Robberies that go Unreported

-A thread dedicated to unreported cases-

It is strange that after posting on trail safety data, I would come to experience the horror of unsafe hiking myself. This is just a personal account from a robbery post-lockdown and what you can expect on a multiday hike.

Location: Millwood hut, Knysna
Trail: Outeniqua hiking trail
Event: Multiple assailants, robbery
Date: Oct 2020

So, like most, we wanted to get out when Level 1 hit and we opted for the Outeniqua. My husband and I would be the only ones on the trail at the time. This was ideal considering Covid safety (which we deemed the nr 1 threat). The trail is normally 7 days, but due to 2 fires the windmeulnek and platbos huts are permanently closed.

For those that want to know, the bathrooms and lapas burnt to the ground and no construction is underway so I do not see the 1st two huts opening anytime soon.

We unfortunately, or fortunately chose the worst possible storm to walk it in. We did a quick and beautiful walk between Farleigh and Millwood. Being alone, we enjoyed the beautiful hut and the rangers even came by to measure for new windows. We chatted and after dinner and conversation went to bed. It started to drizzle, but at 00:12 a loud banging noise woke us up.

Now my husband checked and locked all the doors (not all huts have locks). We never do this on trails, but did it out of habit from home. I thought it was a hiker until I saw the time. I opened the top floor window to ask who it was while my husband scrambled for a headlamp. They did not reply and the banging intensified. They were trying to shoulder open the door.

My husband raced downstairs to block the door… he did and after many threats they eventually took off. Needless to say we did not sleep again or for much of the subsequent trail.

Things to note:
SANParks contact list at Millwood was dated 2015. The Duty ranger, Office staff in Knysna and otheŕ offices only answer calls between 08:00-16:00 bar lunchtime. There is no answering machine. I called the duty ranger 4 times between 04:00 and 08:00 and the offices double that. I sent an email. I called SAPS…no answer.
If we were truly in danger I don’t think a single person would be able to help. The restaurant and tours at millwood are closed. The offices were several kilometres away with local residences between us and the office.

They did not arrive by car, but by bicycle. This means they either live nearby or used the jeep track and cy led in the drizzly rain for an hour or more. Now imagine you know they know your on a trail. They know where you will be and when as well as which route you will follow.

We could bail (hike out to the office), something most would do and our robbers would know OR we could hightail it to the next hut and keep contacting the authorities. We knew a massive coldfront was on its way so we opted for the trail. I never thought I would be that greatful for torrentrial rain. Nice 10mm per hour rain.

End Result:
The robbers stole everything in the bathrooms and outside. No SAPS case was opened. The knysna office tried to call us once and only once. They responded by forwarding my email to the managers (which the duty managers did not distribute as when I finally got hold of the duty ranger 30h later, he knew nothing of it) and told me they would consider closing millwood for a short while. I had to contact them to find this out. That is it.

The stats reported for trail robberies are the ones where a SAPS case is opened.

I would advise everyone to be extra careful in the coming year.

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Wow Gerda! What a horrible experience… Glad to hear you’re all okay. Thank you for the information and for starting this thread.

Absolute tragedy. Puts a miff smell in the air for sure. Really good to hear you left unscathed and took all the right measures following through to safety.

@Gerda I’d like to ask, and this is not to challenge you at all, but more for my own education:

  1. When you say the case remains ‘unreported’ and no SAPS docket opened whose responsibility is that; the hosts of the trail or the victims
  2. How far did you take the complaint/report? Have you pursued it since the event, since you got home for example?

Anyway, I’m pretty saddened by this. i get the sneaking suspicion they may have even known you were but a couple, would they try the same stunt with 4-5 men hikers? Speculation…

Stay safe.

its possible (being really optimistic here) that they didn’t hear you and were seeking refuge from the storm…

That said finding somewhere to secrete a 9mm whilst hiking with easy access is difficult, but a necessity on an overnight trail.

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Hi (i will try and be as concise as I can, but feel free to ask if something is unclear)
We tried staying optimistic and thought they might have not known anyone was inside. Taking this line of thought, why would they keep on trying to enter multiple doors if someone was communicating from inside?

If they needed shelter, they could have just said so when I asked and it is impossible for them not to have heard me. So there is that. They only took off once I said I was calling the offices…

With regards to SAPS: They stole SANParks property so it would be impossible for us to open a report for them (they would need to report it themselves for insurance purposes).
We did not have anything of value outside (nor did we have any physical injury, just some mental strain) and although we lost some things we would not be able to retrieve any costs by reporting it to SAPS. @Carl With regards to your question, if we would have sustained personal injury then things become tricky. To what extend the Parks are liable for personal injury due to security (I cannot comment as I really dont know) if one should want to try to recuperate losses (medical expenses that you cannot afford) by means of legal action, then you would need to report it. I do think there might be regulation that ensures that physical injury should be reported in one form or another.

In this case, instead of having 2 reports, I informed SANParks and provided our contact details for in case a report was opened and SAPS needed to contact us to confirm the details. I have not receiced any communication following the incident. They also knew we were staying in a SANParks accommodation for the following 8 days, so had multiple options to get in touch.

Staying optimistic, it could be that a report was opened and they merely noted the incident without contacting us. This is always an option, albeit a small one. I thought it more prudent to alert the hiking community as soon as possible. Hence the thread.

I think it is a good way to know where to be cautious and to know what did not work for hikers that came before or avoid mistakes we might have made.

I think that 9mm is almost becoming vital for all outdoor activities😉

On condition that you are happy that you have a trusted legal opinion on the boundaries of self-defence AND that you will use it well with confidence in a quarter of a heartbeat when required…

What I have witnessed in northern cape on tour is that community ,SAP’s and civil contractors have self defense classes from basic self defense for family from old to young and more advanced to car hijacking and personal weapon training .it was a eye opener to see the reality ,the effects of crime,People participating were grand parents to grand children Even remote areas were affected by crimeSORRY THE SAY THIS HAS BECOME A REALITY.We also had a incident where handbag and cell phone were stolen in kuruman at a filling station on our way to upington.The best is to do research on the area you planning to visit(hiking),After incident we found out from CPF in kuruman that is a crime hotspot especially for out of town visitors.after we opened a case at saps nothing has happened until today?Even reporting a crime ending up in nothing.we were notified by kuruman CPF THAT EVENING that same members of the handbag/cellphone gang ,hacked a woman to death that evening.SOUND SILLY BUT PLAN YOUR HIKE WITH RISK ELIMINATION IN MIND. Risk avoidance and risk reduction are two ways to manage risk . Risk avoidance deals with eliminating any exposure to risk that poses a potential loss, while risk reduction deals with reducing the likelihood and severity of a possible loss LIFE OR POSSESSIONS.

You’d have to behave as if on border patrol though, weapon at the ready at all times for your ‘enemy’ loiters in that state of readiness. Sleep with one eye open, etc.

I get your sentiment but if hikers started carrying arms I’d wager attacks on hikers would shoot through the roof.

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I respectfully disagree BUT I will instantly concede that all hikers (much like all individuals) should not necessarily carry firearms…

As Jesus said - “He who draws the sword will die by the sword”. As soon as you draw a weapon, the situation will definitely escalate. Some criminals will run away, sure, but I’d rate most won’t.

Remember that when someone attacks you, they are experiencing an adrenaline rush, as are you. Their response to your actions won’t necessarily be rational, and neither will yours. When one is in fight-or-flight mode and has a deadly weapon, there are a number of ways one might react, but when both have a deadly weapon, the “I’d rather shoot first” response by the attacker is more likely.

When I found myself on the wrong end of a knife some years ago, my default reflex was to throw my phone. I don’t know how I came to that conclusion, but it resulted in the mugger running to pick up my phone before running away to the car ready to go by the side of the road. I did have a wallet in my pocket, so it was possible that a different response would have ended in me losing more than just my phone.

If I had had pepper spray, a knife, or a gun on my when that happened - what could I have done? He already had a knife at my neck and a hand firmly on my shoulder. “Excuse me Mr. Thief, can you stand back a bit so I can pull my pepper spray out and spray you in the face? Please refrain from waiving that knife while you recoil in pain, I wouldn’t want you to accidentally cut me.”

Naturally the fact that it happened next to a busy road with plenty of people staring didn’t matter - and cars just move out of the way of the get-away vehicle. The police provide a super helpful reply of “if insurance doesn’t cover it, why are you bothering to report it?” The fact that the police considered this petty theft rather than armed robbery also sums it up pretty well.

I get that the “don’t fight back” attitude allows criminals to get away with their crimes, seeing as the police are useless and the courts tend to release criminals with little to no penalty, even when there is conclusive evidence. But if citizens start carrying guns, robbers will carry larger guns, if our response is more violent, theirs will also become more violent.

The answer - hike in larger groups, avoid high crime areas, report incidents to park officials and the police, don’t hike with valuable items where possible. Also importantly keep looking around when you are walking. A knife wielding criminal that is 5m away from you can’t do much damage if you prevent them from getting any closer - running away from someone is a viable defense if you act early enough. Once they have a knife or gun aimed at you, its too late, you have already lost.

Incidentally my father learned judo when he was young. On a number of occasions he has found himself with a knife to his neck, followed by the criminal finding themselves dazed and on the ground. So it is possible to fight back without a weapon if you know how.

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A very balanced argument here and while I might not absolutely agree with everything said I maintain that this response is fair and balanced.

I would like to discuss this further face-to-face over coffee high up in the mountains…let’s hope that happens someday…

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