Gadget Gang hits Cato Ridge, as 5 PMB schools assess their losses

2016-02-03 12:54
Mountain Rise Primary School principal Vasu Soobrayan and governing body member Themba Malinga inspect the damage after thieves broke into the school on Sunday night

Mountain Rise Primary School principal Vasu Soobrayan and governing body member Themba Malinga inspect the damage after thieves broke into the school on Sunday night (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - As yet another principal arrived to find his school had been burgled on Tuesday, other schools targeted in the recent spate of burglaries are counting the costs of the stolen and damaged ­property.

George Cato Primary in Cato Ridge is believed to be the latest victim of the Gadget Gang, so named for their ­penchant for computers and other ­electronics. .

While not all schools would disclose just what the burglaries have cost them, the total cost is believed to be easily more than R1 million.

Schools in Pietermaritzburg and ­surrounds have been targeted for their computers, money and electronics since early January.

The modus operandi at each school is similar, involving the neutralising of alarm systems before pillaging the school usually after midnight, leading to the belief that all the burglaries are the work of the same gang.

Five schools have now been hit in ­Pietermaritzburg, and a sixth in Cato Ridge.

The Witness has also learnt that a national detail from SAPS Crime ­Intelligence has been visiting several schools in the hopes of piecing together who might be carrying out the ­burglaries.

Previously Weekend Witness reported that schools in Mpumalanga and Gauteng had also been targeted over the last 24 months.

Bisley Park Primary, the first school to be hit in Pietermaritzburg, estimated the burglary set them back about R300 000.

Principal Segren Pillay said while the computers made up the bulk of the loss, the replacement of security accounted for the rest.

Gerrit Coetzee of Athlone Primary said their losses were upwards of R300 000.

“We have also needed to re-look at our security. Dealing with this matter has been time-consuming and taken up the last two weeks,” he said.

Mountain Rise Primary, which said it had no insurance, said the repairs to the roof and doors came to R15 000.

“The laptops taken cost in excess of R42 000, but we have no budget to replace them. We are just thankful they were disturbed by our security firm, which responded to an alarm signal on the premises although they managed to not be seen,” said the principal.

Two schools confirmed being visited by officers from the national crime ­intelligence branch, as well as by local detectives. All the affected schools were visited by forensic experts.

Principal Ishan Rajcoomar of Greenhill Primary, which was targeted on Sunday night, said the burglary ­disturbed an entire school day.

“Only today [Tuesday] were we able to start cleaning up,” he said.

Some of the burgled schools said they had since employed 24-hour ­security guards, while others were too nervous to disclose any information that could compromise their schools.

At least 114 computers have been ­stolen, with four safes broken into. Four schools have been accessed via the roof, and at least four had their alarms ­tampered with to prevent them ­sending a signal to their respective security companies.

Burglary ‘has all the hallmarks of the Gang’

Simanga Magwaza, principal of George Cato Primary in Cato Ridge, said the burglary had all the hallmarks of the Gadget Gang.

“I think it was the Gadget Gang as the stuff that they went for is similar to that taken at other schools. We had sound equipment and 10 ­administrative laptops stolen. They ­also cut open the safe with an ­angle-grinder. All our administrative documents are gone,” he said.

Magwaza said the offices at the school, which he said was established in the 19th century, were “destroyed”.

“The cost of this theft is easily in excess of R100 000. I had been following the other thefts in The Witness. We had told our security company to be vigilant, but they didn’t receive a signal. It was a big shock. When I opened the school on Tuesday morning, I could smell something like gunpowder, which was possibly the residue left from grinding the safe open,” he said.

Police spokesperson Sergeant Mtokozisi Ngobese said: “The investigation is under way and until someone is arrested, we will not know any more.

“At the moment we do not know whether the [burglaries and] robberies at the schools are linked, or where the stolen goods are being stored,” he said, adding that the police were ­working around the clock to catch the burglars.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  crime  |  gadget gang  |  theft

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