Witbank becomes crime hotspot
No one feels safe: Witbank's combination of drug addicts and hardened criminals turns it into robbery hotspot
Township residents in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga, attribute the city's soaring burglary rate to the increasing number of young people hooked on the drug nyaope, but those in the suburban, alarm-protected, high-walled areas blame hardened criminals who drive fancy cars and carry firearms.
In the latest crime statistics, Emalahleni, formerly Witbank, was among the 10 worst-afflicted centres nationwide with regard to crime.
The city was in the "lead" with house burglaries averaging 6.8 a day or 2476 a year.
More house robberies were reported in Witbank than anywhere else - 4.4 a day or 1616 a year.
The police insist that the high crime rate is because of the city's "unfortunate positioning".
"The house robbery suspects are people who usually come in from Gauteng using the N4 from Pretoria and the N12 from Johannesburg. They have easy access to Witbank," said Captain Eddie Hall.
"They usually just do a hit-and-run and use one of the many exit routes to leave. It is the same with drugs. Witbank is an entry port and lies 100km from Johannesburg and 100km from Pretoria so drugs come here first before they are distributed to other parts of the country," said Hall.
Several weeks ago, a freight container believed to be a hang-out for nyaope users was torched, allegedly by residents of KwaGuqa township, who say they are "fed up" with their taps and pipes being stolen by the addicts. Just days before, three houses in the same street had been stripped of copper fixtures.
"It is become worse now because a scrap yard was opened a short distance from here so these guys know where they can sell their stuff," said one resident.
Another resident, Matilda Tlaka, said her grandson woke up in the middle of the day to find a man trying to remove their television set.
"When he asked him what he was doing, the robber simply said: 'Times are tough' and ran away," Tlaka said.
In the suburbs, police were seeing the work of criminals who were more organised.
"One family had a braai with friends when three robbers came in and took everything from the guests. Such incidents are on the increase - such groups are always an easy target," Hall said.
David Wessels, of SA Community Crime Watch, said his organisation had responded to around 150 calls since March relating to crimes such as house robberies, copper theft and assault.
Only one of the dozens of cases with which SA Community Crime Watch has been involved this year has made it to the courts. They are still awaiting a conviction.
"I do not want to be negative but taking Witbank back . I do not know how it is going to happen," Wessels said.