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Cape Town - A spike in crime in the Overberg tourist town of Greyton has caused concern, with residents resorting to alarm systems, burglar bars, community watch organisations and other precautions they had thought of as big-city concerns.
The incidence of property-related crime was 200 percent higher in December than in the same month in 2011.
The increase was mostly due to a surge in burglaries of homes, thefts from cars and “opportunistic crimes”.
“A decade ago, it was okay to leave your car open and not lock your door,” said Greyton Tourism Association chairwoman Jennifer Duncan.
“We had been protected, but now that protection is wearing thin.”
DA ward councillor Marie Hector said the recent spike in crime was “most likely caused by outside gangsters”, who acted as “agents”, sourcing and organising local burglars to steal goods like cellphones, laptops, TVs, and even dogs.
Her views are echoed by Alan Armstrong, head of Greyton’s newly formed neighbourhood watch, who said it was now known that “criminal elements” from Cape Town took the stolen merchandise back to the Mother City, as it was difficult to sell in the surrounding areas.
While exact crime statistics and a breakdown of the incidents over the festive season are not yet available, the most recent published SAPS figures show that the number of burglaries of homes in Genadendal and Greyton - which share a police station - more than doubled from 40 in 2007/8 to 93 in 2011/12.
The number of cases of theft out of or from a motor vehicle shot up from three to 24, while those of “general theft”, which included the snatching of cellphones and wallets, increased from 58 to 124.
While the figures have shown a steady increase over the years, they do not include the 200 percent surge in burglaries in December.
According to the Statistics South Africa Victims of Crime Survey 2011, burglary is one of the most feared crimes in South Africa, and is perceived to be one of the most common.
And the Western Cape has by far the highest rate of residential burglary in South Africa.
According to SAPS figures, the rate was 834 to every 100 000 people in 2011/12. The next worst province was Gauteng, with 571 burglaries among every 100 000 people.
Hector said factors such as a high rate of joblessness, tik abuse, lack of education and few employment opportunities caused some of the youth from Greyton’s poorer communities to turn to crime.
Parental oversight was also lacking, she said. “Parents also need to be educated - they know what their children are busy with and don’t report it.”
Armstrong said another factor contributing to the rise in crime was the relationship between the police and the community, which until recently had been fraught.
“My own assessment is that, until November last year, the police force was largely ineffective,” Armstrong said.
The previous station commander in Genadendal had refused to allow Greyton to establish its own community policing forum.
The situation had improved with the new station commander, who immediately approved the creation of a separate forum.
Despite the spike in burglaries, visitor numbers to the village have remained strong, even increasing slightly over the festive season.
Greyton, which derives most of its income from tourism and related activities, employs about 100 people directly through restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and hotels.
Duncan said the Greyton Tourism Association had been in constant contact with the village’s hospitality industry to convince it to upgrade security by installing alarm systems and burglar bars, as well as to advise guests that the village wasn’t the crime-free zone some believed it to be.
Coenie Visser, owner of the popular restaurant Oak and Vigne, said tourism was the town’s lifeline.
“We are dependent on it - that's all we have got,” he said.
He said that by taking basic precautions, many burglaries could be avoided. “Problems of the big cities have reached small villages as well.”