Businessman reeling under repeated hijackings

2014-03-27 00:00

ONE small business in KwaZulu-Natal has been hit by hijackers almost 30 times: so often that its deliverymen now drive with panic buttons between their legs.

But — just two days after his drivers were robbed yet again — a defiant Salim Khan insisted he would never sell his business, or stop delivering bread to his loyal customers.

Despite having only four bakkies and two trucks in his fleet, Khan said his confectionary company, Havenridge Distributors, had seen its vehicles hijacked 18 times in the past 15 years, and robbed in failed hijackings in an additional 10 incidents.

“Insurance companies don’t want to cover us — and every policeman in Verulam knows us all by name,” said Khan (42).

“As a delivery company which is a cash business, we are daily targets. And the losses we suffer are severe. We have had to leave one particular area, but we keep going as a business; our customers depend on us, and we refuse to be hounded out by thugs.”

On Monday, delivery team Sipho Ngubane, Wiseman Mnguni, and Lucky Mkhungo were held up by two men near a customer’s shop in Hazelmere.

Mkhungo said the robbers — having apparently staked out their delivery route — had pointed 9 mm pistols through the vehicle’s window, “We just froze.”

Mkhungo said he had been held up in a similar heist just two months ago in Tongaat.

Though some have fled the daily risk, Khan said Mkhungo was among four fearless staff members who have stayed with the company through years of driving the gauntlet, despite at least a dozen injuries to deliverymen overall.

Mkhungo shrugged and said, “It’s a job — we need to work.”

Khan said, “A few years ago, one of my guys was shot and almost lost his arm — he was rushed to Umhlanga Hospital where they managed to patch him up,” he said. “I myself was hijacked — it was a terrifying experience — so I know how brave our guys are to go out every day. We have lost some very good staff because they are too scared — not just of the attacks, but also of the consequences of being a witness when a case is opened.”

He said he was aware of only “two or three” arrests associated with the 28 robberies, but said police had strong leads on Monday’s armed attackers.

The company has kitted all of its vehicles with tracking devices, and Khan said that 95% of its hijacked vehicles were recovered.

“Unfortunately, sometimes we find the vehicle but its been completely stripped,” he said. “What we are now doing is that the guys are driving with two-way radios between their legs, so they can activate the microphone when they are hijacked and we can hear what’s going on.”

He added, “The guys that target us are not local, they’re from outside — we actually have wonderful support from local communities.”

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