SA perfect for hitmen – Dewani case may be just the latest
POVERTY, an incompetent justice system, money to be made from crime, the legacy of apartheid and poor ar ms control make South Africa a breeding ground for hitmen.
The case of British millionaire Shrien Dewani, who allegedly paid for a hit on his wife Anni Dewani, has made international headlines and has raised questions about how easy it is to recruit a hitman in South Africa.
Several other crimes allegedly involving hitmen have been playing out in the media at the same time. These include the alleged plot to kill for mer Blue Bulls rugby player Deon Helberg and the conviction of Mulalo Sivhidzho for recruiting hitmen to kill her husband Avhatakali Netshisaulu, son of for mer City Press editor Mathatha Tsedu. The case involving the murder of Judge Patrick Maqubela, allegedly by his wife Thandi, is still in court.
Hitmen were also hired to murder baby Jordan Leigh Norton, a crime master minded by Dina Rodrigues, and to kill musician Taliep Petersen at the behest of his wife Najwa.
David Bruce, senior researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said the use of professional hitmen in South Africa went back to the apartheid area, as revealed in the TRC hearings.
More recently, the taxi industry had seen owners and drivers recruiting hitmen to take out their rivals.
Johan Burger, senior researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, said professional hitmen would not work for less than R100 000.
“But perpetrators who pay as little as R10 000, like Dina Rodrigues, take huge risks when hiring petty criminals, who bungle the hit and end up getting caught.”
Burger pointed out that the use of hitmen was not unique to South Africa. “There are contract killers around the world. In the past few months there have been a number of high-profile cases, but I’m wary of saying that there is a trend.
“The country received a lot of bad press prior to the World Cup, especially in Britain. It created a perception that this was the place for a contract killing or where you could commit a crime and no one would ask any questions.”
Like South Africa, countries such as Mexico and Colombia had high crime levels and an increasing number of assassinations.
“Poverty, crime levels and deficiencies that exist in an incompetent justice system all play a role.”
Indeed, inter national studies bear this out. A study by the National Institute of Criminology in South Australia revealed that the median income of a hitman in Australia was the equivalent of about R882 000 – although it could reach as much as R540 000 a task.
Hitmen’s incomes in Spain were also high. According to Spanish government statistics, there are about 40 murders by hitmen a year, each one at a price of between R180 000 and R450 000.
An article by the International Relations and Security Network reveals that hired assassins in coun- tries like Mexico are willing to work for low pay, not so much out of economic desperation but because murder-for-hire is a gateway to more lucrative criminal activity.
The uncontrollable flow of arms and the unlikelihood of criminal prosecution has led to a booming assassination business.
Assassins on the Cheap, an article by Harvard doctoral candidate Viridiana Rios, looked into what was causing the increase.
He wrote that the cost of a killing in Mexico was unusually low compared with other parts of the world.
He said unemployment rates and low wages had been blamed as the principal facilitators of crime.
“However, Mexican hitmen are in the business also because they hope to climb the criminal ladder and eventually become kingpins themselves. Being a paid assassin has proven to be the best criminal profession from which to attract the attention of drug bosses and start a trafficker career.
“The best assassins end up forming part of the formal structure of the drug trafficking industry, which is a monetary jackpot. ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, was recognised as the seventh-richest Mexican in 2009 by Forbes magazine.”