Police starting to ‘turn things around’ after wave of cash heists, MPs told

The South African Police Service is starting to "turn things around" in its bid to combat the high increase in violent cash-in-transit heists which have rocked South Africa in recent weeks, MPs were told on Wednesday

“We are going to turn things around and these South Africans are going to be safe, we have started and we are not going to let the momentum go back,” Police Minister Bheki Cele said while briefing Parliament’s portfolio committee on police.

He told MPs that the police have managed to make 25 arrests in the recent wave of cash-in-transit heists and were working hard to nab the masterminds behinds these crimes.

Cele said 104 high-performance cars have been acquired and were going to be dispatched so police could respond to heists on the road in a speedier manner.

“Most of them will be unmarked. Put them on the highway, link them all so that they will all respond simultaneously and put high-performing individuals inside those cars. That’s one thing we have done,” he said.

“Cash-in-transit heists are terrorism because last week, a principal of a school in Tembisa, who was shot and killed in the execution of cash-in-transit heist in Tembisa, was buried. He was driving his car and had nothing to do with the crime. Another young man was shot and injured.”

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According to the Minister, cash-in-transit robberies were getting out of hand as innocent bystanders were being killed, “something which pushes us more to say that we really have to deal with this case, and then the indication is that all of us need to put a maximum effort to deal with it”.

Cele added police also needed to deal with so-called “feeder crimes”.

“Car hijackings and theft are feeder crimes to cash heists, the illegal firearm is a feeder crime, the corrupt personnel is a feeder crime in different areas. In terms of South African police members, there are some of us who are really corrupt and also in the whole chain,” he said.

He reassured MPs that corrupt officers were being dealt with, but the “whole chain” was often being forgotten.

“We arrested one of ours in Limpopo, a lady who provided an escape car and is romantically involved with the kingpin in a cash heist. So these are the things that are internal. It looks like in all other groups that were arrested, we had a member of the private security company. This guy was on social media playing with cash and we found him in the house with R1,5 million cash,” he said.

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The Minister further told MPs that there were areas that all the stakeholders involved in the industry had to fight and “clean up their own chains”, adding that bail granted to criminals was another big issue.

“The perpetrators are being arrested and are getting bail in most cases, which becomes another challenge that the police face. If we could pursue it with the chain and discuss it as a cluster sometimes, it would really help us, because as the South African police, we have many things to raise with our own cluster,” he said.

Cele said that house robbery was another “crime feeder”, because it also works on getting legal firearms and converting them into illegal ones.

“But it’s both corruption and theft of our own firearms. Out of five, there is a South African police firearm, and if you see out of four, the SANDF (South African National Defence Force) firearm.

“The question is: ‘How do they land in the hands of criminals?’ In two ways: our own corrupt members who sometimes hire them out and sometimes themselves steal and send them out. But sometimes, police stations are raided, like Engcobo police station (in the Eastern Cape).”

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Five policemen were killed by gunmen who robbed the police station of 10 firearms and fled the scene.

“Which means we must come back and work on our systems ourselves, so that we proceed going forward without hesitation. We all know what happened to our crime intelligence, we all know what happened to the Hawks (Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation).

“At one time, the Hawks took the case of R12, they investigated and later explained that the case was for a cupcake, so that is the Hawks we have been having lately, investigating cases of cupcakes. So you will ask a question: ‘When do they do their work?’,” added Cele.

He said that he was hoping that Hawks were going to be pushed to do what they should be doing and become what they should be and admitted that there had been a lot of distraction in the crime intelligence space.

“I want to say that we have put up all the teams now – all the teams must be up and running. The only place we have not put a permanent person is in the position of KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Commissioner, but all teams are there now. Let’s make those teams move and make this organisation much better.”

– African News Agency