Cross-border thieves target Nkomazi
Families tied up and threatened in their homes as groups of criminals steal their valuables and 4x4s, then head for the Mozambique border
It was around 2am last Tuesday when Doris Mkhabela and her family were woken up by armed men who had broken into their home in Schoemansdal, 40km south of Malelane, Mpumalanga. The men, wearing balaclavas, tied up Mkhabela, her husband, two of their children and a three-year-old grandson.
And for an hour and half, the aggressive men ransacked the house, and loaded their loot into the family’s new Isuzu double-cab bakkie.
The thieves packed duvets, laptops, cellphones, clothes and R620 in cash into the bakkie, which the family bought in December for R400 000.
Mkhabela said the family was asleep when they were woken by the six men.
“They tied me and my husband up in the bedroom. Then they fetched the children, including my three-year-old grandson, from their bedrooms and tied them up in the same room as us. They were very aggressive and were demanding things from us,” she said.
The family managed to untie themselves and called the police, but the suspects had vanished into the darkness. Later, they discovered that the criminals had broken a window and cut open burglar bars in an unused bedroom to gain entry into the house.
A signal from the bakkie’s tracking unit showed it was in neighbouring Mozambique, but it has not yet been recovered.
Mkhabela and her family are the latest victims of a cross-border syndicate that has been terrorising communities in the Nkomazi region. The syndicate has been targeting families during the early hours of the morning by breaking into their homes, tying them up and threatening them with guns before speeding off in vehicles they steal from the families.
Nkomazi residents claim that at least 30 vehicles have been stolen since December. On Friday, enraged community members marched to the local police station, demanding that more resources be deployed to stop the syndicate.
The bandits operate in the entire Nkomazi area – which borders Mozambique and Swaziland – and are believed to be taking advantage of dilapidated borderline fences in Mbuzini and a shortage of defence force personnel along the fence.
Police were unable to supply City Press with the number of vehicles that had been stolen in the area and taken across the border.
Last June, members of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) visited the border between South Africa and Mozambique, and found that the fences were in disrepair and that there were also other problems at the Lebombo border post.
NCOP member Cathy Dlamini, who was part of the team that visited the area, said: “The border area is so porous that when we were there we saw people on the Mozambican side waiting for us to leave so that they could enter South Africa. I will follow up with the department of public works. I know about the theft of vehicles because someone I know was affected.”
At the time of the visit, Dlamini said the public works department had indicated that it had appointed a service provider to fix the fence.
Car theft route
“We’re doing a defence review and part of this is to look into the number of defence members manning our borders, and how the borders can be better managed. The Border Management Agency, which will include all stakeholders, will be established once a bill is passed in Parliament, and it will be able to deal with issues there,” she said.
While Mkhabela’s bakkie is still missing, a school teacher from Driekoppies, who did not want to be identified, was lucky because her vehicle, a 2010 Toyota Fortuner, was recovered on Thursday in Mozambique. It had been stolen five days earlier.
“The people from Tracker identified it 30 minutes after they [the criminals] had driven off … They were driving in Goba Village towards Mozambique. Police gave chase, but had also alerted their Mozambican counterparts, who blocked the road and there was a shoot-out,” she said.
“I’m sure there are local kids working with the Mozambican gang. They were not normal and smelt of drugs.
“The next thing we know, they will kill us when they steal the vehicles because they know that we phone the tracking companies once they have left.”
Retired Schoemansdal school teacher Zakhele Luphoko was one of the lucky ones – he woke up last Sunday when he heard people in his yard. Luphoko, who owns a Toyota Hilux bakkie, put all the lights on in his house when he heard footsteps outside.
“We called the police, but they [the would-be robbers] had run away. From what we heard, it was a group of people.”
Tonga police spokesperson Lieutenant Mzwandile Nyambi said that most of the stolen vehicles were recovered abandoned on the South African side of the border.
“I think when police chase them, they get disturbed. It looks like there are many cross-border syndicates stealing the vehicles because this happens all over Nkomazi. We have a strategy to counter these attacks, but I cannot supply the details,” Nyambi said.
HUNTED The syndicate targets people who own expensive four-wheel drive vehicles