Mountain muggings cut by half

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ON GUARD: Esco and his handler, Selby Zali, a SANParks ranger, patrol a path on Lions Head yesterday. SANParks says the number of crimes reported on the Table Mountain chain so far this year has dropped by two-thirds compared to the same period last year. Picture: JONATHAN JONES

Caryn Dolley

THE number of attacks on the Table Mountain chain and related areas has dropped by a least a half this year compared to the same period last year.

And on Table Mountain itself, there have been “virtually no” incidents in a year.

Yesterday, community organisation the Table Mountain Safety Action Group said crimes had halved this year, while SANParks said incidents had dropped by two-thirds compared to last year. It declined to give exact figures.

“While all statistics need to be confirmed by the SAPS, we can confirm that contact crime on the mountain chain has decreased to about a third of the number of incidents, by this time last year,” SANParks regional spokeswoman Wanika Rusthoi said .

Rusthoi said throughout winter, a safety team had cleared out hideouts, caves and old military bunkers, and had taken “loiterers” to police for fingerprinting.

“Frequently, individuals were detained as they were wanted for crimes committed elsewhere in the city. This has proven highly effective in reducing contact crime on the mountain, shown by a significant decrease in the number of attacks this year,” she said.

Rusthoi said 60 permanently employed visitor safety rangers patrolled the mountain chain 24 hours a day.

She said the rangers were trained, uniformed and armed with “non-lethal weapons” including pepper spray, pepperball guns and batons.

“At a later stage, selected rangers will be armed with firearms,” Rusthoi said.

Rangers’ efforts were boosted by 11 members of a dog unit.

Rusthoi said safety officers’ training included becoming more familiar with the mountain, lookout points and possible escape routes.

“Feedback from mountain users has been immensely positive, noting that the rangers now have an increased presence in terms of visibility and authority,” she said.

Andre van Schalkwyk, head of the Table Mountain Safety Action Group previously formed in reaction to the high number of mountain-related crimes, said he was thinking of disbanding the group due to the decrease in crimes.

“The high number of attacks has gone. We’ve achieved what we set out to,” he said. Van Schalkwyk attributed the decrease in crime to an increase in the number of rangers deployed on the |mountains.

“The (rangers) I’ve spoken to on the ground say they are from the ex-security forces or ex-police,” he said.

Based on statistics compiled by the Table Mountain safety group, with hiking clubs, Van Schalkwyk said the number of crimes on the Table Mountain chain, including Lion’s Head, Rhodes Memorial, Signal Hill and Sandy Bay, Newlands Forest and Noordhoek Beach, had halved compared to last year.

He said from January to the end of September 2011, 29 incidents occurred, whereas there were 15 incidents during the same period this year.

Van Schalkwyk could not say whether all these incidents had been reported to police.

He said most of the incidents that the safety action group recorded this year happened in the Sandy Bay area.

Van Schalkwyk said the two most recent incidents happened within the past two weeks. The first happened on September 21 when a cyclist was attacked and his bicycle stolen in the Tokai Arboretum parking area.

The second incident happened a week ago on Black Hill.

In February last year, then-community safety MEC Albert Fritz set up the Table Mountain Safety Forum to address crime on the mountain chain.

Yesterday, forum chairman Marc Truss said crimes occurring on Table Mountain itself were “virtually down to zero”.

He said dedicated teamwork on the part of the various members of the forum was paying off.

“Everyone’s had to pool resources… It’s worked.

“SANParks upped their game,” Truss said.

caryn.dolley@inl.co.za


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