Crime index shows deterioration in South Africa, which is now third worst-affected African nation

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South Africa’s criminality score has worsened in the last two years, according to the 2023 Global Organised Crime Index (GOCI), which shows that South Africa now ranks seventh in the world out of 193 countries and third in Africa for mafia-style criminal networks and organised crime syndicates.

The report, released this week, highlights that South Africa is one of only three African countries in the high crime–high resilience category, along with Nigeria and Senegal. “Unlike the latter two, however, both criminality and resilience scores have worsened in South Africa,” the report notes. “With a high criminality score of 7.18 [out of 10, compared to 6.63 in 2021], the country is an undeniable criminality outlier within Southern Africa, tangibly bringing up the average criminality score for the region.”

“South Africa boasts a number of pervasive criminal markets, heightened by the influence of criminal actors, especially state-embedded actors – responsible for years of state capture – and criminal networks that are highly interconnected,” the report said.

It did add that against a background of a decade-long increasing criminality, erosion of critical infrastructure and undermining of democratic processes through organized corruption and violence for hire, resilience to the impact of organized crime in the country is also high. South Africa also scores the highest in the Southern Africa region in terms of resilience, driven by the efforts of non-state actors to resist organized crime, robust national policies and laws, and strong economic regulatory capacity. These resilience building blocks, however, came under strain in 2022, which saw overall resilience fall.

Dion George, Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Minister of Finance, said the opposition party was “appalled” by the latest crime statistics, with the “mafia state” bleeding the national economy of R155 billion every year.

“The systematic degradation and hollowing out of South Africa’s law enforcement agencies by the ANC government has turned the country into a haven for organised crime syndicates who are threatening to overrun every sector of the economy,” he said in a statement, and this could render South Africa ungovernable.

Using data from think tank organisations and public statements by government officials, the DA estimates that organised crime syndicates – who include the Eskom mafia, illegal mining networks, wildlife syndicates, public infrastructure stripping networks, and the construction mafia among others, are bleeding the national economy of R155 billion every year.

The construction mafia cost the economy R17 billion per annum; infrastructure vandalism and arson (copper cable and rail track theft) cost R47 billion; Eskom’s organised crime networks cost R12 billion; kidnapping and extortion syndicates cost R146 million; the illicit economy (illegal drugs and guns) costs R13.6 billion; wildlife criminal syndicates (illegal abalone and rhino poaching) cost R1.2 billion; illegal mining networks (zama zamas) cost R14 billion; tender corruption costs R30 billion; the tobacco and cigarettes mafia costs R20 billion; and taxi-related crime is unquantified.

The R155 billion does not factor in the knock-on effects that these crimes have on the economy, for example, Telkom, Eskom, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and Transnet once revealed that the persistent challenge of cable theft and infrastructure vandalism had a R187 billion knock-on effect on the economy per annum; and the Minerals Council South Africa estimates lost sales, taxes and royalties of R21 billion a year through illegal mining.

In 2022, the NPA cautioned that with the weakening of the criminal justice in the state capture era, South Africa had become a bonanza for organised criminals and a broad range of illicit actors, the DA George said. “The first step in addressing the scourge of organised crime in South Africa is for law enforcement organisations to officially designate these criminal activities as national priority crimes. Organised criminal gangs pose a direct threat to the national interest and if left unchecked, would continue to exact a significant cost to the economy through lost jobs and declining investment. As such, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (Hawks) should use its authority in terms of Section 17D of the South African Police Service Act, 1995 to officially designate organised crime syndicates as national priority crimes.”

He added that law enforcement incapacity is precisely why criminal networks, also emboldened by the alleged involvement of high ranking politicians, have become brazen and are practically holding the state to ransom.

The Global Organized Crime Index 2023 revealed the continuing rise of organized crime globally, with 83% of the world’s population living in conditions of high criminality. According to the report, Myanmar has the highest criminality score (8.15), followed by Colombia (7.75) and then Mexico (7.57). In Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (7.35) and Nigeria (7.28) were ahead of South Africa.

“While more people today live in countries characterized as having high resilience, when comparing global resilience to the rise in the pervasiveness of criminality, the data shows that response frameworks have failed to meet the organized crime threat. The widening gap between organized crime and our collective resilience efforts highlights the urgent need for informed, practical strategies to combat organized crime globally,” the report said.