Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise, as “point person” for last week’s JCPS (Justice, Crime Prevention and Security) Cabinet cluster meeting, gave an overview of government crime busting and fighting efforts across fronts ranging from illegal mining through to the so-called “construction mafia”, cross-border crimes and others.
Stopping cross-border vehicle smuggling is a regular occurrence for soldiers deployed on the national border protection tasking Operation Corona with monthly reports noting vehicle recoveries on South Africa’s land borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe among others.
The KwaZulu-Natal/Mozambique border is one where illegal vehicle exports resulted in thinking out of the box. This saw large rocks put at known crossing points to deny smugglers easy outs and later led to fabrication of reinforced concrete Jersey barriers to shut smuggling routes.
In her briefing Modise said: “A task team deployed to prevent and combat cross border vehicle smuggling continues to register commendable progress”.
Since deployment in February this year, over 140 suspects have been arrested for theft, car hijackings and murder. Sixty-four vehicles were recovered and 57 firearms seized. In August, police registered a breakthrough, when three wanted suspects linked to a spate of vehicle smuggling between Mozambique and South Africa were arrested. The trio are apparently linked to a crime activist executed in February, she said.
Modise elaborated on the Presidential “employment” of more than three thousand soldiers to assist police efforts in bringing illegal miners – better known as zama zamas – to heel, saying an integrated illegal mining and other crimes intervention plan was developed by the JCPS and NICOC (National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee). No less than 14 government entities ranging from national departments to task specific authorities and units were involved.
Arrests to date for illegal mining and relate charges are 4 067.
Success-wise, to date, according to the Defence and Military Veterans Minister, 28 intelligence-driven operations, 360 “disruptive operations”, a similar number of “simultaneous roadblocks”, 130 joint spaza operations, 108 restaurant joint operations, four hotel operations, 353 compliance inspections and 48 borderline operations have been conducted.
In Mpumalanga a national intervention team (NIT) working solely on illegal mining and Eskom saw 67 arrests along with coal worth R12 million and R180 million worth of mining equipment confiscated. The five month period from April to August saw 329 suspects accused of illicit mining offences, she said, without detail of exact charges, amounts and equipment involved.
Also part of the illegal mining intervention is what is termed “sealing” illegal mines and shafts.
By way of explanation Modise said: “Across South Africa there are 6 100 derelict and ownerless mines. Some are old and the owners cannot be traced. There are 1 170 ‘mine openings’ nationally and in Gauteng there are 518. DMRE (Department of Mineral Resources and Energy) is going to rehabilitate three mines and has closed 40 mine openings per year and [is] conducting research. The department has plans to deal with this issue over a period of time”.
Additionally, laws on the Statute Book relevant to illegal mining are and will be reviewed. This will enable law enforcement to close “all possible loopholes”.
In summary, Modise pointed out NATJOINTS (the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure) has set short, medium and long term goals “to arrest the situation”. Included in the short to medium term goals is stabilising the situation, deploying teams in identified problematic areas after which task teams will move into “a normalisation period”.
“In similar fashion, provincial JOINTS have been activated to deal with illegal mining and conduct regular operations. To further bolster the fight against illegal mining, President Ramaphosa authorised the employment of members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) for service in co-operation with the SA Police Service (SAPS) to prevent and combat crime and maintain and preserve law and order under Operation Prosper,” she said, adding the military/police illegal mining partnership would cover all nine provinces.
“We will make sure that as the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster, we create a safe and secure environment for our people to live [in],” Modise said during Friday’s briefing. “South Africans have borne the wrath of criminals masquerading in our communities causing disruption in their daily lives. In some parts of our communities, extortion and protection fees demanded by criminal syndicates have become the order of the day. These and other criminal activities have put fear in our people and undermine the authority of the state.”
Through the SAPS Operation Shanela, South Africa has adopted a decisive approach in reducing the high levels of crime, Modise said, with high intensity operations from May 2023.
“It is through Operation Shanela, that the SAPS has successfully arrested 213 059 suspects for various crimes such as cash-in transit robberies, extortion at construction sites and kidnappings in the past six months.
“During the same period, 2 657 illegal and unwanted firearms were confiscated,” Modise said.
The operation led to the arrest of 19 299 suspects arrested for drug possession while 7 580 were arrested for drug trafficking and dealing in the last six months.
On cash-in-transit (CIT) heists and associated crimes, law enforcement agencies continue to make inroads with the police arresting 75 wanted suspects in the past six months.
On the drugs front, the latest drug busts are a clear indication government remains committed to the fight against drug trafficking, Modise said. “It is encouraging that nine drug laboratories worth more than R3 million were dismantled in Gauteng, North West and the Western Cape. In the space of three weeks, police intercepted large quantities of cocaine in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
“The latest cocaine consignment was seized last week at the sea port in Gqeberha where R65 million worth of cocaine was seized from a vessel coming in from Brazil,” Modise said.
Two other drugs busts were made in KwaZulu-Natal where R150 million worth of cocaine was seized in two days.
As regards extortion at economic and construction sites, Modise said various threats were identified that impact negatively on the economy of the country.
“From April 2023 to date, 61 suspects linked to extortion were arrested. Since 2019, 27 accused have been convicted for a collective 43 years direct imprisonment.”
On kidnapping for ransom, Modise said from April 2023 to date, 98 suspects were arrested and more than 30 victims rescued.
The cluster said government continues to deploy Anti-Gang-Unit members in provinces prone to gang violence such as the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng.
“A hundred and ninety arrests have thus far been effected in 145 cases,” she said.