By: Sheree Russouw
Sophisticated urban criminals are exploiting the same tactics used in farm attacks to hit homes in residential suburbs in South Africa's major cities.
Henri Boshoff, a military analyst at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), told the Saturday Star yesterday that the military precision "house attacks' in cities were very similar to farm attacks.
After attending scenes of “so-called aggravated house robberies” around Gauteng (Johannesburg) in the past three months, he concluded that the modus operandi criminals used in those incidents was the same as farm attacks.
From March 2005 to March 2006 South Africa recorded 10173 incidents of aggravated house robberies. Gauteng accounted for half, at a staggering 5 909.
Boshoff is calling for the police to classify "house attacks" as a separate crime category, as farm attacks are categorised, because a variety of crimes including murder, rape and hijacking occurred during those incidents.
"The government needs to see this crime as a priority and put a task team on to it. That's the only way to stop these syndicates. We need more-visible and proactive policing," he said.
"There is no difference between these house attacks and farm attacks. Houses are being targeted and someone is doing some reconnaissance. They find out what is in the house in terms of money and jewellery, and the movements of people.
"They are even using the same kind of markings as they use in farms such as Coke bottles, stones and sticks (placed outside the property) to warn others (in the gang) at there are dogs or to be careful because there are weapons in the house.
"Then the team hits the house. They use very military types of actions and all are well armed, very aggressive and violent - that's how they shock the inhabitants. The most obvious times this is happening is when residents are home, because they want them to open their safes."
"You could be busy having a braai (barbeque), and they hold you up and rob you. If you're lucky they won't shoot you, but in most cases they do hurt people."
Most attacks, Boshoff said, happened after 8pm. And often, houses in affluent suburbs, “where they know there is money and jewellery", are targeted.
Cellphones were not valuable to the criminals, while victims' cars were merely used to get away from the scene and were dumped later.
Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Safety and Security said he didn't want to comment on Boshoff's findings but said it was unlikely the police would make "house attacks" a separate category.
"It's house robbery. You can't call it an attack. People enter the house, and when you go to court you can dissect the crimes individually. It's already categorised as housebreaking or robbery."
Dr Jotan Burger of the ISS said it was alarming that farm attacks were "seeping into cities".
"It seems as if criminals are becoming bolder by the day, and they can only do that if they have enough confidence that they won't get caught," he said.
South Africans were tired of being powerless victims of crime and had little faith in the police and the justice system.
"If the government is as serious as it says it is, then it must now take the lead and give this fight the sort of urgency one would expect if we were confronted with a military threat - but we don't see that."
Mulaudzi added it was very sad when people generalised about crime in South Africa. "The police are working hard to protect this country and its constitution. Yes, we do have a crime problem but it's not unique to South Africa. It's global."
Source: The Saturday Star, Page 1, 6 January 2007.
Source: African Crisis