A Fidelity cash van is destroyed after a robbery. There have been 29 heists countrywide last month alone. SUPPLIED
A Fidelity cash van is destroyed after a robbery. There have been 29 heists countrywide last month alone. SUPPLIED

Inside the beating heart of the cash-in-transit industry

By Robin Adams Time of article published Oct 10, 2021

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A Fidelity cash van is destroyed after a robbery. There have been 29 heists countrywide last month alone. SUPPLIED
’Joe’ (right), a senior cash guard, opens up to Weekend Argus about his risky line of work. Fourteen guards have been killed on duty in South Africa since the start of the year.

The next time you head to an ATM, punch in your pin, draw your cash, and casually walk away, give some thought to the arduous journey that money has taken to get to your wallet.

It’s a thankless job for the guards in armoured vehicles who make the trips, sometimes through life and death situations, to top up the cash supply at your neighbourhood ATM.

They are also responsible for the money at pension payout points and retail outlets.

Cash-in-transit heists have become so common in South Africa, with daily shootings and bombings, that security experts are calling it an epidemic.

Last year was a particularly bad one for the industry.

At the start of 2020, there was nearly one heist per day.

In many cases, the armoured vehicles were bombed.

This year's figures also make for grim reading.

*29 heists nationwide in September alone

*7 robberies so far in October

*14 cash guards were killed on duty since January 1

Grant Clark from the Cash In Transit Association of South Africa (Citasa) called it “unacceptable” and said “one life lost, is one too many”.

Gauteng accounts for the most number of attacks, followed by the Eastern Cape, and then Mpumalanga.

But just this week, police foiled a heist attempt in Cape Town.

Cash guards, despite their extensive training, state-of-the-art vehicles, and accompanying air support, know they are the targets of sophisticated syndicates.

Guards are aware that theirs is one of the riskiest jobs in the world.

Still, there are at least 7 000 directly involved in cash deliveries and collection and are the beating heart of this multi-billion rand industry.

Joe (not his real name to protect his identity), a senior employee with Fidelity Cash Solutions, is one of these brave souls who puts himself in harm’s way every single day.

He said it puts food on the table for his family.

Joe, 47, has been in this particularly risky line of work for nearly two decades.

Every morning he says goodbye to his wife and three children, unsure that he’ll return to them at the end of his shift.

“I start with a prayer every day. I appreciate that I have seen them and hopefully I will see them tonight when I come back.”

Joe added that his wife is “very scared, but very supportive without her I would not have been strong all these years”.

“And that is why I am encouraged to go and work for my family,” he added.

Joe is a relief custodian.

So he’s the man who carries the boxes between the security vehicle and cash points.

His guardian angels must be smiling down on him, because he has not been a victim of cash-in-transit heists for his entire 13-year stay with Fidelity.

But some of his fellow guards have not been so lucky.

“I have lost some colleagues. I have had to visit those who have been victims of robberies in hospital. It is a painful journey.”

Fidelity’s chief executive Wahl Baartmann has around 50 000 guards on his books.

He said he dreaded getting the news about robbery incidents.

“The call normally comes from a certain number, immediately you move into a different mode.

“My first question is always – is the staff okay?

“It’s not a good call to get, and to get information about staff being trapped in the vehicle, or bombed, or shot,” said Baartmann.

Another cash-in-transit guard who spoke to Weekend Argus on condition of anonymity, recalled an attack on his team by heavily armed men who sprayed their armoured vehicle with bullets.

The criminals made off with several boxes of cash. He lay on the ground shot.

“My life flashed before my eyes.

“I was having parting conversations with my loved ones in my mind.

“I had meaningful conversations with my wife, my mother, with my God.

“I thought, if these are my last few moments on earth, let me spend it with them even though they are not present.

“And I made things right with the people I owed apologies to,” he said.

The guard was rushed to hospital.

Miraculously, he survived.

Reflecting on the incident and the psyche of the robbers, he added: “I understand that everyone has financial problems, and there is the temptation of easy money.

“You see the solution to all your problems in front of you every day, even if it is not yours.”

He said his company trucks transport between R4 million and R6m per vehicle per day, and that figure swells to R10m at the end of the month.

“And you do have banks who deposit even bigger amounts,” the guard said.

Latest crime figures show a decrease in cash-in-transit robberies.

Brigadier Vish Naidoo from the South African Police Service said: “The rate of cash-in-transit heists has gone down substantially because of the interventions that we have put in place.

“It doesn’t mean that the number has gone down, we must relax. We can’t relax.”

Baartmann also praised the success of Fidelity’s “informer network” in helping reduce attacks.

“We have individuals in a lot of the areas, we have an anonymous tip-off line where people can report anything.

“We also compensate people for accurate information.

“And between the different (CIT) companies, we share intelligence information and respond accordingly.”

Citasa noted a nearly 40% decrease in heists in August, with Clark saying it was thanks in large part to a change in police shift patterns.

But a downturn in attacks comes as “cold comfort” to the wife of a long-time guard, who opened up about her fears.

“My husband is dedicated to the job. But it is very risky. It is a worry for me every day,” she said, asking to remain anonymous.

“My husband was shot during a robbery.

“It was horrible. The fact that you know your husband went to work this morning, you said your goodbyes, and now you hear that your husband has been shot. It was hectic.

“It was a changing point in my life, thinking that I would never see my husband again.”

Her husband escaped with his life.

Christmas is around the corner.

The festive season generally means an increase in crime around the country.

CIT companies say they are deploying more resources to fight off potential attacks.

Renso Smit, Regional Cluster Director for G4S Southern Africa said: “G4S is constantly investing in operational systems, technology and training, which includes deploying in-vehicle technologies.

“We have also increased our tactical support teams and we are constantly shifting our delivery schedules and routes to ensure we are always a step ahead of the criminals perpetrating these crimes.”

The other major company in the cash services game is SBV.

They’ve been around for 35 years.

Chief executive Mark Barrett has urged the public to play their part in ensuring a safer “silly season”.

“Our cash-in-transit employees work under extreme pressure as they are required to be alert to any potential risks while ensuring the safety of people and assets when moving money and servicing a site,” he said.

“Given the increased rate of cash-in-transit heists during the festive season, we appeal to the public not to approach CIT officers and to avoid asking officers questions.

“We also appeal to the public to avoid blocking the route to cash machines with trolleys or prams.

“This is both for the safety of the public and our employees.”

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