#TMNPSafety: Why this mugging simulation during a SANParks briefing left us shaken and emotionally unprepared

2018-02-26 13:12 - Saara Mowlana
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Image by: Saara Mowlana

Cape Town - We weren't prepared as two knife-wielding men emerged from the mist-cloaked bushes beside us on Signal Hill - a popular lookout point for locals and visitors to Cape Town. They lurched at one of the SANParks managing members and robbed him of his valuables.

Their exit was as quick and smooth as their arrival. 

The fog was thick around us and the much appreciated rain had blurred our vision, making these culprits, in our shocked state, unrecognisable. In a flash of a bright yellow t-shirt - worn by one of the attackers - the event had left all of us feeling emotionally unprepared and quite frankly shaken. 

'Unprepared for the incident'

Clutching our cellphones and hugging our cameras close to our bodies, as members of the media invited to a safety briefing in response to a spate of crimes in the area, we did not expect the IRL demonstration. 

Many of us failed to capture visuals of the scenario, myself included. But the planned simulation turned out to be cutthroat in demonstrating that you never know who your attacker can be or when and where these events can happen.

This was the first of two simulations conducted by SANParks during their media briefing on Friday, 23 February. The second took place along Noordhoek Beach and involved a couple walking along the beach being mugged by an unsuspecting passerby asking about directions.

We were more aware as the second incident unfolded, with only the slightest doubt it was not real. The point of these simulations was to demonstrate how swiftly these attacks can happen, as well as test the average response time from the SANParks rangers.

Noordhoek Beach mugging simulation. A couple walking the beach being mugged by a man asking for directions - attacks can happen when you least expect them. All actors featured are SANParks Rangers. (Image by: Saara Mowlana)

READ: SANParks rangers on high alert after Wilderness trail robbery

Easy access a major sore point

While the rangers who patrol the national park are contacted immediately, the areas in which attacks can occur are vast, spanning some 50km from Signal Hill to Cape Point. It takes an average of around 5 to 10 minutes for rangers to reach the victims and seek out the attacker. In this time, the attacker can easily slip back into the urban fringe unnoticed - a major sore point for controlling safety in the park.

SANParks have said that they are aware of the attacks taking place in the Table Mountain National Park area and are "tirelessly working to combat them." 

Together with SAPS and other stakeholders, SANParks says they are doing their "best to aid those affected by these attacks and prevent further attacks." As an added safety measure they have outlined a series of safety rules and regulations for visitors and tourists to adhere to while in the national park. 

The main issue SANParks has noted is the easy accessibility of the park over which little can be done. Since the National Park is open to public access and lies close to the urban fringe, it allows an easy funnel point for attackers to enter and exit the area in quick succession.

SAPS works along with SANParks in solving these attacks. A team of SANPark Rangers and SAPs officers patrolling Signal Hill with a K9 unit dog. (Image by: Saara Mowlana) 

The Table Mountain National Park SANParks team consists of 128 Rangers, 15 vehicles and 12 K9 units. This responsive team is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Even with this wide range of resources, they have had to rope in all concerned to address the issue of open access to the park, which makes the situation harder to control.  

CHECK OUT: SANParks reminder: Flying drones at parks will lead to arrest

Nightfall brings with it a host of other issues, "making it hard to discern between a homeless person squatting, a religious group or a potential attacker lurking around." The SANParks team is however looking into doing more night sweeps of the area. 

The urban fringe at the base of Signal Hill. (Image by: Saara Mowlana)

'Hospitality services can do more'

The attacks in Noordhoek Beach have also had residents and guests concerned. Foreign visitor Doris Leleveld, who travels to South Africa regularly from Germany and The Netherlands has been visiting her holiday home in the Monkey Valley complex in Noordhoek Beach for the last 17 years. She says more can be done to improve safety though. Leleveld says that hospitality services ought to do more to "help warn tourists and travellers about the attacks happening."

She said that while she understands that the rangers are doing all that they can, the accommodation and holiday resorts should have signs up that urge guests to be wary and safe. She also suggested that there should be warning signs in the direct areas commonly targeted. 

SANParks acting TMNP manager, Gavin Bell, and Ranger Devin Heuvel look out over the urban fringe seeking out the potential attacker on the run. (Image by: Saara Mowlana)

SEE: Management of SA's national parks: Now is your time to speak up

SANParks confirms warning signs are in place at the entry points to the National Park, however not necessarily in the spots directly affected. They have implored the public to create forums and engage with them regarding this matter. They also have an online brochure outlining safety and awareness actions and are actively engaging with any concerned groups or individuals via their social platforms.

Ranger Paul Albertus and K9 unit Orbit on Noordhoek Beach. (Image by: Saara Mowlana)

These are the suggested SANPark safety tips visitors should adhere to:

  • Never hike, run, cycle etc alone
  • Plan your route from start to end and choose the route according to the ability, fitness and experience of the group. This will prevent potential injury
  • Inform someone exactly which route you are taking as well as your expected time of return) and stick to this route and plan.
  • Always be prepared for bad weather, i.e. take proper weatherproof clothing even on a sunny day (wind and rain proof); torches - with spare batteries and globes; good footwear - strong boots or shoes with non-slip soles; food; water; a flask of tea or some other beverage; a rucksack to carry it all in - so as to leave your arms and hands free.
  • Undertake your activity with somebody who knows the way and carry a guidebook, map or route description. A registered guide is recommended.
  • Keep to the designated routes on well-used paths. Heed signs advising of danger and do not take short cuts or unknown routes
  • Leave valuable like cash and cameras behind
  • Be wary of suspicious persons who may pose as hikers
  • Save the emergency numbers 086 110 6417 or 107/021 480 7700
Noordhoek Beach (Image by: Saara Mowlana)

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