Fuel stations “hunting ground” for criminals

A screenshot of the CCTV footage of a hijacking at a fuel station in Durban. Supplied

A screenshot of the CCTV footage of a hijacking at a fuel station in Durban. Supplied

Published May 25, 2024


Business owners, their employees and patrons are at the mercy of criminals who have made fuel stations their “hunting ground”.

Over the past few months there have been several reports of robberies at convenience stores, cash-in-transit heists and ATM bombings as well as patrons coming under attack – either hijacked, robbed and even killed at fuel stations countrywide.

∎ Last month, Luke Fleurs, a South African footballer, was shot dead during a hijacking at a fuel station in Johannesburg.

According to police reports, the 24-year-old Kaizer Chiefs’ player was waiting in his vehicle to be attended to when he was approached by two men, who pointed a firearm at him and demanded he get out of his car, a VW Golf 8 GTI.

It is alleged that as Fleurs jumped out of the vehicle he was shot in the chest. The suspects fled in his car.

Six men were arrested a few days later. They were charged with murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances, possession of firearms, possession of ammunition and defeating the ends of justice.

Ndumiso Moswane, 26, Fernando Sive, 25, Nhlakanipho Dlamini, 21, Franky Xaba, 25, Maredi Mphahlele, 36, and Thembinkosi Hlomikhawu, 31, were denied bail in the Roodepoort Magistrate’s Court last Friday.

The case was adjourned for further investigation until next month.

∎ Earlier this month, a group of men stormed into a fuel station in Mpumalanga, and held the employees and customers at gunpoint.

The men set off explosives to open a drop safe in the convenience store. They stole an undisclosed amount of cash and several items.

They made an attendant fill up their getaway vehicle before fleeing.

Police are investigating a case of business robbery.

∎ In February, CCTV footage went viral on social media of a man held at gunpoint and robbed of his belongings at a fuel station in Durban, including the keys to his BMW.

In the footage, the man can be seen speaking to a person through a window of the station’s convenience store, when he is approached by two armed men. He is seen being searched by one of the men, thereafter being forced to the ground.

The two men are then seen jumping into his vehicle and driving off.

Yusuf Abramjee, an anti-crime activist, said fuel stations were a “hunting ground” for criminals.

“It is seemingly a growing concern in many parts of Gauteng, however, we are seeing more and more incidents in other parts of South Africa. There is an increase in hijackings, robberies, ATM and cash safes being bombed, and criminals filling up fuel and driving off without paying.

“I have spoken to a number of fuel station owners who have expressed their concerns about these escalating crimes. As much as they have CCTV cameras and other security measures in place, these syndicates are brazen.

“The recent killing of the football player, and hijacking of his vehicle is just one example of how vulnerable people have become at fuel stations,” Abramjee said.

He said apart from the owners finding measures to protect themselves and patrons as a matter of urgency, law enforcement needed to also intervene.

“The authorities need to step up their game and make sure fuel stations are protected.”

Mary de Haas, a violence monitor in KwaZulu-Natal, said fuel stations were possibly seen as easy targets.

“While any business can be vulnerable to a robbery, fuel stations may appear to be a bit of an easier target because of how easy they can be accessed and exited without hindrances,” she said.

“We do see that the convenience stores are mainly targeted even though most of them have CCTV cameras. However, it is usually the smaller stations, which may not have as much security as the bigger stations that are seen to be the easier targets.

“I think essentially what is driving these crimes at fuel stations, is the same thing that is driving crime in general. You have these criminal gangs that rob people with impunity because they know it is highly unlikely they will be caught or go to prison for their crimes.

“They know that there are law enforcement officials who do not always act in the best interest of the law as well, so they take advantage of a broken system. So, while we may be feeling the effects on the ground and in this case at fuel stations, this problem starts at the top with a broken criminal justice system. We will only see change once that is fixed,” De Haas said.

Professor Nirmala Gopal, an academic leader in criminology and forensic studies at the University of KZN, said fuel stations have historically been viewed as safe spaces, leading to a potential lack of vigilance in terms of security measures.

“This perception can make them attractive targets for criminals who believe they can exploit this sense of security.”

Gopal said financial gain is often the primary motivator driving criminals to target fuel stations.

“Most, if not all, fuel stations have convenience stores which deal with a significant amount of cash on a daily basis. Customers pay for fuel, snacks, beverages and other items in cash, especially for smaller purchases. Criminals see these cash transactions as an opportunity for a quick and relatively easy theft.

“In addition to cash, fuel stations and convenience stores stock a variety of valuable goods, including tobacco products, alcohol, lottery tickets, electronics and other items. These goods are easily resalable on the black market,” she said.

Gopal said both employees and patrons may be perceived as vulnerable targets by criminals.

“Employees, particularly cashiers and attendants, may be seen as easy targets due to their role in handling transactions and their potentially limited training in security measures or self-defence.

“Customers, especially those who are distracted while fuelling their vehicles or browsing the store, may also be targeted for theft or robbery.”

Gopal said the perceived low risk of being caught was possibly also appealing for criminals.

“Fuel stations are often located in busy areas with high foot traffic, providing criminals with opportunities to blend in with the crowd before and after committing a crime.

“Furthermore, the layout of most fuel stations with multiple entrances and exits, may make it easier for criminals to escape unnoticed,” she said.

Gopal said police and the relevant authorities can implement several interventions such as increased patrols and surveillance to curb these criminal activities.

“Police presence around fuel stations can deter criminal activity, as well as owners installing surveillance cameras can help monitor activities and provide evidence for investigations. The owners of fuel stations should invest in security measures such as security personnel, panic buttons, and proper lighting to enhance safety for both employees and customers.

“Additionally, police can work with fuel station owners and the community to raise awareness about security measures and crime-prevention strategies that can be adopted. This can include training staff to recognise and respond to potential threats.

“More so, police should respond promptly to reports of criminal activity at fuel stations to apprehend perpetrators and prevent further incidents,” she said.

The police did not respond at the time of publication.


Related Topics: