South Africa’s organised crime climbs to Italy’s levels, racing past Mexico, Somalia and Libya
Report finds alarming increases in mafia-type crimes but says the situation is not hopeless.
A country assessment of South Africa’s organised crime has found that it is climbing and now is in the same quadrant as Italy’s — one of the world’s oldest hubs of mafia methods.
The chart shows that South Africa is now moving up the quadrant of criminality and has raced past Mexico, Somalia and Libya. It is in the sphere of Guatemala, Brazil and Russia. We are now properly notorious.
“This is an existential crisis but South Africa has a degree of resilience,” says Mark Shaw, the Director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime. (Gitoc) “It’s serious, but we can do something about it. It can’t be a law enforcement response alone.”
The horizontal axis shows the level of organised criminality while the vertical shows a society’s resilience. Ideally, you want to be in the upper left-hand quadrant with countries like Norway, the UK and Sweden. That may not happen soon.
The country assessment shows that the majority of 15 crime measures levels are increasing with very few stable. None are declining.
“Below the surface, and often not immediately perceptible in each individual incident, is a dark web: a criminal ecosystem that links many of these countless criminal acts, which need to be understood as the manifestations of an escalating set of problems, driven by South Africa’s increasingly sophisticated, violent underworld economy,” said Shaw.
The numbers below show how South Africa ranks in mafia-style groups, criminal networks, state-embedded actors (what we call State Capture) and foreign actors — each is high at a measure of over 7 out of 10. Foreign actors are crime bosses who run, for example, cable theft and export syndicates, kidnapping and extortion rings as well as what Shaw calls the “bleeding sore” crimes of illicit mining and also the export wing of gang activity.
The chart on the murder rate in South Africa (below) may not look like it, but it is the good news chart. It shows that in the years when there was a significant 50% decline in the murder rate, South Africa took steps against organised crime and it paid a relative ‘peace dividend’. It was a “long and sustained decline” says Shaw, and it was achieved through more effective gun control, among others.
“One argument (to explain the decline) is there was greater social and co-operative cohesion in responding to crime,” he says. That period offers solutions. More about that later.
From about 2011, the graph turned terrifyingly northward which of course corresponds with the ‘capture’ of the criminal justice system and its destabilisation. President Cyril Ramaphosa has moved to reform that system but it’s not working, as the murder rate has increased by 38% over 10 years, the country assessment shows.
“Once again, big words failed to produce big results, and most of the organised crime categories identified in the stabilisation approach showed little signs of being disrupted,” says the report released on September 21. “Much of the intellectual and ideological architecture designed to combat organised crime at the systematic level remains unused or underused.”
South Africa now ranks 19th in the world for the penetration of organised crime and it’s not good company to be in, as the map shows. Our organised crime is now worse than Mexico, Somalia and Libya.
But the rankings must be viewed in national context and South Africa has several things going for it to ensure that it won’t climb higher — but it requires political will.
“Is there enough political will? (At the moment), it’s reactive and fire-force based. You need long-term preventative responses and a strategic, systematic approach. You need security for economic growth. You need to bring security and then you bring investment,” says Shaw.
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The graphic charts below bring us right up to the present. While Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter said this latest stage of intensified power cuts is not because of sabotage, attacks on critical infrastructure are a major reason for the energy crisis. Cable theft and a series of mafia-type, organised operations at Eskom were entrenched in the high era of State Capture. The chart below shows that critical services are under attack and harm the ability of state to function. This is evident in the collapse of transport networks and also of energy networks. This week’s descent into Stage 6 hell is an example of organised crime at work because Eskom’s entire system of operations has been destabilised.
The Gitoc assessment analysed 15 areas of organised crime set out in the charts below. This shows that major areas of our lives are now impacted by organised crime — and while it can be tracked back for many decades, the trendline is headed upward in often distressing and felt ways.
“Although many countries have more developed and larger illicit markets — such as the drugs market in Mexico, or arms trafficking in Iraq — few host so many illicit markets across such a broad spectrum of criminal activity,” says the assessment. “Corruption — which is a component of most illicit markets — indirectly embeds organised crime within state institutions, most notably law enforcement agencies. Small-scale bribes buy protection and criminals’ ability to operate with impunity, while high-level corruption often sees state actors becoming active participants in crime or stakeholders in illicit markets,” the report says to show the impact of corruption. It links three trends: the growth of organised crime, the rise of elite corruption and the erosion of state institutions. This is where we find ourselves, but what do we do now?
“The report serves as a call to action. If South Africa’s future is not to be increasingly unstable, a more strategic response to organised crime is needed urgently. Policymakers from a wide variety of areas need to come around to accepting the real threat of organised crime, and they need to act swiftly. Left unchecked, organised crime and its associated illicit markets will continue to inflict serious harm,” the assessment says.
“Tackling this characteristic of embeddedness in many cases not only requires disrupting the ties that link criminal entities with their environment, but also addressing the surrounding contexts. If only the criminal element is targeted, the conditions that enabled, protected and rewarded the original criminal beneficiaries will quickly be exploited by new actors.”
So, what can be done? Obviously, criminal justice system reforms need to kick in much more rapidly. Shaw says a good start will be gun control, dealing with mafia-like groups and cyber-crime which, for example, has taken out banks and Transnet systems. “Strategy does not need to be a (many) years-long process,” he says.
South Africa’s rich and deep civil society is so embedded in the communities it operates in that alternative forms of engagement can help to broaden a response and retrench embedded networks.
“In the private sector, there is a reservoir of expertise in South Africa that can bolster the state’s response. There have been offers by the private sector to contribute staff time and expertise to SAPS in the sphere of economic and financial crime, while business may have the interest and ability to assist the state in other ways,” says the report. DM