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SAFETY & SECURITY

Table Mountain muggings: How do you secure a national park with 850km of trails?

Table Mountain muggings: How do you secure a national park with 850km of trails?
Lion's Head on 23 May 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images)

Table Mountain National Park, a favourite among nature enthusiasts, tourists, trail runners, hikers and those seeking solitude, has long been a haunt of muggers. Criminal attacks on visitors seem to be on the increase.

“It’s an absolute travesty that we can’t go up the mountain for fear of our lives. It’s completely unacceptable,” said Andy Davies, chairperson of the public forum Friends of Table Mountain. 

Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most recognisable feature. It stands sentinel over the city and surrounding suburbs, stretching down to the Atlantic Ocean.

The national park has for decades been used by runners, hikers, cyclists and even those who host small church services. On the mountain, there are also Kramats (final resting places) of holy Muslim men who have died in the Cape. 

However, there is also a dark side to the park. Muggers lurk in the undergrowth and on the trails, waiting for their next victim to come along.

Attacks in Table Mountain National Park are nothing new. 

Road sign showing directions to Table Mountain cable car, 29 November 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Road sign directing people to Signal Hill, 29 November 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

After a Swedish tourist was stabbed and robbed on Signal Hill in 2011, it emerged that there had been at least 130 attacks over the previous decade, according to a report in the Cape Times

However, there have been 80 muggings on Table Mountain, Signal Hill and Lion’s Head this year alone, according to Friends of Table Mountain. 

People have been robbed of their wallets, cellphones, binoculars and cameras. Car keys have been stolen. Others were forced to hand over items of clothing. Someone had their bicycle stolen.

Some people reported the incidents to the police while others, perhaps realising the futility, have not bothered.

“People coming from all walks of life, whether it’s a poor kid from a township or a rich person living in Sea Point, the more they experience the mountain, the more of a relationship they build with it, the more they will want to protect it,” said Davies. 

​​When asked for a breakdown of reported crimes in the national park, Sgt Wesley Twigg from the SAPS Western Cape media centre said: “Due to a moratorium on the release of crime statistics, this office will not be providing you with the number of cases reported, as the Police Minister will issue this on a quarterly basis.” 

A newly formed conservation group, Friends of Lion’s Head and Signal Hill, scheduled a protest hike on Lion’s Head early on Friday morning to demand better protection for those who use Table Mountain.

Two women robbed

At around 9.30am on 3 November, Kate Lloyd and her elderly mother were walking their dogs on the popular Pipe Track trail above Camps Bay when they were approached by two men. 

“They stole both our phones and some of my mom’s jewellery that is worth nothing to them, but means everything to her. Her knuckles are quite arthritic and her rings have been on for 40 years so they were very hard to get off,” Lloyd said this week. 

“The muggers were threatening to cut her fingers off … they only managed to get one ring and two necklaces before they ran away,” she added. The necklaces were also worth very little, but were of sentimental value. 

Lloyd said there were no witnesses, but the attackers quickly moved off when a man came walking up the footpath. Lloyd explained what had happened and they called the police and South African National Parks (SANParks). 

Later, the two women reported the mugging to Camps Bay SAPS.

“I just want to say that the SANParks response was amazing. They were there really quickly, and went above and beyond to try to catch the guys,” said Lloyd. 

Rickert Mulder from Rondebosch, Cape Town, during the RMB Ultra-Trail Cape Town on 24 November at Kloofnek. (Photo: Supplied)

RMB Ultra-Trail 

Muggings in the build-up to and during last weekend’s RMB Ultra-Trail Cape Town event last month highlighted the safety hazards faced by runners. 

A week before the 166km race, News24 reported that British elite cross-country runner Tom Evans was held at knifepoint and assaulted on a Table Mountain trail. He withdrew from the race and returned home. 

The race, which starts in Cape Town’s suburb of Gardens, includes two climbs on Table Mountain, extends to the remote trails of Karbonkelberg in Hout Bay, and then routes back to the city. 

During the race, three runners were robbed while running between Simon’s Town and Kommetjie, in the far south, but not within the perimeter of the Table Mountain National Park. 

Race director Stuart McConnachie said the victims were physically unharmed and chose to continue with the race. Runners passing through the Simon’s Town checkpoint were warned to remain alert.

A day after these attacks,  three more runners were robbed on Table Mountain, according to reports.

Fatime Saint is a mountain guide that works on Table Mountain daily

Fatima Saint, a qualified mountain guide, on top of The Sentinel, Hout Bay. (Photo: Supplied)

Mugging is affecting my job’

Fatima Sait, a qualified mountain guide from Lotus River in the southern suburbs, told Daily Maverick: “When the first mugging happened, we were more alert. And obviously, I was more anxious about going to do the sunrise tours … most of my tours were early in the morning.” 

She told Daily Maverick the attacks terrified her and threatened her livelihood, given that she takes domestic and international tourists on the mountain. 

“I would just cry the entire day because of the stress. Guiding is my job and this whole mugging activity is taking a toll on me. Two consecutive bookings were cancelled from the UK because they read that Lion’s Head is not safe,” she explained. 

“Now I have to tell my guests, if someone approaches us and they want our phones, just give them the phones. If we’re going to resist, we will be injured. Our lives are worth more than our phones and other materialistic stuff,” she said. 

Sait added: “I continued going to work but I was quite apprehensive … There were more and more muggings being reported and I became more anxious about working. Every morning I get up and ask myself, am I going to be the one mugged today?”

Entrance to Lion’s Head hiking trial, 29 November 2023. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

How do you keep a mountain safe? 

Friends of Table Mountain’s Andy Davies told Daily Maverick there is a lack of security on trails. He also reported deteriorating signage and considerable alien vegetation growth.

“Safety and security is a difficult topic … SANParks needs law enforcement officers to do that job,” he said. 

The forum has been calling for a hotline where people could call SANParks and report incidents, “but that hasn’t worked”. 

They’ve also arranged for community safety apps to be provided free of charge to report suspicious activities, fires and medical emergencies. One of the apps includes a panic button. 

“It was nice to see the city stepping up to the plate to try to help with security on the mountain, even though it is SANParks’ responsibility,” said Davies. 

“While safety and crime prevention in TMNP [Table Mountain National Park] is the legal and constitutional responsibility of SANParks and SAPS respectively, the City of Cape Town has committed substantial resources to support these agencies to improve safety and reduce crime on Table Mountain,” said JP Smith, the City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security. 

Smith told Daily Maverick that the City would continue to work with SANParks and the police to improve safety on the mountain. 

The City has already requested the resumption of the Table Mountain Safety Forum between the SAPS, the City, SANParks and local security providers. 

Other measures include the use of drone technology to monitor inaccessible areas on the mountain, and an increased number of staff patrolling in uniform and plain clothes, which includes extending operations into the early morning and late evenings when the majority of the attacks are taking place.

Smith said there needed to be better coordination, crime intelligence and effective investigations by SAPS. 

When asked what safety measures were employed by police, Twigg emphasised the cooperation between SAPS and other enforcement agencies and community organisations. 

“Initiatives such as awareness campaigns and integrated operations are conducted to provide a safe and secure environment for all inhabitants and visitors in and around the city of Cape Town,” he added.

Smith said the City has raised with the national government the need for a greater proportion of income being earned within the TMNP to be retained to fund adequate numbers of rangers with a budget for overtime and equipment, as only a third of the revenue generated by the park – more than R300-million – is spent on the mountain.

Tourism season 

In a statement issued on 16 November, the City said it would deploy its largest tourism safety operation ahead of expected record-breaking visitor numbers to Cape Town. 

This included the deployment of Tourism Unit personnel to Table Mountain. 

The City said more than 4,000 uniformed city enforcement and emergency personnel would be available in shifts. 

The City has also arranged for a special deployment of 80 personnel to patrol tourism routes on Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, Bo-Kaap, the Waterfront and the CBD.

In August, the Department of Tourism said R174.5-million had been budgeted to train 2,200 tourism monitors this financial year. The City of Cape Town said 250 of these monitors would be deployed in the city, but that they would only be operational from 15 December. 

Briony Brookes, head of PR and communication at Cape Town Tourism, told Daily Maverick the tourism agency was implementing a range of measures to reassure travellers and enhance their sense of security. 

“This includes collaborating closely with law enforcement agencies to address safety concerns, providing updated safety information to visitors, and promoting initiatives that showcase the city’s commitment to ensuring a secure and enjoyable experience for all tourists,” she said. 

“Our website’s TravelWise section is regularly updated with current safety information and tips. It also outlines zones with heightened crime activity, serving as a crucial tool to alert visitors about areas to either avoid or approach with caution,” she said. 

A spokesperson from the office of Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, referred to the minister’s 3 November reply to a question in Parliament that there were 70 field rangers employed at TMNP, who worked 45 hours over five or six days. This excluded overtime for emergencies and busy periods such as the festive season. 

SANParks responds

Lauren Clayton, a spokesperson for SANParks, told Daily Maverick: “We understand that the recent spike in crime at Table Mountain National Park is distressing to SANParks, our government and partners such as the City of Cape Town and SAPS, and visitors alike… 

“We do understand that some visitors may be hesitant to return or explore the park, fearing similar incidents, therefore it’s essential to address these concerns to ensure that visitors feel safe and comfortable enjoying the natural beauty of the park.” 

Asked about safety measures in and around the park, she said TMNP was “unique in terms of its situation, being surrounded by a densely populated urban area as well as being an open access park with 850km worth of trails for people to enjoy”. 

“Open access means easy access for people to use the park from many different free entry points, but also means the park is easy for criminals to access and exit … crime that occurs in the urban area spills over into TMNP.”

She said it was a joint responsibility of SANParks, the City of Cape Town, the SAPS and other law enforcement agencies to respond to and target crime. 

TMNP also works with local neighbourhood watches, community safety groups and security companies.

Clayton told Daily Maverick that SANParks would be deploying extra aerial support from 15 December. 

“Apart from all these plans, we request members of the community to be part of this fight against crime on the mountain. Any information on the perpetrators should be reported to the police. We need to fight crime in and outside the park, and we can only do that if all of us are involved,” she said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    Buy 50 high tech drones at R1m a piece. Mount them on high platforms spread across the whole mountain.

    Then charge people money to hire or buy a panic button at the entrance to all the popular walking spots. If anyone gets into trouble and presses the panic button one can put a drone over them wherever they are on the mountain in less than 90 seconds. The muggers won’t stand a chance.

    • Rob Fisher says:

      I’m sure that can be done with an App?

      The first thing I would do is allow walkers to take their dogs with them. Off lead.
      Most Cape Town dogs are very crowd friendly from the beaches, so dog fights and dog bites are only applicable to people with unsocialized dogs.

      The Cape nature stance of the dogs attacking the natural fauna, misses the point that most people on the mountain are nature lovers and would defend the fauna and their dogs are not vicious killers. More of a problem of the dog getting bitten by a snake!

      • Chris Orr says:

        Taking dogs with you sounds like an excellent idea. Preferably staffies or, alternatively, other so called “dangerous” dogs. Word will get around soon enough amongst the muggers once a few have been bitten or chased away during attempted attacks on the dog owners.

      • jason du toit says:

        oh please no. as someone who has been attacked in public on three separate occasions (once as a child) by “friendly” dogs who “love children” and “don’t need to be on a leash” and seen first-hand how a leashed dog lunged at and bit someone on the beach, the thought of dogs on the moutnain horrifies me.

        and if those were the people with socialised dogs, can you imagine what your “unsocialized (sic) dogs” might do?

        “people on the mountain are nature lovers” – it only takes a minority of people not to “defend” fauna for the dogs to be a problem. and even those who do attempt to defend fauna fail to do so as their dog runs off-track.

      • Peter Slingsby says:

        “The Cape nature stance” – how long will it take before people stop confusing CapeNature with SanParks? CapeNature have absolutely nothing to do with the management policies of the TM National Park

      • Johan V says:

        Every biting incident I know off was by a “friendly” off lead dog.

      • Linda Vergnani says:

        Reading about dogs killing a pregnant caracal in the Table Mountain National Park it is clear why dogs cannot be allowed in this area. Free roaming dogs kill wildlife.

        Far more should be allocated by SAN Parks in security patrols of the crime hot spots.

    • andrew farrer says:

      Weaponised drones & shoot to kill those Fu#k*rs!

    • Richard Owen says:

      a smart practical idea !!

    • Rael Chai says:

      They will find a way to steel the drones…

  • David Wessels says:

    Drones would be the most effective way of policing the mountain

    • - Matt says:

      Agree, manned drones with thermal cameras so that people hiding in the bushes can be found. Backed up by K9 units and the justice system actually putting people behind bars, would all aid the effectiveness of clearing unwanted thugs off the mountain.

      Of course, a different political party in charge in the country with good ideas AND the ability to implement (i.e. not the ANC) actively looking to get people employed would have a longer term beneficial effect.

  • David Marais says:

    There is a real problem with criminals comming from Bo Kaap and the nearby illegal settlement on national goverment land. On Friday last two teenagers from Bo Kaap mugged walkers on the countour path above Tamberskloof. They were aprehended and let out by SAPS. On Sunday morning they mugged further walkers in the same area. They were arrested and appeard in court on Monday only to be let out in the care of their parents. On Tuesday they were again on the prowl in Tamboerskloof looking for the next victim. Justice seems to serve the criminals.

  • Gordon Tonetti says:

    Get the SANDF special forces snipper unit to take target practice on the muggers. 2 or 3 dead muggers and the problem will be solved.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    I will answer your question in the headline quite simply: stop pandering to the pathetic bleating of the human rights activists who insist on giving pity instead of penalty to the thugs. And you can start by getting rid of the car “guards” who hassle people for money. Quite frankly, as a visitor who never missed an opportunity to visit Table Mountain and surrounds a few times a year, I now avoid the hassle. The criminals rule, and more tourists get mugged or murdered, and go back and tell 1000s of others.

  • Kb1066 . says:

    Correction, Table Mountain National park stretches through to Cape Point and the runners mugged between Simon’s Town and Kommetjie where indeed in the park

  • Rob Glenister says:

    Start by replacing all of SANParks management and replacing them with a team that is willing to address the problem – not just waffle about it.

    • andrew farrer says:

      Political Will is the problem. If the DA to take over ALL government agencies in the province – SAPS included, you’d see a change.

  • neumannjg says:

    I agree that Drones are the answer to combat crime on our mountain

  • Doug Southgate says:

    Drones, surely!

  • A Rosebank Ratepayer says:

    To answer the question in the heading directly…one bite at a time. As can be seen, the officials’ responses are rooted in problem identification and helplessness rather than solutions and a “can do” approach. But there is no longer any point in hoping for a different response. Therefore, other solutions are needed. Many are emerging. Citizen groups, with vested interests in safety and quality, are upgrading nearby public spaces in the City Bowl. They no longer expect authorities to do anything and already EVERYONE enjoys the outcomes. The same applies to Table Mountain, particularly where it abuts the City Bowl and Atlantic Suburbs. Citizen groups; eg. Friends of Table Mountain, Table Mountain Bikers and abutting CIDS should lead mountain safety projects. These require funding. The nettle of “user pays” and affordability must be firmly grasped. Experience shows the relatively poor will pay for services they perceive as valuable, in this case safety and security. Funding will enable fencing and gating key entrances and hot spots. Access can be manned or electronic, activated by card readers. Access cards can be funded instantly through app based payment systems, (rather than TMNP’s prehistoric, discouraging and punitive manual payment system for activity cards entailing driving all the way to the Tokai payment office that closes for lunch!) With funding drones, control rooms, rapid response units, foot patrols can be employed. The existing Buzzer app could also play a role.

  • Graham Smith says:

    Arm all guards and guides and have an instruction of shoot to kill. Muggings will stop within one week. We are too soft on these criminals. Take back Table Mountain.

  • Mark Spyker says:

    2 suggestions:
    1. Train a cohort of honorary rangers who patrol in twos or threes on a regular basis, although mainly at specific times and encourage people to walk at those times. You may be surprised how many volunteer.
    2. Make it illegal for ‘bergies’ to stay overnight and get the SAP or Metro Police to clear known caves and shelters on a regular basis. That really is the heart of this problem

  • Robert Watson says:

    Easy, go up the paths as a hiker with a 9mm in your pocket.

  • Yves Ducommun says:

    My wife, our 2 sausage dogs and myself, hike every weekend, mostly around Silvermine gate 2.
    Don’t let anyone join you!
    Our modus operandi is fairly simple: we give the right body language.
    The perpetrators are mostly young men, sometimes accompanied with a couple of females and even pitbulls.
    Don’t let them pass you, be it coming from behind or in front of you. Get off track, always upwards and a good 30m away, and hold ypur grounds looking at them whilst they get passed.
    Best case scenario, they were youngsters going for a stroll.
    Worst case scenario, their’re up to no good, and we’re giving out the right message: we know what you’re up to!
    If they leave the path and come towards us, that would give my wife the time to call Law Enforcement on 021 480 7700 and give our position, whilst I’ll through as many large rocks at them.
    The point is, they are cowards, and won’t come towards you. They’ll always try to come behind you.
    Futile? Mean? I don’t care! My wife’s safety is worth more than potentially overreacting.
    Over the past 13 years, we did come across suspicious characters, each time giving them the right message, and do far, never had any incident. Hopefully it will stay this way.

    Be aware!

  • Technology can solve crimes like these. A cell phone app linked to a central drone depot could trace the criminals

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