“Entry and parking at own risk”, reads a sign at the Newlands Forest parking lot.
While most would tend to shrug off this notice, Claremont police office warns that vehicle owners are well-advised to take heed.
Lt Colonel Marnus Fourie, Claremont Vispol commander, says criminals are targeting vehicles parked in the parking lot, the M3 and other adjacent, secluded roads as these vehicles are not guarded and always have miscellaneous items inside, for example, sport bags, sunglasses, laptops, clothing and cellphones.
“Claremont police have maintained and increased our patrols there, and there has been a marked reduction in the past two weekends, but remote parking (up to 2km) from the site, in adjacent residential areas, make these vehicles easy targets,” Fourie says.
While many municipal parks were, until recently, closed due to adjusted level 3 regulations, Newlands Forest remained open, attracting high numbers of joggers, hikers, cyclists and dog walkers. Due to its popularity, the parking areas tend to fill up quickly, especially on weekends, prompting visitors to park along the M3 and other close-by roads.
Fourie says a large majority of these theft out of and theft of motor vehicles occur on the weekend.
“We are also seeing a growing trend where people are working from home, not keeping to traditional office hours, and then visiting Newlands Forest at all hours of the day during the week. But weekends remain our major concern,” he adds.
According to Fourie, although some vehicles have been broken into at the parking areas, the “danger zone” is the M3 and other roads adjacent to Newlands Forest’s entry.
“Criminals tend to strike mostly during daylight hours – from 6am to 6pm. Almost exclusively, windows are being smashed and goods taken from inside the vehicle.”
In the past month, three vehicles have also been stolen from these areas.
“These were smaller sedan and hatchback vehicles with non-sophisticated security measures,” he says.
The parking areas and Newlands Forest fall under SanParks’ jurisdiction. Except for a hut at the entrance to the forest, manned by SanParks staff, there is no visible signs of security at the parking areas.
There is one pair of eyes keeping a lookout, though. They belong to Isaac Mukendi, an independent car guard who took the initiative to watch over the parking lot as a way to earn an income. He monitors the two adjacent parking areas Mondays to Fridays. On weekends, when the parking areas are packed, he shares the task with another independent car guard.
Mukendi explains that for him to legally do so, he had to register with SanParks, providing the body responsible for managing South Africa’s national parks with his ID and address. But he does not receive a stipend from them for his service. And he is also not allowed to approach and ask visitors for a donation. It has to be freely given.
Mukendi confirms that police often patrol the area but he says he was surprised when the police approached him earlier this month, asking him if he witnessed anything suspicious on a particular weekend when two cars had been stolen. According to Mukendi, the parking area is usually safe.
“Some people will give me something when they leave and some won’t. But if anything goes wrong, then they all come to me,” Mukendi says.
Claremont police requests that visitors to Newlands Forest park as closely as possible to the park or to make use of either lift clubs or Uber taxis.
“Please remove any loose items from the vehicle to limit opportunistic vagrants from breaking into your vehicle and spoiling the special day out,” Fourie concludes.
- In response to People's Post media query, SANParks says the parking area at the entrance to Newlands Forest are not on SANParks property. According to SANParks, this area falls under the jurisdiction of the City of Cape Town.However, SANParks says it does participate in joint operations in this area, and if there is any outward activity happening its rangers are empowered to intervene. Watch out for next week's People's Post Claremont/Rondebosch edition which will carry SANParks's full statement.