Timely, insightful exposé
HEIST! Anneliese Burgess Loot.co.za (R184) Penguin
REVIEWER: JULIAN RICHFIELD
SOUTH Africa is undergoing yet another spate of daring cash-intransit heists (CITHs). If ever the publication date of a book was fortuitously timed, Heist! by Anneliese Burgess is it.
When Burgess started writing it at the end of 2016, the perception was that CITHs had been brought under control and were no longer a significant crime issue. Yet by June 6 this year, there had been 159 CITHs, a marked increase over the same period last year.
Burgess suggests that CITHs “have been commonplace for so long, that they mostly don’t even make a blip on our collective radar. They happen. They are noted. And then they silently slide into some or other statistical crime bucket”.
From the horror of the 2006 Villa Nora heist, in which four security guards were burnt alive in their armoured vehicle after a ferocious fight-back against highly trained mercenaries, to the 2014 robbery of a cash centre in Witbank, where a gang made off with almost R104 million after impersonating police officers, the book provides a richly-detailed exposé of a topical crime phenomenon.
Using information from thousands of pages of court documents and press reports, as well as interviews with police officers, crime intelligence agents, prosecutors, defence lawyers, researchers, journalists, security guards and the criminals themselves, Heist! provides unprecedented insight into the crime.
She looks at 10 individual heists over two decades. With the huge amounts of cash involved, CITHs are a crime “that is planned and perpetrated by networks of experienced and hardened criminals, aided and abetted by law enforcement officers and security company employees.
“It shows an astonishing brazenness: how criminals operate without fear of being caught; how they solicit investments to buy in expertise, and pay off lawyers, court officials and high-ranking police officers. Cash heists are about greed, not need and avarice turns people into monsters.”
Heist! makes for a disturbing, engrossing and important read.
The narrative, that takes one into the engine-room of a CIT heist gang, is fascinating in its detail and mind-blowing. For me, this is the most powerful part of Heist! and huge praise must go to Anneliese Burgess for this privileged insight.
The book’s final chapter, “Dirty Little Secrets”, is a fitting climax to an extraordinary book, it is eye-opening, gasp-inducing stuff and ends with a glimmer of hope…
Personnel changes that have been made at Crime Intelligence and at SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority “starting to make gurgling noises – a sign that it might come out of its politics-induced coma”.