As South Africa faces one of its darkest years yet, citizens fear crime may be on the rise during loadshedding. Anti-crime experts have warned that the darkness leaves people vulnerable to criminals.
Eskom has frequently implemented various stages of power cuts this year to avoid a collapse of the power grid. The power utility has battled an energy crisis since 2007.
This has led to opportnuistic criminals taking advantage of a dire situation, according to Mike Bolhuis. He is a specialist investigator of serious and violent economic crimes.
“If we look at the past, when Covid-19 entered our country, there were so many criminals that got on the bandwagon selling false goods. If we look at many a situation when things go wrong, a criminal element will join. For instance, if there’s a protest many of the people involved in the protests will involve themselves in other crimes like looting, burning and even turning to violence,” he said.
Bolhuis believes that such opportunists operate around the world, but are more brazen in South Africa due to a lack of consequences.
“It’s a worldwide thing, but especially in South Africa we see that crime begets crime. Once a crime can be committed and the criminal can get away with it, he will commit it more and others will join,” he said.
Another expert, Dr Johan Burger from the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), told state broadcaster SABC there would be an increase in crime.
“Load shedding is just another opportunity that criminals are already exploiting, and will continue to exploit. We will see a rise in crime such as burglary, and other crimes such as house and business robberies,” he said, adding that “they will follow loadshedding schedules.”
What do the stats say?
While no official data has been compiled, experts warn much of it may be going unreported.
“Although within the Fidelity ADT footprint we have not seen a spike in crime generally, we believe suspects are definitely taking advantage of loadshedding and changing their modus operandi in some areas,” security service provider Fidelity ADT said.
“They look at the power outage schedule and then before the scheduled power cut, they trip the electricity at the electric box, disarm the electric fence and often derail the electric gate and then burgle the property.
“With the extended power outage, many alarm battery systems are unable to fully recharge which we believe criminals also take advantage of.”
Meanwhile, Bolhuis said policing becomes an even harder task during loadshedding. For example, he said, police are often unable to reach crime scenes fast enough due to traffic congestion caused by inoperable robots.
There has also been an increase in reports of cable theft, house break-ins and hijackings in traffic congestion.
Crime has for years been prevalent in affluent suburbs, where luxury homes and items are usually concentrated. However, Bolhuis warned people in lower-income homes not to be complacent. He said they shouldn’t be fooled into thinking they may not be targeted.
“We in South Africa think that it’s only those that have all the good stuff in life that is robbed and attacked. It is not the case. I get many cases of poor people that just their shoes have been robbed, their clothes that were hanging out to dry, their little radio and many times a family member raped.”
“We need to consider that as a country. It is the poor that is also a target to the criminal element,” he said.
“People should be extremely vigilant and when there is loadshedding try and catch up with sleep or something that you would usually do if you’re taking time off. Then, when the loadshedding is over finish up with your work,” he said.
“I would suggest that during loadshedding, families must stick together and must protect themselves.”