Armed robberies of cellphone, gadget shops a big problem in SA

A wave of armed robberies has hit mobile operator franchise stores and other retailers that sell electronics in Gauteng and the Western Cape, spokespeople for South Africa’s cellphone networks have told MyBroadband.

In addition to Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom stores being robbed, Core Group’s iStores also appear to be a target, with 3 of its shops hit in 2 weeks during August.

“Initially there was a marked increase in Gauteng, and when incidents were decisively dealt with through law enforcement and partnerships there was a marked decrease,” the GM of Business Risk Management at MTN SA, Lily Zondo, told MyBroadband in a statement.

As the multiple armed robberies in Gauteng subsided, Zondo said they then saw an increase in incidents in the Western Cape.

Similar to the wave in Gauteng, as arrests were made and partnerships put in place, the number of incidents decreased.

“The most recent robberies have been in Gauteng,” Zondo said.

A spokesperson for Vodacom said the company had also noticed that the robberies comes in waves, remarking that the flare up in the Western Cape happened last year.

“Until recently it had quietened down quite a bit,” Vodacom said. “It seems to be on the up again, although not so much at Vodacom shops.”

Centurion Mall parking exit boom after armed robbery
Centurion Mall parking exit boom after armed robbery

Staff safety

MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, and iStore all said that the safety of their staff was their primary concern, and that the incidents have resulted in them putting extra security measures in place.

Telkom and MTN also indicated they provide counselling to their staff after an incident, with MTN adding that they offer counselling to customers who were in the store during the robbery, as well.

“A follow up session is held two weeks later to assess any potential issues post incident,” Zondo said.

Cops and robbers

Based on reports of the armed robberies that have made the news this year, the criminals enter the target stores like customers: one at a time over the span of a minute or so.

They look and act as though they are just a normal customer until a group of them break off to demand access to the store room while the rest control the situation inside the shop.

When their bags are full of loot, the robbers leave the store and make for their getaway vehicles.

Often they make it to their cars and out of the mall without a ruckus, but the most recent robberies of iStores in Gauteng involved a gang that did a lot of shooting on their way out.

While none of the companies affected wanted to disclose the exact number of store robberies they have faced, Vodacom did say fewer than 10 of their stores have been hit during 2014 so far.

Statistics from the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa suggests that there have been around 530 mall robberies in South Africa since the start of the year. About a third of those (180-odd) were robberies related to the theft of cellphones. The remaining 66% of robberies included other electronics, clothes, jewellery, and other goods.

Network operators MTN, Telkom, and Vodacom all indicated that they are collaborating with the police, who are working closely with the Hawks to curb the number of robberies.

As of July 2014, 48 suspected armed robbers were arrested in Gauteng with a further 19 suspected robbers arrested in the Western Cape, Zondo said.

She added that following a successful collaboration with the SAPS and the Hawks, a total of 67 suspects had been arrested by the end of July 2014.

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Armed robberies of cellphone, gadget shops a big problem in SA