A Circular Economy of Theft

Having been directly affected by a recent bike theft (not mine thankfully), I am reminded that the chances of ever stopping this scourge in our country (or any theft itself) is pretty low because as someone in law enforcement correctly says, vehicle theft is an important 'circular economy' in South Africa.

You see, thieves are only one of the links in this chain of depravity. They are protected by a legal system that sees culprits face less than a year behind bars so that they can continue to play their part in this important economic driver. They support an entire industry that includes everything from bike dealers to insurers, tracking companies, the security industry itself and obviously, our Police and border officials.

Each and every link in this circle benefits from bike theft, so where's the incentive to stop it and hand-out stiff jail terms for those involved? For every bike stolen, insurers raise revenue from those that own and insure their bikes against this curse, so there is no incentive to get behind effective policing and sentencing. Everyone in the insurance food-chain takes their cut from this indifference, but we go on paying high premiums because that's how it works. The bike dealers are themselves complicit by not ensuring that every bike that is sold is fitted with effective, traceable and recoverable tracker technology. Why should they when it generates another sale when the insurer pays-out for the stolen bike. That's motivation to ignore the problem I suppose.

Tracking companies make money from the peace-of-mind they sell owners of sub-standard systems that do nothing more than create a false sense of security. They know that the chances of recovery are less than 3% and that even when recovered, bike owners seldom want their recovered bikes back. So, they make more money by going through the motions. Security companies jump in here with their fees to track and recover the bike, once again knowing that the chances of recovery are so low as to not even bother getting out of bed to chase-down a stolen bike.

And then, it's the corrupt and inefficient Police and border officials that make it possible for stolen bikes to cross the border to Maputo without so much as a check. Last night, a truck of stolen bikes crossed the border at Komatipoort unchecked, arriving in Maputo at 17h00. By midnight last night, the bikes were all sold and today they travel unhindered around Maputo by their arrogant thieving 'owners' - often using the original numberplates.! A GSA with less than eight thousand Km's on the clock - and valued at over a quarter of a million Rands, sold for sixty thousand Rands last night and no-one seems to care!

In spite of acknowledging that not all Police officials are thieves or corrupt, those that take their jobs seriously are seriously disadvantaged by a system that prevents them from doing their work. Doing the right thing is trumped by a culture of ignorance and disinterest from every level of our society. Our Minister for Police is fully aware of the highway of stolen bikes and other vehicles crossing into Mozambique daily, but there is simply a lack of political will or an expectation of corruption stopping effective policing. When a vehicle transporting stolen bikes is accidentally discovered at the border, it makes headlines when in fact more in-depth searches of all possible transport systems should be the norm. Thieves know that they can simply bribe those officials that show a passing interest in what they are transporting and that the others simply don't care anyway. How many people have to be killed in the theft of vehicles and bikes before we realise that we have a very sick society. What will it take for our Police to work with and encourage their counterparts in Maputo and other cities in the region to hit the market for stolen vehicles? Why can't government transfer and replace every official at Kommatipoort with a team from another port of entry on a regular basis in an effort to break the cycle of corruption and fraud?

Disheartened and annoyed we may be, but we need to keep in mind that everything about bike theft is personal and planned. Very few bikes are stolen on a whim and most are are taken on order from masterminds that stay hidden (or not in some cases) in the shadows. We need to make every effort to make stealing our bikes as difficult and as risky as possible for thieves. Catching the syndicate bosses is our aim and we shouldn't for one moment believe that our bike(s) are not next on the list of some dirtbag in Mozambique.

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