Written by Chelsea Petersen
South Africa has been plagued by a wave of mall robberies in recent months, leaving many shoppers feeling jittery and unsafe when entering any mall, worried that it is a target. While security has been beefed up in many areas- Canal Walk in particular has placed armed security guards at each entrance- the lack of police response following the armed robbery at Blue Route Mall in Cape Town has left many patrons feeling less than assured. Most recently, the shoot-out at Bedford Shopping Centre in Johannesburg left 7 people injured, and the police investigation has yet to yield any arrests.
The spate of robberies appears to be concentrated in Gauteng and the Western Cape. There have been at least 18 mall robberies in Cape Town alone in the last few months, with certain malls being hit more than once. The police have determined that the majority of these cases are connected, and there have been suspicions about an inside job. The main targets of these robberies have been cell phone, electronic and jewellery stores, merchandise that can easily be transported and resold outside of South Africa for a large profit. Most recently, banks have also been targeted. In each case the robbers have been armed with guns and, in one case, sledgehammers. Shoppers have been left shell-shocked on numerous occasions as shots were fired.
Plans have since been put in place by individual malls to protect shoppers as far as possible. The continued robberies have made safety concerns a major priority. Many have begun liaising with nearby police stations to determine response plans. Many mall security cameras have also been replaced with better quality cameras, as poor quality picture has been a hindrance in police investigations. Evacuation plans have also been in the works, though shop employees should be tasked with locking in shoppers where safe evacuation is not possible. While mall security has doubled and police visibility has been increased, it is important for shoppers to remain wary of the situation in order to stay as safe as possible. We’ve compiled a list of ways to stay as safe as possible when visiting any mall:
- Take note of all the exits, it’s good to be aware of which one you are closest to at all times.
- Avoid shopping at high-target stores around opening and closing times, especially when alone. Robbers are more likely to strike when the shop in empty.
- Always be observant of the people around you, you may notice something suspicious.
- Try to remember where security guards are posted to report any suspicious information to, as well as to find in the event of danger.
- In the event of a robbery, remain as calm as possible and don’t confront the robbers.
- Do not try to escape from the shop while the robbery is in progress; avoid doing anything that might draw attention to you.
- If a robber demands a personal item such as a wallet or a cell phone, hand it over immediately. Follow all of their instructions without opposition.
- If you are in an area that is not in direct danger from the robbers, evacuate as calmly as possible and notify the police.
- Also be on the look-out for suspicious behaviour in the parking lots, as the robbers will have a getaway car on standby.
- If you separate from friends or family while shopping, it may be helpful to determine a meeting point in case a robbery does occur. This may also help with keeping calm.