The festive season is in full swing and because it is a time to make merry, many people lower their guard as they party with friends and family. Of-course, the criminal element is fully aware of this lax in security, hence the spike in crime at this time of the year. Again, because of the high spending associated with the season, people tend to move around with large amounts of cash or keep the money in their homes to avoid going to the bank each time they want to make a purchase. But in this wide-ranging interview, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) commanding the central region (Thaba-Tseka and Maseru), Mofokeng Kolo, tells Lesotho Times reporter, Pascalinah Kabi, why residents should be extra-vigilant instead of relaxed during the festive season.
LT: The festive season is upon us once again, and one can sense the excitement among the people. Whether one is at shopping centres or in residential areas, the festive buzz is certainly in the air. But we also know that this is a time when criminals take advantage of the people’s merrymaking to deprive them of their hard-earned cash and property. Are you, as the police, ready to give the nation a peaceful festive season?
ACP Kolo: We have already launched a series of activities to prevent crime this festive season. We are aware some people take this time of the year as an opportunity to reap where they did not sow; they use it as a time to rob other people of their hard-earned money and property.
As a first step, we have increased police visibility on the streets to deter any possible acts of crime. There is a heavy police presence in public places to make sure they provide the people with the necessary security. But for this exercise to be successful, we need the participation of the public; we cannot do this effectively on our own as the police. We are pleading with members of the public to join forces with the police in fighting crime this festive season and indeed throughout the year. Wherever you are, never lower your guard because you never know when you could be a victim of crime.
The police are going to set-up satellite stations in Ntloana, Lesobeng, Tlokoeng and Manamaneng in Thaba-Tseka district, and then Sehlabeng-sa-Matsieng, Nazareth and Ha Motheho in Maseru to complement offices that already exist in these districts.
We have identified these areas for additional policing based on their recorded incidents of high criminal activities. We hope these satellite police stations will not only deter the criminals but help residents easily access help should they need it no-matter the time of day or night.
We further recently held three meetings with Chinese Embassy officials and Chinese business-owners. Chinese businesses are the biggest targets for criminals and jointly, we are trying to come up with a working programme to empower them with skills and ensure that their businesses are safe.
LT: In general, what are the businesspeople expected to do to ensure they don’t fall prey to criminals?
ACP Kolo: First of all, they must avoid walking alone especially in isolated areas as they could be attacked with the assumption that they would be carrying large sums of money. Businesspeople have this tendency of moving around with large sums of cash, and this makes them prime targets for violent crime. Business-owners must make sure that each day’s takings are deposited into a bank or safe which is very secure.
We are also going to introduce proper firearms-training for businesspeople because most of them own firearms but can’t use them properly.
For instance, we have a case in which a Chinese who operates a shop in the Pitso Ground area emptied his gun into the ceiling when what he needed was to shoot at the criminals. He continued shooting at the roof until he ran out of bullets, and when this happened, the criminals took the gun, and robbed the shop. The other thing is that businesspeople are afraid to use these guns because they don’t know how to properly operate them, or cannot stand the idea of killing someone. We will give them proper training on how to operate the firearms through this programme I am talking about.
LT: Which crimes dominate the festive season, and how can ordinary citizens protect themselves?
ACP Kolo: Murder, reckless driving and robbery top the list. For instance, between 1-21 December, we seized 13 illegally acquired firearms, 38 rounds of ammunition and 10 knives suspected to have been used in murder cases we were investigating. A total of 24 people lost their lives during the same period; five of them in Thaba-Tseka, 14 in Maseru Urban and five in Maseru Rural.
We further recorded eight road accidents over the same period in these areas with two of them hit-and-runs, which means the perpetrators are still at large.
There is also new trend of robberies we are working hard to combat. Like Chinese businesses, private security guards are also becoming a target for the criminals because they would be after their guns.
For instance, we are investigating a robbery in which a security guard at a garage next to Ha Tlelai was attacked and lost his firearms. These robbers overpower the guards and the only things they steal are their guns.
We are working hard to solve this puzzle and will soon bring these syndicates to book. The other thing which is putting a strain on our resources are big music festivals because we end up assigning huge numbers of officers to offer the events security. This leaves other equally critical areas short-staffed but we continue doing our best under the circumstances.
LT: So what would be your advice to the public at large in light of this Christmas frenzy?
ACP Kolo: Do not keep your monies at home because once criminals suspect you have it, they will attack you. You would rather use credit cards and for those without them, only withdraw money if you are going to use it immediately to avoid attracting unwanted attention. Also avoid putting your ATM card where it is easily accessible.
Once criminals are in possession of your ATM card, they will hold you hostage until you withdraw money for them or give them your password or PIN.
The other thing is never send anyone to withdraw money for you, or trust anyone with your money especially those who say they will go and buy something for you at a discount or staff price.
Do your shopping on time and go home before it is too late to avoid being mugged.
For money-saving societies, avoid withdrawing all your funds and keeping it in the house overnight before disbursing it. As we speak, a society treasurer is fighting for her life in hospital after criminals attacked her Ha Leqele house last night (Sunday). Luckily, the members had not withdrawn the money yet.
Again, it is important for motorists to physically ensure that their car-doors are locked as criminals use certain devices to block their remote controls.
LT: Public transport operators are also among the targeted groups during this season as they are attacked after being hired to ferry these criminals. What advice do you have for them to ensure they are safe?
ACP Kolo: For instance, 4+1 drivers must avoid taking special trips without informing their colleagues where they would be going. They must always be suspicious of any strange behaviour and call for help. For instance, if a passenger on a special trip asks a driver to pick up someone who appears stranded along the way and suddenly realises that they know each other, secretly call for help as this might be a plot to rob or even kill you.
Every car must have a tracker or security system to ensure its location is known at all times. Again, it is not safe for anyone to be driving around at night as criminals use tactics like bright lights to blur one’s vision and cause accidents.
And while waiting for the police to arrive at the scene of crime, the criminals rob the motorist and make a get-away. That is why it is important to avoid driving at night and one must be extra-vigilant at this time of the year. Again, like what we always say, drivers must never drink and drive as this impairs their judgment and interferes with their ability to control the vehicle.
LT: We also have famo-related violence at this time of the year. Is your office taking this as something which requires special attention?
ACP Kolo: We have our usual but intensified patrols, as well as stop-and-search operations, to combat crime. However, in addition to the famo music warfare, we now have zama-zamas also killing each other when they return from their illegal mining activities in South Africa. To curb these crimes, the police now mediate peace talks between feuding family members or groups.
LT: What is your Christmas message to Basotho and their visitors?
ACP Kolo: They must all have wonderful holiday celebrations and enjoy responsibly. The police are at their disposal 24 hours a day and they must not hesitate to give us any tip-offs about suspected crime regardless of how insignificant the information might appear.