Muggers come out to prey as hikers return to Table Mountain

Criminals are targeting hikers in Cape Town.
Criminals are targeting hikers in Cape Town.

Hikers looking forward to hitting the Table Mountain trails this summer have been advised to constantly look over their shoulders.

Muggers have laid siege to Newlands Ravine – a gorge between Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain — since the beginning of last month‚ and on Thursday two groups of hikers were robbed of their clothing‚ shoes and cellphones.

Western Cape police spokesman Captain Frederick van Wyk said four suspects‚ aged between 20 and 27‚ were arrested shortly afterwards‚ while the fifth escaped with the victims’ cellphones and cash.

“Members recovered belongings of the victims [clothing and takkies] in possession of the four suspects and also found one silver flick knife‚ car-breaking implements and one large self-made Allen key in possession of the suspects‚” said Van Wyk.

“The victims identified their belongings and pointed out the suspects to the police‚ and their belongings were handed back to them. Three of the four victims‚ between the ages of 31 and 58‚ were treated for injuries at the offices of the Table Mountain National Park. The 58-year-old man was later taken to a nearby hospital for further medical treatment.”

Other hikers have not been as lucky. Allan Dillon‚ owner of the Mountain Men security company‚ said his guards had attended to three mugging incidents this year‚ including a fatal incident above Kalk Bay in March. He said the problem was compounded by the fact that parts of Table Mountain National Park had no cellphone coverage.

“It’s nice to have a number that you can dial‚ but if you have no signal it’s not going to help you at all‚” said Dillon.

“We have advised people to go in a group‚ although groups are now being attacked by small groups of criminals. There was an incident where two muggers took on a group of about eight people.”

André van Schalkwyk‚ chairman of the Table Mountain Security Group‚ said the muggers had targeted lone hikers in four incidents since the beginning of September.

He described Newlands Ravine as being “in a state”‚ pointing out that similar incidents in the past had given South Africa a bad reputation and deterred international tourists from visiting.

“A group of criminals have decided to attack people in the Newlands Ravine since last month‚” said Van Schalkwyk. “I think we will break the back of this particular problem following the arrests.”

His organisation and other stakeholders‚ including the police‚ were finalising a strategy to keep hikers safe this summer‚ he said. “In the meantime‚ as the security action group‚ we have already kicked off a whole bunch of stuff and I think a lot of that will go towards making things safer.

“We won’t be able to guarantee that nothing will happen. There is always a threat‚ and therefore our focus is to try and educate people and make them aware so that they can make decisions and know what they can do to avoid these situations.”

Van Schalkwyk said Thursday’s arrests were thanks to their efforts. “We are trying to form a ring around the park because we know these guys are getting in somewhere. They are coming in from the urban edge and they are escaping again. So if we can harness those resources - CCTV cameras and networks that people operate - we can stop this‚” he said.

“Word went out quickly [on Thursday] and these guys were actually trapped in Vredehoek‚ which is completely the other side of the mountain from Newlands‚ because they chose to run and escape over the mountain.”

Van Schalkwyk said he would contact the victims of Thursday's robbery over the weekend to “get some details on how these guys approached them and why they got into a fight”.

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