Durban - A stocky young man woke up at 2am on Friday with a pillow over his face and a gun at his head.
Seconds earlier Matthew Muller imagined that mates in the Kloof commune he shares with old school friends from Maritzburg College were playing a prank on him.
Then he heard a voice say: “Make a noise and you’ll get shot.”
The next minute the newly qualified design engineer had his hands and legs tied. He managed to break free and made for an alarm button but was forced at gunpoint to join his friend, Codi Phippen, on the downstairs floor, covered in blankets.
“They asked me for the keys of the Toyota Hilux parked outside. I said I didn’t know where they were to help my mate (whose car it was),” said Muller.
Instead his own car, a VW Polo, was stolen.
Phippen had seen them enter the house from his upstairs room after Max, their cocker spaniel, alerted him and his partner Rayne Bek that something was not right.
“Two guys were walking in with what looked like AKs,” he said.
The five intruders also had a large, silver handgun.
“I locked the door and told Rayne to hide in the bathroom,” said Phippen.
Moments later he was pinned to the floor as his cupboards and drawers were searched for laptops, GPSes, cellphones and wallets.
Then Phippen was ordered downstairs.
Meanwhile, Bek, crouched behind a sink in the bathroom, clutching her two kittens.
“I was so scared,” said the student.
A commotion ensued upstairs as the robbers kicked open locked doors.
Muller, still being held captive downstairs, thought he was hearing shots go off.
In the fracas, Cameron Channing smacked a robber with the butt of a pellet gun, only to be ordered on to the floor at gunpoint, along with Gareth Phillips.
Daniel Grinwis, a photographer, also first thought his mates were up to a midnight prank. But then he saw a robber with a gun pointing at him about to enter his room. He shoved hard against a door to stop the robbers coming in.
As a resulty he was able to prevent his uninsured camera equipment from being stolen.
One of the eight housemates, Mark Wattrus, ended up at the right place at the right time when he chose to stay over at his parents’ home, also in Kloof, having just bought a new Toyota Hilux.
“I would have been destroyed if it was stolen,” he said.
The robbers then fled in Muller’s VW Polo. The housemates, aged between 20 and 23, gave chase but lost the Polo as it raced towards Pinetown. They were puzzled how all five intruders and their loot, including a large television screen, had fitted in.
The friends had lived in the commune since Christmas and were on the verge of moving out as their lease had ended.
Two weeks ago, intrudersentered through a sliding door that had been left open leaving the occupants of the commune more security conscious, but they did not believe they were scheduled for another “visit”.
Last weekend saw a home invasion in Waterfall where an air gun also came into the homeowner”s defence actions.
Steven Greenwood, who had been battling three intruders with cane knives called out to his wife for a gun, hoping it would scare his attackers. She handed him an air gun, which he pointed at them, at first scaring them away. However, they later ambushed him. One of them was armed.
Greenwood was badly beaten up and his wife, Lynette, was punched in the face.
Karen Baxter, head of the reaction unit for the neighbourhood watch in Waterfall Three said various zones in Waterfall as well as in Brackenhill, Crestholme and Forest Hills had seen a huge increase in home invasions.
“There is little or no police presence,” she said.
“People are working all day and staying awake at night, patrolling.”
She said neighbourhood watches had tried to set up meetings with the new leadership at Hillcrest police station but had no joy.
“There have been 27 home invasions that we know about since January last year,” she said.
Baxter added that criminals appeared to be watching properties and targeting elderly people.
“A couple of nights ago someone in her late eighties or nineties was targeted.”
Shaun Lyle, chairman of the Hillcrest Park Neighbourood Watch said there had been an alarming increase in crime, escalating violence and a major increase in home invasions despite very active neighbourhood watch anti-crime fighting initiatives.
“Our big problem is organised groups of 'career beggars' working shifts and thieving at night. We have had approximately nine arrests in the central area alone since the beginning of the year.”
He said most active neighbourhoods were containing the situation through proactive policies.
“Neighbourhood watches are increasingly working together and sharing resources to remain ahead of the curve.”
Corne Broodryk of the Kloof Community Policing Forum said the commune incident had happened at a time when patrols had brought about a reduction of crime in the area.