Ramaphosa claims progress being made in combatting economic sabotage

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Thousands of arrests related to the damage of essential and critical infrastructure have been made since June last year, with a further 70 people arrested in relation to extortion at construction sites, President Cyril Ramaphosa has revealed.

During the Questions for Oral Reply session held at the National Council of Provinces on Thursday, Ramaphosa said that in an effort to combat economic sabotage some 20 Economic Infrastructure Task Teams have been established through the SA Police Service (SAPS).

“A total of 946 personnel have been allocated to the 20 Economic Infrastructure Task Teams from existing structures within each province, district and station. They are experienced and knowledgeable personnel within their respective functional environments.

“The Task Teams integrate processes, resources and intelligence across all of the operational environments of the SAPS under a single command. This is to enable them to successfully combat essential infrastructure crimes, illicit mining and extortion within the construction sector.

“The Task Teams incorporate personnel from SAPS divisions such as Crime Intelligence, Visible Policing and Operations, and Detective and Forensic Services, as well as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation,” he said.

Ramaphosa said an operational budget of R20 million has been “ring-fenced and allocated for the implementation of the Economic Infrastructure Task Teams during the 2022/2023 financial year and a further R17 million for the 2023/2024 financial year”.

“Between their establishment in June last year and the end of June this year, the Task Teams have made over 4 000 arrests with respect to the damage of essential and critical infrastructure.

“They have also arrested over 70 people with respect to extortion at construction sites and made over 3 000 arrests for illegal mining. The Task Teams have confiscated significant quantities of copper cable, rail tracks and other metals,” Ramaphosa said.

He bemoaned the damage that the destruction of infrastructure has on the South African economy.

“The sabotage of our infrastructure and our economy continues to pose a great threat to the country’s development. However, through the work of the Economic Infrastructure Task Teams, together with partners in the state and the private sector, we are making progress in combating these crimes,” Ramaphosa said.

Growing organised crime

The 2023 Global Organised Crime Index (GOCI) published in September 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.

“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.

Using data from think tank organisations and public statements by government officials, opposition political party the Democratic Alliance 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.