Residents' safety when visiting the Makhado municipal cemetery remains a concern, especially following a recent armed robbery.
Date: 13 November 2017 By: Andries van Zyl
For many, the Makhado municipal cemetery has become a “no-go” area, following several violent attacks on visitors to the cemetery in recent weeks.
Most recently, four members of the Indian community were attacked and robbed by an armed suspect whilst visiting the Muslim part of the cemetery on 27 October. One was a young father who had recently lost his son in an accident. He was accompanied by family friends, traveling in two vehicles and escorted by an armed security guard in a third vehicle.
“We parked our cars, walked to the children’s cemetery and just started praying, when suddenly a man appeared with a gun,” said the father, who did not want to be named in the newspaper.
All of them were ordered to lie down on their stomachs and hand over all their money and cell phones. The still grief-stricken father, however, said he decided not to give the robber anything. This prompted the robber to walk up to him, give him a push and to start searching the father. “I told him: ‘You know what, let’s go look in the vehicle?’ I was banking on the armed security guard, who remained seated in his vehicle, to notice what was going on,” said the father.
The robber agreed to this and, after clearing out the men’s pockets, escorted the young father back to his vehicle. “I was walking with my hands in the air, so as to attract attention,” said the father. The guard, however, did not immediately see what was going on, as he was distracted by a telephone call.
The father took the robber to the passenger side of the first vehicle, opened the door and showed the robber that there was nothing in the glove compartment. “We then walked over to the driver’s side of the vehicle. I inconspicuously gave two steps back, however, and without the robber's noticing, indicated to the guard that we were being robbed and that it was one person,” said the father.
The father and the robber walked around the security guard’s vehicle. The next moment, the father tackled his attacker while the armed security guard simultaneously jumped out of his vehicle. “The robber was going for his gun. When he saw the security guard, however, he panicked and took off after I let him go,” said the father. The security guard fired upon the armed robber, but the robber kept running and disappeared into the adjacent bushes.
Despite losing some money and their cell phones, the group was happy that they were all alive and reported the matter to the Makhado police. That following Monday, a family friend went to the police station to discuss the issue of attacks at the cemetery with a senior police official. “Unbelievably, the senior official told us that they had arrested a man in Zimbabwe with a bullet wound to his leg. It appeared to be the same man who had attacked us, as my cellphone was allegedly found on him,” said the father.
Although a suspect was apparently arrested in connection with the robbery, the father said the issue of safety at the cemetery was an ongoing concern. He referred to other incidents at the cemetery over the last couple of months, which prompted members of the Indian community not to visit the cemetery alone. “We either go in a very large group of people, or arrange for armed security. You just cannot go to the cemetery alone anymore,” said the father. In this case, however, even this precaution did not help.
The safety of citizens visiting the Makhado municipal cemetery is not a new concern. The situation is similar to that experienced at the end of 2015 when several residents were also attacked and robbed whilst visiting the cemetery.
In response, municipal spokesperson Mr Louis Bobodi said this week that the municipality was not aware of any attacks at the cemetery. “We will, however, appreciate it if people could come forward with information and report these cases to us as we intend to investigate this unfortunate incident,” said Bobodi.
Bobodi added that since the attacks in 2015, the cemetery’s fences had been fixed. There are, however, at present no security guards at the cemetery. “Security was deployed previously, but currently [the cemetery] is unguarded, so we are going to re-deploy security soonest to guard the cemetery,” said Bobodi.
The Makhado SAPS confirmed the robbery on 27 October in their response to an enquiry. “Money and cell phones were stolen,” said police spokesperson Const Irene Radzilane. She added, however, that no arrests have been made, irrespective of reports indicating that the suspect had been arrested in Zimbabwe. For the interim, Radzilane warned members of the public to be careful when visiting the cemetery. “The public must be vigilant at all times when visiting the cemetery and make sure your vehicles are locked. The police are continuing to monitor the area,” said Radzilane.
Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.