Be warned: blue-light hijackers prowl SA-Botswana border
EU issues warning that there have been 10 cases in two months
The European Union has warned Botswana residents of a hijacking syndicate ambushing motorists near the SA border by posing as law enforcement officers.
In an e-mail seen by Times Select, EU regional security adviser in Africa Othmar OKx says these hijackings were committed by people in blue-light vehicles in Ramatlabama, 25km from Mahikeng.
It is believed that 10 cases were reported between December and January.
North West police spokesperson Colonel Adéle Myburgh confirmed that a series of robberies involving Botswana citizens had been reported.
“The robberies have been committed by suspects using unmarked motor vehicles with magnetic blue lights, and wearing brown traffic officer uniforms,” she said.
She said a few cases were reported between December and this month. “We have a few cases which were reported during December 2018 and January 2019. However, obviously the exact figures will be released as part of crime statistics periodically. Some suspects were already arrested and some vehicles were recovered. Investigations in other cases are still ongoing.”
She said the matter was also investigated by the national specialised crime unit. “These cases have been centralised as is normally the procedure with cases having similar modus operandi. The South African Police Service will improve visibility in the affected areas to deter similar crimes in the future.”
Botswana farmer Mothusi Raborokgwe told Times Select his friends were ambushed by a blue-light gang on their way to Vryburg to collect three prized bulls.
He said they lost about R14,000 and cellphones as they were held at gunpoint by six people, one of whom was wearing a police uniform.
“This is a concern to us as we could not defend ourselves as we are not allowed to carry firearms in this country. That incident was traumatising and shocking as it was being done by people we believed were police,” he said.
Raborokgwe said they were “soft targets” and he suspected this was the work of a syndicate. “They knew where we were from and they knew that we were travelling in a convoy to collect bulls. But, lucky for us, we had already paid in advance. We were just collecting at the time.”
He said the cash they had with them was for taxes. Their three double-cab bakkies, with trailers, left the Ramatlabama border post for Vryburg to collect the animals.
His friends, who were in two vehicles ahead of him, were stopped at a “roadblock” and the “police” then took them into the bushes and robbed them.
“My friends were held at gunpoint and were robbed. We were lucky as we were driving behind, but that’s what we've experienced in South Africa.”
The incident occurred on December 3.
The matter was reported at the Setlagole police station in North West, near the border with Botswana. “It turned out that there were many similar victims and that they seem to target Botswana nationals.”
Another family traveling to SA posted on their Facebook page on December 29 that they had been lucky to survive a two-hour ordeal at the hands of hijackers.
“Just like many other families at this time of year we happily packed our car for our annual holiday to Stilbaai. We set off through Botswana and entered SA through the Ramatlabama border post near Lobatse. We drove through Mafikeng towards Vryburg where we were to (stay) overnight. About 50km after Mafikeng we were pulled over by a uniformed policeman,” read the post.
The “police officer” initially demanded to see a driver’s licence and said he needed to check whether the family was carrying alcohol in their car. But he then pointed a firearm at the driver and two more armed men in a white sedan arrived.
“The man in the police uniform got in the driver’s seat ... pointing guns at us and shouting at us to close our eyes. They sat on top of my girls as there were now nine people in our car.”
The family was escorted down the highway driving extremely fast and swerving in and out of traffic. “All this happened with lots of cars driving past. I can’t explain the fear as I realised they were not just taking our car but us as well, three of which are teenage girls.”
The family was eventually released after being forced to hand over their bank cards and PIN numbers.
“The police were mildly interested and took a statement. They said this is happening often but not much action is being taken and that we should go back to Botswana.”
Times Select tried to contact the family but without success.
The EU regional security adviser said “close to 10” cases of hijacking by “police officers” stopping Botswana plate cars were reported in December.
“The reports range from speed trap-radar stopping to [an apparent] police vehicle following you and flashing and siren noising you to stop. The main area of attacks has been just outside Mafikeng town,” said OKx in an e-mail.
OKx was contacted for comment through his EU consulate but there was no response by the time of publication.