2018-05-07 09:54

I am not a big proponent of commissions of inquiry as a way to resolve problems in society. They tend to create a sense of urgency while failing to give clear directives about how the problem ought to be resolved.

South Africa has too many commissions – a clear indication that the normal processes of resolving problems are failing. We cannot shy away from the reality that our public service is generally in shambles and fails to deal with some of the basic problems in a normal way. Hence, we often escalate problems to commissions of inquiry.

That said, I believe that there is a need for South Africa to consider such a commission into cash-in-transit robberies to address the root cause of this problem and the extent to which the law enforcement infrastructure is being used to facilitate it.

It is one thing for our law enforcement infrastructure to fail to curb robberies. It is quite another when our resources are being used to facilitate robberies. This means that the solution to this problem no longer lies within law enforcement, but requires a broader inquiry in the form of a commission.

The rising levels of cash-in-transit robberies, including ATM bombings – and the precision with which the heists are carried out – has become an issue that is beyond the competence of normal law enforcement.

These robberies have their roots in the apartheid era, when some were carried out to gather funding for the war against the old regime. This is not to denigrate the glorious anti-apartheid movement. However, intense as the struggle was, it certainly left society with remnants such as the culture of violent robberies now carried out with mere criminal intent.

Robberies can also be seen as war crimes; especially where they are carried out with the aim to fund revolutions, etc. When the war is over, such crimes do not necessarily cease to exist; they become crimes of opportunity as might be the case with armed cash-in-transit robberies in post-apartheid South Africa.

South Africa’s cash-in-transit robberies have some historical origins. Until we confront this history, we will not be able to address the robberies that continue to terrorise our communities. A visit to a shopping centre in South Africa can turn into a life or death struggle as shopping centres are targeted the most.

South Africa does not have instances of terrorist attacks, fortunately. But the spate of cash-in-transit robberies has similar effects than terrorism that is proliferated by extremists.

Some years ago, I aired my hypothesis about organised crime and the role of law enforcement authorities in South Africa. If the country experiences a situation where the chiefs of police consecutively leave their positions under a cloud of misconduct, one cannot completely dismiss the perception that the law enforcement is under siege.

My hypothesis therefore was that if South Africa decided to ask all law enforcement officials – the good and the bad ones – to take one month vacation to Mauritius, crime in South Africa might decline on its own.

While there are men and women who risk their lives and serve this nation with pride and dignity, the role played by the rotten apples in law enforcement in facilitating organised crime is enormous and contribute to the defeat of the system.

By asking all law enforcement officers to take fully paid vacations to various exotic islands, crime in South Africa will decline on its own because some of the facilitators will be gone!

I once listened to the ambassador of Georgia – a former Soviet republic – explaining how the country resolved crime spats that threatened that nation: by firing all police officers and asking them to reapply for their jobs. That’s an extreme decision and might not work well in South Africa because we are a full democracy and we respect human rights. However, we can start with a commission of inquiry into the most worrying trend in organised crime: cash-in-transit robberies.

When robbers are more organised and committed than law enforcement, we need to wake up and ask how they access such intelligence and resources to carry out their activities. This is, in my view, a matter of national security that needs to be dealt with as such – through a commission of inquiry.    

– Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes.

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