Mandy Weiner, Ministry of Crime: An Underworld Explored (Johannesburg: Macmillan, 2018)

ALL countries have a criminal underworld. But when it merges with the overworld, society is in deep trouble. Mandy Wiener’s latest book concludes that the South African Police Service is so deeply compromised and corrupted that our country is wide open to organised crime. The controversial Paul O’Sullivan’s description of many police, some at the highest level, as ‘criminals with badges’ is no exaggeration.

A vast parade of thugs and gangsters crosses Wiener’s 450-page account, but it will surprise no one to read that a central figure is Czech mafioso Radovan Krejcir. Behind his criminality lies a trail of bodies. But it took the South African Revenue Service to bring him to book and apply sufficient pressure to rattle him into making fatal mistakes. Weiner makes a shrewd comparison with the story of Al Capone.

The key to Krejcir’s lengthy survival as a fugitive mafia boss is that he bought police officers. They lost dockets, subverted the course of justice and committed other crimes for him. But perhaps most importantly corrupt police, particularly from the notorious crime intelligence division, supplied Krejcir with sufficient information to stay ahead of the game. Even from prison he has plotted murder and spectacular escape. A small army has to attend his court appearances.

Why South African taxpayers fund Krejcir’s incarceration when extradition to his homeland is the obvious solution is as frustrating as his original appearance in this country. But Wiener’s book shows that he and other mobsters are opportunistic parts of a syndrome, the hollowing out, termite-like, of state institutions. Significant numbers of officials at all levels are bought, the honest and incorruptible are sidelined or worse, and the remainder sink into inertia and indifference. This has happened to every major organ of state administration under the Zuma presidency – thus state capture. The losers are the people of South Africa, betrayed by many of their public servants.

This book has a strangely unattractive cover. And Wiener chooses to use a great deal of reported speech, presumably to maintain the authenticity of interviews. This results in a degree of repetition and some tediously long accounts of simple events that could have been summarised. But it is a compelling read and a wake-up call about the white-anting of our democracy. One fears it is another book that has appeared far too late.