In summering South Africa, it's a time for taking Police offer tips to help vacationers avoid getting carjacked

December 25, 1997|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Besides being Christmas in South Africa, it's also major summer vacation time, and with thousands of families on the road to the beaches, police here have issued 10 tips on how to help make sure you don't get carjacked on the way.

Crime is a major problem in South Africa and, according to police statistics, 9,869 carjackings were reported in the first nine months of the year. In the province of Gauteng, centered on Johannesburg, 22 cars or motorcycles were hijacked daily.

"Hijackers, like any other criminals, prey on ignorance," says the police pamphlet. So it offers this advice:

Be particularly alert near house gates, driveways and garages. When entering or leaving your property, look out for suspicious vehicles or persons.

Be wary of suspicious activity at traffic lights, stop signs, or at city road junctions, particularly at night.

When stopped, be ready to accelerate quickly if approached by strangers.

Keep car doors and windows locked and valuables out of sight.

Ignore anyone indicating that there is something wrong with your vehicle and drive to the nearest garage or police station for a check.

When a vehicle breaks down, use a cellular phone to call for assistance, or get to a place of safety. Do not wait for other motorists to help.

Beware of people seeking directions, particularly in a parking lot.

Check whether you are being followed. If you are, head for a police station or a crowded place. Avoid going down quiet streets.

If you become a hijack victim, try to remember as many details as possible to help police identify the criminals.

Do not try to resist the hijackers.

In another Christmas-and-crime initiative, the leader of the major white opposition party appealed to all Christians to pray over the holidays for the victims of violence.

Calculating that every week there were 434 murders, 7,210 thefts, 1,218 armed robberies and 952 rapes in South Africa, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, head of the National Party, said: "We live in a country in which a serious crime is committed every 17 seconds, and where crime has escalated into a full-scale national crisis."

But the country's minister for safety and security, Sydney Mufamadi, had better holiday news. The police were "on top" of crime, he asserted this week after the speedy arrest of three suspects -- one of them a police officer -- in a $2 million robbery of an armored security vehicle that left six guards dead.

Dismissing as exaggerated suggestions that the country was on the brink of criminal anarchy, Mufamadi said, "Certainly there are problems. But one should not only focus on the problems, one should also see the bright spots."

A moratorium on police hiring -- imposed to save money -- has been lifted, and recruit training would start early in the new year, he said.

Also, a detective academy -- Africa's first -- had been opened.

"We are confident that this will sharpen the cutting edge of our campaign against crime," said Mufamadi.

Earlier this month, Mufamadi received an appeal for stronger action against criminals from the 81-year-old mother of Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, President Nelson Mandela's heir apparent. Epainette Mbeki was held up in her store in the Eastern Cape recently.

The police have a major challenge ahead of them. South Africa ranks worst of 70 countries in an annual international comparison of crime, according to Meyer Kahn, chief executive of the South African Police Service. Kahn said the country should strive to be among the top 20 crime-fighting countries within five years.

Critics of the government lay the blame for the crime wave on a lack of police funding and inadequate investigative experience, a flood of illegal, armed immigrants, a weak judicial system with inexperienced prosecutors and lenient judges, and sieve-like prisons that foster frequent escapes.

The government acknowledges many of the problems, but also points to the legacy of more than four decades of apartheid, during which the police were used mainly for political persecution, and crime in black townships was routinely ignored. Apartheid also created deep economic and social divisions, which, the government says, have contributed to crime.

Pub Date: 12/25/97

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