2007-02-12 : Gunmen hit SA citizens' last bastion

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2007-02-12 : Gunmen hit SA citizens' last bastion

Postby GOSA » Fri, 2007-02-23 17:18

Gunmen hit SA citizens' last bastion

February 12 2007 at 02:00PM

By Barry Bateman

The onslaught by merciless gunmen on South Africa's citizens in their homes continues unabated despite the attacks being acknowledged by authorities as intolerable.

And a recent effort by the police and government to put an end to the violence did little to deter this type of criminal activity.

At a debriefing on the outcome of the ambitious Operation Iron Fist last week, Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Firoz Cachalia said residential robberies continued to be a concern, but despite more arrests, a drop in the number of incidents was not recorded during the operation.

He said the police and his department were "exploring new strategies and tactics" to tackle the problem and they would continue to prioritise the crime until they achieved the results they wanted. "We cannot tolerate a situation where armed criminals attack people in their homes," he said.

Top private investigator and security expert Mike Bolhuis and a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies' crime and justice programme, Dr Johan Burger, provided some insight into the factors driving the trend.

Bolhuis said robbers had changed the way they operated.

In the past, he said, criminals would take a chance and burgled a home while the occupants were away, and if they bumped into someone they would flee.

"Now we see a high level of aggression and violence resulting in cases of murder, assault and rape.

"The criminals are always armed and don't care if they bump into the home owners," he said.

Burger, a former police assistant commissioner and chairperson of the police's Priority-Committee for Rural Safety and Security, agreed with his colleague Henri Boshoff who found a parallel between the house attack trend attacks on farmers.

"Previously, criminals would target homes for a burglary and patiently study the movements of people and wait for an opportunity when people left home for work or holiday.

"They would break in and steal what they wanted with little chance of being caught.

"Now criminals break in when people are at home or they break in and wait until people return home," he said.

He said the reason the criminals wanted the occupants to be at home was so they could have access to more valuables.

"The criminals don't want to be burdened with heavy stuff to carry.

"They tend to go for valuables that are easy to carry like money and bank cards, the pin numbers of which they extract through violence. This also explains the level of violence because they need to get information," he said.

Burger said these incidents should be called "house attacks" because the term "house robberies" was limited in meaning.

"The meaning does not allow for all the other crimes that happen during crimes such as rape, serious assault, torture and of course, murder and attempted murder."

Bolhuis agreed, adding that the criminals dominated the situation emotionally and physically.

"The gunmen storm into the home and are immediately aggressive. It doesn't matter if the home owner is Bruce Lee, when a gun is pointed at a man's wife and children he is not going to try his luck."

For the criminals, the ideal scenario was to attack while a family was having a braai because the victims were usually relaxed and had had a few drinks. "The men are usually split from the women, and the children are usually preoccupied elsewhere in the house.

"The gang splits up: one takes the women, another the children and the rest take the men," he said.

Burger said a proper profile of house attackers had yet to be compiled.

However, he said it was likely that these criminals were organised into syndicates and were attacking homes because they were deemed soft targets.

Bolhuis felt these incidents were attacks on the family structure and, as a result, the last leg of South African society was crumbling.

"The last thing we have in this country is our homes.

"People can't handle the psychological stress of wondering when they will be a victim.

"It is going to happen to me. It has happened to me. It has happened to people I know - South Africans are living in fear," he said.

Burger said the police could not deal with this type of crime on their own. He said the authorities needed to identify the causes and understand why this crime was happening and why it was violent.

"We need to deal with the fabric of South African society."

He said a two-pronged approach was needed.

"First, there needs to be increased visibility. Police have to find a way to be more visible in patrolling the suburbs and residential areas.

Secondly, police have to put more energy, time, effort and resources into identifying and tracing the gangs and successfully arresting and prosecuting them.

"We need a deterrent through visibility and effective investigation and prosecution," he said.

Police spokesperson Inspector Katlego Mogale said police were doing what they could to clamp down on house attacks.

The police stations had formed specials task teams to address specific crimes plaguing their area.

She added that sector policing was still operational and police vehicles were deployed to suburbs to respond to emergency calls from members.

Mogale said residents should practise vigilance because "in most cases the attacks were conducted by opportunistic criminals".

Some tips to avoid becoming a victim

Top private investigator and security specialist Mike Bolhuis providestips on how to avoid becoming a victim of a house attack.

# Be paranoid
"Be totally aware of your surroundings and don't leave anything to chance," says Bolhuis. "Know who lives in the neighbourhood, who is driving past, who is sitting under the trees in parks and walking in the streets. Question and report everything to the police."

# Dominate your area
Bolhuis says people should know their employees, have their addresses, fingerprints, copies of their IDs, contact numbers of their family and friends and a photograph of them. People should also know their neighbourhood. "Know the schools, churches and infrastructure of the community. Know the routes in and out of your neighbourhood, know the security companies and the police," he says.

# Expose people
Bolhuis says communities should arm themselves with cameras, video cameras and cellphone cameras and film everything and anything, like loiterers in the street, and show the footage to everyone in the community. "It is not a crime to expose lay-abouts, but it is a crime to loiter and urinate in public," he adds.

# Personal protection
"Be aware of your close environment," says Bolhuis. "People with arms must train and qualify themselves in using them. And when a life is in danger, use them. People should also arm themselves with pepper spray or a batons in case of a close attack. We are not criminals so we don't start the violence. But if you are threatened and violence will save someone's life, use the weapons," he says. - Barry Bateman

o This article was originally published on page 6 of Pretoria News on February 12, 2007
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