Armed patrols on mountain
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The number of Table Mountain National Park rangers is to double immediately to curb crime - and they are to be armed with guns for the first time.
The 43 rangers patrolling the park will be boosted by 50 currently being recruited and by a further 50 over three years, said spokeswoman Merle Collins.
They will all carry 9mm handguns. The number of patrol dogs will also double to 10.
SANParks chief executive David Mabunda said on Wednesday that the impact of crime over the years in parts of the park had led to their decision to increase the number of rangers and to give them guns.
“The rangers are to be trained to the same level of the Kruger National Park rangers with the emphasis on safety, rescue and disaster management,” Mabunda said.
He said his organisation could not allow the negative impact of crime to affect “the internationally iconic status” of the park.
“The economic implications for Cape Town and the country are significant. Together with our partners we have to act decisively in dealing with this issue. We want both our domestic and international visitors to be able to enjoy the park to the full without any fear.”
Mabunda said rangers would be responsible for visitor safety, visitor rescue, anti-poaching, disaster management and crime prevention.
“The recruitment of the rangers will begin immediately,” he said.
Cape Town Routes Unlimited chief executive Calvyn Gilfellan said he was “elated”.
“It sends out a message that we are serious about the image of Table Mountain and the image of South Africa because any muggings on Table Mountain are a blot on this image,” Gilfellan said.
“Also, we support getting Table Mountain declared one of the new wonders of the world, and any visitor and local deserves to be able to visit such a wonder without any danger.”
Crime on the mountain has gradually moved higher up the slopes, with criminals targeting hikers, dog walkers and cyclists.
The first ranger recruits will start within three months.
This is after the Cape Times and the community-based Table Mountain Safety Action Group reported in February that there had been 412 crimes committed along the mountain chain in the past 11 years, with a sharp increase in the past three years.
Neither SANParks nor the police would provide crime figures. Most of the crimes were robberies, usually by criminals armed with knives, but there have also been stabbings.
The reports led Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz to instruct his department to take the lead in the fight against crime in the park by co-ordinating park officials, the police, metro police, mayoral committee members and NGOs such as the Table Mountain Safety Action Group and the Mountain Club of South Africa.
A steering committee was formed to try to revitalise methods of tackling crime on the mountain. This was followed by SANParks’s statement on Wednesday announcing the arming of the rangers.
Andre van Schalkwyk, spokesman for the Table Mountain Safety Action Group, which is made up of citizens concerned about crime on the mountain, welcomed SANParks’s announcement. “It’s great and it’s about time. They did promise this about two years ago and it’s really needed given the number of incidents and the type, particularly the stabbings.
“I know there was low morale among the rangers because they were expected to go into these conflicts unarmed, you know: ‘Here’s a baton, off you go.’ It’s great and positive to have the rangers armed because we’re dealing with that nature of animal that carries a knife, not a horn.” - Cape Times