Opinion

Crime is destroying Hazyview

The Hazyview community is barely coping with the continual onslaught of crime on their lives.

Crime seems to have come home to roost in Hazyview as one lodge after another is targeted by criminals. The crime incidents have been escalating over the last two years to a level which is untenable to residents and businesses in the area.

The community is faced with farm attacks, murder and armed robberies of business and residential properties. Armed robberies has become a way of live for Hazyview and its people but now it has taken on an additional characteristic – that of rape.

Aan de Vliet Resort and Guest House was attacked by criminals on Thursday, October 3. At the time the resort was fully booked with 100 school pupils and three teachers from a Pretoria primary school. They were held at gun point and robbed of their possessions. This was followed three days later by an armed robbery of two female guests staying at Tatenda Guest house at 03:00 on Sunday 6 October.

The two criminals took their time and chatted to the women and even helped themselves to food from the fridge. They also discussed stealing the rental car but decided against it due to the tracking device installed in the vehicle. With time on their hands they then decided to escalate the crime to include the rape of the two women.
The women aged 23 and 32 were on a business trip from Pretoria and were due to leave later on Sunday to return home.

The older woman was five months pregnant and although she pleaded with her attacker not to rape her due to her condition, he went ahead anyway. One of the robbers was more aggressive and stated with some arrogance that they were well known in this town and the everyone knew who they were.

The severely traumatised women were taken to Matikwane hospital for physical examinations. According to Christel Matthee, manager Tatenda, the medical staff’s attitude left a lot to be desired. “They were insensitive and highly unprofessional in dealing with the traumatic ordeal which the women had experienced,” she said. “They also made the victims wait for five and a half hours before attending to them!”
What does SAPS say about the crime wave?

Lt Col Leonard Hlathi admitted publicly on Jacaranda Radio on the day Aan de Vliet was attacked that crime levels in Hazyview was unacceptably high. “Drastic measures will be implemented to address the situation,” he concluded. What exactly these drastic measures are was not outlined in the interview.

Hlathi followed this interview up once again on Jacaranda on Monday September 7, confirming that an armed robbery and rape of two guests at a lodge in Hazyview took place. “We will now combine all these cases, said Hlathi “and in that way get information from the public”.

Two radio statements which gave little clarity on the severity of the current crime situation, who is accountable for this tragic state of affairs and what measures, if any, will be put into place to address the problem.

This was then topped by a media statement by MEC Vusi Shongwe, Mpumalanga Community Safety, Security and Liaison. In the statement the MEC moved the responsibility of security in the area onto the shoulders of lodge, resort and tourist venue owners. “The strengthening and enhancement ,” says Shongwe, “of security measures at hotels, lodges and other tourist destinations should always be a priority for owners and managers as failure to do so could have far reaching consequences for tourism in the province.”

What the MEC doesn’t know is that the tourist venues spend enormous amounts monthly for additional security specifically to protect tourists. A small lodge spends about R30 000 per month for additional safety measures over above installed security systems. Larger resorts spend as much as R80 000 p/month for added security on their sites. Surely these extra security measures indicate a tourist industry which is already acutely aware of the value of protecting tourists.

Although the MEC condemned the incident in the strongest possible terms he believed that the incident may have been “a freak accident”. Something about which the traumatised school children from Pretoria may strongly disagree. He did however conclude his media statement with a call on the police to ensure that the perpetrators were urgently brought to book as this incident has a potential to dent tourism in the province.

The fact is that the criminals in the Aan de Vliet attack have disappeared and their spoor was lost days ago. Secondly tourism was already dented by the brutal murder 18 months ago of Dave Foxen, the then manager of Umbhaba Lodge. This tragedy flashed across all media channels, left behind a pregnant widow with 2 young sons and a tourist industry in Hazyview which was beginning to reel under the impact of crime.

How do residents feel about the situation?

The Hazyview community is barely coping with the continual onslaught of crime on their lives. They are frustrated and live in homes which have been turned into prisons to protect them from harm. No longer do they feel safe to walk about in their gardens, to entertain guests at a weekend braai or to enter and leave their own properties.

Many lodge owners keep quiet about the continual burglaries at their establishments for fear of chasing away much needed tourists. “How are we supposed to run our businesses in an environment fraught with daily crime?” ask one guest house owner who chooses to stay anonymous. Anonymity itself has become a safeguard for the community who fear reprisals from criminals which are frequently released on bail or simply go free due to lost SAPS dockets.

A resident who is frustrated says, “What if anything will be done to address the crime problem! We have heard it all before. Empty promises of additional police being brought in to address and solve the crime problem in Hazyview. Even when they do bring in extra police it is only for an interim period and the minute these forces are withdrawn, the criminals rush back in to freely ply their trade.

Another feels that those who have been given the mandate by the government to protect and serve the public are not living up to it and they are not being held accountable for their actions or lack of action.

“How do I protect my wife and my children, “asks a concerned father and husband. “Tell me what more can one do to protect our homes. All the security measure in the world is no deterrent for the criminals if they want to get in. And they know they are going to get away with the crime! Our courts are overloaded with cases and our jails are overfull. So the easiest route for SAPS and the government to take is to just release suspected criminals.”

Some people do pack up and leave town but the majority do not want to leave. “I’ve grown up here. My family and friends live here, says a young woman. “Why should I be forced out of my home town by criminals. Why are we, as a community allowing this to continue?” she asks.

What solutions are there for Hazyview?

Reducing crime and increasing public safety and security has been earmarked as a government priority. Yet the people of Hazyview continue to fall prey to criminals, or live in fear of becoming the next crime statistic.
Ken Robertson, DA councillor Hazyview, believes that crime is an issue which can no longer be ignored or kept quiet. “Crime, especially violent crime in the area has escalated during the past few years, and police need to be more proactive in their response”, says Robertson.

Since 2012 Robertson and Anthony Benadie , DA provincial leader Mpumalanga, has had various interactions with Lt. Gen. Ntobela, premier David Mabuza and Vusi Shonwe, safety and security Mec, to address the issue of crime in Hazyview. During these the DA suggested the that a re-evaluation of Hazyview’s resident/police official ratio be done, visible policing must be increased, specialised K9 and motorcycle units must be deployed on a permanent basis and the repair and maintenance of the local cluster police vehicle be decentralised from Nelspruit to Hazyview reducing vehicle downtime.

A huge vacuum was left after the phasing out of the Commando system and when a national moratorium was placed on reservists. “The only effective way to curb crime now,” continues Robertson, “is to establish rural safety units. According to our Rural Safety Strategy, RSU’s will work because they will be made up of specialised personnel who will work closely with the police and rural community safety organisations.”

Hi-Tech’s Chantelle du Plessis says that 24/7 patrols should be implemented in the residential areas of Hazyview.”

The reality is that security must become a way of life. It is up to the residents and business owners of this town to take responsibility for their own safety and security, “she says “The community needs to implement their own measures to keep the town safe. The other thing that the Hazyview community must do is to stand together and fight crime. We will achieve more if we fight the war against crime as a team.”

When all is said and done what remains is this one clear message- It is up to you and me as resident of Hazyview to make our town safe again. We need to come up with solutions and implement measures which will address crime immediately if we want to rid our town of the scourge of crime!

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