A mountain of crime

15 December 2015 - 02:24 By Kimon de Greef

The thieves come at night, when Jaffar Ismail, 57, is alone. The caretaker of the Muslim kramat on Signal Hill locks himself indoors after sunset, armed with a paintball gun powerful enough to bruise. The gun is heavy, metallic and takes pepper bullets - a self-defence weapon, not a toy.Ismail has shot at the thieves a few times, registered a single hit, but they keep returning. The intruders have stolen a carpet, a spade, cash from the donation box, window fittings and a door."They also broke into the grave," Ismail said. "They were looking for money, or whatever else they could find. They got nothing."Ismail has lived at the kramat, a holy Muslim burial site, for the last five years. Sitting on a plastic chair at the window last week he pointed up at Lion's Head."There they are now, in the bushes next to those rocks."Three tiny dots moved high on the western flank, above the granite boulders that descend to the Atlantic."There are nine men in total. They sleep on Signal Hill. They wait on the slopes to rob people or to scratch around in their bags," he said.Ismail has Parkinson's disease. His hand shook as he traced the men's routes. A shopfitter by trade, Ismail was forced to retire when he suffered a stroke eight years ago. The left side of his body is numb.He returned to Cape Town from Durban, where he lived for more than 40 years, and began volunteering at the kramat.He didn't know that he was embedding in one of the city's mountain crime hotspots."Signal Hill and Lion's Head make up one of the four most sensitive areas in Cape Town," said Andre van Schalkwyk from Table Mountain Watch, a volunteer group that monitors crime and safety in the Table Mountain National Park."The most serious incident there occurred in April 2013, when a student was raped."On December 8 this year a car was hijacked. The area still attracts criminals, especially late at night."Van Schalkwyk said that for the last month Signal Hill had been protected by "unprecedented" patrols by police, city law enforcement, and SANParks officials."At the moment we are very happy with the effort."He said that he wasn't aware of any theft from the kramat.There are more than 40 kramats in the Western Cape, marking the burial sites of Muslim saints. The main tomb on Signal Hill belongs to Sheikh Mohamed Hassen Ghaibie Shah al-Qadri, a follower of the Indonesian exile Sheikh Yusuf, who is credited with establishing Islam in the Cape in the late 1600s.In a recent round of renovations the Signal Hill building has been reinforced with burglar bars and a new door."Although it feels safer I can still hear the thieves outside at night," said Ismail, the caretaker. "I believe that they want to hurt me but I'm not afraid."It's beautiful up here, and very peaceful. I just wish they would put a stop to the crime."

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