Eastern Cape police have cracked a house-breaking syndicate that has terrorised Mthatha for several months.

In and out in less than five minutes. Housebreaking gangs ravaging Durban suburbs are derailing gates, smashing doors, tearing through homes and making off with flat-screen television sets and other high-end luxuries – and all before armed response companies and police arrive.

Housebreakers even avoid detection by alarm motion sensors by hiding behind mattresses or under duvets while moving inside houses. But most of the time the wailing of house alarm sirens continues while they are making off with their loot.

Hillcrest, Durban North, Glenmore, Amanzimtoti, the Bluff, Pinetown and Umhlanga are some of the areas seeing a surge of incidents. Only Westville, which has been rife with housebreakings in recent months, has seen a decrease in the past two weeks, owing to the arrest of a number of suspects in Sydenham who may be linked to 26 incidents in the highway area, according to Community Police Forum chairman Kevin Harvey.

Other areas are not as fortunate.

Durban North and Umhlanga have seen an upsurge in the past two months, according to Haden Searles, the forum’s chairman. He said cases appeared to be prevalent in the La Lucia and Sunningdale areas.

Housebreakers often targeted homes between 2am and 4am, although with the current darker mornings, some cases occurred as late as 5.45am. However, there was no discernible preferred time, he said.

“We underestimate their intelligence, and they have experience... And people often don’t have their alarms activated at night.”

Searles said the gangs avoided violence most of the time, so as not to gain greater police attention.

Pro-Act Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator Andreas Mathios said Pinetown was also “battling” with a “dramatic” increase in the crime rate.

Hillcrest was also a current target, with housebreakings increasing by 20 percent since the beginning of the year, said the forum’s chairman, Alan Smaldon.

“They are highly professional and have shopping lists... they are taking electronic goods left, right and centre,” he said.

Smaldon estimated that in the 400km2 Hillcrest area there were 100 housebreakings a month. House robberies had also increased from two to three years ago, he said, with about five to 10 such cases each month.

In Amanzimtoti there are, on average, three housebreakings or attempted housebreakings each day, according to the Community Crime Prevention Organisation.

The organisation’s operations manager, Leon Jooné, has photographs showing 4m glass doors smashed and sliding doors ripped off their hinges in recent incidents.

Security companies say the gangs know exactly how much time they have before reaction officers or police arrive. Delayed reaction alarms give 30 seconds to one minute from when the door is broken until the alarm sounds. Add another minute for the alarm company to make contact with the home owner and another two to four minutes for officers to arrive on the scene.

Blue Security managing director Darryn le Grange

advises people to install systems which allow for early detection of intruders on their properties. The more barriers between the outside gate and the house, the better, he said. - The Mercury