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Determined Table Mountain guide faces fears and returns to work a week after mugging ordeal

Determined Table Mountain guide faces fears and returns to work a week after mugging ordeal
Experienced guide Brinny Ridgway returns to work on 12 December 2023, a week after her mugging ordeal. She says it would take her 'more than being mugged to give up' the job she loves. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

After being attacked in Table Mountain National Park, Brinny Ridgway returned to work saying it would take her ‘more than being mugged to give up’ her career and way of life. And SANParks says it’s now deploying extra resources to improve safety.

On Monday morning last week, mountain guide Brinny Ridgway and her tourist friend from the US were robbed by a man wielding a knife on the Kasteelspoort hiking trail on Table Mountain. 

It was the latest in a spate of muggings within the ranges of the National Park. 

However, Ridgway refused to give in to fear and has resumed leading hiking tours, from which she earns a living. “It helped me get the monkey off my back,” she told Daily Maverick after returning to work following the attack. 

Ridgway educates tourists about Western Cape fynbos and other flora and identifies important landmarks during her tours.

The 56-year-old guide said “interpretive guiding” is a very important part of her job and that it would take “more than being mugged [for her] to give up” on her vocation, which she says has defined her life.  

“This job is a very healthy job and you shouldn’t get stressed — but now it’s starting to get stressful. However, it’s the most wonderful job in the world, that constantly keeps giving back,” said Ridgway. 

“Hence, I work to be remembered as someone that loved to share nature, open people’s eyes and change lives.”

Following the attack, Ridgway took a few days off to recover and rest. She and her husband Peter Ridgway also used the time to hike back along the popular Kasteelspoort route where the knife attack took place.

Brinny Ridgway, Peter Ridgway, Table Mountain National Park

Brinny Ridgway with her husband Peter Ridgway at Lion’s Head hiking trail, on 12 December 2023. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

“When we got on top we could see the exact spot where the mugger was hiding,” Ridgway reflected. It became clear to her that the “assailant had been watching us for quite a while with my tourist friend when we were coming up”. 

“In South Africa, you always know you might be mugged or hijacked. It’s always ‘you might be’. But despite being mugged, the mountain is my happy place. 

Fear and frustration

This incident followed a peaceful protest days earlier on 1 December by Friends of Lion’s Head (FOLH) to highlight safety and security issues across Table Mountain National Park.

Ridgway’s incident is among more than 80 muggings reported on Table Mountain, Signal Hill and Lion’s Head in 2023, according to the Friends of Table Mountain. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Table Mountain muggings: How do you secure a national park with 850km of trails? 

In another recent incident last week, a group of mountain bikers were held at knifepoint at Signal Hill. Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security JP Smith said two suspects were arrested in connection with the attack.

‘Tired of living in fear’ 

Inspired by Ridgway’s resilience, Southern Suburbs-based hiking guide Fatima Sait told Daily Maverick that she refuses to let criminals curtail her career and life.  

She explained that Lion’s Head sunrise and sunset hiking tours account for “90% of my income” and she can’t simply stay away from the national park.

“I now only start when it’s light to lessen the risk. I tell my guests that if someone approaches us and asks for our phones, just hand it over as our lives are more important than our phones. If we resist, we will be injured.” 

Sait added, “I am tired of living in fear. I am not going to allow muggers to ruin my experience on the mountain any longer as I’ve been avoiding social hikes as well. This has been the experience of a lot of mountain users, just by seeing photos of how quiet the trails are and this saddens me. We do, after all, need safety in numbers on various routes.” 

Sait stressed that local guides need to restore faith in prospective guests, adding that she is seeing fewer bookings than normal for this time of the year since muggings became more prevalent. 

“I was inspired by Brinny Ridgway and her guest who were mugged on top of Kasteelspoort and how she brilliantly handled the encounter. We are after all trained to keep calm in an emergency situation. If we lose our cool, we are useless to our guests,” said Sait. 

She said, in her experience, it’s mostly hikers’ iPhones and smartwatches being targeted by criminals. Sait said mountain users can do their bit to stay safer “by leaving valuables at home, taking an older phone on the trails for photos and emergencies only”. 

Hikers on Lion's Head

A group of Hikers on Lion’s Head, within the ranges of Table Mountain National Park on 12 December, 2023. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

Read More in Daily Maverick: Table Mountain National Park — escaped genies and the desperately ill cash cow

Prioritising safety

Chairperson of Table Mountain Bikers organisation, Robert Vogel,  told Daily Maverick that his recommendation has always been the deployment of visible patrols, as crime generally occurs where the urban fringe meets the mountain. 

“Known hotspots have been there for the last decade. The crime moves around, it goes quiet for a while, then it comes back,” Vogel explained. 

“SANParks have X amount of rangers at the moment, and that doesn’t mean that crime will go away, but if you have more rangers, you are more flexible and able to operate in multiple areas at the same time and not spread your resources too thin,” said Robert Vogel.  

SANParks, which has been under scrutiny following the spate of muggings, outlined its festive season safety and security plans for Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) during a media briefing on Wednesday.

The TMNP Safety and Security Forum, which includes SANParks, SAPS and the City of Cape Town (COCT), has been resuscitated and is meeting regularly to coordinate its plans and operations.

“The forum has already proven valuable for the purposes of streamlined and optimal deployment of resources to target crime and share intelligence aimed at informing operations,” said SANParks managing executive Property Mokoena.

“Since the start of the festive season campaign there have been six successful arrests of multiple suspects through joint operations of SANParks, SAPS and CoCT enabled through the TMNP Safety and Security Forum.

“Another collaborative effort which will result in additional physical presence is the deployment of about 70 Tourism Monitors supported by the Department of Tourism. These monitors are intended to deploy on 15 December 2023,” said Mokoena.

SANParks has 112 rangers working in the TMNP and has advertised 20 vacant positions, including nine field rangers, six section rangers, one senior section ranger, two field ranger sergeants, one liaison officer and one information officer.

TMNP manager Megan Taplin said the park is primarily open access and offers easy access.

“You can literally enter the park from hundreds or thousands of entry points across the city,” she said, adding that this makes it accessible to “less desirable elements as well”.

Taplin said that the park’s “proximity to the urban edge poses safety risks as social crimes perpetrated in the adjacent urban and residential areas spill over into the protected area”.

“These crimes include theft out of motor vehicles, theft of vehicles, muggings and contact crime and land encroachment. Easy access to the park and escape routes work to the advantage of criminals seeking high-value goods from visitors,” she said.

Recommended safety tips for mountain users: 

  • Download Buzzer on your phone for emergencies
  • Report suspicious behaviour or even fires being set
  • Always be aware of your surroundings
  • Tell someone reliable where you are going
  • Leave valuables at home
  • Know your access and escape routes
  • Avoid known dangerous parts of the mountain
  • Travel in groups
  • Know emergency numbers

DM 

FOTM have started a campaign to stop crime in the region. Follow the link to its petition

City of Cape Town emergency number: +27 21 480 7700

Wilderness Search and Rescue: +27 21 937 0300 

Make use of the SafetyMountainTracking by Hikers Network Whatsapp group  https://www.facebook.com/safetymountain 

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