By Mashudu Netsianda
Parking in Bulawayo’s city centre has turned into a nightmare for motorists who risk having their cars broken into or being robbed at gunpoint.
A robbery syndicate is targeting unattended cars parked in front of shops and business premises.
And although police have been arresting suspects every week since the start of the national lockdown, they could not immediately give exact figures.
However, five suspects linked to the crimes of robbery and theft from cars appeared in court between last Friday and Monday.
One of the latest victims to fall prey to the gangs, Ms Lasta Nkala (39) of Emganwini had to be admitted to a local hospital after she was stabbed as she clung onto the bonnet of a getaway car used by suspects who had robbed her of her valuables.
Ms Nkala turned stuntwoman after she jumped onto the bonnet and held onto the wipers of the getaway car while blood was dripping from her hip.
The robbers had snatched her laptop, cellphone and jacket on May 29, at around 4PM, outside a fast food outlet in the city.
Ms Nkala told Chronicle that the driver of the gateway car, a white Honda Fit, only stopped after about 60 metres when he was blocked by another motorist.
The robbers then disembarked and took to their heels, with members of the public in hot pursuit.
“The driver jumped out of the vehicle while brandishing a knife, but that did not deter members of the public from chasing after him. When he made the move towards a nearby meat wholesale outlet, a shopper who was waiting to get in to be served kicked him with a safety shoe and he fell,” she said.
Ms Nkala recently lost US$300 after robbers unlocked her car and stole a handbag containing the money.
Mr Tichaona Tarinda (39) of Luveve, who is a forex dealer, said the syndicate of robbers uses different Honda Fit vehicles with fake number plates and tinted windows.
He said six robbers who had been monitoring his movements in the city centre, followed him to Luveve in a blue Honda Fit where they blocked his car, a Mercedes Benz.
“Two of the robbers got out of their car armed with a pistol and rifle and smashed the window of my car on the driver’s side. They forced open the door and dragged me out of the car and demanded money,” he said.
Mr Tarinda tried to wrestle with one of the suspects who was armed with a pistol but four others got out of the Honda Fit, opened the rear door of his car and took a small bag containing US$2 800 and R3 500.
They rushed back into their getaway car and sped off.
Three of the suspects, Khawulani Dube, Candy Nyathi (28) and Nigel Matengo, all from Entumbane, have since been arrested for armed robbery and theft from a motor vehicle and appeared in court. They were remanded in custody to July 27.
Another victim, Mr Pardon Pakamani (28) of Queens Park lost a laptop, US$9 000, R11 200 and $3 500 after the suspects smashed a rear quarter glass of his Toyota Vitz to gain access.
Nyathi was arrested in connection with the offence.
He was caught on CCTV camera parking his car, a grey Nissan Sulphy near Mr Pakamani’s car before smashing the window before stealing the money and laptop.
On Wednesday, police arrested a suspected notorious thief for stealing from cars while his three accomplices escaped following a dramatic incident.
During patrol, traffic police spotted Sifelani Mapfumo (42) from Njube and his three alleged accomplices who are on the run trying to break into a car in Bulawayo’s city centre.
The incident occurred at about 2PM along Jason Moyo Street between 13th Avenue and 14th Avenue, leading to a high-speed chase.
In his bid to evade arrest, Mapfumo who was driving a silver-grey Honda Fit, encroached onto the lane of oncoming traffic as he tried to make a U-turn along Jason Moyo and 14th Avenue.
Mapfumo’s car rammed into two vehicles before coming to a halt and three passengers escaped, leaving him alone.
Traffic police managed to apprehend him and impounded his car.
Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said upon Mapfumo’s arrest, it was established that he was a wanted suspected for theft from vehicles.
“In his car there were some weapons used by syndicates who are used into breaking into vehicles. The items include several pairs of scissors, screw drivers, spark plugs, anti-car lockers. When Mapfumo was apprehended, some members of the public identified him as one of the notorious people stealing from cars in the city. We believe that his arrest will result in several outstanding cases being cleared,” said Insp Ncube.
“We are not so worried about his accomplices who escaped as we believe, we now have their links and cops will be on their case soon.”
He said members of the public could have assisted traffic cops in apprehending the culprits but they opted to take pictures of the unfolding drama.
Inspector Ncube said they were investigating a number of cases involving theft from motor vehicles. He said unregistered Honda Fits mounted with fake number plates are mostly being used by the syndicates as getaway cars.
“They target mostly unattended cars parked in the central business district. These gangs usually park behind or near their targeted victims’ vehicles before they smash door glasses and steal money and valuables,” said Insp Ncube.
He said the suspects follow and monitor their targeted victims’ movements looking for cash, especially forex and valuables such as laptops and cellphones.
“We urge members of the public to make sure that they remove their valuables and money especially when parking their cars or alternatively someone should remain behind guarding the car,” said Insp Ncube.
He said they have since deployed police, some in plain clothes and intensified surveillances and investigations and arrested some suspects.
“Almost every week we are arresting some gangs linked to these syndicates, but we are concerned that they continue to mushroom. Although we are accounting for these criminals and impounding their cars, the numbers are not conclusive,” said Insp Ncube.
Some of the cars being used in committing these crimes would have been are stolen and later dumped.
Insp Ncube warned members of the public against offering lifts to strangers as well as boarding strangers’ vehicles to avoid putting their lives at risk. The Chronicle