Fresh warning about ‘grape sellers’ who mug motorists when they stop to buy on N1
Buying grapes from roadside sellers along the N1 outside De Doorns is a potentially dangerous action.
Police have issued a fresh warning to motorists to refrain from stopping for the informal grape sellers on the N1 near the GG camp informal settlement outside the town.
"This is due to the crime of robbery that has been reported recently in that area. In most incidents, motorists stop with the intention to buy grapes, and criminals rob them of their belongings such as cellphones and cash," Capt FC van Wyk said.
Van Wyk said several cases of common robbery had been reported, and officers were working around the clock to follow up on information to arrest the suspects.
He said police were monitoring the situation through regular patrols.
The problem has persisted since at least 2015.
Red lines have been painted as a warning to motorists to refrain from stopping while passing through the Hex River Valley. Warning signs have also been placed along the road. Should motorists fail to heed the warning signs, a fine of R1,000 is applicable.
Farmer Louis de Kok said he had witnessed one of the incidents near Sandhills in De Doorns.
“The car stopped next to the road and the grape sellers grabbed the wallet when the customer wanted to pay and ran into the bushes with the money. There are boards up next to the road but people don’t seem to listen.”
De Kok said the illegal grape sellers steal their stock from farms in the area.
“They steal it in the evenings."
Farmers have hired guards to try to prevent the thefts, he said, "but it’s a hopeless case."
“When the guard goes one side, they enter from a different side. I have put up an electric fence around the vineyards but they have cut that too.”
One evening, De Kok caught three men “red-handed” stealing grapes on his farm.
“They were carrying about six banana boxes and filled the boxes with grapes.
"Your business takes a huge loss. The problem is that most of these guys don’t want to work and sell the grapes for tik [drugs] money.”
People buying the stolen grapes should beware.
An official from Hex Valley Tourism said: “Normally when it rains, farmers spray their vineyards with chemicals to protect the grapes from pests and diseases. The chemical levels have to drop to a level where it’s safe for human consumption before the grapes are picked."
The official said grapes were stolen from vineyards at any time and with total disregard to the chemical levels.
“The people who steal the grapes don’t care about the health and safety of motorists, and people who buy the grapes are not informed.”
Social media users have since shared some of their experiences.
“A week ago we drove past and saw someone stopping. The next moment the grape seller grabbed the man or woman’s cellphone or wallet and ran away,” one user reported.
A second comment read: “Isn't it sad that SA has to paint red lines along the roads to warn every one of hijacking hot spots?”