OR Tambo should be airtight
In 2006, when armed gunmen stole R100 million in foreign and local currency at one of South Africa’s key entry points – OR Tambo International Airport – authorities promised to put an end to such acts of criminality.
During the trial, it emerged that the criminals had been planning the crime for four months after they received information about a flight that was carrying a large amount of money.
Initially, 15 suspects were arrested. Some were later acquitted, while others died during the trial. Eventually, others were jailed for the crime.
Authorities, including police and government officials, condemned the heist and put in place measures to prevent a recurrence.
Fast-forward to Tuesday. A group of men, armed to the teeth, broke into the same airport’s secure and restricted areas, and made off with millions of rands in cash. Not a single shot was fired.
Since the heist, Airports Company SA (Acsa) and the police have come out strongly (in words) to deal with the robbery.
In what appears to be a replay of the 2006 heist, Acsa this week said it had “further heightened” security around the airport, and had even replaced security guards as a precautionary measure while investigations continued.
Acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane said: “We are going to increase and intensify our efforts there. In no way can we take anything for granted after what happened ... We will deal with those gaps manifesting themselves in the security system...”
OR Tambo is the main entryway to South Africa, and is used by many others as a gateway to the rest of the continent. Yet, month in and month out, we hear of multimillion-rand drug seizures and the smuggling of contraband through the airport.
It is an open secret in security circles that criminal syndicates relish the porousness of the airport. It is also known that policemen and customs officials love working at the facility because it guarantees them a steady stream of illicit income in the form of bribes.
Authorities must ensure that the airport is airtight. They must ensure that trustworthy police and officials work there, and that those who are in control are beyond reproach.
An airport named after one of our most precious icons cannot be so intimately associated with nefarious activities.