A Police Ministry intervention to curb extortion rackets in Cape Town has recorded significant progress in clamping down on the crime.
The intervention by Police Minister Bheki Cele came after communities in the metropole in September last year raised the alarm around the growing phenomenon of extortion.
“At the time, the extortion rackets seemed to be targeting formal businesses such as eateries, restaurants and bars,” said Cele during a briefing on Thursday.
Upon closer investigation, Cele said it became apparent that criminals were also not sparing informal businesses, the transport industry and construction sites.
Crimes committed by the ring included kidnapping and extorting residents and workers coming from work.
“What has also becoming even more worrying is the targeting of the poor and ordinary people in the townships by these ruthless criminals. Flat owners and backyard landlords who are trying to make ends meet are not sparred,” he said.
The criminals were demanding a percentage of the rental income they receive.
Cele, in response to the outcry, engaged the provincial government, the City of Cape Town, the National Commissioner and the Provincial SAPS management.
An Extortion Priority Committee of the Provincial Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure was established to deal with the crime trend. It includes role players from the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI); the provincial office of the Premier; provincial departments and other law enforcement agencies.
Cele said while there had been teething problems in the last seven months, “commendable progress” has been made.
While 105 extortion cases have been opened since January last year, 67 cases are still under investigation. During this period, 106 people linked to extortion cases have been arrested and charged.
“While seven individuals are currently out on bail, 94 of those arrested remain in custody. Twenty of the cases were opened in Khayelitsha, while the Nyanga policing cluster recorded 13 of the cases,” said Cele.
One of the most prominent arrests was that of Shantel Reynecke, who has received stiff sentences of over 20 years for extortion, kidnapping, human trafficking and assault.
“Investigations are ongoing and we are expecting more arrests to take place. The intergraded approach and sharing of resources is [responsible for] these arrests,” Cele said.
He said the recent addition of 200 police officers, seconded from the national SAPS to Cape Town, will go along a way in assisting in the fight against crime. The brigade is expected to act as a force multiplier in violence-laden hotspots across the city.
Turning his attention to taxi violence, Cele said government is concerned by the recent erosion of the industry in the province, particularly in Cape Town.
Cele’s concerns coincide with the news of the gunning down of Victor Wiwi, the prominent leader of the CATA Taxi Association on Wednesday. Two other people were injured during the attack.
Said Cele: “In light of this and other incidents in the transport sector, we will be calling a meeting with the Transport Ministry and other relevant role players to discuss means of curbing this.”
He urged communities to work with the police and bring forward information that can assist in any way.
“It is also encouraging that the SAPS is continuing with awareness campaigns that seek to educate communities not to pay extortionists,” said the Minister.