* This story has been edited to fix the slain police officer's name.
Cape Town - They place bricks on the highway and then wait for someone to “fall for their trap”. On Wednesday, it was police officer Petrus "Burger" Holz who punctured his wheels on the scattered cinder blocks, coming to a stop at the side of the N2.
Just hours later, investigators were combing through the area, looking for anything that might help identify the men who had stabbed the 55-year-old and left him to bleed to death.
Holz, a warrant officer with the Hawks’ Commercial Crime Unit, is the latest victim of a new crime trend that has gripped the national highway, turning it into a hell run for drivers.
The City of Cape Town had warned motorists about the new ploy earlier this year, but Holz was driving in the early morning and appears to not have spotted the bricks lying in the road.
Provincial traffic services chief Kenny Africa confirmed that the officer had driven over a set of concrete blocks, bursting two tyres.
It was when he pulled over that the knife-wielding men attacked.
The officer’s death has caused an outcry, while many were shocked that a policeman was killed, others feared this new crimewave would continue.
The Grassy Park Community Policing Forum’s chairman Philip Bam wrote to the Cape Argus, calling for security on the highway to be improved. He said these crimes had frequently taken place on the N2, and he was shocked that only now were police promising to respond in full force.
He said earlier this year a young man had been stabbed on the same stretch of road.
“Probably by the same two miscreants… he managed to get away and reach a hospital where his substantial life threatening injuries could be treated.
“The life of this policeman, somebody’s father, somebody’s husband… could have been spared (if action had been taken sooner).”
On Wednesday morning, mayor Patricia de Lille led a moment of silence for the slain officer inside the council chambers.
“The vicious attack on a police officer is indeed very sad,” said her spokeswoman Zara Nicholson. “We condemn this attack on a member of public service who chose a career to protect and serve the public.”
The city has been aware of the “new robbery ploy” since April, and Nicholson said mayoral member for Safety and Security JP Smith engages with the police and provincial government in a bid to curb these attacks.
In May, the city’s metro police conducted an operation by stationing a female officer inside an unmarked “bait” car along the highway between the Mew Way and R300 off-ramps.
“Shortly afterwards two men approached the vehicle and tried to rob the officer.”
They were arrested and found in possession of a knife and a toy gun.
While the operation is set to be repeated, it also serves to illustrate something which is taking place frequently on the highway.
Africa said because of the length of the road it was almost impossible to keep an eye on every metre of the highway.
“It’s very difficult and we need the help of the public.”
He said that if motorists, spotting the police officer’s broken-down car, had stopped to help, the criminals would most likely not have targeted him.
However, he added that traffic officers, police and law enforcement were constantly working on improving safety on the road and patrolled the length of the highway throughout the day.
The police officer’s unmarked white vehicle sat on the road until late on Wednesday morning. Dark clouds swirled overhead as investigators searched through grass. Nearby lay Holz’s body, a smear of blood on his white car.
* Online motoring site Women On Wheels has released a set of safety tips to help drivers navigate the N2’s potential hazards in the wake of the police officer’s death. They said that commuters should be aware of criminals’ modus operandi.
One example was that robbers would place cardboard boxes or plastic bags in the middle of the road to conceal the bricks intended to puncture motorists’ tyres.
“As the driver, you are then forced to pull over, putting yourself at risk of ambush alongside the road.”
Road users were advised to be especially careful during poor visibility or after dark.
Women On Wheels recommended that motorists always drive in the right hand lane. Second, they said that it was important never to stop on the N2 even if that meant driving on your cars rims.
“Keep going until you see a tow truck, the drivers are armed.”
Third, they recommended fitting anti-hijacking and smash and grab coatings to all windows.
Traffic chief Kenny Africa said that if commuters spotted a motorist broken down on the side of the road, it was important they step in to help, even if it was just to notify the police so that they could come and help the stranded driver.
He said that these criminals would only be stopped if authorities and motorists presented a unified front.