Police have released CCTV screengrabs of some of the men involved in separate mall robberies across Gauteng in the last four weeks.
Johannesburg - It took a gang of brazen robbers just four minutes to steal an undisclosed amount of cash and a cellphone from a restaurant on Monday before they fled the scene.

So hasty was their robbery that security guards at the Joburg Mall of the South in Aspen Hills, where the eatery is located, were unable to stop them and the group is still at large.

This incident was the latest in a string of attacks at malls across the country.

The Mall of the South has been struck by armed robbers 10 times since opening in September 2015. This week, the group, brandishing firearms, entered the Debonairs franchise just as the business opened on Monday morning.

Pretending to be customers, they approached staff.

Provincial police spokesperson Captain Mavela Masondo says the robbers then held some of the employees at gunpoint and demanded cash.

“They also stole one of the employee’s cellphone.”

Although no shots were fired, the group managed to evade mall’s security as they fled with their loot.

Centre manager Hester Smith says the robbery took place in minutes, making it difficult for security personnel to react.

The robbers entered Debonairs at 8.57am and had fled by 9.01am.

“In 2015 we experienced two armed robberies, in 2016 three armed robberies, and in 2017 it must be noted that we did not experience any armed robberies for nine months. From July to date, we experienced five armed robberies and two business robberies.”

Smith says the mall is "determined to protect shoppers", with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment installed at several points, extra security guards hired to monitor the complex, the electrification of the perimeter fence and the closing of one of the pedestrian gates.

“While we have no control over the dramatic increase in crime overall, the centre management team has initiated further procedures and initiatives to assist and contribute towards reducing the incidents at Mall of the South, to ensure as far as possible within its powers a safe and secure environment for the tenants and customers of the mall.”

Other malls in Gauteng, too, have had an increasing number of cellphone and electronic devices stores targeted, including Rosebank Mall, Mall of Africa, Cresta and Soweto’s Maponya Mall.

Apart from stores at malls across the province being targeted, two cinemas were at the centre of muggings of movie-goers.

Last weekend, a couple’s personal items were stolen while they were at Eastgate Mall’s Ster-Kinekor complex.

In October, another couple was robbed while at the Ster-Kinekor at Rosebank Mall.

A Ster-Kinekor spokesperson said they were aware of both robberies and in contact with the customers involved. They are working with the police on the matter.

“We view every incident that impacts customers in a very serious light and strive to take immediate and appropriate steps to address them.”

Meanwhile, Nu Metro Cinemas say they have not experienced any similar incidents at their movie theatres in the past few years.

“Nu Metro has stringent security and access-control mechanisms in place at all our cinemas nationwide,” said managing executive Nitesh Matai.

Gareth Newham, head of the Institute for Security Studies’ governance, crime and justice division, says Gauteng malls are more prone to criminal activities compared to others in the country.

“This is because it has a larger population and greater levels of economic activity compared to other provinces.”

But this doesn’t mean that the rest of the country is necessarily much safer.

According to the Consumer Goods Council Risk Initiative, there was a 28% increase over the past two years in the number of robberies at shopping centres countrywide.

In the past financial year, there were an average of more than two robberies of shopping centres every day.

Newham believes that those who target shopping complexes malls are "typically well-organised", making it increasingly difficult to combat mall robberies.

But he insists that "through effective crime intelligence, networks involved in such crimes can be identified and brought to justice".

In-fighting at law enforcement agencies needs be addressed, he says.

“The police need to sort out its crime intelligence functions, which have deteriorated substantially over the past five years due to political interference at the highest level.”

Saturday Star