Highway patrols

With improved intelligence, police are claiming a breakthrough in stemming the spate of dramatic cash-in-transit heists.
The Council of SA Banks (Cosab) reports that R139,9 million was stolen from banks in 1997. According to the South African Police Services (SAPS), 230 cash-in-transit robberies were reported last year, 180 fewer than in 1996 when 410 were reported. However, Cosab also reports that R31,5 million more was stolen from banks last year than in 1996, a figure that includes R64,8 million stolen in 103 cash-in-transit robberies. In 11 years SBV Services — set up in 1986 by Standard Bank, First National Bank, Volkskas and Nedcor to transport money — was subject to 52 attacks in which criminals got away with money in 27 cases. In the year ending in November 1997 there were 25 attacks, including 15 which were unsuccessful. Between November and mid-March this year, three out of nine attacks were successful. Companies offering similar services have also been affected.

The police’s Special Investigative Task Unit (SITU) is co-ordinating investigations (in most cases undertaken by SAPS Murder and Robbery Units) of cash-in-transit heists on a national basis dating back to 1995. Using a computer database, which is being developed at present, investigators believe that it will be possible to check whether suspects are wanted in connection with other cases around the country. The SITU is investigating six cases and by the middle of last month had recovered R2,5 million allegedly stolen during the cash-in-transit heists.

Police are hesitant to suggest that many of the robberies, such as those listed below, are linked. SAPS spokesman Superintendent Martin Aylward says that although there has been much speculation in the media and there is a strong possibility that many cases are linked, the police do not have conclusive evidence. He says that many of the robberies reveal excellent planning and precise execution and suggests that four or five gangs may be pooling their resources and experience to execute the major heists — from 20 to 40 criminals may have been involved in one incident. Smaller robberies, however, often involve only about eight people and planning is more likely to be poor.

The intelligence capacity of the SAPS has improved immensely during these investigations — since January there have been no major cash-in-transit heists and several attempts have been foiled. Aylward says this is due to the “breakthrough” made by the police in arresting suspects: more than 80 have been arrested since March.

Nine months of cash-in-transit heists
  • In July 1997, one security guard was killed and one injured during a R6 million SBV cash-in-transit robbery in Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal. No suspects have been charged in connection with the case.
  • Two security personnel died in a R17 million robbery on 31 July 1997 on the N4 highway near Bronkhorstspruit. About 15 armed robbers ambushed the SBV security van by dragging a chain of metal spikes across the highway. More than 100 spent AK-47 rifle, R4 rifle and 9mm pistol cartridges were found on the scene. Nine suspects have been arrested in connection with the case, including Oupa Edwin Seane, who was re-arrested after escaping from custody in December.
  • A 25-man gang escaped with R500,000 during a robbery at Sun City, North West Province, in September 1997. A spiked chain was also used in this robbery. Three alleged robbers have been arrested in connection with this incident.
  • R12,6 million was stolen from the SBV cash-clearing depot in Sunnyside, Pretoria on 22 October 1997. The figure was originally thought to be R18 million. Employees were taken hostage and forced to hand money over to about 15 men. Four suspects have been arrested, including Collin Chauke who escaped in December last year.
  • In the Marble Hall, Mpumalanga robbery on 17 December 1997, R10 million was stolen and six security guards were killed. About 20 robbers used AK-47 rifles and Tokorev pistols to ambush an SBV convoy. They used a provincial government lorry to force two SBV vehicles off the road, killing six guards during the collision. The gang had a spiked chain, which was not used during this incident, in their possession. Thirteen suspects have been arrested, ten of whom have previously been arrested on charges including hijacking, possession of stolen vehicles, illegal possession of firearms and theft of case dockets.
  • Two men employed with Fidelity Guards were injured when attempts were made by about 20 men to rob a cash-in-transit vehicle on the N1 near the Carousel, north of Pretoria, on 18 December 1997. Robbers sitting on the back of three open bakkies, opened fire on the guards using handguns and R5 and AK-47 rifles. The security vehicles turned around and headed towards the Carousel, but the attackers rammed the vehicles and continued to fire. No arrests had been made in connection with this case by mid-March.
  • Police foiled a robbery on 23 December 1997 near Ogies in Mpumalanga. The SAPS received information about a planned robbery at a Witbank mine. On their way they saw a bakkie with 12 men on board travelling in the same direction. The bakkie was driven off at high speed and overturned at a T-junction. Five suspects were arrested. Two suspects were arrested after they hijacked a passing minibus taxi and sped off with passengers. Two civilians were shot dead and four wounded. An eighth suspect was arrested about an hour later. Four suspects escaped at the time of the planned robbery.
  • On 14 January 1998, R500,000 was stolen during a heist in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. A Coin Security vehicle was ambushed after collecting money from a farm. About 15 men surrounded the guards and ordered them out of the vehicles which they threatened to set alight. No arrests have been made.
  • On 20 January 1998, R1 million was stolen during a cash-in-transit robbery on the M1 in Sandton. Police have made three arrests.
  • A robbery was foiled on 26 January 1998 on the N12 highway near Springs after robbers opened fire on a Fidelity Guards vehicle from a highway bridge. A security guard in the escort vehicle returned fire, shooting the tyre of a bakkie driven by the robbers. The robbers abandoned their vehicle and hijacked a car about 200 metres away from the scene. Four men were arrested and two firearms recovered at the scene. Another six suspects were arrested later. A 9mm pistol and an AK-47 rifle and R100,000 cash (believed to have been seized during another robbery) were recovered. Police think some suspects are linked to the Sandton, Bronkhorstspruit and Sun City robberies.
  • In KwaZulu-Natal R12 million was taken during a heist on the R74 between Kearsney and Stanger on 30 January 1998.

Sixteen robbers travelling in two cars, with at least two back-up vehicles, ambushed an SBV vehicle and an escort vehicle. During the ensuing shootout two vehicles collided and three security guards were injured.