Police investigate a cash-in-transit heist in Hyde Park, Johannesburg, in 2011. Picture: THE TIMES
Police investigate a cash-in-transit heist in Hyde Park, Johannesburg, in 2011. Picture: THE TIMES

HEIST!: South Africa's Cash-in-Transit Epidemic Uncovered
Anneliese Burgess
Penguin Random House South Africa

There was a time not too long ago when cash-in-transit heists were no longer in the news as this kind of crime had been brought under control. At their peak in 2006, the police reported 467 cases, but this number dropped dramatically in later years.

However, a new and vicious strain of the crime began to increase over the past two years. The public is a loss as to what causeis  and what the cure could be.

The police reported in its crime statistics published in September that there was a 57% increase in cash-in-transit heists between April 2017 and March 2018, with 238 cases being reported, compared with 152 between April 2016 and March 2017.

The SA Banking Risk Information Centre said in Septembert hat it had recorded 152 cash-in-transit heists at that point in 2018 alone.

Heist!, published earlier in 2018 by Anneliese Burgess, takes an in-depth look at this crime epidemic and tries to get answers on how to curb it.

Burgess examines 10 of the nearly 6,000 cash-in-transit heists reported between 1996 and 2017.

There was the daring cash depot robbery in Witbank in 2014 when more than R100m was stolen, a heist at the Johannesburg International Airport in 2006, and a horrific one gone wrong — the van was burnt and but the R1.76m it was carrying remained untouched by the robbers.

The book examines the factors that led to the rise in these crimes, such as police involvement in heists, the failure of police crime intelligence to detect the gangs planning the crimes, and the proliferation of illegal guns in SA.

Burgess writes that sophisticated criminal gangs perpetrate most of the cash-in-transit robberies. They invest money in their operations,  paying hijackers to source vehicles to be used in the heists and paying underworld gun merchants to source the right firearms. Money is also set aside to bribe police officers and justice officials. 

In the 10 heists dealt with in her book, Burgess says the criminals stole a staggering R465m, of which only R33m was recovered.

She identifies new strains of vehicle-on-road attacks that have recently emerged. Gangs attacking cash vans have added commercial explosives to their already lethal arsenal of ramming vehicles and high-powered automatic firearms.

Burgess says there has also been a huge increase in cross-pavement robberies, which result mostly in cash losses and no arrests.

Frustrated investigators say in the book few arrests are made of these criminals and even fewer successful prosecutions. Burgess shows that corrupt policemen help in some of the cash-in-transit robberies. Of the 10 cases she covers, the police have been involved in seven.

In one the heists, police officers helped to transport guns and ammunition to the heist, and ferried gang members through the  roadblocks that sprang up afterwards.

Burgess says that police crime intelligence took its eyes off the ball  fighting organised crime — as it  waged battles with political agendas.

All hope is not lost, though. Burgess spoke to experts who suggest ways to curb this crime, which include improving the criminal justice system and ensuring that those arrested are successfully prosecuted.