Picture: Timothy Bernard African News Agency (ANA) – A memorial service is held for fallen SA rapper Kiernan AKA Forbes at the Sandton Convention Centre on February 17, 2023. Forbes was shot and killed a week ago in Durban. Fans, business associates and music industry leaders gathered to bid AKA farewell ahead of his private funeral on Saturday. The assassination of the rapper has thrust into the spotlight the role of organised crime in subverting South Africa’s democracy, the writer says.
By Mary De Haas
Now Everyone is Afraid, the name of a book published in the dying days of apartheid in 1988, could well describe the climate of fear in SA 35 years later.
If a prominent celebrity, Kiernan Forbes – AKA – and his companion, Tebello “Tibz” Motsoane can be gunned down in the heart of a crowded Durban recreational area, how safe is anybody? This assassination receives saturation coverage because the victims were celebrities.
Planned hits, most unreported, happen regularly. Potential victims include legitimate businesspeople, or those defending their precious land rights from rapacious mining companies. Anyone exposing corruption, including police members investigating colleagues, are particularly vulnerable.
Hardened criminals can act with impunity because South Africa has become a criminalised state, in which officials use political office for personal enrichment at the expense of good governance. Our criminal justice system, especially policing, is broken.
Thirty-five years ago, the fears were generated by the role of the police in the escalating political violence. Now, in our constitutional democracy, our police continue to act like their apartheid predecessors, breaking the law – including by torturing and killing – with impunity.
There is, however, one conspicuous difference – the apartheid state had an extremely efficient crime intelligence system. Our Crime Intelligence is failing, utterly, to fulfil its constitutional mandate to prevent crime. It lacks incorruptible officers at all stations with good informer networks, to identify criminal activities and stop them through pro-active policing and credible investigations of crimes. Hit men operate with impunity because this is not happening.
Our heavily politicised Crime Intelligence is riddled, top to bottom, with corruption. While gunmen were deployed to kill AKA, Crime Intelligence members were sent to track down police whistle-blower and rights defender Patricia Mashale, in hiding, to kill her, and to keep the family home under surveillance. Mashale only escaped assassination in November 2022 when the driver of the car she was in managed to evade their pursuers before they could draw alongside them and shoot her.
Solving crimes is also more difficult when hit men are involved. The cars used are often stolen, or have false number plates, there are no fingerprints or DNA, and even with CCTV cameras identities may be obscured. What often happens is that the killers – most of whom are linked to the taxi industry – are whisked away to hiding places in, for example Gauteng. They also use unregistered SIM cards.
Even with credible informer networks, detectives can waste much time travelling distances to try to find hit men, who may themselves be killed before they can talk. If they are tried, and identify those who sent them, potential witnesses may be killed. A witness in one high-profile killing case was telephoned by men who told him they had been deployed to kill him, and they told him where he had travelled to that week.
Currently, people opposing the extension of mining in Somkhele and nearby Fuleni are living in fear of being taken out by hit men, especially when travelling. Easy access to guns and ammunition obviously facilitates crimes, especially hijackings and murder. Again, the buck stops with the police, including when huge numbers of guns disappear from their custody.
The massive well-armed security and bodyguard industry includes many who are not even registered with the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Psira) and, again, the taxi industry is a major offender. Operating without registration is a crime, as is employing an unregistered company or guard, but, because of lack of police action, no action is taken.
The extent of corruption in the SAPS – which poses a serious danger to the lives of good, dedicated members as well as the public – includes covering for illegal guns in the security industry in which, like the taxi industry, police and politicians may have interests.
It is the current state of policing which poses the greatest threat to the lives of South Africans, and to the economy. Would criminal gangs be able to sabotage Eskom, and rob coal trucks, if they were arrested, charged and convicted by the criminal justice system?
Despite the existence of government-initiated reports on the restructuring of the police and intelligence services, and Zondo Commission reports, there seems to be no political will whatsoever to take any constructive action to improve policing (let alone regulate the taxi industry, whose Mafias exercise undue influence on transport services and governance generally).
One urgent intervention could be the appointment of an ombudsman body headed by a judge, since the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) still has no independence from the ministry. As warned by our judge president, Parliament has failed us in not providing proper oversight of our executive and passing legislation.
We cannot sit back and wait for our recalcitrant government to act. All voters should be putting pressure on whoever represents them in Parliament to get legislative and policy changes. They should bear in mind that action is urgent, as nothing has changed since July 2021.
Mary De Haas – Honorary research fellow at the University of KZN’s School of Law, and a member of the Navi Pillay Research Group on justice and human rights