Globalisation and transnational organised crime in South Africa

Organised crime - cash flow

Organised crime – cash flow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by Khalil Goga (1)

It is argued that in an increasingly borderless world, transnational criminal groups have developed the ability to manoeuvre, prosper and become a dangerous threat to the world system. Increasing levels of transnational criminality in a post-Cold War world and a focus on linkages between organised criminal groups and terrorist groups have brought attention to the effects of organised crime across the globe.

Within South Africa, crime in general has become a national concern since the demise of apartheid. High murder rates and significant property crime rates have led to South Africa being referred to as “the crime capital of the world” with some comparative justification.(2) While the focus on crime in South Africa has often been on the extraordinary levels of violent crime; global, regional and domestic factors have contributed to a growing awareness of the implications of transnational organised crime. A recent estimate by State Security Minister, Siyabonga Cwele, approximated that South Africa lost 10% of its gross domestic product (GDP), estimated at ZAR 178 billion (US$ 21 billion) a year, to the “illicit economy.”(3)

Globalisation has often been cited as a major cause of increasing transnational organised crime.(4) The compression of time and space (5) is seen to facilitate the exchanges of goods, people and finance across borders at a faster rate than ever before, which, in turn, facilitates illicit exchanges. Simultaneously, globalisation has also benefited states in their ability to prohibit and prosecute transnational criminals, and there have been a growing number of cooperative regional and international efforts by states to combat transnational organised crime.(6)

This paper, therefore, critically engages with the relationship between globalisation and transnational organised crime in South Africa.

Defining organised crime

Given the conflation of terminology related to both organised crime and globalisation, there is a clear definition related to the subject matter. When using the term ‘organised crime’, the focus has often been on organised criminal groups such as the Mafia or Japanese Yakuza. Moreover, the focus on these criminal groups has often been one of a hierarchal structure with a ‘godfather’ type personality who controls the organisation.(7) Whilst this has been the dominant paradigm on which organised crime literature has been built, there is increasing evidence of a smaller, more network-orientated approach by organised criminals with more fluid networks, providing criminal organisations with “diversity, flexibility, low visibility, and longevity.”(8)

Organised crime has also been used to refer to “activities.”(9) Thus, a group of criminals engaging in a criminal activity falls under an ‘activity’ and, therefore, constitutes an organised crime. In this paper, the focus is on activities rather than organised crime groups given the changing nature of organised crime groups. Furthermore, focusing on organised crime groups as a differentiation between what is perceived as organised crime and white collar/commercial crime, has been particularly misleading to researchers, because this differentiation (between white collar and organised crime) has been focused on the separation between the ‘respectable classes’ and the ‘criminal classes’ without a proper basis.(10) Often the criminal network is made up of a variety of ‘shady’ and ‘not so shady’ (11) characters, which could include members of the respectable classes (such as lawyers, accountants, politicians). Thus, a focus on organised criminal activities would provide a more critical and focused approach to a study.

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