/ 4 September 2023

Cash-in-transit heists remain ‘a thorn’, Hawks boss Lebeya says after 19 suspects killed in Limpopo

(Sunday Times)
Hawks head General Godfrey Lebeya. (Sunday Times)

Cash-in-transit robberies remain a thorn in the side of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks or DPCI), Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya said on Monday, days after an operation in which 19 suspects were killed in Makhado, Limpopo. 

Cash-in transit heists continue to be a thorn in the economy of the country and the DPCI,”  Lebeya said while announcing the Hawks’ first quarter statistics for the 2023-24 financial year. “In collaboration with private organisations such as CITASA [Cash-In-Transit Association of South Africa], [we] continue to strengthen the fight against these crimes.”

He said from April to June this year, 27 arrests and six convictions related to cash-in-transit heists had been secured.

The release of the first quarter report comes in the wake of a crackdown on a syndicate suspected of being responsible for a number of heists in the Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.

This past Friday the Hawks, in collaboration with multiple policing units, descended on a group of suspects at a house in Makhado where a 90-minute shoot-out left 19 people dead and one wounded. These included 17 males and two females believed to be linked to previous robberies. A senior police officer attached to the DPCI was wounded and taken to hospital. 

Five suspects were arrested at a second address in Thohoyandou, the provincial spokesperson for the DPCI, Lieutenant Colonel Matimba Maluleke, told the Mail & Guardian.

The suspects — Asanda Maqhawu, Charity Phathutshedzo Makhwedzana, Ramabele Justice Peta, Vusimuzi Samuel Ramabekae and Sillo Shadrack Mposi — appeared in the Vuwani magistrate’s court on Monday. They face charges of theft, conspiracy to commit crime and fraud and for the possession of a suspected stolen vehicle. 

Authorities impounded five vehicles from the crime scene of which three were reported stolen in Gauteng and Mpumalanga. Eleven firearms including explosives, lead cords and raw explosives were also seized. 

In the statement, Lebeya said the operation was the result of a “major investigation” that had started at the beginning of the year. 

“Limpopo and Mpumalanga joined forces in addressing the syndicate that was identified based on several follow ups that were made by the team. So indeed, we do believe we have the suspects that we have been following. Further investigations will continue to ascertain other crimes that the group may have perpetrated,” said Lebeya.

At Monday’s fifth public announcement of the Hawks’ crime statistics, Lebeya said the unit’s members “are hard at work in dealing with national priority offences”.

From April to June, 611 suspects appeared in court as a result of the Hawks’ investigations. The majority of cases — 203 — related to fraud, while 72 suspects were arrested in connection with narcotics and endangered species, and 48 for money laundering. During the same period, 229 accused people were convicted and sentenced. 

Along with the arrests, the Hawks seized goods valued at more than R6 billion, including precious metals and diamonds, endangered species, vehicles, cash, firearms, ammunition, counterfeit goods, explosives and electronic devices.