South Africa’s alarming rise among top Mafia States: A looming threat to stability – Ivo Vegter

In 2023, South Africa finds itself in the ignoble company of top mafia states worldwide, according to the Global Organised Crime Index. Ranked 7th, just behind nations like Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it paints a grim picture of economic malaise and mismanagement. Despite its potential, South Africa lags behind in resilience against organised crime. The report highlights pervasive criminal markets and state-embedded actors contributing to this dire situation. The public’s growing disillusionment with the justice system may lead to vigilante justice and social unrest, posing a daunting challenge for the nation’s future.

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The long, bloody road ahead for South Africa

By Ivo Vegter*

Organised crime puts South Africa 7th in the world for criminality, confirming the fear that it may be entirely unreformable.

We all know South Africa is a world beater. Occasionally in sport, but most often in indicators of economic malaise, mismanagement and Marxist stupidity, like unemployment and poverty.

Thanks to the Global Organised Crime Index 2023, the country can now celebrate another winning performance, having been ranked right up there among the top mafia states in the world. It’s another proud day to be South African!

Compiled by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime, the index comes with a nifty interactive tool, allowing readers to drill down into both a criminality score and a resilience score for each country.

In 2021, the first year the report was issued, South Africa was ranked 19th in the world, out of 193 countries. Not content to sit on its laurels, it charged up the table in the 2023 report with a score of 7.18 out of 10 (a higher score is worse), finishing 7th behind only Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Paraguay, Mexico, Colombia and the winner, Myanmar.

South Africa is worse than paradisian havens of peace and prosperity such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Haiti, and Venezuela. It even beat havens of dodgy dealings such as Panama and Russia.

So much for a New Dawn.

South Africa placed 3rd out of 54 countries in Africa, and it came 1st among the 13 countries of southern Africa.

In terms of resilience against organised crime, South Africa scored 5.63 out of 10 (in this case, a higher score is better). That ranks it 50th out of 193 countries, 4th in Africa, 1st in southern Africa, and well above the global average of 4.81.

That doesn’t sound so terrible, and ironically, it puts the country among a mere 12 who score highly on both criminality and resilience. Yet it clearly isn’t enough to cope with the onslaught of organised crime.

Worse, South Africa’s criminality score rose substantially between 2021 and 2023, while its resilience fell.


Each score, criminality and resilience, is composed of a simple average of scores on a list of criteria.

The criminality criteria on which South Africa performed worst, scoring 8 or more, include extortion and protection racketeering, arms trafficking, environmental crimes, synthetic drug trade, criminal networks, and naturally, state-embedded actors.

‘South Africa boasts a number of pervasive criminal markets,’ the report says, ‘heightened by the influence of criminal actors, especially state-embedded actors – responsible for years of state capture – and criminal networks that are highly interconnected.’

On the resilience side, South Africa performed worst on victim and witness support, scoring only 4, closely followed by prevention, as well as law enforcement, both on 4.5. The next lowest on the list include political leadership and governance, government transparency and accountability, and anti-money-laundering.

According to the report, the most important factors in resilience were non-state actors such as the media and civil society organisations, as well as robust national policies and laws.

‘[I]n terms of resilience (5.63), South Africa also scores the highest in the Southern Africa region,’ the report reads, ‘driven by the efforts of non-state actors to resist organised crime, robust national policies and laws, and strong economic regulatory capacity. These resilience building blocks, however, came under strain in 2022, which saw overall resilience fall.’

I’m not sure I buy the national policies and laws score, however. It is true that South Africa has fairly decent laws against corruption and crime, but those laws are weakly enforced, if at all. We have the tools, but we don’t use them.

On the other side of the coin, a great deal of organised criminality arises from policies and laws such as cadre deployment, black economic empowerment, and even the list-based proportional representation system. I doubt this was taken into account.


Meanwhile, the people of South Africa are seething, if the social media mob is any indication.

On X (also known as ex-Twitter) I had the temerity to suggest that perhaps chasing someone down with a car to run them over was not an appropriate response to a handbag robbery, since the thief was fleeing and there was no longer any imminent threat to life.

I received a great deal of disagreement, along the lines of ‘the guy had it coming, and we can’t rely on the police anyway’.

That argument certainly has merit. It cannot be disputed that the police and justice system have failed many ordinary South Africans, and that many citizens feel they’re on their own.

But I was also inundated with hundreds of messages spewing rank insults, vile obscenities, and outright hate, much of it directed at me personally.

It’s as if civil disagreement is no longer within the power of long-suffering South Africans.

The insults and rants spoke of macho culture (for which I am evidently unfit), of homophobia, of misogyny, and most of all of racism.

They also spoke a surprising amount about vaccines and religion. That these topics are always relevant, no matter the subject, is because my support for one and opposition to the other are heresies against alt-right talking points and make me a woke left-winger, thereby discrediting everything I’ve ever said or thought.

One person prayed that a worse crime would befall me, in the name of the Lord, amen. What a nice, Christian thing to say.

‘You could meditate on how deeply people despise you and listen to the AIDS in your veins claw away what little time you have left, knowing an unforgiving God has already rejected any whimper you’ll try to offer as the demons rip your flesh away to burn in sulphur forever,’ wrote a devout, homophobic, but surprisingly eloquent white supremacist.

‘Exterminate the vermin. God bless her,’ wrote another.

When I pointed out that such phrasing suggested she would make an excellent candidate for the SS Einsatzgruppen in 1942 or the Hutu militia in 1994, she replied, chillingly: ‘Yes. Indeed.’

Another, who described himself as a ‘Boer’, turned out to be a rabidly anti-Semitic Nazi who promoted claims that Hitler was not racist. I reported him and he got banned. It’s good to see some hatred remains too extreme for the new ‘free speech’ edition of X.

Several people wanted to know where I live, presumably so they could come and have high tea to have a pleasant, family-friendly discussion about their disagreement with my opinion.

The hatred, bigotry and bloodlust on display were eye-opening and, frankly, rather frightening.

Crime and punishment

‘Criminals deserve to be punished,’ said one.

‘People have a right to be angry,’ said another. ‘The question one must ask is how much value does that criminal put on his victim’s life? So, if they show no mercy why should the public?’

I asked whether we should stoop even lower and stop valuing the lives of criminals who don’t value the property of others.

The virtually unanimous response was ‘exactly,’ or something to that effect. The belief that death is an appropriate punishment for armed robbery seemed widespread.

Now, let’s be clear. I totally empathise with the victim, who was no doubt angered and in shock, and wanted her handbag back. I can understand why she did it, and I can understand why some people would cheer her on.

I might even do something like that myself, if I had been in her position. But I’d have been wrong. Taking the law into our own hands is wrong. Once that line is crossed, it is hard to return.


My concern, which has only become more acute by all the online vitriol, is that the sample of South Africans I encountered online really don’t want to return to a more civilised state by repairing the institutions that are supposed to combat crime and assure personal security.

They no longer care about niceties like the right to a fair trial, or humane treatment for prisoners, or believing that deadly force is only appropriate when lives are under imminent threat.

They want revenge and will cheer on the vigilantes who deliver it. They want mob justice. And quite a few of them seem to want an outright race war.

They appear to believe that an anarchic state in which it’s everyone for themselves is preferable to what we have now, and that a return to a functioning liberal democracy is an unrealistic expectation.

Once everyone gets to decide for themselves what ‘punishment’ is appropriate for someone who wrongs them, the very idea of justice will have gone out the window. Kangaroo courts and vendettas will be the order of the day.

Such an anarchic state would not likely lead to less crime, but merely to a society in most people cower under the protection of gangs and warlords.

But that is immaterial to them. They’ve given up and have become angry, vicious and feral.

And I’m not sure they’re not justified.


Philosophically, of course, I’m sure they aren’t. We need a country that isn’t run by the ANC. We need a country that isn’t run by incompetents, socialists, and thieves (but I repeat myself).

We need a country that is run more or less along classical liberal lines, with a large, vibrant and free private sector, and a government that effectively provides basic services as well as competently assures security and justice.

Is that a realistic expectation, however?

There are few commentators who still believe that the ANC can be reformed. I warned that Cyril Ramaphosa wouldn’t save South Africa five years ago, when he became president, but by now even the most enthusiastic sufferers of Ramaphoria have become disillusioned.

Many South Africans, when not mired in abject resignation over the abuse and suffering the ANC government metes out daily, remain hopeful that the ruling party will be voted out of power sooner or later, to be replaced by an opposition government that will enact reforms and set the country back on a path to peace and prosperity.

Let’s suppose that happens. Given what we now know about the levels of organised crime in South Africa, and the levels of state involvement in that crime, can we really expect a new government to prevail?

Early in 2023, after giving up on Eskom, former CEO André de Ruyter gave a small glimpse into the depth and pervasiveness of crime in South Africa’s major institutions. That was the first time I raised the question of whether the country might prove to be unreformable.

The criminal networks and patronage recipients aren’t just going to let a new broom sweep clean. They’ll fight back, with any means at their disposal, from cover-ups and legal obstructionism, to inciting public unrest and murder.

Given that the entire civil service and all the SOEs are riddled with cadre deployees and corrupt bureaucrats, how will a new government even begin to clean that up?

Fire the lot of them? The unions will have a hissy fit, and the EFF will riot. The ANC will exploit it to support the false but very effective narrative that an opposition government will ‘bring back apartheid’.

Long road

Breaking the back of criminal syndicates could take decades, and a great deal of courage, ingenuity and excellent police work. It took the United States half a century to start getting the mafia under control, and South Africa’s problem is worse.

How realistic is that prospect? How long is the road that South Africans are prepared to march?

Can one really fault those who aren’t prepared to wait for this long war against crime to be launched and, eventually, won? Can we blame them for taking the law into their own hands?

Either way, I fear there will be blood running in the streets.

‘We must never think the handful of fools on social media are representative of the many more South Africans who want a successful multicultural and multiracial country,’ said one of my editors.

I truly hope that he is right.

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This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission.

*Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker