A recent spike in muggings on Signal Hill saw volunteers from Take Back Our Mountain (TBOM), a non-profit organisation focused on protecting biodiversity in Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), join in SANParks ranger patrols this past weekend.
On Friday 31 March and Saturday 1 April, TBOM volunteers, members from Tamboerskloof and Lion Street neighbourhood watches joined visitor safety rangers on the mountain between 16:30 and 19:30 to deter thieving opportunists from “cashing in” on the sunset shift change.
Taahir Osman, founder, of TBOM, says in the past month alone, they recorded eight muggings in the area stretching between Bo Kaap, Tamboerskloof and Sea Point. The latest incident happened on Friday evening (31 March).
Osman says hikers usually find themselves ambushed by three to four muggers armed with long knives. He believes the perpetrators are youths who live in the Bo Kaap and the Schotsche Kloof area, as well as in informal structures on the mountain slopes.
“There are so many trails on the G-track (the lower slope of Signal Hill, Bo Kaap, Tamboerskloof and Sea Point) that veer off into their location that they can’t be found or they know the area that well.”
According to Osman, the muggings tend to coincide with the rangers’ shift changes.
“The park has the visitor safety rangers, and they have the SEAM (Sea, Air and Mountain) team but currently the SEAM team is tasked to focus on abalone poaching and bark stripping. The visitor rangers are supposed to be protecting the visitors.”
When People’s Post reported on the launch of the 18-strong SEAM team, a special operations team, two years ago, SANParks shared that there were 104 rangers, including the SEAM team members, in service in TMNP.
Osman says there is simply just not enough boots on the ground to effectively patrol the 221-km² park.
“I think muggers are aware of the sunrise and sunset shift change in the park. That is when they have been attacking the mountain users. So a few visitor rangers and TBOM volunteers went out during the sunset shift change. The rangers came in earlier to work, and some of them who were on standby, offered their time to come and patrol with us,” explains Osman.
He says what is needed is for more user groups, like TBOM, or neighbourhood watches in the area, to go out there and be more visible during the shift changes.
“Or SANParks should perhaps look at restructuring their shift changes so they are less predictable.”
The best approach to safety and security in the park, Osman says, is for SANParks to set up a good working relationship with safety and security stakeholders, such as law enforcement and the police, and user groups and neighbourhood watches.
Osman says he recently raised the question with SANParks as to what their relationship was with law enforcement and the police.
“The parents of one of the victims who were mugged were contacting me and sending me live updates of where their son’s stolen cellphone was. The signal was in Military Road in the Bo Kaap, then in Church Street and then in Bree Street in Cape Town. It is an iPhone so he (the mugger) was playing with it. Now the iPhone is in Joe Slovo.
“It’s so frustrating for us. It seems there’s a blockage. For example, if there was a better relationship between SANParks and the police detective on the case… They should have gone out and look for it (the phone).”
He says what is also needed is the formation of a structured body to coordinate volunteer efforts and to ensure there is communication between the different user groups in the park, be it hikers, trail runners, cyclists, mountain climbers or environmental groups.
“The challenge that we are facing on Table Mountain is that there is too much division among these groups and that is something that we really need to try and overcome.”