By Michelle Solomon and Clare Kaeflein
Crime syndicates are operating in Rhodes University residences, according to David Brown, Senior Campus Protection Officer. Typically, things like wallets, bags, laptops and cellphones are stolen from residences.
The Campus Protection Unit (CPU) has recently apprehended several suspects, one of which is a 16-year-old boy. According to Brown, the suspect burgled New House on 22 September. He was arrested a few days later by the Head Guard of CPU, Eugene Jansen, when he appeared on campus again. The suspect was searched, and a wallet belonging to one of the victims was recovered by CPU guard Danisile Nobebe.
The CPU database, has recorded that theft in residence has increased by 10% since June this year, comprising 35% of all crimes committed on campus. CPU has also discovered that residences from Kimberley, Nelson Mandela and Founders Hall have been the main victims of the recent spate of break-ins. New House and Dingemans have also been targeted.
Thieves rely on the naivety of students and seldom resort to violence. According to Les Reynolds, Director of the Estates Division, who addressed students in a letter, the potential thieves will loiter outside a residence until a student arrives. The thieves ask to be let in on the pretence of wanting to visit one of the residents. They search for any open, unoccupied rooms, take anything of value and are gone within 10 minutes.
The same has been happening in academic departments. The Geography Department Geographic Information Systems (GIS) laboratory was broken into on September 29. Seoras Graham was working in the laboratory at about 11 pm, and left the laboratory for 15 minutes. “I did not have the keys for the department, so I went out through the fire escape. I left the fire escape door a little open so I was able to get in when I came back,” said Graham.
When Graham returned, he found two men in the GIS laboratory. “I initially felt nervous as I was sure that these guys were up to no good,” Graham said, “I realised that I was responsible for these guys getting in and therefore it was my job to get them out”. Graham told the men he was aware they were not Geography students and asked them to leave. After the men had left, Graham checked his belongings and discovered that the pair had stolen his bag, Oakley sunglasses, and car radio face.
“I thought that to chase after the guys would be foolish, considering there was two of them,” but also felt that “to tell campus security could result in me getting into a lot of trouble for leaving the fire escape open, and to stay [in the laboratory] would be silly considering I felt the thieves were bound to come back and attempt to steal the computers.”
Graham decided to inform CPU of the theft, and described the look of the thieves to the CPU officer on duty, Jansen. “There was an almost immediate response from one of the CPU officers [patrolling campus]” says Graham. The thieves had been spotted at the Grounds and Gardens Office and were immediately apprehended by CPU guards David Douglas and Nkosinam Mcuba, who recovered Graham’s belongings.
According to Brown, it was discovered that one of the thieves was an illegal Pakistani immigrant. Apparently the man had bribed an employee of the Home Affairs office by paying R10 000 for false official documents. Brown believes that there are other illegal immigrants operating in Grahamstown who pay people to steal from residences, and then sell the stolen goods at various places in town.
CPU has put several measures in place to discourage thieves from targeting Rhodes campus, including requesting CPU guards to be vigilant. “Any people who look suspicious are questioned and, if necessary, escorted off campus,” says Brown.
Not all thieves are from outside campus however, and Brown believes syndicates are even running within residences. According to Brown, a student was arrested recently for stealing from students in his own residence, New House. The thief was apparently recruited by another student, and together the two stole from their fellow students for many months. Brown says that it is easy for students to commit these crimes, as they have inside knowledge as to the habits of the students they live with.
Both Brown and Reynolds encourage students to lock their doors when they leave their rooms, even if they only leave for a brief moment. “The CPU [officers] are apprehending numbers of suspects and indeed known criminals,” states Reynolds. “There are [however] always many more who are coming onto campus and vigilance is the key to our success.”