Cele hits out at JP Smith amid mounting pressure to convene racketeering task team

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Police Minister Bheki Cele listens to a group of farmers.
Police Minister Bheki Cele listens to a group of farmers.
Kayleen Morgan
  • The Western Cape government and the City of Cape Town are concerned about Police Minister Bheki Cele's inaction with regard to convening a task team to tackle extortion rackets.
  • Cele has taken aim at Cape Town mayco member JP Smith, claiming that Smith complains to the media but has never called him.
  • Smith said he messaged Cele, who blocked him on WhatsApp.

The Western Cape provincial government and the City of Cape Town are applying pressure on Police Minister Bheki Cele to make good on his commitment to crack down on extortion rackets across the city.

Cele, in turn, had a go at Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith.

Cele committed to a multi-disciplinary crackdown on the Cape's extortion rackets in mid-September, but a multi-disciplinary task team for this purpose is yet to meet.

On Sunday, Western Cape MEC for community safety Albert Fritz said he wrote to Cele, "urgently requesting that the transversal steering committee on organised crime and extortion in the province be convened and meet".

On 16 September, Cele announced a crackdown on the protection rackets.

Cele said all the agencies of the government would work together and, if necessary, the SA Revenue Service, Special Investigating Unit and Financial Intelligence Centre would be roped in, the National Prosecuting Authority would be assisted with strengthening cases as it went to court and cold cases would be reopened, News24 reported at the time.

A high-level meeting was held at the Western Cape's police headquarters involving, among others, Cele, Hawks head General Godfrey Lebeya, Cele's deputy, Cassel Mathale, national police commissioner General Khehla Sitole, Smith and Fritz.

On Monday, eight people died after a shooting incident in Gugulethu, with rival gangs involved in the extortion racket reportedly behind it.

In the aftermath, Smith expressed his frustration at what he called the "slow response" by Cele to launch a steering committee or task team to curb the extortion experienced by businesses in the City Bowl and surrounds.

Smith said it had since become clear that businesses and residents in other areas were battling "massive and pervasive extortion" of foreign and locally-owned businesses, as well as construction sites, early childhood development facilities and municipal amenities, News24 reported.

On Saturday, Cele addressed a ministerial imbizo in Langa, Cape Town, where he complained that Smith blames him [Cele] when he is looking for a scapegoat and complains to the media instead of phoning him.

"I don't know what to do with him. We agreed to pick up the phone," said Cele.

"If you're good to me, I'll be very good to you. If you're bad, I'll be double bad."

"The guy is just sick of not wanting to do the things he is supposed to," said Cele.

Cele said he had a plan, which was delayed by the murder of Colonel Charl Kinnear on 18 September.

Smith told News24 on Sunday he attempted to contact the police through formal channels. He also sent several very polite texts to Cele, but was blocked by him on WhatsApp, while Mathale had the decency to respond to his messages.

READ | 'This is Mafia 101': Multi-agency committee gets tough on protection rackets in Cape Town

Smith said, apart from a directive to police stations to look at their extortion cases, there hasn't been any meaningful movement.

He said, to his knowledge, no specific investigators and prosecutors have been assigned to investigate extortion cases.

He said the minister made a public commitment to involve other role-players, including the City - but, thus far, this hasn't happened.

"He makes us complicit in his failure," said Smith.

"In the meantime, the bodies are piling up while he is making personalised attacks," said Smith.

Smith said no amount of visible policing is going to curb the extortion rackets.

Due to the nature of the crime, it requires investigators. The City's law enforcement agencies don't have investigative capabilities.

In a statement released on Sunday, Fritz said, at the meeting on 16 September, it was agreed that two complementary but separate committees would be formed. The first committee was the Safer City committee, which is a SAPS initiative focusing on safety in all metros across the country.

"The second committee was a specific transversal steering committee to be set up and convened by SAPS. It would draw in the province, City, SAPS, NPA, SARS and other relevant stakeholders to specifically address the issue of extortion in the province.

"At the end of the meeting, names were provided by the City of Cape Town and provincial government of officials who would attend the first meeting of this committee. This steering committee to address the issue of extortion has never met and has not been convened," reads Fritz's statement.

"While I am pleased with the progress made through the Safer City committee, it is very concerning that we have not yet convened or met through the transversal steering committee on organised crime and extortion.

"However, the efforts of the Safer City Committee alone are not enough to address the spate of extortion and gang-related shootings that we have seen in past weeks.

"Among these was the gruesome shooting in Gugulethu, which killed eight on Monday, 2 November."

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