Hijacking on demand
Keeping a close eye on consumer markets, organised crime syndicates are raking in billions by hijacking trucks carrying goods currently in demand.
Regent Insurance, which insures freight trucks and their cargo, said there had been a spike in attacks on vehicles transporting cooking oil between October and January.
Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal are the worst-affected provinces in terms of truck hijackings.
Truck hijacking hot spots are the N3 and R103, the R59 in the Vaal, the N12 (near and around Carletonville and Delmas), the R21 (near Kempton Park) and highways around Nigel.
Trucks transporting building materials and small-scale construction and mining equipment are also popular targets at the moment.
According to Regent, the hijacking of trucks costs the economy R3-billion a year.
Regent's commercial vehicles insurance general manager Wayne Rautenbach said targets varied according to seasonal consumer demand, " price hikes and new product launches".
He said three years ago there had been a spike in fuel tanker hijackings, with up to 12 attacks a week before things were brought under control.
He said 1279 freight vehicles were hijacked last year - 105 a month - with 804 of them being stolen in Gauteng.
For years, cigarettes have been a hot commodity for organised crime. According to a police report delivered in the Gauteng legislature's portfolio committee on community safety in November 2014, 20.5% of hijackings in the province involved British American Tobacco vehicles.
Rautenbach said that on average each truck and its cargo was worth R1.5-million.
Professor Mark Shaw , the director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, said syndicates " operated with multiple layers in different sectors of the economy".
He said: "Networks consolidate their powers through policing weaknesses. They watch the 'markets', using these weaknesses to improve their criminal abilities."
He said South Africa was used as a source market and transit route.
Rautenbach said while Regent's research indicated that South Africa was the source of hijacked consumables, nearly 60% of the goods stolen in hijackings were sold in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique.
He said the hijacked goods were sold for nearly a quarter of their store value.
The criminals generally go after fast-moving consumables like food, cellphones and electrical appliances, which can be "moved" within 24 hours through a network of warehouses, storage garages and farms across South Africa .
"The difficulty with recovering items like cooking oil is that - even if you find someone with it - how do you prove it's stolen? It's not like a cellphone or a TV," Rautenbach said.
Graham Wright, the head of the Consumer Goods Council of SA's risk initiative, said the council, police and freight businesses sought to establish a platform to deal with truck hijacking.
The police were unable to comment at the time of publication.