resulted in deaths.

Pel said: “There are allegations of drugs, gangsterism, mafia in the towing industry. Until SAPS [the South African Police Service] take this seriously, it will continue and there will be blood on the hands of law enforcers, in our opinion. If not already.”

He referred to tow truckers targeted in shootings in Western Cape.

“These tensions are said to be over turf – areas from where tow truckers operate. It indeed is so that some believe they have the right to ‘own’ areas, and then these incidents occur,” Pel said.

Daily Maverick understands that there was a continuing problem of bigger tow truck companies trying to force smaller companies out of certain areas through through violence and intimidation. Claims also previously emerged that the bigger towing businesses were fighting each other to be signed up by major insurance companies as their go-to roadside assistance providers.

In a statement in 2015, after violence flared in Cape Town, the South African Insurance Association “categorically distanced itself, as well as the short-term insurance industry, from any acts of violence and intimidation” in the towing industry.

Accusations of police failures

Fears of underworld and gang elements being involved in the towing industry have been around for a long time.

Utasa members regularly flagged related problems with the SAPS and its Crime Intelligence division, according to Pel.

“Yet until this day, they have failed this industry. Not even the political parties take us seriously,” Pel said

Tow truckers had their hands tied because, despite the violence and intimidation, they had to earn a living, he added.

On the night of Thursday 25 August, Groenmeyer and the woman were shot in Maitland, Cape Town. 

It is understood that Groenmeyer started working for a company called Urban Towing shortly before he was killed. The company is owned by Chris Olieslager, previously an accused in another tow truck murder case in which charges against him were withdrawn.

Apart from confirming that there were broad problems in the towing industry and explaining he was also involved in the South African Towing and Repair Transformation Board, Olieslager was this week unable to proceed with a fuller interview with Daily Maverick. He was not able to set up interviews with individuals he said were key to providing a balanced view of what was happening.

Western Cape police spokesperson Sergeant Wesley Twigg confirmed Groenmeyer’s murder.

“According to reports, Maitland police were called to the crime scene where they found the victims with gunshot wounds to their bodies inside a vehicle,” Twigg said.

Medical workers declared Groenmeyer dead at the scene and the woman was rushed to hospital.

“The unknown suspects fled … and are yet to be arrested,” Twigg added.

Another Western Cape police spokesperson, Colonel Andrè Traut, said, apart from the murder, the police also knew about other problems in the towing industry.

Turf war and intimidation

“We are also aware of incidents of intimidation that have been reported to us, which are in all probability sparked by the territory where rival tow trucks are operating,” Traut explained.

He dismissed claims that police officers were not doing enough to clamp down on violence in the towing industry, saying such suggestions were “baseless”.

“These individuals are invited to approach police management to share their experience so that the claims can be investigated.

“Serious and violent crimes are high on the priority list of the Western Cape police and we are not selective, nor do we deprive certain industries from our policing services.”

Cracking down

Traut encouraged anyone who was being intimidated or threatened to call the SAPS’s toll-free extortion hotline on 0800 314 444.

In August, police officers clamped down on tow truckers in Mfuleni, Cape Town.

Cops patrolling the area searched tow trucks that piqued their interest.

A police statement at the time said: “This search led to the discovery of two of two SAPS hand radios which were stolen from Kleinvlei police station.” Two suspects were arrested.

Meanwhile, Gauteng authorities previously announced they were tightening their grip on the towing industry.

In 2018, it emerged that the Gauteng Provincial Road Traffic Act would be amended for better regulation of the industry.

“In the absence of an effective regulatory system, allegations of misconduct against tow truck operators have increased,” said a statement attributed to the Gauteng department of roads and transport.

“These allegations include the bribing of police officers to get first notification [of] an accident occurrence, recommending panel beaters who pay commission to towing personnel, reckless driving and charging excessive towing charges.”

Assassinations and underworld links

There have been several other crimes and murders linked to the towing industry.

And some of these loop back to gangsterism in Western Cape.

In September 2019, a tow truck driver, Richard Joseph, who the Hawks said worked for CF Towing Services, was shot seven times while sitting in a tow truck in Cape Town.

Hawks spokesperson Colonel Katlego Mogale said that the shooter was subsequently identified as Abongile Nqodi, now serving 20 years in jail.

Mogale further said Nqodi allegedly “acted on instructions from Nafiz Modack and Ziyaad Poole [a co-accused of Modack’s in other cases] to execute the fatal attack”.

Daily Maverick previously reported that Nqodi, in a plea agreement, admitted to being a 28s prison gang member and a member of the Terrible West Siders’ street gang.

In a previous incident, in January 2015, tow trucker Michael Correia was shot multiple times and his body was discovered near the Cape Town suburb of Milnerton.

Two years before that, in June 2013, tow truck driver Linley Summers was fatally stabbed after going to an accident scene in Maitland, the Cape Town suburb in which Groenmeyer was shot last month.

It was the Summers murder case in which Olieslager of Urban Towing was initially charged. Charges against Olieslager were at some point provisionally withdrawn but never reinstated. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Gangsterism and corrupt cops involved in the tow truck business: is this news? It’s the inability or unwillingness of Cele and Mbalula to do anything about it that’s news! Oh silly me, that’s not really news either.

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