City of Cape Town takes on extortion mafia, spending millions on security

The City of Cape Town says it is spending millions on security to combat the extortion mafia. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Extortion is a trending crime that has impacted construction projects nationally. Cape Town is beefing up security and offering rewards for tip-offs.

The City of Cape Town (CoCT) launched an anti-extortion campaign aimed at fighting organised crime groups that target the construction industry and small businesses.

The launch took place on Thursday, 12 October, in Khayelitsha at the construction site of what will be a MyCiti depot, which had been affected by extortion. “We know that this is a national issue, but we are seeing a huge spike in extortion efforts in the City of Cape Town, particularly on our construction sites impacting not only construction sites but also on our basic services,” said Cape Town mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis.

Last week Gugulethu was the latest area in Cape Town where the city had to withdraw refuse collection staff due to threats of attack unless the city pays protection fees. Services have since been reinstated. “It is a very difficult problem to solve. It is very difficult, because the problem is disperse. It occurs at sites from a waste collection truck to the smallest of construction sites around the city. It is not possible to protect all of those sites with armies of armed security,” said Hill-Lewis.

The mayor added that another reason that makes this problem difficult to solve is that “people naturally and understandably feel afraid to report the crime. They are threatened by the extortionists themselves”.

Comprehensive guides have been sent out to all CoCT councillors on how to identify extortionists when approached by them. “We have sent out a useful guide of the way that extortion conversations usually start. They often start with ‘councillor you know this project really should have our teams working on it’. And what sounds like an innocuous conversation, ends up escalating into a threatening situation and full-on extortion,” added Hill-Lewis.

The city has also made amendments to their construction contracts, which now state that contractors may not claim construction delays unless the matter has been reported to the South African Police Services (SAPS).

Enough is Enough

“We are calling on every resident in our city to help us stop and fight back against extortion,” said the mayor. “We are sending out the message: extortion attempts shut down service delivery, it steals services and infrastructure from the people who need it most.”

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The anti-extortion campaign is called ‘Enough. Genoeg. Kwanele’. Residents can send anonymous tip offs 24/7 on 0800 00 6992 or via email SSIMS.SSIUReporting@capetown.gov.za. Rewards are offered.

 The CoCT has an R11-billion infrastructure budget for the year 2023. 73% of that budget, the city claims is going to the poorest communities.

“Sadly, some of those construction sites have come to a halt. Our very biggest housing project, 3,000 units at Delft Symphony Way, there’s currently no construction happening there,” said Hill-Lewis. “In fact, we’ve put out a contract for the repair and rehabilitation of Delft main road and we did not even get a contractor applying for the tender, because they do not want to work in Delft … because of security concerns.”

A 2022 report by Global Initiative on the construction mafia reveals that there are strong links between some of the business forums who are involved in extortion, elements within the mass-transit taxi industry, and certain political players. Last week, the Western Cape police commissioner, Lieutenant General Thembisile Patekile told reporters that there are links between the extortion gangs in Cape Town and the taxi industry.

The report by Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane also found that the response by the state to the extortion mafia has been weak and that it is small enterprises that have been damaged the most as they lack the resources to deal with the construction mafia. “The damage caused by the business forums has not only resulted in delays in the delivery of a number of important infrastructure projects, but also contributed to the demise of a number of businesses,” reads the report.

The Cape Town’s mayor at the launch of the anti-extortion campaign in Khayelitsha on Thursday. Photo by Mzi Velapi

SAPS has made great progress in the kidnapping task team, however the extortion task team has struggled, according to Jean-Pierre ‘JP’ Smith, MEC for safety and security. “Where we are failing though is with the intelligence side. We are not doing enough on the crime intelligence side. This is a battle against organised and syndicated resources, it’s not a battle against people who casually wake up one morning and decide they are going to do this. These are syndicates who work the scene and therefore we need an intelligence driven approach […] We are going to continue to apply pressure on SAPS to advance that side of it,” said Smith.

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“71% of the detectives
do not have informants.”

Department of Police Oversight
and Community Safety

In 2019, Elitsha reported on the dire state of the SAPS detective services based on a report by the Department of Police Oversight and Community Safety in the Western Cape. The report divulged that detectives are under-resourced, lack training and that their work is not guided by intelligence. “Many detectives have not received the adequate specialised training to investigate the organised and gang-related crime which runs rampant in the province,” reads the report.

During a press conference last week the police minister told reporters that they are on a recruitment drive to boost the number of detectives in the service.

Safer Festive Season

Meanwhile, SAPS launched a ‘Safer Festive Season Operations’ campaign at Khayelitsha rugby stadium, with Minister of Police, Bheki Cele in attendance.

The K9 Unit at the Safer Festive Season launch at Khayelitsha Stadium on Friday. Photo by Asive Mabula

The launch spoke to the readiness of police for the festive season, 36 new police vehicles, and new police graduates who will be going into the police force.

“An operational plan has been developed. It looks into visible policing [where] members are deployed at identified hotspots. It also looks into the investigation of cases that are open, whether it is pickpocketing, shoplifting or to more serious crimes such as murder, extortion and aggravated robbery,” said Brigadier Novela Potelwa, head of communications at SAPS.

Potelwa added that police detectives are in place to investigate all cases that are reported. “On a provincial level, there are monitoring mechanisms to make sure that all cases receive the priority they deserve,” added Potelwa.

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