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Cape Town aims to beef up security directorate in ongoing battle against extortionists

Cape Town aims to beef up security directorate in ongoing battle against extortionists
From left: City of Cape Town MMC for safety and security JP Smith. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | Advocate Gerrie Nel. (Photo: Gallo Images / Deaan Vivier)

Extortion is threatening service delivery in Cape Town. To fight that, the municipality plans to bring in experienced people to counter organised crime that has resulted in deaths.

Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, told Daily Maverick that the city was looking to bolster its fight against the extortion mafia by acquiring the services of experienced personnel locally and abroad.

There have been several attacks in Cape Town on housing project sites, contractors and other service delivery projects, allegedly by extortionists.

On 16 February, city official Wendy Kloppers was shot and killed at the Symphony Way Housing Project construction site earmarked for 3,300 of the city’s most vulnerable residents. No arrests have been made. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: City of Cape Town pleads for ‘highly skilled’ police help, boosts reward to R1m in war on construction ‘mafias’  

“We are speaking to people and organisations who have some serious legal muscle,” said Smith. “We are trying to get people like [former State prosecutor] Gerrie Nel. We are recruiting more investigative resources and people with deep experience in this regard, including seasoned police departments elsewhere in the world to give us training.”  

The municipality has had a R15-million top-up budget for additional security at housing construction sites as extortion by gangs is hampering the delivery of housing projects. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cape Town tops up security budget by R15m to protect housing construction sites from gangsters

The city’s Safety and Security Directorate has also been recruiting senior South African Police Service members to head some of its departments, including former Lwandle station commander Xolani Williams, who recently joined the Anti-Land Invasion Unit.

Refuse collection in Kosovo, Samora Machel and Philippi East had to be halted because contractors were intimidated by extortionists. As a result, the areas are filthy, with waste visible everywhere.

Extortion in 30 informal settlements

The mayoral council member for water and sanitation, Zahid Badroodien, said 30 informal settlements were affected by extortion. These informal settlements have mobile toilets which need to be cleaned weekly, but this is not happening because of the situation with extortionists.

On Monday, Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis joined city waste removal staff to show solidarity and thank them for their efforts to sustain basic services in the Kosovo informal settlement and broader Philippi East.

Law enforcement members have been escorting city frontline delivery staff to ensure services continue in the area. During a clean-up with staff in the area, Hill-Lewis made a public call for information leading to the arrest of extortionists. 

“It has become a real existential threat to local government,” said Smith. “Some of these criminal elements are coming to or are attempting to gain access to city buildings… they are threatening senior officials so that these officials have to be placed under protection.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: SAPS investigating allegations Cape Town mayco member Malusi Booi ‘took cash from gangsters’ 

Read more in Daily Maverick: DA’s suspended Malusi Booi ‘fears for his life’ after police probe into alleged gangster links

The city will also have watching briefs where officials will follow up on cases where they made arrests. Smith said there had been 674 arrests for ammunition and firearms in the city in the past 21 months.

On Wednesday, 10 May, a man working for a company contracted by the City of Cape Town to fix a road in Delft was shot and killed. Both Smith and the area’s ward councillor, Nobanathi Matutu, said the killing was probably intended to halt the project or threaten the contractor.

Matutu said that a week before the killing, a man installing fibre-optic cables in Delft was shot and injured because the company he worked for did not pay a fee to extortionists.

“There is another company fixing potholes here in Delft and one of the workers came to my office saying they have been chased away by extortionists… It has become a serious problem now in Delft because in almost every project a person will be killed or injured by these extortionists.”

The success rate in prosecuting extortion cases in the Western Cape is low because victims and witnesses are often afraid to report incidents, unwilling to provide statements, participate in identification parades or enter witness protection programmes. DM

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