SAFETY & SECURITY
Table Mountain muggings: How do you secure a national park with 850km of trails?
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.
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.
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.
‘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?”
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.
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.
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