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Turning tide against cross-border crime

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Turning tide against cross-border crime

Photo by Duane Daws
SA President Jacob Zuma

15th March 2017

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Yesterday, the President of the Republic, His Excellency Jacob Zuma visited Umhlabuyalingana Local Municipality as part of efforts aimed at fighting cross border crime.  He was accompanied by Premier Willies Mchunu and members of the provincial executive council.

It should be noted that on the 12th August 2012, the provincial government convened a cross-border crime summit held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre.

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This summit which was attended by ministers from neighboring countries, law enforcement agencies, leaders of society and non-governmental organizations was convened to canvass views about how to prevent cross-border crime. It was one of the most important forums that resolved to ensure the co-operation of all stakeholders.

Rural communities living in our borders, are under a huge yoke of poverty have to bear the burden of stock theft and car hijackings. The problem has heightened tension between South Africans and our brothers and sisters from Mozambique in particular. 

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Yesterday, the premier emphasized that role of the police is critical in fighting cross-border crime, but will be enhanced by the cooperation between many other departments across all spheres of government.

He has stated that an orderly and legal movement of people and effective cross-border trade will contribute towards socio-economic development in the SADC region. It is detrimental to all interests if there is a fragmented or unco-ordinated approach towards dealing with these issues.
Therefore, the president’s intervention will strengthen this co-operation with different government departments look set to play their role in creating an environment that will result in the eradication of cross-border crime.

Critically, as SADC moves towards a free trade area, cross border crime presents the region with a number of challenges. Our province is home to more than 11 million people and is located in the eastern seaboard of our country, sharing border with SADC - Mozambique, Botswana and Swaziland.  

It is reported that SADC,  the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community, all comprising 26 countries form Africa’s biggest free trade bloc  which will eventually create a single continent-wide market estimated to be worth more than US $1 trillion. These 26 countries have a combined population of approximately 590 million and an aggregate GDP of US $860 billion.

While we push for economic integration through free trade, it is unfortunate that the international criminal networks are celebrating as they believe that they will have access to this lucrative market.  Reports suggests that the criminal groups have gained unlimited access to various trans-national networks using sophisticated technology and in most cases they are assisted by corrupt officials working for government departments and law enforcement agencies.

There are lucrative criminal enterprises operating in Africa, Europe and Asia who have been, for many years trading in endangered species such as rhino horns, Ivory, abalone, copper, precious wood, precious stones and precious metals.

In charge of these enterprises - are professional Kingpins who recruit vulnerable unemployed people especially the youth for a variety of illicit activities that generate millions of rands for them.  

With operations in major cities such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, KwaBulawayo, Harare, Durban, Maputo, Nampula, Beira, Manzini, Luanda etc, the Kingpins do not work as competitors but they collaborate with one another. It is alleged that they have networks in various organisations such as Customs, Home Affairs, SARS, Department of Transport Licencing Offices and insurance companies.

In his State of the Province Address, Mchunu undertook to root out corruption involving government employees. He pleaded for the co-operation of the private sector, stating that the society as a whole must assist by not offering bribes to state employees.

Young people are recruited for housebreakings, shoplifting, armed robberies and car hijackings of luxury motor vehicles and trucks which are sold to buyers and car dealerships in Africa and overseas markets. They use the latest technology to sell stolen cars and their parts to international markets through a manipulated shipping system and unmonitored routes.

Many desperate young people from tertiary institutions are recruited – given fraudulent, IDs, Payslips and credit cards to hire vehicles from legitimate rental companies and end up not returning them. If not dismantled in chop shops, these vehicles are often sold to other provinces and neighbouring countries.

In various crime-fighting initiatives, including the Crime Summit convened by the Premier and held at the Dube Trade Port in November last year, it was reported that some of these young skilled young people work as insurance brokers, transporters and specialized artisans who change vehicle identification numbers and other defining features of the vehicle. Instead of using their skills to grow the economy of the country, the desperate and educated young stars are growing businesses of these “Kingpins”.

In addition, as government we have been informed that there is a new trend wherein vehicles arrive as completely broken down parts from their original countries only to be assembled in another country. It is reported that vehicles from Kenya enter Tanzania through Kilimanjaro into Moshi. Some are smuggled to DRC, Burundi and Malawi. It’s reported that Tanzanian syndicates work with their counterparts in South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Kenya.

There are wide reported cases involving insured vehicles driven from South Africa to syndicates in neighbouring countries. The buyers are reportedly given time to process particulars of the new vehicle before a report of hijacking or theft is made to the police. Owners of such vehicles subsequently claim for losses from insurers.
Clearly, this is a very professional and sophisticated big racket using what could appear as a legitimate business.  Police alone cannot be expected to win this battle. The South African Revenue Services reported recently that these syndicates exploit differential taxes of highly-taxed goods such as cigarettes, alcohol and petroleum. They sometimes choose not to declare their goods or they bribe officials or they transport their goods through illegal and unmonitored routes.

The syndicates are also involved in fraudulent transactions involving under-declarations of imported goods. They are known to double-invoice for the purpose of using undervalued invoices for declarations.

The Premier has called on the Business Community join the fight against cross border crime because it is often the target of criminals.  Also, jewellery shops especially in Durban Shopping Malls, electronic shops and homes are often target of robberies by these syndicates.  There are reports that jewellery is being moved from South Africa into SADC and other countries. This jewellery is either redesigned and brought back to South Africa or moved to other markets.

Our fight to ensure the achieving quality healthcare for all is compromised by the smuggling of counterfeit medicines through our borders. This is one of the biggest threats facing SADC and Africa as a whole.

Organized syndicates are supplying pharmaceutical companies including government institutions with counterfeit, expired and non-regulated drugs. The syndicates run unregistered clinics and pharmacies and are also involved in exports and imports.  Throughout the SADC region there are bogus doctors, pharmacists and healers who put the lives of vulnerable people at risk.

Access to quality health care and essential medicines is needed to reduce disease and death, and enhance quality of life. Medicines are only beneficial when they are safe, of high quality, and properly distributed by qualified health professionals. Although government in SA and many governments in the SADC region have made certain drugs available free of charge, these are stolen and sold at exorbitant prices on the open market or in neighboring countries with different pricing policies.
According to the Word Health Organisation about US$ 4.1 trillion is spent globally on health services every year, with US$ 750 billion spent in the pharmaceutical market. 10 to 25% of public procurement spending (including on pharmaceuticals) is lost to corrupt practices. In developed countries, fraud and abuse in health care has been estimated to cost individual governments as much as US$ 23 billion per year.  WHO further states that countries with a higher incidence of corruption have higher child mortality rates.

Criminals have also flooded major cities across the SADC region with fake cosmetics disguised as popular brands, including skin-care products, nail polish, make-up and hair products. These products which have negative health effects are manufactured in backyard and sold at cheap prices.

The music recording industry, the movie industry and the whole entertainment sector have also been severely affected by counterfeit and cross border crime. Pirated digital DVD and CDs are sold in most cities in Africa by street vendors and small shop owners. There is a highly organized syndicate which is involved in this racket. A typical network would include producers of the DVDs and CDs in South Africa, smugglers who transport the goods from South Africa to other countries. There are facilitators at the borders posts and suppliers and marketers in destined countries.

The Premier has reiterated the importance of ensuring that law enforcement agencies are trained in order to identify counterfeit goods. More resources should also be allocated to ensure that that there is a greater awareness-raising among law enforcement agencies because even with good laws, there is very little that can be achieved in the absence of proper information.

With regards to live-stock theft, there are both small-scale as well as organized, syndicated cross-border networks in operation that target livestock.  Stock theft wipes away any possible reserves for rural people as the livestock is part of their economy.  It is estimated that 6% of livestock stolen in KZN cross the borders into neighbouring countries. The border with Lesotho is the most problematic in terms of livestock movement, followed by Swaziland. The areas most affected include Himeville, Intsikeni, Bulwer, Swartberg, Upper uThukela and Ematsheni. Much of the theft occurs at night. Mostly sheep and cattle are stolen, with lesser numbers of goats and horses. The latest crime involves donkeys that are skinned alive.

Stock theft incidents peak during the long winter nights. In the case of areas bordering Lesotho, it is believed that the rise in stock theft also coincides with the harvesting period for the marijuana crop. Rainy days are also favoured by stock thieves presumably because of the lower risk of detection in inclement weather.
 Researchers have highlighted the difficulty of policing against stock theft in the Drakensberg where cross-border stock thieves operate. In these remote areas, basic necessities are not readily available to police members who are posted there and the experience for them is an extremely frustrating and lonely one. Moreover, it is also an incredibly physically challenging location with long hours spent in the fields lying in wait for stock thieves.

Police officers working in such harsh environments suffer from persistent colds, pneumonia, TB and the flu. The recovery of stolen stock is usually not accompanied by arrests since stock thieves are typically young, fit and agile and are seldom caught. Significant cattle-farming areas such as Bergville, Winterton and Underberg, which are close to the Lesotho border, have such a topography that is extremely difficult to police.

It is however encouraging that during financial year 2011/12 anti-crime efforts put in place by government to deal with cross-border crime resulted in the confiscation of contraband to the value of more than R16 million (US$2.1-million). It included 7 593kg of dagga and 453kg of copper.

The provincial government is pleased with the support from the department of international relations and co-operation.  This support will ensure that there is cooperation between law enforcement agencies of neighboring countries.  There are issues ranging from judicial harmonisation, the development of standardised regulations, ‘rules of origin’ for goods, proper processing procedures, the criminal conviction of offenders, to training standards, the utilisation, availability and affordability of technology and the implementation of open and simple channels for communication.

Premier has also emphasized the importance of developing a shared information database that should be available to all. Such database must include information such as those wanted for arrest or under surveillance for a (suspected) extraditable offence, or even non-admissible migrants.

Moving forward, the emphasis will also be on turn-around strategies to ensure adequate supply of personnel, training and resources. All of this is crucial for not only for border control, policing and protection of the borderline, but also for immigration (movement of people) and customs and excise (inspection of goods).

 

By Ndabezinhle Sibiya
Spokesperson for KwaZulu-Natal Premier

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