A bloody battle, apparently with links to China, is playing out in the Western Cape as a tussle for control of the lucrative perlemoen trade in the province intensifies.
According to sources who asked not to be identified, the major upheaval started on January 20, when suspected perlemoen kingpin and minstrel boss Russel Jacobs, 38, was gunned down in Blue Downs.
They say the upheaval has included shootings, reshuffling of positions within a suspected syndicate, and a string of perlemoen busts.
In the three weeks after Jacobs was killed, six massive raids, involving more than R51m worth of perlemoen, were carried out in the province.
International links and informant claims
Several suspects from other countries were among those arrested.
Jacobs, who some insist was a police informant receiving kickbacks from two senior officers in exchange for information, died in hospital the morning after he was shot.
Others claim this information on kickbacks was fabricated by senior officers to tarnish the two police officers' reputations, and is only being peddled now because Jacobs is dead and cannot deny it.
Court papers by the State, and sources with ties to police and the 28s gang, say he was the mastermind of a perlemoen syndicate.
Along with 15 other accused, Jacobs was to have appeared in a Cape Town court on March 27 in a long-running case for allegedly heading up the mammoth smuggling operation. An undercover crime intelligence agent infiltrated it eight years ago.
Two of the accused in the case are from China and, according to court papers, had been in the country years ago on visitors' visas.
Sources have told News24 that before his murder, Jacobs travelled to China as he hoped to branch out and start his own perlemoen-smuggling channel.
They say this infuriated those who worked with him in the initial smuggling syndicate, as they did not want any businesses diverted away from them.
Sources say Jacobs was killed in a setup when he returned to Cape Town, and the smuggling channel he was creating was snuffed out.
Following Jacobs' murder, an accomplice of his, in the 28s gang, took over his role overseeing perlemoen operations in the province.
They say several shootings around Cape Town stem from Jacobs' killing.
A young man, who sources say is emerging as an influential gang leader, and his friend, were wounded in a shooting in Delft on February 16.
The alleged leader is the nephew of another suspected head of another faction in the illegal perlemoen trade.
On January 26, six days after Jacobs was gunned down, a 37-year-old man was shot dead in Gansbaai, an area where Jacobs' suspected perlemoen syndicate operated.
According to a memorandum by the State, perlemoen was transported from Gansbaai to various locations in the Western Cape.
Police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana this week said the investigation into Jacobs' murder was ongoing. No arrests had been made.
Rwexana did not answer questions from News24 on whether Jacobs was an informant, or whether his killing resulted in a series of perlemoen busts.
However, sources told News24 that following Jacobs' killing, information surfaced about the location of perlemoen intended for export. This, they say, led to several swoops.
Raids and arrests
On February 13 the Hawks, as part of an investigative project dubbed Rambo, raided a number of suspected perlemoen facilities in areas including Durbanville, Atlantic Beach, and Table View.
This followed surveillance of the properties.
Some R4m worth of dried perlemoen was discovered and 10 people, aged between 25 and 56, were arrested. The group included the alleged ringleader of the suspected operation.
Four were denied bail when they appeared in court as they were not in the country legally.
"The onslaught on syndicates that continue to perpetrate abalone smuggling and related transnational crimes is on," acting head of the Hawks in the Western Cape, Brigadier Mzwandile Ndlovu, said in a statement at the time.
"Perhaps it is time perpetrators gather that they are actually swimming against the tide."
On February 10, police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut said detectives swooped on a cold storage facility in Paarden Island. They found a huge shipment of dried and frozen abalone with an estimated value of R8m, he said in a statement.
"Further investigation was conducted which led investigators to Table Bay Harbour, where they discovered a 40-foot container filled with dried and frozen abalone, packed in boxes and destined for export," Traut said.
This perlemoen was worth an estimated R30m.
Three busts were made on February 2.
Perlemoen worth R9m was confiscated from a warehouse in Killarney Gardens and two Chinese nationals were arrested.
That same day, police discovered R3m worth of perlemoen in a Montague Gardens premises and arrested two men from Malawi, Traut said.
On the morning of February 2, suspects apparently delivering perlemoen to a Chinese man were intercepted, according to police statements.
Perlemoen worth R350 000 was seized and four suspects, including a constable attached to the Kuils River police, were arrested.