Durban - South Africa’s R8.5-billion-a-year vehicle theft crime problem – and the police’s uphill battle in fighting it – was highlighted on Tuesday with the arrest of a man who was caught stripping a hijacked bakkie while it was still in motion.
Police believe he is part of a wider car theft syndicate specialising in Toyota vehicles.
The insurance industry has warned that KwaZulu-Natal and Durban have seen an increase in vehicle-related crimes over the past few months.
According to the South African Insurance Crime Bureau (SAICB), of the R8.5 billion vehicles stolen in South Africa, R4.9bn’s worth are taken across the border; R3.1bn stay in South Africa as cloned vehicles and R514 million end up in chop shops.
On Tuesday investigators said they found an assortment of tools used in stealing and stripping vehicles, including an industrial monkey wrench (for breaking steering locks). They also recovered 10 computer boxes that were allegedly stolen from other vehicles, as well as car keys.
Tuesday’s drama began when a white Toyota bakkie was hijacked in Chris Hani Drive near Greenwood Park at 10am.
The vehicle’s tracking system was activated by the owner and the police, assisted by the tracking company, began following its signal.
The signal led police, including the Integrated Vehicle Tracking Task Team and metro police, to uMlazi’s Z-Section where they spotted the hijacked vehicle being tailed by a hired blue VW Polo.
“While driving along they were stripping the bakkie, looking for the tracking device,” a police source said. “As soon as they saw us, the driver of the Polo stopped the vehicle and ran. He was able to get away but our guys were able to get his accomplice in the bakkie.”
The source said officers were shocked to discover the loot the men were carrying.
“These were not small guys. They had all the tools that are required including what they call a ‘goner’, which is a device that can be plugged in any vehicle’s on-board diagnostic system and is able to override it and allow them to drive the car without the original key,” he said.
Police discovered that the Polo was rented by the men from a car hire service at King Shaka International Airport on Monday. The vehicle’s number plate was changed.
Police are closing in on other members of the gang and expect to make more arrests soon.
“We have their details because when you hire a vehicle you have to supply your ID, address and even your credit card,” the source said.
According to the most recent police crime statistics, KwaZulu-Natal is a hot spot for car theft and hijackings. There were 9 788 cars and motorcycles stolen between April 2012 and March last year. During the same period 2 427 vehicles were hijacked in the province. Statistics for 2013/14 have yet to be released.
Hugo van Zyl, chief operations officer of SAICB, told the Daily News on Tuesday that car hijacking was a growing concern in Durban.
“Although I don’t have the figures now, in our meeting last Friday it transpired that the province, and the city in particular, have a serious problem which need the full attention of all the roleplayers - from the police to traffic officers, banking industry, insurance companies to the transport department,” said Van Zyl.
“In the past three to four months we have seen an increase in this crime.”
Van Zyl said in an attempt to combat car theft and hijackings, SAICB had established Provincial Vehicle Crime forums for all nine provinces, with the KZN Forum being operational for the past three years. Durban had its forum meeting on Friday.
“We understand that some cars (SUVs and double-cab bakkies) are moved to the northern province... Emerging countries also need these vehicles for various purposes,” he said.
“Another huge problem is that the South African border to Mozambique is easily accessible and it makes an easy getaway route for stolen vehicles.”
Car dealerships had also been hit hard by car thieves, while some car owners colluded with criminals to “steal” their vehicles and then claimed from insurance companies, Van Zyl said.
According to a statement released by a public relations company on behalf of SAICB recently, R8.5bn worth of vehicles were stolen and hijacked in the country annually.
About 30 percent of these are smuggled across the border to neighbouring countries.
“To make matters worse, last year approximately 39 000 vehicles reappeared in the system, costing a fortune for the insurance industry to pay out claims where they were unaware that these vehicles were in fact cloned,” Van Zyl said.
“When you insure a cloned vehicle, insurance companies don’t have to pay out because the incorrect vehicle is reflected on the books.
“These criminals target high-end SUVs and double-cabs. These are top brands worth between R500 000 and R700 000 per vehicle. We know exactly what vehicles leave the country, what vehicles are cloned and what vehicles end up in chop shops,” he said.
“We have a system in place to gather information on what vehicles are stolen and where they end up.”
Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said the Greenwood Park hijacking was being investigated.
“A 36-year-old male was arrested and the vehicle was recovered. He is expected to appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court soon.”