Cape Town - Pinelands, the so-called Garden City of Cape Town, is facing a major upsurge in crime with armed robbers brazenly jumping over high walls and storming into houses while residents are still at home.
The situation has become so bad that the leafy suburb is quickly losing its status as one of the safest suburbs in Cape Town.
In one of the worst incidents, Richard and Valerie Francis survived a two-and-a-half hour ordeal during which they were tied up and robbed last month by four men in balaclavas.
The depth of the crisis is evident from the Facebook page Pinelands 531 – Crime and Safety Updates, where lists of residents have recorded robberies that include criminals scaling walls, lifting security gates off their tracks, and having no fear about invading occupied homes.
The Pinelands police, the Pinelands Neighbourhood Watch and a security company operating in Pinelands, Pinewatch, have recorded a spike in robberies and break-ins during the past four-and-a-half months.
Pinewatch controller Ronel Vorsatz said there were so many break-ins, attempted break-ins and armed robberies in Pinelands that she would “never, ever refer people to come and stay in Pinelands”. Crimes were committed there every day.
“Pinelands is not safe at all. There is always a suspect, there is always a break-in,” said Vorsatz.
Police media liaison officer Frederick van Wyk said there had been a “slight increase” in house robberies there since December.
The suburb offered “easy access” to criminals because it bordered on six railway stations and several “previously disadvantaged areas”, he explained, adding that the problem was compounded by doors and windows without burglar guards, or being left open.
“Often the reason why criminals become quite brazen is because of a lack of general awareness,” said Van Wyk.
Pinelands Neighbourhood Watch chairman Peter Hoffman said the suburb, which has 5 500 homes, was an “island of wealth in a sea of poverty”, and had experienced a “spate of armed robberies and housebreakings” since December.
He said criminals historically moved around Pinelands on foot, but were now entering by car.
Criminals came from adjacent areas such as Langa, Bokmakierie in Athlone, and Garden Village in Maitland, said Hoffman.
He was aware of seven recent house robberies, in which three residents were threatened with knives, and two involving guns.
During an interview about the March 26 robbery at his home, Richard Francis said he and his wife Valerie had left the television lounge door unlocked for five minutes to let their cat out when two men stormed in, followed shortly by two others.
“We keep our doors locked, even in the day… but just this one time, and the consequences were horrific,” he said.
They pinned him and Valerie down, placed hoods over their heads and later tied them up.
“Our lives were threatened several times during the ordeal. We thought we were going to die that night. We didn’t know if a bullet or a knife was coming,” said Richard.
After searching the house for valuables, the criminals left with R7 000 in cash, jewellery, most of which was of sentimental value, a camera and a handbag.
The attackers jumped over two 2.5m walls, he said.
“We are now petrified. Our home isn’t our home anymore. We feel so violated.”
On Facebook on Friday, Pinelands police station member Bheki Zulu wrote that three “most dangerous suspects” were arrested on Thursday and Friday.
He said: “We arrested a highly-skilled member of the 26s gang” who was “moving tactically to a house”. He was found carrying “break-in implements”.
On Tuesday this week, Cat Watkyns-Nieuwveld wrote: “Break-in on Kingsway between 8.15 and 9pm this evening. Second time in two months. Another home two doors down was also broken into.”
On April 10, Nicola Rodwell Björkman wrote that two men “just walked into the house”. They were scared off by an alarm after scaling a wall running from Parkchester towards Forest Drive.
“Be careful folks. Very brazen and unabashedly walked into our home,” she wrote.
A post on April 1 by Shahier Adams said: “Liddesdale Road hit twice this week! Why are we accepting this?”
Also on April 1, Ben Dunlop wrote: “Had a break-in over the weekend in Millside Park offices in Morningside, three laptops stolen.”
On March 27, two armed robberies were reported at the Howard Hamlet complex and Broadwalk Street.
On the same day, Vivien Lourens wrote about a woman who was held at gunpoint at the Howard Hamlet complex.
Robert Fraser Henning wrote that his Robindale house was ransacked on March 21.
“Police suspect drug addicts from Maitland Garden Village as my wife’s stolen laptop was recovered in a raid on a drug dealer’s home,” he said.
Phillipa Anthony reported a break-in on February 9 in Hawthorn Road. “We were all in the house for a birthday party and buggers walked into the house, stole three handbags, two tables and DVD player out of bedroom. Can’t believe they are so brazen …Luckily, we were not harmed.”
Stefanie Schönberger wrote on February 20 that she was burgled at Spring Gardens after criminals jumped over a wall. The burglers stole watches, a laptop and jewellery.
On February 5, a couple were held at gunpoint in Woodside Drive.
In January, four attempted break-ins and a hijacking were reported on the website.
During one of the attempted break-ins in Alices Ride Street, five men lifted an electric gate off its rails and drove their car into the driveway, but sped off after being confronted by the gardener. During a similar incident in Grasmere Road, two men lifted an electric gate off its rails, but left after being spotted. - Weekend Argus