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Robbed at gunpoint in my home


Independent Media senior journalist Bongani Hans and his family were robbed at gunpoint in the early hours of August 15 … he shares his traumatic experience of the ordeal

Independent Media senior journalist Bongani Hans. Picture: Supplied

JUST like me, until crime hits you directly, you might not fully comprehend how South Africans irrespective of race are dangerously living in their communities and under the roof of their homes.

We live in a country which, according to the worldpopulationreview.com, has the third-highest crime rate in the world after Papua New Guinea, which is number two, and the first being Venezuela.

South Africa has been said to be worse than many countries facing civil wars when it comes to a violent and deadly crime rate.

According to the crime index ranking, South Africa was this year rated as the most dangerous country on the continent ahead of civil war-ridden Somalia, Nigeria and Angola.

Pietermaritzburg, where I live, was rated as the fourth most dangerous city in the country, according to travelsafe-abroad.com, and seventh in the world because of murder, hijacking, house invasion and rape.

The ratings vary depending on who conducted them, but they all placed KwaZulu-Natal’s capital city among the highest.

This is the same city where ANC ward councillor Mabhungu Mkhize was killed by hail of bullets on August 25, 11 days after the attack on me.

The city has been the scene of mass murders such as the Sweetwaters tavern shooting, which left four people dead and eight wounded in July 2022.

My Imbali township was where 10 Memela family members were killed in April this year.

With that said, let me briefly share my recent first-hand personal experience of how crime can be devastating, enraging, traumatic and time and financial consuming.

This is because after I was robbed at gunpoint in the early hours of the morning on August 15, my life and plans for the days and the week ahead came to a standstill.

I was also left with this chilling fear for my family’s safety that I am struggling to deal with.

This all came down on that fateful morning when three armed men with their faces masked stormed my house, which I thought at the time was correctly secured in terms of having burglar guards all over, pointed guns at me and my fiancée and demanded what rightfully belonged to us as if it belonged to them.

They forced my fiancée and me to lie down on the floor.

They did not only rob us of our car, cellphones and my work laptop, but they also robbed me, as the man of the house, of dignity and exposed that I was not fit to protect my family.

The car was fortunately recovered shortly undamaged, thanks to the tracker and the police. But the rest of the items are still missing and my dignity is gone.

The three men’s bad intentions have taught me a lesson not to take crime for granted and fully understand what many victims go through.

I had joined my fiancée in bed a little bit late the previous night as I was busy preparing for the next day’s diary meeting and quickly fell asleep.

But I was awakened by the barking of my neighbour’s dog. It became clear to me that something was amiss because the barking was more hysterical than normal.

I peeped through the curtain of my bedroom window and heard strange voices at the kitchen door that should not be there because only two of us are living in the house, which is fenced.

With that fear all over me, I shouted in panic “voetsek, voetsek” hoping that the strangers would be scared and run away. But they kicked the door open, then quickly the voices were now inside the kitchen approaching the sitting room.

I used my body to push my bedroom door with all the power I could apply so that they could not enter. I yelled at my fiancée to wake up so that she could be prepared for the inevitable situation.

Then I heard bang, bang as someone was kicking the bedroom door. But I pushed and pushed while thinking about what next I should do to deal with the situation at hand.

I shouted “help, help” but clearly none of my neighbours could hear as at around 3am people were fast asleep. Even if someone had heard the cry, people are scared to intervene.

As I pushed the door, I heard a voice shouting “open otherwise I am going to shoot you”. I realised the danger of resisting and let go of the door.

One of them came in and started throwing insults at me. Two others stood in the sitting room and I noticed that they were all holding guns.

The one who came in fired a shot but not at me, and ordered me to lie down on the floor. He also ordered my fiancée to lie down.

He then asked “uyazazi izigebengu zakwa Pata” (do you know criminals from Pata?) and when I said no, he said “we are izigebengu zakwa Pata” (we are criminals from Pata). Pata is an area of Pietermaritzburg where popular ANC councilor Musawenkosi Maqatha Mchunu, who was President Cyril Ramaphosa’s backer, was gunned down three months after the 2018 general elections.

One gunman switched on the light and demanded the car key and I directed them to where it was hanging. As he was picking up cellphones, he spotted a laptop bag and demanded the laptop. He loaded all their loot into the laptop bag.

He then demanded the key to the gate and accosted me to look for it. I fully complied and gave them everything they demanded.

They again forced me to lie down before they left the house. Then I heard the engines of my car starting, and the gate opening. They reversed and drove off leaving me sure that I was never going to see it again.

I woke one of my neighbours up who drove me to the local Plessislaer police station to report the incident.

After 45 minutes or so I came back to my house, which was now a crime scene, accompanied by police. As they were taking statements, me and my fiancée gave details of what happened. The three police officers who arrived first left and others came.

Photos were taken for forensic evidence.

One of the officers helped me a lot to contact my car tracker. At about 9am, police and a tracker phoned my neighbour to say they had recovered the car, which was then taken to the SAPS pound to be kept for a few days while conducting a forensic investigation on it.

When the car was recovered it was without the key, which makes it vulnerable even today. To change the whole vehicle ignition and security system would cost me up to R8,000 at the original car dealer and R4,000 at a locksmith, the money that I don’t have.

As I mentioned earlier, nothing else has been recovered. As a result I am still struggling to do my work.

My house was among five others that I know of that were attacked in the early hours of the morning in August alone in my neighbourhood. But I have heard that there were many others that were attacked since the beginning of the year.

As a result, many people in my neighbourhood who can immediately afford it financially have quickly signed contracts with private security companies and have alarm and panic button systems installed.

Imbali is mainly made up of mostly poor families and even many of those who can afford never bothered to hire security companies to guard their properties, but that has since changed. Most of the houses now have security companies placards displayed on the walls.

Despite escalating criminal activities, police vans can hardly, if not at all, be seen patrolling the township, while private security patrol vehicles have increasingly become common sight.

Despite that the firearm was fired in my bedroom, police could not find any evidence of the shooting as there was no spent cartridge or bullet or even a hole on the wall.

According to police, the criminals use gas guns to instil fear in their victims. This type of gun, which looked similar to the real one but is not lethal, could be purchased at regular shops as cheap as R2,500 each.

Even padlock cutters, which can also be used to cut burglar guards, as might have been the case in my house, are also available at hardware shops at a cheaper price.

One of the hardware dealers told me that the padlock cutters are only sold to law enforcement agencies, including private security companies. But they are displayed at shops.

Even electric shock sticks, which criminals use to attack and disempower their targets, are also easily available in many shops.

My fiancée and I still occupy the same house and we remain vulnerable despite having added minor security features.

Some of the local young people are the suspects of house armed robberies, and one of them was recently apprehended by the community members and subjected to a kangaroo court but rescued by police after being beat up to force confession and pointing out accomplices.

The police have released him because they could not link him to the crimes. My attackers are still freely walking the streets and possibly plotting another attack.

Since the day of the incident, I have not enjoyed peaceful sleep as I have to keep my ears open for any noise on the street, inside my yard or inside the house. I now sleep with a kitchen knife, hammer and screwdriver next to me.

Maybe this is going to be my lifetime routine even after leaving the area as I am planning to do. I have developed paranoia, fear and panic. I have developed a suspicion of young boys born in 2000, the children that I should be treating as mine. They are now my fear.

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