Wheels come off in Cape Town suburbs

By Kieran Legg Time of article published Jun 19, 2015

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Cape Town - They work in the dark, stripping wheels from parked cars and fleeing into the night.

It’s part of a new wave of crime that is gripping the streets of Table View where owners have woken up to find their car’s axles left bare and balanced on nothing but a set of bricks.

“It’s happening almost every night all around us,” said the area’s Community Policing Forum. “It’s not safe to park on the streets anymore.”

In the past week, there have been at least four reported incidents but forum’s spokeswoman Gemma Gardner, who has labelled the spate of crime as a new trend, said this might be just the tip of the iceberg “as many people tend not to report this type of crime”.

She said while they were not sure how the thieves were able to rapidly strip the vehicles, the assumption was that they worked in teams and used a jack to prop up the car on cinder blocks or bricks.

They tend to strike between 8pm and 10.30pm when load shedding often leaves the neighbourhood pitch black.

While the forum has warned residents to be wary of where they park their cars, Gardner said that at least half the people living in the area did not have access to garages or fenced-in driveways.

But even parking inside may not be enough, warned Lansdowne and Rondebosch East Neighbourhood Watch chairman Adam Fisher.

STRIPPED

In November 2014 Rondebosch East saw a sudden spike in wheel thefts. Residents woke up to find their cars on cinder blocks, stripped of their wheels and sometimes even the brake discs.

Fisher said in some instances, thieves had scaled palisade walls and removed wheels from cars parked in driveways, hoisting the stolen tyres back over onto the street.

For the entire month, there were at least three incidents a week and then it suddenly stopped.

“We had some camera footage of these guys and sightings of a blue bakkie, an old Ford, but it didn’t have any plates. Nobody was ever caught,” he added. “It’s possible these guys have moved on to somewhere new, who knows?”

In the northern suburbs, District Watch spokesman Harvey Venter said the area had seen a spike in the number of wheel thefts, with about five incidents recorded in the past month.

He said the surge coincided with the winter months when the streets were more likely to be empty as the bad weather drove people indoors.

Venter said it did not seem that thieves were targeting particular vehicles.

“I don’t really know how they operate, but they are definitely just looking for some mags that they can sell at a decent price.”

ACROSS THE BORDER

Searching through classified listing sites such as Gumtree and OLX, there were a long list of wheels being advertised for sale. Prices range from R2000 for a used set to R16 000 brand new.

But a local tyre dealer said it was unlikely that most of the stolen wheels were being sold locally.

Howard Ross, who owns and manages Palm Tyres in Maitland, said stolen cars, wheels, and other parts, were often smuggled across the border to Mozambique, Angola and elsewhere.

During their deployment along the border to Swaziland earlier this year, the Cape Town Rifles - a local regiment of army reserves - reported they had stopped and confiscated numerous stolen cars being driven out of the country.

Ross said thieves tended to target Toyotas as the parts were always in high demand.

Venter recommended that car owners invest in security lock nuts which are harder to remove than the standard variety and often require a special key to unscrew.

According to the police’s annual crime statistics, there has been a dramatic increase in these types of crime in the Western Cape over the past five years.

The statistics show that the number of reported incidents of theft out of motor vehicles, which is not just limited to the theft of wheels, has increased from 35 367 in 2009 to 42 638 last year - an 18 percent surge.

Durbanville has seen those thefts rise from 283 reported incidents to 533 in the same period (almost 50 percent).

And Table View has seen a 19 percent spike from 797 incidents to 975.

Cape Argus

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