By SE-ANNE RALL AND KAREN SINGH
Police have warned parents to keep watch over their children during the festive season, especially when shopping at busy malls across KwaZulu-Natal.
The warning comes after a 29-year-old man was arrested after allegedly kidnapping a toddler at an uMhlanga mall at the weekend.
SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker said the 2-year-old boy had been out with his grandmother when he was snatched from the shopping trolley.
“The man was dressed in a security guard’s uniform. When the woman realised that the child had been taken, she rushed to alert mall security. She spotted the man walking into a shop,” he said.
Naicker said the woman grabbed the child from the man’s arms and told mall management what had happened.
“Police officers from the Durban North police station arrived at the scene and viewed the CCTV footage at the mall. The suspect was immediately identified as a security guard who was on duty at the mall and he was arrested.
“A case of kidnapping was opened at Durban North police station for investigation,” he said.
The man is expected to appear in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court today.
Provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khombinkosi Jula said while they were unsure of the man’s intentions, the incident once again highlighted the need for people to remain vigilant at all times.
Durban North/uMhlanga Community Police Forum (CPF) chairperson Haden Searles said the matter was still under investigation.
Searles said he was waiting for verification from the investigating officer and the mall to confirm whether the suspect was in fact employed by the mall as a security guard. He said around this time of year, they often received false messages of kidnappings. However, from what he had seen from the CCTV footage, the incident did occur.
“I do believe from what I’ve seen that it was real. This is disturbing and a massive worry,” he said.
Searles warned that parents should always be in a high state of readiness.
“People walk around malls with their phones, WhatsApping and totally unaware of their surroundings.
“The fact that the child did not scream is an indication that kids need to be trained too,” added Searles.
In addition, Searles said the public had the right to ask people wearing reflector jackets, guard uniforms and also police officers for identification.
“Be more alert, aware of your surroundings and don’t take anything for granted,” he said.
Bianca van Aswegen from Missing Children South Africa recently said that child kidnappings for ransom were on the rise.
She said there were several safety tips that parents could use when they shopped with their children.
“For very young children, dress them in bright clothing so that you can spot them in a crowd. If it’s an older child, set a specific place where they can meet you should you get separated. There is no waiting period to report a missing child.”
Metro police spokesperson senior superintendent Parboo Sewpersad said they had increased patrols around shopping centres in light of a drastic increase in foot traffic at shopping malls since December 1.
“Some of the larger malls are experiencing an influx of visitors. We are monitoring the traffic and public transport around malls,” he said. The Mercury