Jozini - Offroad vehicle owners in the Mhlabuyalingana municipal area near Mozambique’s border are living in fear as they are being targeted by cross-border hijacking syndicates.

A sudden spike in hijacking by brazen AK-47-wielding gangsters, who have been robbing owners of 4x4s (including SUVs) at their homes, has elicited South African government reaction and angered locals.

Fed up Jozini residents staged a public protest this week, calling for a round-the-clock police presence or they would to take the law into their own hands.

The group handed a memorandum, which highlighted their concerns, to Police Minister Nathi Nhleko on Monday. Their calls for intervention have not fallen on deaf ears.

Police presence has been bumped up exponentially, the army has deployed added personnel, and the municipality has engaged volunteers to do beat patrol.

Nhleko’s spokesman, Sandile Ngidi. said the minister was deeply concerned about the continued incidents of cross-border crimes and was aware of the rising emotional temperature within the communities neighbouring Mozambique.

“Communities are getting impatient and in some cases vigilante groups have been formed.

“Surely taking the law into one’s hand is not an answer,” Nigidi said.

The minister visited areas such as Mhlabuyalingana, Manguzi and Jozini in northern KZN to respond to community concerns recently.

Russel Tembe, a member of the Royal Tembe family and a businessman, welcomed the government’s intervention because the rate of hijackings in recent months have left residents feeling hopeless.

“The situation has been terrible. It has been a long-time problem that has become worse in recent months.

“Locals are struggling to buy 4x4s; it is a necessity here, but we are becoming targets.

“Our areas are largely sandy and some parts are only accessible by 4x4. We dont buy these vehicles for luxury,” Tembe said.

He said previously the SAPS members policed the Salamango border checkpoint in Mozambique and “we could sleep at night, but no longer.”

Sibusiso Bukhosini, Mhlabuyalingana’s municipal manager, said the higher level of policing has helped reduce hijacking.

“At one point in October, we were experiencing as many as one hijacking incident a week, but now the situation seems to be under control.

“These are not opportunistic criminals, but robbers linked to syndicates in Mozambique. I’m told there is always a waiting customer in Mozambique, that is worrisome.”

The municipal manager said policing strategies had changed for the festive season, and they planned more ad hoc roadblocks to ensure vehicles were driven by the rightful owners.

“This has been bad for our area. We have asked people to be on the lookout, but we’ve warned them not to take the law into their own hands.”

Sunday Tribune