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

CityPress - - News - SIZWE SAMA YENDE sizwe.yende@city­press.co.za

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.”

Graphi

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

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