Dude, where’s my stuff?

By Marisa Lourenco and

Phumzile Manana 

It doesn’t take the most brilliant of thieves to card open a res room door, and almost anyone can smash open a cupboard door. How safe is your stuff?

A student woke up to find a strange man perched on her windowsill rifling through the belongings on her desk. She started screaming and he jumped down from the second floor window, taking with him her cell phone, pencil case, cigarettes and her matches.  Perhaps he would have needed a cigarette after such a stressful night’s endeavour. After all, he was nearly caught.

This student lived on the second floor, in a room without any burglar bars. However, when she requested bars to be put on her window, she was told that the university did not have adequate funding and it was suggested that she simply move to another room the following term, if one became available.

It seems that major crimes occurring in res are bigger, bolder and on the rise, causing many students to fear for the safety of their possessions. Valuables such as laptops and cell phones are stolen but of locked residence rooms or even pulled out through burglar bars.

Some students are so frustrated that the university has not done enough to ensure their safety that have decided to take action themselves. Two students in De Beers House, Kevin Mitchell and  Chris McCallum, organised a petition for increased security in their residence. De Beers has had a number of laptops and cellphones stolen out of res rooms this term, with two laptops and two cellphones being stolen over the last few weeks. “We are annoyed about these break-ins and that nothing has been done to ensure the safety of our possessions,” Mitchell said. McCallum added, “Students should not have to worry about their property behind locked doors.” They plan to give the petition to their hall warden once they have collected enough signatures.

Although locking away valuables should be a sufficient  safety precaution, thieves can still work around this, as was the case with Vikesh Kara. Kara had his laptop, two digital cameras, a pair of shoes and his stats book stolen in the first week of this term. He had locked up his valuables inside his cupboard. When he returned to res after being at lectures for most of the morning, he found his door slightly open and the lock on his cupboard broken. Kara suspects that someone may have been watching his movements and knew he would be away for most of that morning.

When  Kara tried to get assistance after discovering what had happened, he was met with several barriers.

First he tried to inform his warden, who responded that he was busy and that they would “handle things” in the evening. He also asked Kara not to inform the Dean of Students about what had happened. Kara then tried to get help from CPU, but they  claimed that they could not offer any assistance at that time. He has since said that CPU has become very helpful in dealing with his case.

There is clearly a problem with safety in res as door and cupboard locks are not effective barriers and possessions have been stolen even through barred windows. Most res room doors can be easily “carded” with student or bank cards, and one hit in the right spot can smash the fragile locks on  cupboard doors. Those on the ground floor appear to be especially vulnerable as laptops and other valuables are being pulled through burglar bars.

Veronica Moodley, the warden of New House, believes that the university has done enough regarding safety and security measures, but that the problem lies in the fact that its grounds are open to anyone.

This makes Rhodes especially vulnerable to outsiders that may be dealing in crime. Criminals often hang around residences, claiming they need to be let in to see somebody. This is usually just a name they’ve picked off a list at random.

However, Moodley believes that the chance of thefts being inside jobs is high. Crimes appear to be organised and it is possible that there may be students that form part of larger gangs outside of Rhodes.

Moodley has also noticed a trend amongst thieves. She says that the most theft occurs toward the end of term, when students tend to be less aware of their safety because of other distractions, such as exams and packing up.

Moodley advises students to keep windows and doors closed when they are not in their rooms or when they are sleeping, and to keep their valuables locked away when they are not in their room.

Students should always keep their doors locked, even if they are just going to the bathroom. She also encourages students to speak to their wardens about concerns they may have about their safety.

When CPU was approached for a comment and also for tips regarding safety, a representative stated that CPU was not allowed to speak to the media about theft in residence.

If something has been stolen, there is a specific procedure that is followed. The student must first approach their warden and explain what has happened. The student is advised not to touch any items in their room in order to preserve evidence.CPU is then contacted and, if the student would like to open a case, also the police.

It is clear that theft in residence is on the rise and that more valuables are finding their way into the hands of thieves. Everyone in residence is at risk and safety measures should be high on the list of priorities for Rhodes.



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