Under siege, but fighting back

2014-10-27 00:00

AN Eston business owner feels under siege, with 38 break-ins, armed robberies and even an ATM bombing in the space of six years.

The relentless assault by brazen criminals has pushed his small business — a bottle-store and a general dealer — to the verge of closure.

With his store plundered as many as three times a week, Johan van Dyk is uninsurable, and now counts the losses at over R1,1 million.

The rampant spate of crime pushed him to install three different alarm systems, which are monitored by two separate companies, and to fortify his business with heavy steel bars, cages and a network of CCTV cameras.

This seems to provide little deterrent for those who force their way in.

The beleaguered businessman, whose livelihood teeters on the brink of collapse, points the finger at police, in a climate in which the rate of business robberies soars unchecked. Official statistics are reflecting a 450% spike in five years.

His business lies squarely in the Mid-Illovo policing precinct, itself fraught with crippling vehicle shortages and a struggle for control of the police command.

In an exclusive interview with The Witness he told the tale of an unbridled crime wave cresting over his only means of income.

“The constant barrage of robberies meant my insurance company dropped me, and now I have to deal with all the costs. When they get in there they clean me out of everything and operate like they are undeterred.”

He said the police appear to do nothing. “They don’t have the capability or the capacity and the Mid-Illovo station may as well not be there. We phone them when there has been a robbery and they take hours to respond. We have resorted to fetching them from the station ourselves.

“It has been really bad at times, having had three robberies in a single week. And every time it happens I must replace the stock and repair the damages,” he said.

“My shop looks like a fortress, I have reinforced steel caging everywhere and they still manage to break through.

“I went to the police with CCTV footage of the suspects and they still were not arrested. They don’t have vehicles and seem to have no drive to solve the problem. I have even complained to Pretoria; that’s how far up the ladder I had to go.

“If I close up shop I lose the little money I do make, and no one will buy the place, I’m stuck.

“I’ve stopped reporting the robberies. Nothing ever happens so it’s not worth the effort. I rather just fix what I have to and carry on,” Van Dyk said.

The police had not responded by the time of going to press.

• jeff.wicks@witness.co.za

Where is rural safety plan?

Johan van Dyk at his shop in Eston. The shop has been broken into 38 times since 2008.

PHOTO: Jonathan Burton

DA spokesperson on police, Dianne Kohler-Barnard, said that the top two crimes dealt with by the Mid-Illovo station are burglary at residential and non-residential properties.

She said rural communities had become particularly vulnerable, and criminals were using Van Dyk’s business as an ATM.

“A business like this is a cornerstone of life in a rural area, and an employer. The police — by ignoring the rural areas in terms of resources — speaks volumes, especially in the face of government’s claims that they have a plan for rural safety. We have yet to see this problem being prioritised.

“Armed attacks on the few businesses in rural areas will achieve nothing but a collapse of the very small employment base they provide. It’s about the very delicate economic structure and balance in these areas, and the closure of such a businesses would have an inordinate impact on the area,” she added.

Justice Project South Africa head Howard Dembovsky said police had the responsibility to respond to stark increases in business related crime.

“They should be working with business owners advise on how to mitigate the risk of robberies and offer businesses a prioritised response in the event of a robbery.”

He added that repeated hits on small businesses stunted economic growth.

“This is particularly the case where business owners cannot get insurance due to having been hit so much.”

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