Risk Bulletin Download PDF

Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa


Summary highlights

  1. The assassination of South African gangster Ernie ‘Lastig’ Solomon points to a major reconfiguration in the Western Cape underworld.

    The assassination of South African under­world boss Ernie ‘Lastig’ Solomon marks a seismic moment, particularly in the country’s Western Cape province, where he had his roots. He is the second prominent gang leader to be shot dead in less than a year as new alliances are formed and underworld elements are reconfigured.

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  2. Corruption, instability and violence in Zimbabwe’s gold sector.

    Zimbabwe’s small-scale gold-mining sector has seen a surge of violence driven by ‘machete gangs’ taking control of mining sites or extorting and robbing miners. Ongoing GI-TOC research has investigated how the connections between political elites and the machete gangs enable the corrupt control of mine sites and political processes. The illegal gold market has been further rocked by the disruption of COVID-19.

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  3. Nelson Mandela Bay is an often-overlooked example of rampant gangsterism.

    Nelson Mandela Bay, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, has seen a steady increase in violence in recent years to levels that are comparable with some of the most violent places on Earth. Much of this violence is gang-related, yet the trajectory and dynamics of this violence differs to trends seen in Cape Town, the epicentre of South Africa’s gang violence. Specific patterns of gang activity and chronic misgovernance in local politics have helped drive Nelson Mandela Bay’s cycle of violence.

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  4. Corruption, crime networks and social media: the international illicit trade in Madagascan tortoises.

    Ploughshare and radiated tortoises in Madagascar are critically endangered, but conservation efforts have been eroded by the constant pressure of the illegal wildlife trade. These animals are highly valued on international exotic-pet markets and are therefore targeted by traffickers. Ongoing GI-TOC research investigating the political economy of this trade looks at the development of this market, including its online dimension, and current trafficking routes.

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About this issue

In this issue, the final issue of the Risk Bulletin of Illicit Economies in East and Southern Africa in 2020, we showcase findings of ongoing GI-TOC research on a number of illegal markets.

Our ongoing surveys of prices in illegal gold markets throughout the region, for example, have allowed us to assess the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in real time. At a time when international prices for gold have skyrocketed, the impact on those in the informal and illegal parts of the gold sector has been more complex, as travel restrictions and lockdown measures have, in some cases, made life hardest for the most vulnerable.

These surveys are among similar studies our team is conducting to assess prices in a number of illegal markets, including the illegal charcoal trade, illegal firearms trafficking and several drugs markets. In a context in which reliable data for forms of illegal trade is often fragmentary or absent, these studies are helping to build the quantitative data available.

We have also been innovative in building datasets on illicit trade in our research into the illegal trade in endangered tortoises from Madagascar, where we have used a new machine-learning tool developed to find evidence of illegal wildlife trade online.

In this issue, we also address two major stories in South Africa’s gang landscape. Firstly, the assassination of gang leader Ernie ‘Lastig’ Solomon; a significant event not only because Solomon was a powerful figure in the Western Cape underworld, but also because his killing is emblematic of wider shifts in dynamics of control between gangs in the region. Secondly, we look to the Eastern Cape, where the severity of gang violence is often overlooked. We highlight how Nelson Mandela Bay has become one of the most violent urban areas not only in South Africa but at a global level.