Pretoria - Businesses in Pretoria West are under siege from criminals - and owners say it is increasingly becoming impossible to trade in the area.
The traders told the Pretoria News their businesses were constantly being broken into and various valuables stolen in the areas around Soutter and Buitenkant streets as well as the nearby Frederick, Servaas, Charlotte Maxeke, Carl and Court streets. They suspect these were sold to scrap dealers.
The owners said this was not only bad for business, but they had employed numerous people who also had families who depended on them.
Silver Naidoo, who runs Ash Motors, blamed criminals and the homeless for breaking into businesses and stealing items to finance their drug habits. “We confront them all the time when they burn cables near the railway and at street corners,” he said.
“I had to buy back my items from a scrap dealer, and the police nearly arrested me for being aggressive because I wanted them to ask him who he bought the items from. The dealer is supposed to have proof of identification of the person who sold him the items - as required by law - but he did not have it.”
The owner of Willards Batteries Centre on Buitenkant Street said his business was broken into on Thursday night.
Franco Zabotta said: “They jumped over my high wall that also has a razor fence. They used my own equipment, including a bucket and rubbish bin to climb out after they had their loot. My wall is so high that if I was stuck here, I wouldn’t know what to do. But these guys threw themselves inside, stole batteries and created an exit staircase using my stuff.”
Zabotta said he did not bother calling the police because they were “sluggish” and did not take these kind of crimes seriously.
“The last time I called the police, the officer wanted to come and take fingerprints two weeks down the line. I asked him why bother because all you will find are my fingerprints.”
Bosman Tau, owner of Tau Panelbeaters for 20 years on Soutter Street, said: “The festive season is coming and I don’t know what I am going to do to save my stock when we close for December. We could come back and find an empty shop next year.”
The business owners said that at times, customers parked at their premises had found batteries and other things missing from their cars.
Sharon Naidoo and Charmaine Roos, of West Used Motor Spares, said they confronted the unruly criminals when they were burning copper in the streets, but that did not deter them.
The two said they were considering leaving Pretoria West and doing business elsewhere.
Naidoo claimed she was met with threats when she confronted a scrap dealer who was selling stolen items.
Patrick Steinhobel, owner of Cool Boys Air-Con, said the criminals were smart because they stole items they could carry and sold them to local “dodgy” scrap dealers. He said the criminals once used his grinder to break their way into his office.
Nelson Awa, a scrap dealer in the area, said he had never bought stolen items, and that the accusations were possibly levelled at competitors.
He said he kept a register of stock, and the police regularly checked his business for compliance.
Police spokesperson Captain Augustina Selepe said: “If anyone reports a case and the police refuse to open it, they need to take the name of the member who is refusing to assist them and ask for the visible policing commander or station commander.
“We have sector vehicles patrolling the area. Business people need to prevent criminal activities by reinforcing security systems within the premises.
“They should install CCTV or hire a security person to maintain security visibility throughout the premises.
“They must also be alert and watchful for suspicious activities and keep unused doors locked to prevent undetected entry.”
Selepe said the general community needed to take note that a waste bin was a tool for crime and ladder to climb into premises. “It can also be used to transport stolen goods; make sure there is no bin as it could attract criminals into a business or house.”
Selepe said it was not possible for police to patrol the area 24 hours a day; they created crime awareness and advised business owners to enhance safety.
MMC for Community Safety Anniruth Kissoonduth said drug addiction was a major problem and contributed to crime.
He said scrap dealers were also encouraging business robberies in Pretoria West by creating a market for stolen goods. “I do sympathise with the affected people. Metro police and other law enforcement agencies are doing busts and raids into scrapyards.”
Kissoonduth said the City was looking at a new policy and by-laws to put pressure on scrapyards.