DURBAN – BRAZEN robbers are attacking drivers stuck in gridlocked traffic, making off with valuables after injuring drivers.
Community Policing Forums (CPFs) across greater Durban have warned drivers to be aware while passing through hot spots, and residents have demanded greater police visibility.
SAPS and eThekwini Metro Police said motorists must take responsibility for minimising the risks by keeping valuables out of sight, locking doors and closing windows.
Images from one of the latest incidents – in Pinetown – have been shared almost 2000 times on social media, in which a suspect is seen wielding a knife aimed at a man.
The passenger, who took the images as they sat jammed in traffic, did not want to be named, but described what happened.
“We were driving on Old Main Road in Pinetown. Suddenly we saw this guy diving through the window of the car in front of us. My husband got out and tackled the robber. We didn’t realise at this point that the robber had a knife.
“I started taking photographs on my phone because I knew this was the only proof we’d have of what was happening.
“We know, and many people know, that this type of crime is a daily occurrence in this area.
“It’s such a dangerous place. My husband pushed the guy away and the robber tried to stab my husband. The robbers ran off – there were three of them, I think. Fortunately, my husband was only grazed by the knife, but we saw that the driver of the vehicle who had been attacked had blood on his hands and head. By then he drove off and we drove off as well,” she said.
But it did not end there.
“We saw a metro police van just a few metres away from the incident. In fact, in my photographs you can see how close to the incident the police vehicle was, and to top it off there was also a CCTV camera nearby.
“So we stopped by the police officer, who I think was too busy doing some private work, because when I told her what happened she said she was off-duty. I managed to get her cell number and sent her the pictures that I had taken,” she said.
The couple then went to the local police station to report the incident. “My question is: this is a known hot spot for this type of thing. We all know it’s dangerous. The driver who was attacked was just a young guy and he was just so shocked.
“I called the local hospital on the chance that he went there for medical help, and he did go there.
“I was also told that he was not the first case they had had under such circumstances.
“If the police know this is happening, why are they not doing anything? There is a surveillance camera there. Surely it was put there for a reason and should be assisting them in preventing these incidents, or catching the suspects. What is our tax money being used for then?” she asked.
Responding to her online post, many people said they, too, had been victims in that area.
One resident said: “This happens every day, all day, yet still nothing is being done.”
Another wrote: “The same corner I go through regularly to church, so notorious for its smash-and-grabs. Citizens are policing and coming to each other’s aid. What role do cops play? They know that this is a hot spot, but they obviously get a cut from the takings. That can be the only reason they don’t notice or intervene.”
Andreas Mathios, of the Pinetown Neighbourhood Watch Association, said the robbery and assault of drivers was well known and documented in the area.
“There is a huge influx of drugs that has come into the market. What has happened is that these guys who take whoonga, they attack drivers indiscriminately to get valuables to buy drugs.
“Drivers can be as vigilant as possible, but these guys will target drivers nonetheless,” he said.
At the same time, Mathios said, delayed work on major construction projects in the CBD added to the constant heavy traffic jams in the area.
“Drivers are in a dangerous situation. We have called for more visible policing in these known hot spots,” he said.
Umesh Singh, chairperson of the eThekwini outer-north CPF cluster, which includes Durban North, uMhlanga, King Shaka International area, Verulam, Tongaat and Pinetown, said this crime was common.
“We’ve had many incidents of this type, this is not a new crime. As much as we can call for more police visibility, they cannot be at every area all the time.
“We urge drivers to not leave any valuables in sight and keep windows up. We still see drivers talking on the phones while driving and this is inviting danger. When we hear of these crimes, we try to beef up security, but drivers must also play their part,” he said.
Businessman and former Chatsworth CPF chairperson Logan Chetty said word was going around of robbers placing oranges with nails in them on to roads. The nails punctured tyres when cars drive over them.
“Once you pull off the road, the guys are on your head,” said Chetty, who believed this had been happening in Phoenix and would naturally follow on to Chatsworth.
“Crime is rife in all areas. You are not safe driving in your own car.”
eThekwini metro police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Parboo Sewpersad said metro officials were not aware of an increase in theft out of vehicles, or smash-and-grabs in traffic.
“If people are aware of this, they need to report this and inform us. We can monitor the areas where this is happening,” he said.
When asked about the CCTV camera and officers claiming they were off-duty and therefore unable to help, Sewpersad said officers could make a decision to place themselves “on duty” if someone needed help, and call for back-up. He said CCTV cameras were operated by the disaster management centre and, if an investigation was launched, footage could be requested from the centre.
“If a member of the public is not happy with the response they get from officers, they are welcome to come through to the public relations office of metro police, at 68 Archie Gumede Place, and write out an affidavit with as much detail as possible. We will then investigate the matter,” he said.
KZN police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane confirmed a case of attempted robbery was opened at Pinetown police station.
“This was after a 29-year-old victim was approached by two suspects who allegedly stabbed him and attempted to take the car keys from ignition. Another motorist who witnessed the incident came to his assistance and the suspects fled. No arrests have been made and the matter is under investigation.”
Zwane urged motorists to take extra precaution when driving in isolated areas and where smash-and-grabs were prevalent.
“Always make sure windows and doors are closed and locked. Beware of people hanging around your vehicle while at stop streets or robots,” he said.