Sicily, an autonomous region of Italy, is most infamous for organised crime and corruption. Lawlessness is the order of ordinary life. The criminal justice system is dysfunctional and as a result serious misdemeanors go unpunished. As the saying goes, “where there is no law, there is no sin”.
In Sicily, bands of organised criminals have infiltrated government structures and corrupted the system. Organised crime is a symptom of the notorious corruption that permeates almost every aspect of life in Sicily. Politicians, like everywhere else, oil the wheels of corruption in the pursuit of wealth and its preservation.
At home, political structures have been infiltrated by men of questionable virtues and convicted criminals, who are intent on controlling every sphere of government and abuse their power and influence to unjustly enrich themselves and their cronies. A large number of those in the ANC leadership have dubious records and have been implicated in one corruption scandal or another. Their innocence is of no relevance as their mere implication in corruption raises serious questions about their integrity.
It was without shock to read an article that reported a journalist, John Grobler, indicating that organised crime syndicates, including Mafia organisations, are believed to have moved their operations to South Africa. The corruption case against Shabir Shaik in 2005 exposed the susceptibility of our senior politicians to exploitation by those with criminal intent.
The dissolution of the organised crime-busting unit, the Directorate of Special Operations (known as the Scorpions) presented organised criminals with the window of opportunity to exploit the policing vacuum. The SAPS organised crime unit does not enjoy flattering compliments for combating organised crime. Former chief of Interpol and disgraced national police commissioner Jackie Selebi has been linked to the criminal underworld and admitted to have maintained close relationship with dubious characters. He went so far as aggressively defending his friendship with alleged drug kingpins.
That drugs, racketeering and prostitution remain at the centre of organised crime is no classified knowledge. The national police commissioner shocked the nation when he suggested that prostitution be legalised for the duration of the world cup in 2010 — a suggestion that is more suspicious given his relationship with people alleged to be involved in organised crime.
In 1998, the SAPS estimated that there were a number of “extremely well financed and superbly armed” crime syndicates operating in and from South Africa. It is common that during periods of political transition, organised crime syndicates take advantage of the situation, primarily because the attention of government is disrupted by political squabbles and uncertainty.
This happened during the collapse of the Soviet Union, which signaled the proliferation of criminal organisations. Victor Bout – the notorious arms trader nicknamed the “merchant of death” — supplied arms to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and rebels in Africa. He ceased the opportunity after the collapse of the Soviet Union to exploit the existence of arms embargos against certain countries and supplied them with arms.
Nigerian organised crime syndicates already operate in the country. Foreign nationals have been lured to the country with promises of lucrative investment opportunities, only to be kidnapped on arrival and ransom demands made. The Russian and Italian mafia, including the Chinese Triads, are reported to be operating in the country and some investing in legitimate businesses, which are used for money laundering activities.
South Africa faces a serious crime problem and this problem becomes even more serious when those charged with the task of eradicating criminality from society, are themselves tainted in corruption and other forms of crime. Police officers are continuously implicated in acts of bribery and corruption; the justice system appears overwhelmed and incapable of adequately dealing with criminal cases of such serious magnitude; our prisons filled beyond capacity and there is general disregard for the rule of law by criminals. Given the weak political opposition in the country and the culture of lawlessness, accountability against questionable characters likely to be in government post 2009 may just prove hard to come by.