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Strategic organized crime risk assessment: South Africa


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Strategic organized crime risk assessment: South Africa

22nd September 2022


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Organized crime is an existential threat to South Africa’s democratic institutions, economy and people. It often lies behind and connects numerous seemingly disparate criminal incidents we see occurring in South Africa every day.

The recent mass shootings in taverns across the country or the horrific gang rapes in an illegal mining community on the West Rand; continual outbreaks of violence at taxi ranks; shop owners threatened at gunpoint; the assassinations of whistle-blowers, police detectives, gangsters and game rangers: these incidents are not as random or isolated as they may at first appear. Below the surface, and often not immediately perceptible in each individual incident, is a dark web: a criminal ecosystem that links many of these countless criminal acts, which need to be understood as the manifestations of an escalating set of problems, driven by South Africa’s increasingly sophisticated, violent underworld economy.


These overlaying illicit economies – and the multiple actors involved in them – are evolving faster than day-to-day analysis allows. Our objective here has therefore been to step back, take a strategic perspective of South Africa’s illicit markets to better understand their implications for the country. A strategic understanding of the nature and risk of organized crime in South Africa is an essential starting point to making sense of it and disrupting it effectively. In order to do so, an understanding of the harms caused by organized crime is paramount. Organized crime harms South Africa in many ways besides the terrible losses inflicted on the individual victims and their families. It also harms communities, society, democratic institutions and the economy.

The purpose of this Risk Assessment of organized crime in South Africa is, firstly, to provide the strategic information needed to catalyze strategic action to tackle this threat. This document brings together a comprehensive account of South Africa’s criminal economy. Compiled by an expert group, it provides detailed analysis of 15 embedded, interconnected criminal markets that we have identified as the most threatening to South Africa’s democratic project since the transition.


Secondly, it serves as a call to action. If South Africa’s future is not to be increasingly unstable, a more strategic response to organized crime is needed urgently. Policymakers from a wide variety of areas need to come round to accepting the real threat of organized crime, and they need to act swiftly. The consequences of not acting strategically and with a sense of unity and purpose are too troubling to imagine. Left unchecked, organized crime and its associated illicit markets will continue to inflict serious harms.

South Africa’s criminal ecosystem is complex and evolving. It impacts the lives of millions, together with the country’s economic health, and ultimately its political and democratic integrity too. The state’s law enforcement responses to date have failed to check the expansion and evolution of organized crime.

But it is not an insurmountable challenge: the problem can be tackled. With the right leadership, long-term strategic vision and resources, and with a systemic institutional overhaul of it's crime-fighting agencies, South Africa can and will defeat organized crime.

Report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime


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