GEORGE NEWS - Extortion tactics allegedly used by gangs in townships in Cape Town have seemingly spilled over to George - specifically Thembalethu.
Local police have opened two inquiries following incidents of intimidation, extortion, attempted murder and murder in which foreign national shop owners were targeted earlier this year. The incidents took place in Conville and Thembalethu.
However, during an exclusive interview with Eden Cluster Commander Major-General Oswald Reddy last week, he assured George Herald that extortion will not be tolerated.
According to Reddy they are aware of such incidents and although he didn't elaborate, he gave his assurance that plans are in place to rid George of these alleged extortionists.
"The police have established a dedicated team to deal with the extortion complaints and a local 24-hour hotline (079 498 6645) has also been made available for information regarding possible extortion," he said.
In the latest incident a Somalian man (34), was shot and nearly killed in Asazani on Saturday 3 October. He was transported to hospital in a critical condition and later transferred to the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.
In September Demene Gidube from Ethiopia was shot and killed in his spaza shop.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Thembalethu foreign business owner said the alleged extortionists frequently visit spaza shops and other businesses demanding a R500 protection fee.
"This is a monthly fee and if you don't pay it you will be killed. They come at the end of every month. This is the third month now and shop owners have started paying in fear of not only their own lives, but that of their employees and families. I believe that soon they will start attacking local businesses as well - like what is happening in Cape Town currently," he said.
According to information George Herald received from some of the shop owners, the alleged extortionists targeting the local shops are from this area. It seems that no links could yet be found to the gangs operating in Cape Town, although all possibilities are being investigated by the police, George Herald was told.
Statements are the biggest challenge
According to Reddy their biggest challenge at this stage is obtaining statements. "Although no criminal cases have been opened up to date, we have opened inquiries for investigation based on complaints we received," he said.
"I want to reassure the public that we are taking this very seriously and have plans in place with dedicated teams to address the issue. That said, we appeal to people with information to come forward. All information will be dealt with confidentially."
24-hour hotline for extortion
A 24-hour hotline, dedicated to information regarding the alleged extortion tactics only, has been put in place.
The number for the hotline is 079 498 6645. WhatsApps, calls and SMSes will be accepted.
Furthermore, SMSes can be sent to 32211 and Crime Stop can be contacted on 08600 10111.
In the meantime it is important that shop owners improve their security measures by installing burglar bars and CCTV cameras, if possible. They are advised to adapt their opening hours and close their shops earlier.
"We are in continued meetings with community leaders in the area and we can assure the public that we are tackling the problem head-on," said Reddy.
Reports from Cape Town
The Daily Maverick reported on the killing of eight people in a house in Gugulethu on 2 November last week. The newspaper quotes residents from several townships saying that the incident was likely linked to attempts from gangs to extort money from shebeens, spazas and other businesses.
The article quotes a Gugulethu businessman saying that the gang, known as the Boko Haram [not linked to the notorious radical Islamist terrorist group], is behind the spate of hijackings, murders, extorting money from property owners, cash-in-transit heists and demanding protection money.
The article also states that the gang controls the drugs, guns and everything that is illegal in the townships, causing mayhem in most of the informal settlements in Cape Town, and that they have now also spread their wings to George.
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