Organised crime is fast emerging as the biggest threat to our economy. It is now more damaging than bad policy or service delivery failures. We are in the grip of an epidemic with large industries from mining to construction being targeted by extortion rackets. This is undermining all of our efforts to build a country with a growing economy based on good policy and an effective state.
Business must work out how best to respond. BLSA subsidiary Business Against Crime has long been making an important contribution to the fight against crime. Our Eyes and Ears (E2) programme gathers intelligence from partners across business and private security companies to support the police to detect and investigate crime. I urge any business that is subject to an extortion attempt to report it at this website – this helps us to understand how organised crime is evolving so that we can support the police to tackle it.
These efforts have certainly helped – we have been able to track emerging threats to critical infrastructure and new industries being targeted. We have a good relationship with the police and intelligence sharing with the National Operational Command Centre.
But the explosion of extortion efforts targeting legitimate business across the country calls for new measures. The problem is that while businesses can pay for security and we can share knowledge, we cannot compile dockets and prosecute. Fundamentally no one can protect our security other than the state, and its capacity to do so is vastly weaker than it needs to be. We have to have an effective police force and turning it around needs to be an urgent national priority. If we fail, we seriously risk descending into a mafia state with the formal sector squeezed out by criminals whose reach stretches deeply into our law enforcement structures.
This needs to become the new number one priority for organised business. We have rightly been focused on the damage of state capture. Indeed, the biggest single cause of the metastasising organised crime disaster is the destruction of the institutions of our criminal justice system during that period. The focus to date has been on resuscitating the National Prosecuting Authority. This was important work and it has made progress – the fact that there are now 29 cases in the courts related to state capture, ranging from the former leaderships of Transnet and Eskom to the Guptas, is a good indicator that change is happening.
But I cannot say the same of the Hawks. The elite crime fighting unit was completely stripped of its skilled leaders and replaced with sycophants to the state capture machine. Too many of those are still at work in the organisation. While there have been some efforts to appoint strong leadership, including Hawks boss Godfrey Lebeya, it is a large and complex organisation that needs to be systematically rebuilt. According to author Jacques Pauw, it has more vacancies (2 780) than filled posts. Recruiting top quality investigators who can turn the tide against organised crime is difficult, but this is an area where business can contribute skills and support renewal.
If we are to beat the systemic risk posed by organised crime, we need the Hawks’ crime intelligence and commercial crime units to be fully functional and effective. There simply is no alternative – this is not something that business can do itself. The best we can do is support the police and its interaction with the wider criminal justice system to ensure it becomes effective.
I will be working with my colleagues on ways we can rise to this new challenge. It is now mission critical for business in South Africa. I will be engaging with our public sector counterparts to determine how we can make a difference on this crucial issue.
Please reach out if you have ideas and insights that can support the effort.
Busi Mavuso is CEO of BLSA.