South African gangs declare truce as lockdown stifles drug trade

Although it is suspected that many criminals have now turned to the black market trade of cigarettes and alcohol.
Pedestrians walk along a sidewalk in the CBD of Johannesburg during lockdown. Image: Bloomberg

Gangs in South Africa, which has one of the world’s highest homicide rates, have agreed to a cease-fire during a nationwide lockdown that’s caused a slump in narcotics supply and demand — with an unprecedented drop in murders as a result.

A network of gang leaders across the country’s nine provinces, known as the Council, have made funds available to members of the groups until June so they can feed their families during the shutdown, which aims to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, said Welcome Witbooi, a former gang member who mediates between gangs, local communities and the police in the Western Cape province.

“When our government announced the lockdown regulations, everyone started panicking about health but also about business prospects,” Witbooi said in an interview. “We had a meeting with the Council and with them we decided to put out a national call to all gangs to cease fire.”

Some gangs are even trying to “rebuild the relationship with the community” and are handing out food parcels to residents, he said.

South Africa’s lockdown, which started March 27 and is due to last until the end of April, is among the strictest in the world. Dog-walking as well as alcohol and cigarette sales are prohibited, planes are grounded and most land and seaports have closed. That’s not only slashed demand for drugs but all but halted business with the Serbian, Chinese and Nigerian criminal networks that South African gangs usually work with, according to Witbooi.

Heroin trafficking

Cape Town, the main city in the Western Cape province, is South Africa’s epicentre of gang activity and a key conduit for heroin trafficking, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime. Gangs are also involved in human trafficking, protection rackets and trade in other drugs including crystal meth. The heroin trade alone is estimated to be worth at least $260 million a year.

South Africa has Africa’s highest murder rate, with an average of more than 50 people killed each day, and has consistently ranked among the 10 most violent countries in the world. Gangs were blamed for many of the 3 974 murders recorded in the Western Cape province in the 12 months through March last year and the army was deployed to curb a surge in killings. In normal times, the province’s murder rate is about 58 per 100 000 people, compared with a national average of 36, according to police data.

Today, the national homicide rate has dropped dramatically. Murders declined 71% in the week after the restrictions were imposed, to 94 from 326 in the same period last year, Police Minister Bheki Cele said April 5. Cases of assault with intention to inflict grievous bodily harm plunged 83%, to 456 from 2 673 last year. Cele has credited the liquor ban with bringing crime down and says he would like to extend it.

While it’s positive that there are fewer killings, criminal networks have almost certainly switched to a thriving black-market trade in cigarettes and alcohol, according to Andrew Whitfield, the opposition Democratic Alliance party’s shadow police minister.

“There’s a lot of money to be made for the gangs during the lockdown,” said Whitfield, whose party governs the Western Cape province. “It’s a lot easier for gangs or organised crime to bolster their coffers from the illicit trade than it is to go out and shoot at each other — just because there is a big police and army presence in the streets.”

‘Ton of bricks’

Police spokesman Vish Naidoo declined to comment saying the crime data speak for itself.

“No one will pick up a firearm now and shoot a rival gang member because they know that the Council is very strict when they impose something like this and will come down on you like a ton of bricks,” Witbooi said, adding that the truce may not hold beyond June. “So it’s like one day you are helping the community and the next day you are killing the community.”

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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So after the lockdown its lock and load again.

“A network of gang leaders across the country’s nine provinces, known as the Council, have made funds available to members of the groups until June so they can feed their families….”
This says it all! So the unions control the economy … and the gangs control the streets.

“Some gangs are even trying to “rebuild the relationship with the community” and are handing out food parcels to residents, he said.”

Ah, adopting the ole South-American business model there, it seems.

I’ve been wondering how the Nigerian coke dealers in Joburg are doing during this lockdown.

Just cleaning their illegal guns and sharpening the knives. 1 May business as usual, 50 murders a day, it is what they do.

How magnanimous of them – the kind of article that makes a decent person’s blood boil. Who cares, these characters are vermin that should be exterminated not publicised as though they are doing something positive. This was a poor editorial decision made without thought to the millions people whose lives are blighted by organized crime. I would suggest that you remove this offensive article immediately if you have any sense of decency.

Pity – they thin each other’s ranks. BTW 50 killings in SA PER DAY and business as usual and COVID-19 deaths at 54 and the whole world is shut down. WTAF

Numbers seriously don’t add up and people in general are not questioning who is at the helm of this worldwide LOCKDOWN Pandemic?
Majority seem to have fallen for the Fear Mongering and Spin Doctoring …
This World is doomed either with or without COVID-19!

So who green-lighted the hit on William Booth, because that was done during lock down – I trust that they will feel the ton of bricks that is mentioned in the article and that we are updated with same enthusiasm with which this article was written…

If the ‘council’ decides on when to trade/traffic/smuggle, and it’s so simple to switch this behaviour on or off, why has the police never dealt with these decision makers effectively? We are always reminded of the head of the snake that need to be chopped off. Is this not the head of the snake?

This type of sensationalist article should not have been published. You cannot put any positive spin on gangsters or drugs. 50 murders per day, it is more of a crisis than Covid? The same energy put behind the lockdown should be redirected here after 01 May.

So now we suddenly have almost real time crime stats when there is an apparent decrease in crime…

What blows my mind is the police and army raiding businesses, homes and vehicles for cigarettes, yet these known criminals are left free. Makes one wonder how much integrity resides within our police and army or government. Truly shocking and very very disturbing.

Raiding homes and vehicles. Cute. Like a vehicle transporting hundreds of cartoons is personal property and for personal consumption. Cute. Bet you also love to loan when they are ineffective.

End of comments.

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