Timely, in­sight­ful ex­posé

Cape Times - - BOOKS -

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”.

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