South Africa

From drugs to avocados – South Africa’s organised crime scourge

South Africa has seen an increase and expansion of organised crime in the past decade as more sectors of the economy have become targets.

Crime analyst Dr Chris De Kock told Newzroom Afrika that organised crime, in all its various forms, is on the increase.

De Kock’s comments come in light of two drug busts – one R80 million and another R70 million – in KwaZulu-Natal in the same week.

He said the drug trade in South Africa has been a problem for decades. 

According to the 2023 Global Organised Crime Index, South Africa has become a key player in the global cocaine trade, with a growing domestic market and connections to Europe, Hong Kong and Australia.

“Most of the cocaine comes in shipping containers from Brazil and then transits through South Africa to other destinations,” he said.

“The country’s high-level police corruption, excellent transport infrastructure and resource shortages in drug control facilitate the transit of the drug.”

De Kock also spoke to the presence of corruption in facilitating the actions of South Africa’s organised crime groups, saying it can be present at every level.

“This includes the police force, officials at our harbours, and officials at our airports,” he said. 

“Corruption can permeate throughout, and individuals involved in organized crime can offer substantial sums of money to officials.” 

South Africa’s organised drug trade is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and this financial scale allows those involved to easily place significant amounts of money in front of officials, encouraging them to turn a blind eye to illegal activities.

Fannie Masemola, National Police Commissioner

However, this is not only the case for the illicit drug trade but can be found in all kinds of organised crime, including new emerging syndicates. 

Organised crime has spread to various sectors of the country, including construction and even agriculture.

Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Sihle Zikalala recently revealed that construction mafias cost the economy around R68 billion.

This is because these mafias delay construction projects, and, in some cases, companies have been forced to withdraw from projects.

MDA Attorneys director Euan Massey defined construction mafias as organisations that go to construction sites and extort money from contractors, subcontractors, and developers.

They do so on the premise that there is a legislative requirement – set out in the Preferential Procurement Regulations – that 30% of public sector projects must be subcontracted to local participants.

A Fruitnet report has also found that South African avocado producers in the north are concerned over increased incidents of theft from farms that are causing great losses.

However, the problem is not restricted to avocados, with the macadamia industry also claiming big losses.

“These people, run by skilled criminals, have realised that they can make money out of avocados and supply smaller traders who either sell along the country’s roads or supply others who may even pack fruit and supply wholesale markets,” the report found.

Farmer’s Weekly has also reported that both the avocado and macadamia industries have suffered huge losses of $1.7 million and$11.2 million, respectively.

“Increasing popularity and profitability of the two products has been both rewarding and created difficulties for farmers,” the publication reported. 

“As incidents of theft have gone rampant in recent years, farmers don’t know how to respond.”

De Kock said more investment in intelligence and investigation is crucial to address this problem. 

However, this could be more easily said than done, as the country is currently grappling with a significant shortage of detectives, with less than 18,000 detectives across the country.


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