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Criminals exploiting coronavirus outbreak

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‘They were wearing bandanas over their faces, with only their eyes sticking out. I just thought that it was because they wanted to protect themselves from the virus.’

A KIMBERLEY woman has appealed to residents to be cautious of people taking advantage of the coronavirus to commit crimes after she was nearly robbed of her cellphone on Monday.

Ciara van Wyk said she was walking to the shop in Hulana Street to buy sugar and tea when she noticed two men, one walking in front of her and the other behind her. 

“They were wearing bandanas over their faces, with only their eyes sticking out. I just thought that it was because they wanted to protect themselves from the virus.”

Van Wyk said that as she neared the shop she saw the man in front of her looking at her. “I had my phone in the front pocket of my jeans.”

She said the man at the back of her then approached and started speaking to her. “I immediately felt unsafe but fortunately my friend’s house is right there so I went into the yard.

“The men continued to stand in the road for a long time. I think they were waiting for me to come out.”

She added that another woman, who said that she had also been followed by two men, also came to stand with her in the yard. “We think it was the same two men who followed both of us.”

When the men eventually moved away, the two women were able to continue to the shop.

“I wanted to warn the public that people are using the coronavirus scare to cover their faces so that they cannot be recognised when they commit criminal offences. Don’t just assume that the reason their faces are covered is because of the virus. People need to be vigilant all the time as criminals are using this as an excuse.”

The Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, meanwhile called for harsh action to be taken against the men who raped and murdered a woman after allegedly posing as soldiers deployed for the 21-day lockdown.

“I am deeply concerned about criminals who take advantage of the national lockdown to rob and murder innocent citizens. We want women and children to be safe during this moment,” said Nkoana-Mashabane in a statement on Monday evening.

This comes after a KwaZulu-Natal granny was raped and murdered, allegedly by men posing as soldiers who said they were going around sanitising homes.

Government announced a 21-day lockdown and deployed soldiers to various communities as a measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Genzeni Ernstine MaMthalane Zuma, 75, was raped and murdered by criminals who duped her into believing they were members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

It is alleged that Zuma allowed the criminals into her home in Sweetwaters, Pietermaritzburg, after they claimed to be SANDF members assigned to sanitise homes in the area. Zuma’s grandson discovered her body on Sunday morning.

A week ago, two other cases were reported – one of a six-year-old girl, Sinakhokonke Madiya, who died after she was raped and strangled at Izingolweni, on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast.

Another case reported was of an 11-year-old, Tiyiselani Rikhotso, from Ndengeza village in Limpopo. Her body was found in the Klein Letaba Dam with several open and deep wounds.

As part of extra measures, government announced that there are plans to beef up the SAPS Family Violence, Children Protection and Sexual Offences units.

For urgent responses, the public can report incidents of gender-based violence on the number 0800 150 150.

The minister has appealed to the security cluster not to let their guard down and act decisively on matters of violence against women and children during these trying times.

“Let’s ensure children are cared for and not left unattended during this period; remain vigilant to any suspicious behaviour of neighbours and surroundings and report any suspected form of abuse or criminal activity,” said Nkoana-Mashabane.

The public can report incidents of violence against women and children to: SAPS Crime Stop: 0860 10111 / SMS Crime Line: 32211

GBVF-related service complaints (SAPS): 0800 333 177/ [email protected]