Crime spike has Addo under siege
Tales of tourists being robbed twice in one day, businesses being targeted and not enough police manpower to provide community protection come thick and fast in Addo and the surrounding area, with residents, businesses and tourists under siege.
Almost without exception, those living in the once sleepy town say they have noticed crime spiralling out of control over the last year.
This as the understaffed Addo police station – which has a maximum of four officers per shift, using one vehicle – tackles the impossible task of manning the vast area that spans from the end of the Addo National Park to an area near Uitenhage (Barkley Bridge) and from Dunbrody near Kirkwood to about Kinkelbos.
Guesthouses and businesses have been forced to increase security as criminals run amok.
In recent months, robbers have targeted several remote guesthouses and accommodation establishments in and around Addo.
The Addo police station is ranked as a “captain station” – falling under the Uitenhage Cluster of police stations. Due to the station being ranked at captain level, the resource allocation is minimal compared with stations where officers of a higher rank are in charge.
Addo Tourism chair and guesthouse owner Jannie Gie, who himself has been robbed, warned that crime had a massive impact on the industry.
“It has an impact on all of us. The safety of tourists needs to be secured, it is vital,” he said.
Gie spoke about hijacking in Addo Elephant park in 2018 as well as two incidents in Addo in February.
“The worrying thing is that the last two attacks, in February, turned violent. In the past, it was a matter of stealing a few items and then leaving.”
Gie suspects the increase in crime is linked directly to high unemployment.
John Alderman, a resident and owner of Addo Backpackers, said while police and residents were doing all they could to curb the surge of crime, it was an almost impossible exercise.
“The police in the area are truly trying their utmost to attend to each and every situation, but it’s a huge area. And at the moment we have about 40,000 people living here, which equates to one officer per 10,000,” he said.
“This crime obviously has an adverse effect on tourism, the province and our region’s second-biggest employer and industry. Guests are scared. Recently we had an incident where a couple’s place was broken into during the day and the perps returned at 11.45pm.”
Sundays River Citrus Company managing director Hannes de Waal said they too had noticed a spike in crime.
“It is not only guesthouses but also the farms and residential areas. We have noticed the increase over the past four years but it has really become worse over the past year,” he said. “We have had meetings with the police in the past but they are basically doing what they can with the limited resources. We are now wanting to get hold of the commanders to see what we can do to help.”
De Waal said the crime wave had forced him to beef up their security – costing more than R1m a year.
In February it was reported that citrus producers were losing millions as thieves plundered orchards. One farmer said he had lost R66,000 in produce in one afternoon.
A shop owner in the town, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted again, said: “These criminals have no fear or concern, they outnumber police 10 to one in this town.”
DA councillor Laetitia Erasmus, who oversees the Addo area, said while the community policing forum, some concerned residents and local police officers were doing all they could to prevent incidents, it was not enough.
“We need provincial intervention, more especially in the form of a dog unit to be set up here. Uitenhage policing have offered their dog services but it’s still an hour’s drive away, and by then the suspects are gone,” Erasmus said.
Police spokesperson Colonel Sibongile Soci said: “Various strategies have been developed and will be implemented to curb crime in the Addo policing area.”
Soci said a community engagement session would be held with residents soon.