While police could not confirm an increase in robberies at Woodstock’s railway station, commuters say they are indeed happening, and more so in broad daylight.
On Friday August 4, while boarding a train at the station, Yunus Adams from Woodstock was approached by four men, who he claimed were on the station, “just hanging around”.
“There were a few people on the station at that time, but these guys looked suspicious from the start. They did not have any bags on them and were sitting around like people who were waiting to pounce on somebody. Instead, I ignored those signs and proceeded and that is when they jumped up and followed me onto the train.
“Everybody else who was on the station platform that time must have known something I didn’t, because I got into the carriage alone,” he said.
Mr Adams was then cornered by the four men in the carriage, accosted with a knife and his cellphone, wallet and work laptop were all stolen before the suspects forced open the doors and jumped from the train, a few minutes after leaving the platform at Woodstock station.
“They ran towards the bridge. There was very little I could do at the time, because I do value my life more than those belongings,” Mr Adams said.
In the same week, a Walmer Estate mother experienced a similar incident, also highlighting that the suspects chose to jump off the train a few minutes after the train had departed from the station.
Samantha Diergaardt has been using public transport nearly all her life, but this was the first time she was robbed on a train, an experience she wants to forget. “There were a few people in the carriage with me and nobody wanted to stand up and assist. Two guys just came to sit next to me, one on either side, they put a knife in my side and said that if I chose to scream, they will cut me,” she said, confirming that the suspects managed to escape with her cellphone and wallet.
“I sat there in complete shock and did not even move until somebody eventually came over to me and asked if I was okay. I lashed out at that person for not helping me, but he had clearly seen it happening before and knew that his life would have been in jeopardy if he had gotten involved,” Ms Diergaardt said.
Both victims claim to have reported the incidents to the Woodstock police for investigation.
In both instances the suspects jumped off the train minutes after leaving the platform. It is believed they made their way to the nearby Mascani informal settlement, located metres away.
The settlement has been a thorn in the side of residents for a long time, often being raided by police and the occupants removed, only to return a short while later.
Mr Adams said it could have been the suspects’ preferred location after they robbed him. “It looks dodgy and there are always people suspiciously hanging around that camp. I will not be surprised if my laptop and stuff are found there.”
Sergeant Hilton Malila, Woodstock police spokesperson, confirmed that police had conducted numerous operations at the Mascani settlement, but often discovered drugs and not stolen property. “It can’t be confirmed that the robberies that occur at the Woodstock railway station are committed by suspects coming from the Mascani informal settlement. We also can’t confirm that robberies on the station are a concern or on the increase.
“The robberies happening on the station normally occur inside the trains, then the suspects jump off at the Woodstock railway station or in between Salt River and Woodstock,” Sergeant Malila said.
During the last operation at the Mascani settlement in April, police arrested a number of illegal immigrants and another four suspects for dealing and possession of drugs. Police uncovered 95 units of heroin, 27 plastic bags filled with tik, two parcels dagga, with a street value of around R10 000, including a large amount of money. However, Sergeant Malila said: “In the past we have never arrested people for stolen stuff at Mascani, only for drug trafficking.”
As part of their daily patrols Woodstock police are required to visit all railway stations in the precinct. “Suspects previously arrested for robberies in the railway environment proved not to be residing in our precinct. We also want to warn the public to not openly display their valuable property including cellular phones when travelling by train. Commuters must never sit in carriages that are empty or with only one or two people inside. If you enter a carriage and you feel uncomfortable, please move to the next available one. Never resist if in a robbery situation where the suspects are armed,” Sergeant Malila said.
Metrorail spokesperson, Riana Scott, said they had repeatedly expressed their concerns about crime spilling onto railway precincts from adjoining communities, “hence our plea to law enforcement agencies to address crime as a priority”.
She added that the deployment of joint resources was considered during weekly meetings with the Rapid Rail Police Unit.
“Metrorail security resources on trains and stations are allocated strategically on a similar basis as general policing. Police/security is not able to be everywhere at once – instead they are posted according to predetermined priority areas,” Ms Scott said.
“We also inform the Rapid Rail Police Unit during our weekly meetings to allocate static, mobile and/or undercover resources according to priorities determined at these meetings.”
With regards to the Mascani settlement, Metrorail played down any suggestions that the settlement has been allowed to grow into a problem.
“Not even the City has been able to effectively address homelessness. We continue to remove informal dwellers on a rotational basis from scores of stations; a temporary solution at best as these destitute dwellers either return to the original site or find another. At best we displace the problem, not solve it. With the assistance of SAPS arrest are made but people are released soon afterwards and the spiral starts anew,” Ms Scott said.
Facilities are fenced off to the public, only to be broken into and vandalised repeatedly because they have nowhere else to go, Ms Scott confirmed.
“Without additional funding to increase cleaning and vegetation control measures, it unfortunately impacts negatively on our employees and customers who have to face the mess created by the dwellers and it impacts negatively on the aesthetics of the surrounds,” Ms Scott said.
Residents are encouraged to report vagrancy to the DPU at 021)596 1999 / 0800 225 669 all hours. All robbery incidents happening in the rail environment must be reported to the nearest police station. Woodstock SAPS can be contacted on 021 442 3117.