The scene of the cash-in-transit heist that took place in Boksburg. Research by Unisa’s Dr Hennie Lochner indicates that police have long lost the fight against the heist scourge. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency/ANA

Johannesburg - The cash-in-transit vehicles crime is part of a very sophisticated underworld propelled by a corrupt justice system, greed for a posh lifestyle, deceitful traditional healers and thugs who easily kill one another.

Dr Hennie Lochner, a senior lecturer in forensic and criminal investigation science at Unisa in Pretoria, who did extensive research interviewing 21 convicted robbers, believes that police have long lost the fight against the scourge of heists.

Lochner, who is also a former police detective, said robbers were far too advanced in executing these crimes, leaving the police with no alternative but to use informants as the only means to curb it.

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“Police need to go back to the drawing board. The robbers are the most dangerous people in the South African criminal underworld. What makes them dangerous is their psyche that tells them that the money in the cash vans belongs to them and they will protect their money in any way necessary,” said Lochner.

On Thursday, a group of more than 10 gunmen carried out a daring and brazen robbery when they pounced on two cash vans in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni.

They took positions on the Atlas and North Rand intersection before bombing both vehicles and shooting at the guards, injuring four of them. The gun exchange, which was caught on camera, lasted about two minutes before they fled with an undisclosed amount of money.

Police cornered and arrested seven of them on the M2 and at George Gogh Hostel.

“That heist was well planned and possibly all of them were involved in robberies before.

“You can see from the manner in which they operated. They were brave and each one of them stuck to the instructions.

“The police can use agents and informers to infiltrate the industry. Are you telling me that the SAPS does not have the capability to infiltrate the gangs? There are approximately 200 robbers that are actively carrying out heists in SA and it still boggles my mind how 200 people can infiltrate 146000 SAPS officers but police can’t do the same,” said Lochner.

“Perhaps the problem lies with the crooked criminal justice system that has opened itself to bribes from gangs,” he said.

“In every heist, there are always people of the criminal justice system involved. These are the police, lawyers, magistrates, prosecutors and the metro police. They use specific lawyers and their modus operandi is to inform lawyers when and where the next robbery will take place.

“Lawyers are paid in advance and get told to be at a specific area or town where the robbery will happen,” he explained.

“This is to ensure that should there be an arrest, they will have a lawyer immediately available to bail them out in court. Magistrates are paid by the family of the accused to grant bail while prosecutors and police get bribed to destroy the evidence.”

In cases where bribes are rejected, eliminating key witnesses becomes the alternative option. Muthi is a big part of gangs and they normally use a few selected sangomas they trust.

With the heist specialist gangs comprising about 200 individuals, assembling a team for a hit is usually done through word of mouth and individuals are normally hand-picked based on their bravery and other unique skills such as the ability to drive fast cars and precision in using high calibre firearms. The actual planning can take up to five months to a year depending on the risks involved.

“A leader is picked according to the amount of information they have about a planned heist. They know each other and they rotate recruits, hence you will never find the same group executing two different jobs. They do not contact each other after the job. They go their separate ways until someone spots another target and then they regroup with new recruits. They easily kill each other during the execution of the crime if they suspect that one of them is a liability,” Lochner said.

Typical robbers were people who started committing petty crimes and progressed to serious crimes that afforded them a life of luxury. They spent their spoils on women and expensive prostitutes they travelled the world with. Some of the money was splashed on clothes, buying property and second-hand expensive cars to avoid banks. Some send their children to study overseas.

“Today’s robber is an ordinary man that will stand next to you at a shop when you are buying a drink. You will buy a 2l and he will buy 10 of them. The heist crime is reserved for elite criminals,” Lochner said.

The Star