Anyone living in Johannesburg knows that certain areas in the CBD are extremely dangerous, especially when compared to the leafy suburbs around Rosebank and Sandton.
According to data from Crime Stats SA, Joburg Central is the worst precinct in Gauteng in terms of reported crimes, closely followed by a number of surrounding precincts.
Many white-collar workers in lucrative industries such as finance and law have no need to visit this crime hotspot, with their offices based in safer economic hubs.
There are a number of qualified middle and upper-income employees who do have to brave this dangerous precinct on a daily basis, however – bankers who work at Absa, FNB, and Standard Bank.
These banks all have their head offices inside the most dangerous area of Johannesburg, which means that their employees need to travel into and out of this precinct on a daily basis.
Making matters worse for these workers is that their exposure to potential crime has been amplified due to the closure of the M2 highway.
This closure began in February and is expected to continue until October 2019. It has caused a major traffic issue in the area and resulted in a spike in crime such as hijacking and armed robbery – in part due to the fact that alternative routes which put motorists at risk must now be used to access central Joburg.
Curfews and armed guards
Bank staff from Absa, Standard Bank, and FNB who spoke to MyBroadband on condition of anonymity said there has been a marked increase in incidents of crime in Joburg, and they feel at risk when travelling to work every day.
Following questions from MyBroadband, Absa confirmed it has seen a spike in crime since the M2 closure.
“Staff have unfortunately reported several incidents since the closure of the M2 bridge,” the bank said.
“Incidents are recorded centrally and are investigated by our physical security teams, who also collaborate with various other large organisations operating in the CBD to provide security along key routes.”
Absa told said it is working hard to ensure the safety of its employees in Joburg Central, employing additional security and creating dedicated incident response teams.
The company has also requested staff to comply with a curfew so they are not exposed to crime in the evening.
“We have requested staff to adhere to working hours within daylight time,” Absa said.
“We are collaborating closely with other large institutions in the CBD to establish and maintain safety routes in and out of town,” the bank said.
“This required the deployment of over 150 guards just by Absa alone. We have also deployed four additional tactical vehicles and additional motorcycle mounted guards for rapid response.”
In addition to this the bank’s security teams are engaged with the JMPD on a weekly basis to understand trends and put in place initiatives that can prevent crime.
“We care very much about the safety of our colleagues and we have taken a number of steps to provide alternative arrangements, where this is possible,” Absa said.
“For colleagues who are required to do shift work, or late project work, we have made space available at sites outside of the CBD.”
The bank is also encouraging employees to work from home where possible within operating constraints.
Absa said it has had a number of online interactions with staff around its security plans, and the bank has run a number of awareness campaigns around safe travel corridors and hijacking.
The bank has even introduced vehicle escorts out of Joburg Central for employees who feel unsafe travelling through the area, although it said the use of this service has been limited.
“Where it is practical, and we have space available, we are trying to accommodate staff at other Absa sites,” the bank said.
When responding to questions from MyBroadband, Standard Bank stated that increased reports of crime would be better handled by the SAPS and did not confirm whether its employees had experienced increased exposure to hijacking or armed robbery.
“Standard Bank has efficient and effective business continuity processes in place. These are implemented by business units should the requirement arise,” it said.
It added that it has collaborated with other industries within the inner city to safeguard and secure selected routes.
“We have also ensured that on these selected routes there is a physical security presence as well appropriate response times,” Standard Bank said.
“We are continuously improving the safety of our staff by collectively design safety strategies on a weekly basis.”
FNB did not confirm whether it had noted an increase in incidents of crime experienced by employees, and stated that the M2 closure is a broad issue impacting commuters.