Cape Town – Two young, obviously fit muggers brazenly ran down a Lion’s Head trail in broad daylight at the weekend, stopping groups of tourists along the way to steal their belongings before carrying on.
But when the mugging victims tried to call the police toll-free line, the operator allegedly had no idea where Lion's Head was.
One of their victims, Stellenbosch University Phd student and researcher Asmus Zoch, even mistook the muggers for trail runners from afar. Zoch joined News24's Jenna Etheridge on Skype to discuss the incident. Watch the video above for the full interview.
Zoch is a trail runner himself and often hikes up the popular tourist attraction.
When he saw all the backpacks and purses slung across the muggers' bodies, it became clear that they were not using the trail for exercise.
To make matters worse, the tourists claimed they tried calling the 10111 emergency police number afterwards, but failed to get through or were greeted with an automatic recording.
“When we finally got to the police station, they didn’t know where Lion’s Head is so they said: ‘Well, we don’t know where it is and we don’t know what to do’,” Zoch claimed on Tuesday, adding that he didn’t know which police station they were put through to.
A South African man who was hiking with his Irish friend lower down the trail had apparently managed to hold onto his phone. Zoch said the man then called his sister to ask her to try the emergency number and she apparently experienced the same thing.
Knife against the neck
Zoch had earlier decided that the perfect way to introduce his French friend to Cape Town would be to hike up together, so they could enjoy the views.
Just hours after the developmental researcher arrived in the city, they were held up with a knife while ascending the mountain on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
“We were just talking about inequality and racial problems and the next moment is that these two guys come in front of us, and she thinks they are two friends of mine because she doesn’t expect anything … they hold a knife against her neck and tell her: ‘Give us everything or we kill you’,” he said.
Zoch, who is in the socio-economic policy unit at Stellenbosch University, said everything happened so fast.
When he was in Durban earlier in the year, a mugger held a knife to his stomach and demanded his belongings.
In comparison, Zoch did not feel too threatened this time because he didn’t have a knife pointed at him.
However, he handed over his phone and his friend handed her backpack with her passport, money and expensive jackets inside.
The two had to organise new travelling documents so she could make her hiking trip to the Alps later this week.
Mugging conveyor belt
“They started high up in the mountain and every hiker coming up the mountain, they were on them in seconds. In that way, they could rob like nine people in total,” he said.
The other tourists, including some German women, lost everything, including cameras and passports, Zoch said.
"They were completely frustrated and desperate because they wanted to leave the country in the evening and they couldn’t anymore.”
Zoch claimed it took 25 minutes to get through to police, by which time the thieving pair had long since disappeared into a forest on the Camp’s Bay side of the mountain.
“We just know that the police never showed up and that it took forever to get a response.”
National police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo and the provincial police media office did not immediately respond to the claims.
After speaking to a ranger at the bottom of the trail, Zoch believed rangers may have been focusing their efforts on two rescue missions with a helicopter in the vicinity.
A detective later informed them that some passports and backpacks were recovered at the bottom of the mountain.
“In the afternoon, we talked at the city police station and asked them why they don’t know where Lion’s Head is. And they said that no, that’s not possible, because everyone would know where it is.”
Zoch said he would only hike up again if there were a lot of people, like during the full moon hike, or if security improved. However, he would continue to invite his friends to the country.
“My girlfriend from Germany is still coming to visit me in a few months and I still have other friends coming in November. This is such a beautiful country and it would be such a shame if people don’t come here anymore. We need these people for our tourism industry,” he said.