A spate of lootings occurred in the greater Athlone area on Tuesday April 14, with looters hitting stores in Gatesville, Manenberg and Belgravia.
While some believe these criminal acts are as a result of the lockdown and people not being able to earn money to buy food, some community activists and leaders believe this was the work of a few opportunistic criminals.
In Gatesville, 16 men forced their way into Shoprite, taking five cash registers with an undisclosed amount of money, as well as groceries.
Athlone SAPS spokesperson, Sergeant Zita Norman, said the shop doors were closed at that time, as management only allowed 10 people at a time to enter the store.
“The 16 men forced the door open and threatened the tellers. They fought with the security officers, one of the female security officers was injured on the head and her colleague was injured on his knee,” she said.
Sergeant Norman continued: “One of the cash registers was recovered with its money, and some of the groceries. Four suspects, from the age of 22 to 27, were arrested.”
Less than an hour later, looters also hit Checkout supermarket in Belgravia. The group of about 15 also forced the supermarket door open, broke the front store window, and took goods from the shelves.
When they exited the store they smashed a Quantum vehicle. According to Sergeant Norman, the suspects took various goods, but the manager noticed that they took diapers the most.
Athlone SAPS is also investigating the murder of a 38-year-old man in the early evening on Tuesday April 14.
Sergeant Norman said the man was walking with his friends down Klipfontein Road, near Athlone stadium, when one of his friends was arrested by the Flying Squad for possession of Shoprite goods that was stolen the same day.
“He was left with two other unknown persons. The victim was later found dead on the pavement with head injuries. The circumstances of his death is unknown at this time. The deceased’s bicycle was also taken.
Anyone with information about this case, can contact Athlone SAPS on 021 697 9238/39.
In Manenberg, the police registered three cases of business robbery, after looters went on the rampage.
Manenberg SAPS also arrested two 26-year-old men and a 30-year-old man for these criminal acts, and has recovered some of the stolen goods. After hitting three shops in Manenberg, the looters ran over to Nyanga Junction, but could not gain entry, and as police patrolled the area at that time, all of the looters ran back into the community.
Captain Ian Bennett, spokesperson for Manenberg SAPS said these lootings “is like a slap in the face of the community’s efforts to feed the hungry”.
“This is not about hunger, it is about greed. There are so many feeding schemes in the community. The Manenberg community rallied together to feed the hungry every day. The very same businesses they targeted, are the ones donating food for the feeding programmes. The management of Modack, which is one of the shops that was looted, gives donations to the feeding programmes. The community feeding schemes even get bread donated to them from foreign-owned spaza shops. This was an act of a small group of people who want to be lawless,” Captain Bennett said.
Community activist and chairperson of the Manenberg Safety Forum, Roegshanda Pascoe, agrees with Captain Bennett, saying some people used lockdown as an opportunity to “make people hyper”.
“We do not condone the looting. We are a few feeding schemes operating in the area. These businesses donate the food that is being served to the community. One cannot bite the hand that feeds you. These criminals are not hungry, because a hungry person will never harm anybody that they know provides sustenance for them. Community members have fed people daily. This week, just in one area of Manenberg, we fed 3 000 people in one day. We try as much to reach out. We also have critical cases and people who have chronic illnesses. We cook food that can stretch, because meat is so expensive. It was so emotional on Wednesday (April 15), when we had to turn people away as we ran out of food. If the government never took note of the community activists working on the ground, then now is a good time to do that. We do this without any support from government. I am sure 10 officials can’t do the work that one woman in Manenberg does – feeding 120 people a day – and she is just one of the many doing it. We are waiting on the government to take our hands, so that we can assist so many more people,” Ms Pascoe said.
Another Manenberg activist, Jonathan Jansen, said he has a network of organisations and community workers that he reached out to on social media, who are now also feeding people daily.
“The looting is a criminal act by a small group of guys. As a network, we divided the area into nine zones. The second Friday of lockdown, we had five people cooking food for the community from their own pockets. Since compiling the network, we now have 21 areas in Manenberg being fed every day. The network of people are offering services without any help from government, and since last Monday (April 13), we have fed a total of 3 000 people a day,” Mr Jansen said.