South Africa is undergoing yet another spate of daring Cash-In-Transit Heists (CIT). If ever the publication date of a book was fortuitously timed, Heist! by Anneliese Burgess is it.
When Burgess started writing the book at the end of 2016, the perception then was that the phenomenon of CIT heists had been brought under control and was no longer a significant crime issue. (As at 6 June, there have been 159 cash-in-transit heists (CIT) in 2018, a marked increase over the same period last year).
She suggests that: “CIT heists have been commonplace for so long, that they mostly don’t even make a blip on our collective radar. They happen. They are noted. And then they silently slide into some or other statistical crime bucket.”
From the horror of the 2006 Villa Nora heist, in which four security guards were burnt alive in their armoured vehicle after a ferocious fight-back against highly trained mercenaries, to the 2014 robbery of a cash centre in Witbank, where a gang made off with almost R104 million after impersonating police officers – the book provides a richly-detailed expose of a topical crime phenomenon.
Using the information gleaned from thousands of pages of court documents and press reports, as well as interviews with police officers, crime intelligence agents, prosecutors, defence lawyers, researchers, journalists, security guards and the criminals themselves, Heist! Provides unprecedented insight into a crime that increased by a staggering 49% in the first eight months of 2017 alone.
She has broken the big issue down into series of interlinking, smaller stories looking at ten individual heists over two decades – a tiny but carefully selected sample from a sea of cases.
With the huge amounts of cash involved, CIT is a crime ‘that is planned and perpetrated by networks of experienced and hardened criminals, aided and abetted by law enforcement officers and security company employees. It shows an astonishing brazenness: how criminals operate without fear of being caught; how they solicit investments to buy in expertise, and pay off lawyers, court officials and high-ranking police officers. Cash heists are about greed, not need and avarice turns people into monsters.’
Heist! is not the most pleasant of reads, nor because of its subject matter should it be. The book makes for a disturbing, engrossing and important read. CIT crime is a complex issue with “more than its share of unpleasant truths.” The narrative that takes one into the engine-room of a CIT heist gang, is fascinating in its detail and mind-blowing. For me it is the most powerful part of Heist! and huge praise must go to Anneliese Burgess for this privileged insight.
The book’s final chapter, Dirty little secrets, is a fitting climax to an extraordinary book, it is eye-opening, gasp-inducing stuff and it ends with a glimmer of hope…personnel changes that have been made at Crime Intelligence and at SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority ‘starting to make gurgling noises – a sign that it might come out of its politics-induced coma. All this is good news, because, without a new approach to organised crime, the gangs will keep on winning.’