/ 23 October 2023

KZN cop killings: Organised crime is the enemy

Police officers on guard at the Durban magistrate in Durban. Political murders have returned KwaZulu-Natal to its bloody past.
Police officers on guard at the magistrate's court in Durban. File photo

Organised crime is the enemy of democracy, the people of KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has said.

ISS justice and violence prevention head, Gareth Newham, said organised crime has been labelled as an “existential threat” to South Africa by a strategic risk assessment of organised crime in the country, undertaken by the internationally renowned Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime.

Newham was reacting to the recent spate of shootouts between police and suspected criminals in KwaZulu-Natal.

In the latest incident, Warrant Officer Sthembiso Mazibuko was killed in Ntuzuma during a shootout between police and criminals. Four suspects were shot dead during the operation, one of whom was “most wanted”, according to police. The suspect was wanted in connection with at least 12 murders, including members of the area’s community policing forum, SAPS said.

According to the latest quarterly crime statistics, released in August, South Africa’s murder rate reduced by 3.1% but the number of police officers killed almost doubled during the first quarter of 2022/23.

The Global Organised Crime Index report, released in September, ranked South Africa seventh out of 193 countries for organised crime activity. According to the index, while South Africa has comprehensive anti-corruption laws and agencies, “enforcement has historically been inadequate, with many current and former government officials avoiding prosecution”.

Newham said: “The SAPS can better tackle organised crime by developing a clear strategy that promotes the co-ordination of its various functions, in particular, crime intelligence and detective services.

“It then needs to move resources from the VIP protection unit, which provides no value to the South African public, to the national SAPS organised crime component.

“As importantly, there needs to be a wholesale restructuring and clean-up of the SAPS crime intelligence division which is overseen by an independent entity such as the inspector general of intelligence, supported by a team of independent experts.

“This is necessary to remove the infiltration of organised crime networks and individuals from the SAPS. This cannot be tackled effectively without highly effective crime intelligence.”

The same organised crime report found that South Africa’s police service had faced issues around corruption, internal tensions between senior management, brutality and a lack of capacity to deal with high-level organised crime figures and bring them to trial successfully.

Law enforcement officials were themselves implicated in organised crime on a number of levels, in particular in trafficking activities, according to the report.

Newham said there was still a long way to go before the police would be able to proactively dismantle the organised criminal networks that are threatening the national security of the country.

“The priority should be those criminals and their networks that are funding politicians and political parties. These are amongst the most serious threats facing our country as this is how they fundamentally undermine democracy.

“The army is generally not suited to tackle the scourge,” he said.

KZN crime and violence monitor Mary de Haas said organised crime was there during apartheid but had worsened, and the SAPS was unable to deal with it on its own.

“This is so especially when [SAPS] own crime intelligence is dysfunctional. What is needed is proper intelligence and far better control over guns, including by police, as many go missing from them. Badly regulated security companies who should only be allowed automatic and semi-automatic guns for cash in transit type ops should be closely monitored.”

She said the army should not be part of civilian policing except in emergencies to assist police in keeping the roads clear and running roadblocks.

A version of this article was first published by The Witness.