The Mount Nelson Hotel. Picture: Jason Boud
Cape Town - A spike in business robberies in the city has not only dealt a blow to profit margins but has left employees in constant fear at work.

Brazen armed robbers have been hitting businesses in and around Cape Town. This week, a gang of 15 armed men robbed a jewellery store, guests and staff at the iconic Mount Nelson Hotel in Gardens.

The rift among officers in the province’s top police structures is adding to concerns about the SAPS’ ability to counter crime.

Members of the flying squad have reportedly been seconded to the Major Offences Reaction Team, which is apparently in conflict with the Anti-Gang Unit, fuelling infighting between senior officers.

Geoff Jacobs, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI), said crime was a major problem for businesses and their employees. Additional security measures and insurance increased business costs.

“The threat of crime and violence undermines staff morale. Many businesses, particularly those that operate at night, have to provide transport for staff,” he said.

Businesses in a centre could control access and share the security costs, whereas standalone businesses were more susceptible to crime.

“Those most at risk are stores that deal mainly in cash,” Jacobs said.

Many businesses had resorted to maximising electronic payment to minimise the amount of cash on their premises. A recent survey by the CCCI indicated that 95% of its members viewed crime as a significant concern.

“They do not believe that the police provide the necessary assistance, and this forces them to make their own security arrangements at their own cost.

“The increasing number of improvement districts and neighbourhood watches provide the evidence of their concern and their attempts to deal with the situation,” said Jacobs.

Businesses in Philippi were particularly hard hit, and members of the CCCI who operated in that area complained bitterly about robberies.

“The situation has deteriorated, with an increasing number of murders. Business would like to create jobs close to where people live but this is becoming impossible in some areas.”

Besides the loss of stock and money, cable theft was a “huge problem” impacting on businesses.

“The damage to the infrastructure is out of proportion to the value of the copper stolen,” Jacobs said.

According to private-public organisation the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), businesses in the CBD were experiencing “unprecedented levels of armed robberies at the moment”.

The CCID said crime was fuelled by the weakened economy, drugs and other social factors.

Safety and security manager at the CCID, Muneeb Hendricks, said prisoners, once released, moved to the CBD, contributing to crime and homelessness, and the lack of police resources lead to inadequate law enforcement.

Retailers of high-end goods had been particularly targeted. The CCID advised businesses not to place expensive goods in display cabinets, but to “rather use fakes”. Business Against Crime Western Cape (BACWC) said crime increased over the past few months and criminals mainly focused on robbing cellphone outlets.

BACWC chief executive Andrew Anthony said robbers prioritised cash when they struck, making small and informal businesses most vulnerable because they traded in cash.

Milnerton Crime Watch said businesses in the area had been plagued by armed robberies. Fast food outlets, and cellphone shops at The Paddocks Shopping Centre were robbed multiple times. In the latest incident in the area, on Tuesday, a robber was apprehend with a bag full of money after robbing a KFC outlet near The Gallery Centre.

Posts on Crime Watch SA’s Facebook page indicate a spike in crime in the suburb. Chairperson of the Milnerton Community Policing Forum Mark Lindsell said businesses were being robbed because there was a “weakness in security”.

Robbers could also have “people inside”, informers, working at firms, he said.

Weekend Argus