THE GATHERING 2022
Organised crime — we won’t be able to prosecute ourselves out of the mess, says NPA
Daily Maverick’s The Gathering has been told that, ‘organised crime [in South Africa] is so multifaceted that it is also driving the murder rate, the high rate of kidnappings and decimating our economic prospects’.
Organised crime is an existential threat to South Africa, its democracy and its economy, said the Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions, Anton du Plessis, at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering on Thursday.
Du Plessis was part of a panel, “Security Cluster: To the Wolves”, chaired by Judge Dennis Davis and featuring Du Plessis, former top cop Jeremy Vearey and Daily Maverick’s Caryn Dolley, the author of several books on crime and the underworld, nationally and internationally.
Du Plessis said there was no way the country could “prosecute our way out of this problem”, adding that other professional sectors such as auditors, bankers and consultants — some of which played a key role in State Capture — should also clean their houses.
Law enforcement agencies, if they hoped to make any dent, he said, needed to focus on illicit money flows, organised crime in the transport and electricity sectors and extortion in the construction industry. The cost of this type of organised crime to South Africa is staggering.
Du Plessis said the establishment of the Independent Directorate, with its prosecutorial approach to crime, was an indication that “the previously untouchable are no longer untouchable”.
Dolley’s book, To The Wolves: How Traitor Cops Crafted South Africa’s Underworld (Maverick 451), delves into the deep roots of the international cartels that run illicit economies across the globe and their links to South Africa.
With regard to “fixing” the rule of law, Dolley said that a great start would be “to usher certain individuals out of their positions. We need people with decent intent. Forget about the infighting [in the SAPS], let’s fight crime.”
She said organised crime had taken hold of institutions before 1994 and that “it feels like we have been in a state of capture for decades”.
The current networks that have embedded themselves locally are an extension of old crime routes and networks which had been “cultivated and which flourished” under apartheid.
‘Captured’ law enforcement
The Zondo Commission and the Expert Panel into the July 2021 Civil Unrest had made it “crystal clear” that branches of law enforcement had been captured, Dolley added.
What South Africa was experiencing on its streets “is a form of State Capture. It is just becoming more apparent, and if we can see a problem we can address it.”
What “back to basics” should mean, said Dolley, is that “we fight crime, but we fight it clean”.
Judge Davis remarked that the issue of crime, considering the release of the latest shocking crime statistics by the minister of police, Bheki Cele, was an encroachment on the lives and rights of citizens “whose lives have been taken over by fear and crooks”.
Vearey, who was fired from the SAPS in 2021 and is considered one of the finest police officers to have come through the ranks since 1994, said that the history of organised crime in South Africa dated back to the early prison gangs of the 1800s and had existed alongside various governments over the years.
The solution to the abysmal record of the SAPS in fighting crime, said Vearey, was to transition the SAPS into a professional service with detectives trained in basic crime-scene investigations.
But crime today, he added, was multilayered. In the old days, there had to be a body or a house broken into for an investigation to take place.
“The material object needs to be in front of you.”
The lack of the ability to gather intelligence using old-fashioned methods and to find and source agents who could infiltrate organised crime networks was a massive failure.
“With something like the construction mafia you do not have a crime scene in front of you. If you close down one syndicate, another will take its place. We need to ask what kind of recruits you need.”
The bulk of expertise for solving complicated financial crimes in South Africa is centred in the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, which itself has been bedevilled by officials who have been drawn into the political/criminal nexus.
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Judge Davis asked why no high-profile South African politician was yet to be seen in orange overalls, saying: “People think nothing is going to happen.”
“The answer,” said Du Plessis “is that these cases are complicated. We have enrolled nine of the most high-profile cases. This means accountability is becoming a reality.”
These people, said Du Plessis, were now “mentally incarcerated, preparing for their trial dates. Also, we have taken back R12.5-billion in stolen assets.”
The National Prosecuting Authority was committed, he added, to hold those responsible for State Capture to account,
He recalled how he had been admonished by a “little old lady” who had sat next to him on a plane.
‘Rule-of-law bar set high’
“When I introduced myself, the gates of hell opened but it reminded me how passionate South Africans are about the rule of law and accountability. It is so ingrained in our DNA. We set the rule-of-law bar very high because our history demands it.”
The “weakest link in the chain must be improved”, said Du Plessis. “The shock is that organised crime is so multifaceted that it is also driving the murder rate, the high rate of kidnappings and decimating our economic prospects.”
Between 2000 and 2009 the former Scorpions was one of the world leaders in crime-busting.
“We have lessons from the past with work. We have partnerships with lawyers to bring interlocutory applications, we can also do Stalingrad, and we intend to,” said Du Plessis. DM
Caryn Dolley has spent years tracing the footprints of crime/drug kingpins from across the world. In her latest book, Clash of the Cartels, Dolley provides unprecedented insight into how specific drug cartels and syndicates have operated via South Africa, becoming embroiled in deadly violence in the country and bolstering local criminal networks. Available now from the Daily Maverick Shop.