Sars report confirms OR Tambo syndicates
An internal report on the perilous state of security at OR Tambo International Airport which was leaked to the media this week, blows apart recent assurances by airport authorities that criminal syndicates are not operating there.
The confidential memorandum by the SA Revenue Service states that since January last year, police have investigated 400 cases of victims - mainly Nigerian nationals - followed home from the airport and robbed outside their destinations.
The document also reports that the SA Police Service is "in denial" about the existence of criminal syndicates at the airport and that the police do not have an effective crime prevention strategy.
The Border Control Operational Co-ordinating Committee (BCOCC), which includes the Airports Company of SA (Acsa), Sars and police, last week vehemently denied any suggestion that organised criminals were operating at the airport, instead describing the litany of robberies involving airport travellers as "random" and opportunistic".
But the leaking of the Sars report, ostensibly by a Sars employee, to Talk Radio 702 has seen authorities scrambling to find the whistleblower. The revenue service announced it had launched an investigation to discover who leaked the report.
Already on Tuesday, signs were emerging of a fracture in the BCOCC when Monhla Hlahla, Acsa's chief executive, conceded "there is a problem at OR Tambo" and that the possibility of armed robbery syndicates could not be ruled out.
Last week, Weekend Argus reported how Kenya, Australia, New Zealand the US were advising their nationals to be vigilant at the airport because of gangs operating there.
For many ordinary South Africans, the memorandum, compiled by Sars investigators, who are part of the provincial task team created to deal with crime at the airport, confirms what they had suspected to be true. The memo, according to 702, states the police have investigated 435 cases at the airport since January last year.
It states there is a "lack of intelligence" about what's happening on the ground at the airport. According to the report, police have arrested 78 suspects, two of whom have been convicted, for their roles in the airport crime.
The statistics show around 230 cases relate to domestic arrivals while about 120 are linked to international passengers. Of the international travellers affected, only half of those made declarations to customs, according to 702.
But police national spokesperson Vish Naidu and Solomon Makgale of Acsa have denied the report's existence. Naidoo told 702 he doubted the authenticity of the memo, adding that "until he's set eyes on it, it does not exist".
Makgale said: "We are aware of the allegations contained in the memorandum but we don't have a copy of the report and can't comment on its existence."
But the response of Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay was more revealing: "Sars is involved in investigations that relate to claims of corruption among Sars customs officials.
"In this regard, Sars investigators would generate internal reports to inform our risk mitigation and anti-corruption work. Any such report is meant for internal use to inform Sars discussions, decisions and interventions," explained Lackay, who added he had not seen the memorandum.
The memorandum also highlights how frequently Nigerian citizens fall prey to airport robbery attacks, a fact Chuks Eresia-Ike, spokesman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation, knows all too well.
Last September, Eresia-Ike, a lecturer in business management at the University of Pretoria, and his pregnant wife and child were ambushed after arriving from the airport at their Fourways home.
"When we pulled up at our gate, three people jumped out of a car behind us. They asked: 'Is this number 28?' Before we had a chance to respond, they said: 'OK, this is a robbery.' They took everything," he recalled.
He said Nigerian citizens were on high alert about being targeted at the airport and had been lobbying their government to warn citizens that "OR Tambo is a high-risk airport".
"There is a big concern among Nigerians. We know these robbers are targeting us. It's because Nigeria is the cash economy. Nigerians always carry cash, and credit cards are not popular among us. These fellows know this and target us. It's also sad because we know that some Nigerians have joined these syndicates."
It was outrageous, he said, that airport authorities were "covering up" the robberies. "How can they deny this is happening? It's so glaring. The first part of finding a solution is admitting there is a problem. The onus is on them to deal with the problem but they are shirking their responsibility."
Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the Institute of Security Studies, said many of its employees had been targeted in robberies involving the airport. "If it's just at the institute that we know of so many people who've had similar experiences, how much more is happening outside?"
He said a debate on whether there was a syndicate or syndicates operating at the airport was irrelevant. "Our authorities should rather use their time and energy to find ways of improving the security at the airport. This debate wastes time and does nothing to boost confidence in the ability of our authorities to safeguard people coming through our airports.
"It appears there's some form of organisation behind the many crimes. There are just too many similar cases.
"What's worse is that some people are robbed in a way that indicates that the robbers are waiting for them when they get home.
"I can't comment on whether the authorities have a strategy in place to deal with these things, but just looking at the facts, it doesn't appear to be effective. This is an ongoing trend and clearly something is very wrong at the airport.
"It sends out all the wrong signals for those intending to visit SA in 2010. Who wants to have their crime experience begin at the airport? They would think: 'How much more awaits me when I leave the airport?'"
A total of 7 868 items of luggage belonging to South African Airways passengers were reported missing from airports in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London in the three-month period between December 1 last year and February 29 this year, says the minister of public enterprises.
Do the maths everyone. That's about eighty seven bags stolen each and every day! What do these thieving k4s do all day, look for luggage? They must leave work every day with a bag or two. Roll on 2010 its going to be interesting if nothing else.
That's in stark contrast to figures supplied to The Mercury's sister paper the Cape Times by SAA last week. The airline said that according to its figures, about 6 600 of its passengers would have their luggage stolen each year.
According to public enterprises minister Alec Erwin most of the luggage - 7 617 items - disappeared from Johannesburg's O R Tambo Airport, while 178 SAA passengers at Cape Town International Airport were not reunited with their bags.
Erwin's department supplied the figures in response to a parliamentary question put to him by the DA's spokesman on public enterprises, Manie van Dyk. The DA's question related only to SAA
Erwin noted in his reply that baggage handling was "the joint responsibility of the (handling) company contracted by SAA and the Airports Company of South Africa".
The figures supplied in his answer reflected only incidents that had been reported to SAA, said Erwin.
In December, SAA handled 470 390 pieces of luggage. Of these, 1 293 were pilfered at O R Tambo. SAA baggage handling staff at Johannesburg's airport worked with a total of 769 467 bags over the three-month period, far outstripping the numbers in Cape Town, where staff handled 283 161 bags between December and February.
Rates for pilfering, damage and theft dropped considerably in Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London. In December, out of 9 738 items handled in East London, no cases of pilfering were reported.
December was the worst month for missing luggage: a total of 4 170 bags went missing from all airports. The figure dropped to 1 728 in January, rising slightly again in February to 1 978.
In January, nine items of baggage were reported missing from Durban International - handlers there worked with 44 362 bags that month.
A total of 1 866 bags were damaged at O R Tambo during the three-month period. Three hundred and sixty-five bags were damaged in Cape Town during the same period, while 69 bags out of 48 699 were damaged in Port Elizabeth.What do you expect to happen when you name an airport after a terrorist!
Last week, SAA said that more than 10 000 SAA passengers lodged claims for damaged luggage annually and around 6 600 would have their luggage stolen each year.
The 737 above is simply for old times sake. In those days your bag always arrived on time and as you left it because behind the scenes there was a big white guy who would knock the crap out of a k4 if he was caught steeling from someones bag.