Organised crime is a little understood phenomenon in newly democratic South Africa. Public attention has been focused on other, more visible areas of criminality, and the South African Police Service (SAPS) has only recently begun to counter the problem. Yet, organised crime has grown dramatically since the transition to democracy began in the country in 1990.
The growth in organised crime has caught South African law enforcement agencies unprepared. The policing agencies of the South African state are struggling to make the conversion from authoritarian control to democratic forms of policing. The SAPS and other state law enforcement institutions do not yet have the resources or technical expertise to cope adequately with organised crime. Given that organised crime was never a priority under apartheid rule indeed, there is evidence that local criminal gangs were used to disrupt the activities of pro-democracy activists it is now difficult to measure the extent of its growth since 1990.
Current (although tentative) estimates indicate that organised crime has doubled under the new government. SAPS strategic estimates suggest that there are currently a number of "extremely well financed and superbly armed" crime syndicates operating in and from South Africa.1 According to SAPS organised crime officers, almost half of these operations are based in and around Johannesburg.
Mark Shaw, Safety and Governance Programme, Institute for Security Studies