By Sian Cohen
With more than 600 known house breakers in Grahamstown, Activate investigates the recent spate of burglaries. Many of these break-ins are taking place on streets where the high level of foot traffic is presumed to be a deterrent. However, these homes have been targeted by what seem to be more advanced criminals, though not a syndicate, according to Captain Bethuen Mamuthubi of the South African Police Service (SAPS).
“They are becoming professional because they can infiltrate as students and can monitor you, where you spend most of your time and your drinking,” said Mamuthubi.
This highlights the dangers of frequent alcohol consumption. The criminals are opportunists in the way in which they monitor students at their most vulnerable. “Students are sometimes very negligent, caused by abuse of alcohol,” warned Mamuthumbi. “You students spend most of your time entertaining yourself,” he said. This may lead to a failure to secure rooms and houses properly.
In one case, a digs in African Street was broken into while the residents were out for the night. The burglar bars were pulled back and laptops, iPods and clothing were stolen. In another case, thieves climbed over the front fence using a mat and then broke a window pane in the door to unlock it. The residents were asleep in the house at the time and those who had not locked their bedroom doors had items stolen from them. The bizarre twist came when the residents woke to find their belongings gone and a wallet, tampon and soap lined up on their front step.
A digs across the road from the Rat and Parrot was also affected. Twice in two weeks windows have been broken while residents slept inside. “If my digsmate hadn’t woken up, they would have been in,” said Demelza Bush, one of the tenants. “[We are] taking a lot more precautions and have started setting our alarm. It’s very scary knowing that twice people have almost been in my house while I’ve been there,” she said.
Mamuthubi confirms that laptops and computers are in high demand and seem to be the targeted items. He went on to say that the lack of physical deterrents, like sufficient burglar bars and alarms, is a major factor in these crimes, pointing out that they are not violent crimes. “We are managing to arrest [the burglars and] a lot of goods are recovered, like laptops and vehicles of students,” he said.
These and other break-ins which have taken place have been reported to the police and, while they attempt to deal with the problem, the occurrence of these break-ins has not lessened.
The police confirm a significantly lower number of burglaries than what the affected students believe.