Lungelo Mkamba, Bernadette Wolhuter and Bronwyn Fourie
The “finger gang” terrorising the Highway suburbs of Durban has struck again and the police seem powerless to stop it.
The police will not comment on an unusual feature of the robberies – that the criminals always hurt the fingers of their victims in the process of removing their rings.
In the latest attack the thieves targeted a Pietermaritzburg magistrate living in Kloof. They threatened to cut off his fingers with clippers if he didn’t hand over his jewellery, cash and PIN numbers and then beat him up and left him for dead.
Riaan de Wet was attacked early yesterday. He was asleep when four armed men forced open the security gate.
His friend Willie Lombard, who was not at home at the time, said De Wet had been blindfolded and terrorised for four hours before the thieves tried to leave in his car. When they could not start it, he was taken to turn the key.
“He is fine but badly beaten. He can talk,” Lombard said.
Last week an elderly Cowies Hill couple were robbed at 3am – also by men who threatened to cut off their fingers.
Terry McDonald, 77, and his wife, Jenny, 71, were robbed of jewellery, cash, documents and their car keys.
The thieves slapped Jenny across the face and insulted her, using racist language.
In November, a gang tried to hack Kloof father Douglas Gordon’s finger off to get his wedding ring.
A few days later, intruders smashed a Westville North man’s ring finger with a pick. And, in a Westville home on Monday, a man used his teeth to yank off a woman’s wedding ring.
Private investigator Brad Nathanson said robbers were no longer happy with the loot they could gather in the few minutes before a security company arrived.
They wanted to get residents under control and take hours, if need be, to extract information like PIN numbers, and combinations.
Nathanson expressed concern that it was only a matter of time before someone was seriously hurt, killed, or raped.
Haden Searles, the chairman of the Durban North and Umhlanga Community Police Forum, said residents there feared similar attacks.
“Gardeners and domestic workers are the main victims. But I also do not think there is anything holding them back from taking it to the next level, so if they do break in and find the residents at home, it will not stop them. They are not afraid.”
Westville police spokesman Stephen Clarke said thieves used to be easy to
“You would have your bag snatchers, cellphone thieves, housebreakers and house robbers, but there has been this shift and they are all crossing over.
“There is also definitely a trend to be more violent.”
Clarke added that there was an increase in “extra stuff” unrelated to the crime.
In a recent case, for example, a robber strangled his victim with a cord while whispering threatening things in her ear.
“It is all stuff that has nothing to do with the crime,” he said.