Sentletse Diakanyo
Sentletse Diakanyo

Shoppers under siege

Shopping in South African malls has become a dangerous affair. Adrenalin junkies may find the prospect of being caught up in a violent armed robbery a thrilling experience; while the rest of us tremble at the mere thought of having AK47 assault rifles being shoved in your face or becoming the sad victim of a stray bullet. Soon we may have to wear bullet-proof vests and military helmets when we visit malls; and first do a reconnaissance of the parking lot before proceeding inside the death trap. It is clear that nose-picking and unarmed security guards are not going to keep any of us alive or even prevent the robbery from taking place in the event that gun-totting ruffians strike.

These brazen criminals must be salivating in anticipation of festive season which will soon be upon us as these unsecured malls will be flush with cash. In previous years we have seen a drastic increase in cash-in-transit heists during the festive season; but why would robbers want to risk being killed when they can go to the source of this cash – malls. Malls are sitting ducks because management has opted to employ untrained blokes to masquerade as security guards. Wearing a uniform and holding a baton is not going to keep anyone safe let alone scare a determined criminal from committing a crime. I would not expect any untrained person who is paid less than R2,000 a month to put his own life at risk in order to protect mine. I would simply be expecting too much from these vulnerable blokes if I was to do that.

There has been an alarmingly high increase in armed robberies at malls during the month of July (25 robberies) and August 2009 (12 and counting) compared to only 50 robberies in the entire 2005. This increase in violent crime is an indictment on the law enforcement authorities and their crime intelligence services. We are seeing a government that is increasingly becoming more reactive to these incidents of violent crime when they should be using their intelligence (“intelligence” used very loosely here) to prevent these crimes before they are committed. What is the National Intelligence Agency doing besides tapping phones of political opponents?

It is a good thing that the South African Council of Shopping Centres has recognised that new security measures are needed to stop these armed robberies. However, what they fail to acknowledge is that for as long as malls do not have armed guards, criminals would continue to turn them into their playground. The excuse that having armed guards may result in innocent bystanders being killed because criminals may turn the mall into the wild-wild-west is plain ridiculous. Already innocent and unarmed people are being killed at malls. If you need to give security guards rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) then so be it but criminals need to know that they may not return from their criminal adventure.

In Afghanistan recently armed robbers were mowed down by security guards and the police when they attempted to rob a bank. This surely was a clear message sent to their buddies that, “we will kill you!” The suggestion that installing metal detectors and having check-points at entrances is may just prove not only a deterrent to criminals but to shoppers too for whom convenience is everything when out for some retail therapy. I certainly don’t want to feel as though I am entering Fort Knox when going to a shopping mall; where I have to frisked and inconvenienced, etc. That is why I am one of those who hardly visit Montecasino in Fourways.

Visible policing is necessary as the Gauteng Community Safety MEC, Khabisi Mosonkutu has promised; but that alone cannot be enough to deter criminals, because we know that the police have an uncanny habit of not having vehicles to respond to incidents of crime. Perhaps the MEC can donate one of his luxury German sedans as a police armed response vehicle. The fact that an armed robber simply has to turn his back to the police to prevent being shot at is absurd. Criminals know very well that the law is on their side and provide them with protection from serious harm. “Skop, skiet and donner” approach in dealing with armed criminals is not the only solution but it is the only effective solution to addressing this problem. If the police want to be taken seriously, they should start carrying heavy calibre automatic weapons instead the sissy-type 9mm pistols that get stolen from them so very often.

It is about time that the owners of these shopping malls invest their profits in hiring decent security guards; not only trained but intimidating security guards. The scrawny buggers in oversized uniform are not going to instil confidence in me that they can prevent an armed robbery; and recent events clearly show that they’re useless in doing so. So why have them in malls? Call them ushers or something but not security guards. They are providing no security to any property or anyone for that matter.

It appears that Bro Jackie’s connection with the criminal underworld may have helped in bringing down cash-in-transit heists and ATM bombing. Bheki Cele who has a striking resemblance of a pimp with his hideous and colourful outfits may just be the right person to deal with crime; only if he stops talking and starts acting. We sure need someone who looks like a criminal to deal with criminals.