Con­fes­sions of a shoplifter

Get­ting ar­rested and spend­ing time in prison doesn’t de­ter her, and the money she makes re­selling her loot is more than enough re­ward

CityPress - - News - VUK­ILE DL­WATI vuk­ile.dl­wati@city­ *Not her real name

She has been to jail on count­less oc­ca­sions. But af­ter 10 years, she is still not shaken by the long arm of the law. Queen* (34) from Port El­iz­a­beth in the Eastern Cape makes a liv­ing from shoplift­ing. She’s pre­pared to take the risk for the quick cash she makes from re­selling the stolen goods. She has lost count of how many times she has been in prison, but she won’t stop what she calls her daily job be­cause her fam­ily de­pends on her.

“I have never had a real job be­fore. My fam­ily has no choice but to ac­cept what I do be­cause it helps them. Any­way, I al­ready have a crim­i­nal record, so what is the point of look­ing for a job?”

Queen dropped out of nurs­ing stud­ies af­ter one year be­cause her mother could not af­ford the fees. This left her dev­as­tated and she turned to steal­ing. She fell preg­nant at the age of 20.

This week, she was at her lo­cal mag­is­trates’ court ap­pear­ing for yet an­other case of theft – a rou­tine part of a shoplifter’s life.

The long­est sen­tence she has served is 18 months, which was six years ago.

Not sur­pris­ingly though, at­tend­ing court cases and be­ing ar­rested do not de­ter her any more.

“I have been in and out of prison and ap­peared for many cases, but life goes on. With the money I make I take care of my son and ex­tended fam­ily,” she says with a sense of pride.

She is able to pay rent, buy gro­ceries and things her 14year-old boy needs for school.

“I make good money from it and I am used to it.”

She re­mem­bers her first brush with the law.

“The first time I was caught and ar­rested at a cloth­ing re­tail store was so em­bar­rass­ing, be­cause ev­ery­one looked at me. They saw the items found in my bag and un­der my clothes.

“I wanted to die and I thought I would never do it again.” The thought of prison ter­ri­fied her, but the ini­tial ex­pe­ri­ence was not as harsh as she thought it would be. She only missed her son, who was still a tod­dler at the time.

“My first im­pris­on­ment wasn’t bad. I was able to sup­ple­ment the cell bosses with cig­a­rettes and any­thing else they needed.”

She got help from other, more ex­pe­ri­enced, shoplifters who knew the ups and downs of prison life.

Queen is re­luc­tant to re­veal how they by­pass se­cu­rity guards and CCTV cam­eras in shops.

She says the key to a suc­cess­ful shoplift­ing spree is work­ing in a team and mov­ing from one shop­ping cen­tre to the next.

“We work in groups with both men and women. Some­times we act like couples. The rea­son we hop from one shop to an­other is to avoid taking many things from one shop. It’s much eas­ier to be caught with small items than with a load.”

They steal any­thing from gro­ceries, school shoes, baby formula and pricy branded cloth­ing to ex­pen­sive bot­tles of whisky.

“It all de­pends on the de­mand from peo­ple in the town­ship. We sell the stolen goods at 50% dis­count, for cash. We also sell on credit and col­lect the money later.”

Af­ter a suc­cess­ful day of thiev­ing, they di­vide the tak­ings equally and pay their driver, who does not take part in the steal­ing and is not part of the ring, a trans­porta­tion fee.

In one go she can earn up to R3 000 from credit sales alone.

“But some peo­ple can spend the whole month work­ing for three grand. Never!”

Mzwandile Booy­sen, a se­cu­rity guard with ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in shops, says theft from stores is wide­spread. The cul­prits range in age from teenagers to adults in their for­ties.

“Shoplifters try at all costs to build a re­la­tion­ship with a re­tail se­cu­rity guard. They will of­fer you money for cold drink or air­time.” This is be­cause they want an easy pass, in case they get caught steal­ing.

They come in pairs. One keeps an eye on the se­cu­rity guard. Or they pre­tend to be buy­ing some­thing and, once the guard moves away, they slip some­thing into their cloth­ing.

“They steal not know­ing that sur­veil­lance cam­eras are ac­tive.”

Women go as far as putting items in their un­der­wear or be­tween their thighs. Some­times they come in wear­ing bulky jack­ets to make it eas­ier to hide their loot.

An­other trick is to en­ter the store with a big bag. Thieves like to snatch small items with high mon­e­tary value.

“Shoplift­ing is a prob­lem in this coun­try,” he says.

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