Freight crime in South Africa – we know the risks, but now it’s time to share the data as TAPA calls on industry to step up reporting

A new report into ‘Freight Crime in South African Supply Chains’ by TT Club and BSI SCREEN Intelligence throws further light on the prevalence of cargo theft incidents that continue to blight the country, its economy and business community.


To all intents and purposes, the scale of cargo crime in South Africa remains an anomaly. Despite its best and continued efforts, TAPA EMEA remains unable to gain tangible support from more of the victims of supply chain crimes in respect of incident reporting to the Association’s IIS database. It’s a focus the Association is certainly not giving up on.

“We still see great potential for South Africa to become the next major country in our region to significantly increase the level of cargo crime intelligence to TAPA’s IIS database. This will help the supply chain resilience programmes of all TAPA members doing business in South Africa – and it will send a signal to companies in other countries with high rates of cargo losses that we need to work together to reduce the impact on our businesses,” said Thorsten Neumann, President & CEO of TAPA EMEA.

He is also quick to point out that companies have nothing to fear when they share crime intelligence with TAPA’s IIS. The Association never asks for the name, contact details or company identity of anyone filing an IIS Incident Report. The value of each piece of information is unquestionable, it’s just the numbers that need to improve considerably to become more representative of the true situation facing South African supply chains. 

In 2019, TAPA’s IIS recorded 118 incidents of cargo crime in South Africa and a loss figure for the 30.5% of these thefts with a value of €19,944,059. The corresponding figure for the first six months of 2020 was just 38, while data from the South African Police Service (SAPS) for the 12 months ending 31 March 2020 showed 1,202 truck hijackings, up 1.7% year-on-year. The disparity in the numbers is revealing enough to highlight the lack of industry reporting but many experts on the ground in South Africa would also argue that even the highest reported statistic is still only a modest percentage of the true crime rate.

On a more positive note, TT Club and BSI’s latest offering provides some up-to-date and useful guidance on South Africa’s freight crime trends.

The report states: “Throughout 2020, several cargo theft trends developed in South Africa. The threat and violence involved with cargo theft hijackings in South Africa are historically the primary concern for supply chains in the region. While this significant concern remains, the first half of 2020 saw an increase in thefts from facilities and theft locations diversified between the first two quarters of 2020, reaching the Eastern Cape and Western Cape. Additionally, food and beverage and medical supplies saw an elevated risk throughout the start of 2020.” 

What has not changed, it adds, is the ingenuity of the perpetrator, the underpinning motivations, and the lengths that they are prepared to go to avoid apprehension. In order to enter a depot or warehouse, these thieves must conduct a great degree of planning and intelligence gathering. Carrying out a successful theft of cargo from a facility generally requires intricate details of security provisions, patrols, entry and exit points, and the operations on-site. Thieves may take advantage of any vulnerabilities in order to complete a theft, including corruption within the supply chain.

TT Club and BSI state: “South Africa ranks among the top countries in the world and first on the African continent for BSI’s forecasted losses due to cargo theft, underscoring the significant economic impact of the serious cargo theft problem in the nation. Hijackings of loaded trucks, which often involve violence against the driver or security escort, are the main form of cargo theft in South Africa, although robbery of air and rail freight and thefts from warehouses are also common. Well-organized gangs both conduct hijackings of stopped vehicles and engage in sophisticated schemes whereby criminals disguised as police officers force trucks to stop in unsecured parking lots and closed warehouse facilities.”

Historically, they say, there is an inverse relationship between crime and economic growth in South Africa. This year, COVID-19 impacts involving lockdowns and a decline in the economy added an additional layer to that relationship. The decline in the economy, along with the changes brought about by a restrictive lockdown in response to COVID-19 earlier this year, left the freight sector in a vulnerable situation.

Between, H1 2019 and H1 2020, the report claims there was a drop in the number of thefts from in-transit trucks, while cargo thefts from facilities, parking locations, delivery sites, and warehouses increased. The shift in theft location from in-transit to facilities highlights the importance of investing in mitigation strategies to reduce the occurrence and negative impacts of these thefts, including threats to worker safety, loss of valuable goods, and insecurity of facilities. Geographically, in H1 2020, the areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape saw regular occurrences of cargo theft, diversifying the locations of thefts in South Africa, which primarily occur in Gauteng province, which includes the country’s largest commercial and population centre, Johannesburg. Crimes also increased in Western Cape in the first half of this year. Western Cape is at a higher risk of violent crimes, such as hijackings, due to the prevalence of gang violence, recently linked to the crowded spatial development and high unemployment levels. Gauteng province, however, remains the greatest concern in terms of cargo security.

Highway hotspots for attacks on trucks and cargo thefts in South Africa include Highway N1, Cape Town; Bulawayo, ZW; Highway N2, Cape Town-Ermelo; Highway N3, Johannesburg-Durban; and Highway N4, Skipadshek-Komatipoort. Seaports of concern for theft are mainly limited to Cape Town in Western Cape and Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.

Supply chain corruption is the likelihood that government officials who come into direct contact with the supply chain, such as customs officers and police officers, are amenable to bribes or will demand facilitation payments, the report states. It also includes direct involvement in cargo disruption activities by government personnel. Supply chain corruption is an especially significant contributor to cargo thefts in South Africa. The country also ranks near the top third of all nations in international assessments of public sector corruption. In many of the cargo theft incidents seen in South Africa, sophisticated cargo theft groups, known as ‘blue-light gangs’, utilise a cargo theft tactic involving corrupt law enforcement officers. These officers force truck drivers to stop in unsecured locations at checkpoints established by corrupt police officers demanding a bribe to pass. Once the vehicles are stopped, the officer will drive away to allow hijackers to take control of the cargo truck. Recently, reports indicated that at least two high-level police officials in Gauteng Province were being investigated for their involvement in such incidents, which frequently target the N12 and N3 highways in Gauteng province.

You can download the full TT Club and BSI SCREEN Intelligence report here  https://www.ttclub.com/-/media/files/tt-club/bsi-tt-club-cargo-theft-report/tt-club-and-bsi-freight-crime-in-south-african-supply-chains-2020.pdf



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