No ar­res­ts af­ter Wit­fon­tein am­bush

George Herald - - News - Eu­ge­ne Gun­ning

No ar­res­ts ha­ve been ma­de in con­necti­on with the ar­med robbery that took pla­ce on F­ri­day 4 Ja­nu­a­ry on a hi­king trail in the Wit­fon­tein a­rea, just east of Plan­ta­ti­on Ro­ad in He­at­her­lands.

The victims, Le­o­nie Fou­ché from Graaf­fRei­net, her boyf­riend, Jeff Lan­ham from Ca­pe Town, and a gui­de from Ge­or­ge who spe­ci­a­li­ses in bi­r­ding, ar­ri­ved at the Wit­fon­tein Na­tu­re Re­ser­ve e­ar­ly in the mor­ning.

They we­re rob­bed by a pan­ga-wiel­ding group of men of va­lu­a­bles worth mo­re than R100 000, which in­clu­ded a ca­me­ra, bi­no­cu­lars, cre­dit cards and cash. No­bo­dy was hurt.

S­hort­ly af­ter the in­ci­dent the po­li­ce star­ted a man­hunt look­ing for fi­ve men who we­re in­vol­ved.

Capt Mal­colm Po­jie, Sout­hern Ca­pe po­li­ce spo­kes­per­son, told the Ge­or­ge He­rald the in­ves­ti­ga­ti­on is on­going. Any­bo­dy who has in­for­ma­ti­on re­gar­ding the in­ci­dent is as­ked to call Je­ro­me Ma­lan on 044 803 4715 or Crime Stop on 08600 10111.

Se­ver­al re­si­dents ha­ve ex­pres­sed con­cern a­bout the ne­ga­ti­ve in­flu­en­ce the in­ci­dent could ha­ve on tou­rism in the a­rea.

E­ver­y­thing ta­ken for­ce­ful­ly

Fou­ché, a well-kno­wn Graaff-Rei­net re­si­dent, told Ge­or­ge He­rald sis­ter pu­bli­ca­ti­on, Graaff-Rei­net Ad­ver­ti­ser, that she and her boyf­riend had spent two weeks cam­ping in Wil­der­ness.

On the spe­ci­fic F­ri­day, which was to be the last day of their holiday, they enga­ged the ser­vi­ces of a young pro­fes­si­o­nal gui­de from Ge­or­ge who spe­ci­a­li­ses in bi­r­ding. At the ti­me of the am­bush at 06:30, the three we­re stan­ding qui­et­ly con­ce­a­led in the fyn­bos ve­ge­ta­ti­on, al­ongs­i­de a path ne­ar a small wet­land. A group of fi­ve men, who i­ni­ti­al­ly see­med "re­spec­ta­ble", ca­me wal­king do­wn the sa­me track and ex­chan­ged ple­a­san­tries with the bi­r­ders. Ho­we­ver, the at­mos­p­he­re chan­ged sud­den­ly, and the men be­ca­me ag­gres­si­ve and thre­a­tening. One man pro­du­ced a pan­ga, and "they cro­w­ded in on us li­ke a pack of dogs," said Fou­ché.

"E­ver­y­thing we had was ta­ken for­ce­ful­ly from us," she said, ad­ding that one man had ma­de in­ap­pro­pri­a­te phy­si­cal con­tact with her. The group was un­der­stan­da­bly fe­a­ring for their li­ves, and w­hen their at­tac­kers star­ted wal­king a­way they we­re i­ni­ti­al­ly so shoc­ked and pe­tri­fied that they did not know w­hat to do. W­hen the at­tac­kers pro­du­ced the pan­ga, Lan­ham had ma­na­ged to qui­et­ly drop his cel­lp­ho­ne in­to the bus­hes, so he and the gui­de de­ci­ded to se­arch for the pho­ne to call for help. Fou­ché me­an­w­hi­le star­ted run­ning back to the par­king a­rea, a dis­tan­ce of a­bout 1,5km.

The first hou­se she ca­me to hap­pe­ned to be­long to a mem­ber of the lo­cal neig­hbour­hood wa­tch, who im­me­di­a­te­ly sent out a bro­ad­cast to mem­bers of the group. Within mi­nu­tes, mem­bers ar­ri­ved in vehi­cles and set off to look for the at­tac­kers. It la­ter trans­pi­red that a jog­ger ne­ar the Gar­den Rou­te Bo­ta­ni­cal Gar­den had seen a group of fi­ve men be­ha­ving in a sus­pi­ci­ous man­ner. Un­for­tu­na­te­ly, the po­li­ce re­acti­on was not as quick and the trail grew cold.

The na­tu­re re­ser­ve is ad­ja­cent to a re­si­den­ti­al a­rea and is very po­pu­lar with lo­cal pe­op­le for dog wal­king, jog­ging, cy­cling and ex­plo­ring the na­tu­re trails. Ac­cor­ding to po­li­ce and the lo­cal neig­hbour­hood wa­tch, this was the first in­ci­dent of its kind in the a­rea. Ma­ny lo­cal re­si­dents ex­pres­sed their shock a­bout the e­vents. Yet, the very next day, a young­ster ri­ding a bi­ke was ac­cos­ted by two men with a pan­ga. He ma­na­ged to run a­way, le­a­ving his bi­ke be­hind. Mem­bers of the neig­hbour­hood wa­tch la­ter re­co­ve­r­ed the bi­ke.

Sad­de­ned

A­part from the ac­tu­al e­quip­ment sto­len, which can be re­pla­ced, Fou­ché is most sad­de­ned at lo­sing the in­tan­gi­bles, in­clu­ding so­me pri­ce­less me­mo­ries that had been cap­tu­red on the ca­me­ra that was sto­len. Vi­deo foota­ge and pho­tos of spe­ci­al and ra­re sig­htings from her re­cent ro­ad trip through the U­ni­ted King­dom are images that can­not be re­pla­ced.

"Our li­ves ha­ve been tur­ned upsi­de do­wn; we are still se­ver­e­ly trau­ma­ti­sed, but we just ha­ve to pick up the pie­ces and car­ry on. And yes, we are very gra­te­ful to ha­ve got­ten out of the­re a­li­ve," said Fou­ché.

Le­o­nie Fou­ché from Graaff-Rei­net and her boyf­riend, Jeff Lan­ham from Ca­pe Town.

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