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Durban - Four fearless gangs of robbers – two of them extremely violent – are unleashing terror in quiet, upmarket western suburbs of Durban at a rate of four attacks a week.
Since Sunday three incidents have already been reported: two separate Hillcrest families were tied up, blindfolded and tormented by their attackers. Another resident was attacked by hijackers. And, a week ago, a Hillcrest Park businessman was repeatedly stabbed in his front yard.
His wife went into premature labour shortly after the robbery.
The chairman of the Hillcrest Neighbourhood Watch, Shaun Lyle, said it was suspected that four gangs were operating in the Upper Highway area of Hillcrest, Kloof, Westville, Waterfall, Gillitts, West Riding and Assagay.
Since January almost four houses a week had been hit by the gangs, he said, and the Finger Gang and the Whoonga Gang were the most violent and dangerous, while the Panga Gang and Gate Crashers were also notorious.
The gangs have been named according to the ways they operate.
“The Finger Gang use a hammer to break their victims’ fingers to remove rings. The Whoonga Gang are drug addicts. These gangs are fearless. They risk their own lives most times,” Lyle said. The gangs were becoming increasingly violent and appeared to be organised crime syndicates, he said.
“They are evading hi-tech security systems, neighbourhood and police patrols and entering specifically targeted properties. Since January, serious crime has been going off the charts in the Upper Highway area.”
He said women also appeared to be soft targets.
“Last week, two Hillcrest women – one going for a jog and the other walking to work – were attacked. Their screams and quick action from the community deterred their attackers.”
A police source said the Hillcrest area was under siege.
“The gangs are very violent. They steal laptops, cellphones, cameras and jewellery – stuff they can dispose of.”
He said CCTV footage had been obtained from some of the robberies and several of the suspects belonging to the different gangs had been identified.
Their arrests were imminent, he said.
On Monday, two suspects entered the home of a Hillcrest Park woman, around 4.15am.
Lyle said the woman was tied up and blindfolded while the robbers ransacked her house. Her vehicle, which was also taken, was recovered a few hours later in Clermont.
The same afternoon, an Impala Street resident was hijacked.
On Sunday, an elderly Hillcrest couple were bound, gagged, blindfolded and terrorised for almost two hours. Lyle said the suspects verbally abused them and threatened to kill them. The suspects ransacked the house before making off in the couple’s car.
In both robberies, the intruders had handkerchiefs tied around their noses and mouths.
KZN police did not formally respond to queries about the spate of house robberies in the Hillcrest area.
But, commenting on the Whoonga Gang, police spokesman, Colonel Vincent Mdunge, said criminals were known to indulge in drugs before crime sprees.
“I cannot confirm this was the case in the Hillcrest robberies. But the reality is that criminals do use drugs,” he said. “It makes them feel brave and also prevents them from pitying their victims.”
Mdunge said criminals under the influence of drugs believed they could survive any situation.
“Even if they are hurt, they do not feel pain.”