02 February 2011
By Neil Margetts and Sharifa Modise
Plan for quick wins
Plan for the longer term objectives
An open meeting to discuss the recent spate of attacks on climbers at the Chosspile climbing area was held at the MCSA Clubhouse (Waverly Girl Guides Hall, Waverly, Johannesburg) on 02/02/2011. A brief background on the climbing area, the incidents leading up to the meeting, potential root causes, and tentative solutions were discussed.
The following solutions were put forward by the assembly:
- A system be set up where climbers park closer to the entrance and use an alternate path to the one currently in use
- Offer the local community employment opportunities as guides. These guide to be equipped with radios linked to armed response
- Limit access to weekends; with set times to ensure that groups are reasonably large – safety in numbers
- Climbers who wish to climb during the week to call ahead to secure guiding/escorting services at a premium from pre-specified sources
- Climbers are required to pay fees for the privilege of climbing at Chosspile – these fees will be used solely for safety and security purposes
- Increased interaction with the community
- Closure of alternative access route and prevention of climbers using it.
Discussions with the owners of the venue set to be held on a later date in order to facilitate implementation of the proposed solution.
Two major crime incidents occurred near the parking area of the sport climbing area called Chosspile, near Hartbeespoort Dam. These were in late December and early Janurary 2011. On the Wednesday 29 December at 11:00 am two climbers were robbed by 3 armed (knives) suspects of R6000 cash (drawn with their bank cards from the nearby ATM) all valuables; phones, cash, hard ware, Leatherman’s, 3 pairs of shoes and 13 other things. Two weeks later there was another almost identical incident where 3 University of Pretoria students were also robbed. There have also been many other incidents in the same area but these were not climbers.
The property on which Chosspile is situated is Rissik Estates and owned by the Bezuidenhoudt family; who also own a citrus farm in the same area. Mr. Jan Bezuidenhoudt and his son Mr. Peter Bezuidenhoudt gave a brief history of Rissik Estates (Chosspile); explaining the reasons for it being opened up to the public, and clearly stating that the creation of the picnic site was for non-profit reasons (provide an opportunity for public to also enjoy this natural site) and not as a money-making enterprise.
They also mentioned the following:
- Crime has increased in prevalence in that area over the past few years
- Their citrus farm has also been targeted by criminals, and they have incurred major losses as a result
- They suspect that the increase in crime is directly related to the growth of an informal settlement in the area over the past few years
- Many incidents do not get reported; when crimes do get reported, the police struggle to obtain evidence due to the amount of fear in the general populace.
- The police have detained a key suspect in the climbing-related case and require evidence (and the presence of the key witnesses). The court case due to be heard on 04/02/2011 – the relevant parties to contact the constables with immediate effect.
- They were not at all happy with climbers using the alternative access via the dam wall is totally out of bounds. They see this as trespassing and will close all access if this continues.
Bill Murray; a member and ex chairman of the Johannesburg Hiking Club and married to one of the members of the family had, in the past, created a hiking trail on the same property. Operation of the hiking trail had to be stopped due to increased incidents of crime. Thus; this situation is not limited to the climbing fraternity.
Thabo Matlhobogwana, a Community leader in Kagiso, Pastor and Production Manager gave a brief history of how his community managed to combat crime in Kagiso. The cornerstones of their success were gaining buy-in from the community by breaking down barriers and increasing involvement by all stakeholders. He suggested that we challenge the preconception that climbing is an elitist white sport; by challenging this preconception, we can also alter the perception that looting climbers is a lucrative source of supplementary income.
The general sentiment is that climbers fear for their safety (mugging, theft, rape, car break-ins, etc). The key factors that may influence the feasibility of any proposed solutions are: the exclusivity of the sport, the lack of communication between the various stakeholders, uncontrolled access to the climbing area, the lack of unity in the climbing community, the lag in reaction time and reporting of crimes, etc. There have also been previous discussions as to finding a solution to the very eroded paths that are currently being used to access the crags. These paths go straight up the hillside and the shallow soil has resulted in them becoming very loose.
The following potential causes were identified:
- Poverty (inequality)
- Climbers are perceived as easy targets
- Climbers have a tendency to carry valuables
- Isolated areas/times
- Climbers often go out in small groups
- Good ambush terrain at or on the way to climbing areas
- Ignorance on the part of climbers
- The division: “Us vs. Them” scenario
- Multiple access points are being utilized by climbers, limiting access to one area would simplify security processes. Critical in view of the limited resources available
- Lack of security at many current climbing venues
The following key solutions were put forward for consideration:
Beefing up security on a purely practical level:
- Climbers to park closer to the entrance and use an alternate route to get to the crag; the proposed route will put more distance between the Department of Water Affairs property from which the security breaches have been known to materialize. The route would require that climbers cross the canal at a point closer to the entrance gate; and use a contour path that is designed to be less detrimental to the natural environment. Other ‘bridges’ will have to be removed. In effect, this will make access to the climbers much more difficult for potential muggers as they will have to cross the canal. As per discussion with Jan Bezuidenhoudt, part of such a path already exists and may be utilised for our purposes. Disadvantage: as the parking is closer to the entrance, people may be required to walk for a longer distance. In addition, security breaches may not be limited to the area below the dam wall.
- Limit access to the crags to the weekend to ensure that there are sufficient numbers in groups (safety in numbers, ease of hiring guards). There was also a proposal to limit times of climbing to ensure that guards may accompany all groups on the walk-in. Climbers will be required to pay the guards a minimum amount for the escorting services provided – to make their effort worth-while. In addition, the funds raised will also go towards providing the guards with radios so that they may contact armed response should the need arise. Patrolling the area is another key responsibility for the guard.
- Get as many climbers to buy into the new system and put strong peer pressure on those individuals who continue to trespass by accessing the area via the alternative route. The owners will put up appropriate signage and block off the other route possibly with razor wire. Guards who come across climbers who have trespassed will be immediately asked to return back down where they come and enter the correct route. An education program to inform all climbers of the new access arrangements will be implemented.
- The individuals employed for the purposes of guarding are to be sourced from the surrounding community – preferably from the informal settlement itself. An effort should be made to contact community leaders to ensure that only trustworthy personnel are obtained. By sourcing employees from the community, we will also be minimizing the “Us vs. them” mentality and there will be a clear indication that we are interested in giving back to the community. Our goal is to foster good relations between ourselves and the communities in which we conduct our sporting activities. An added advantage is that we will be able to leverage off the know-how of these community members – spotting an unsavory element will be much easier for people who have an intimate knowledge of the community.
- Community initiatives aimed at introducing youth to the sport – we hope to shatter the illusion that climbing is an elitist white sport, and we would also like to ensure that the broader community has a vested interest in maintaining the security of the area.
We envisage that it is only through community involvement that we will be able to maintain any long-term safety gains that may be achieved by employing more security guards.
Ideally, we would like to implement the solutions as quickly as possible to minimize incidents. In order to ensure the long-term feasibility of a safer Chosspile, we foresee implementing a two-pronged approach where we begin by concentrating on beefing up the security measures in place with a long term focus on getting the community involved. A site meeting is planned in the very near future followed up by a work party of volunteers who have put their name down on a list to help.
Plan for quick wins
1. Clear area around the gate for parking. By parking at the entrance; we will be leveraging off Elvis’ proximity – no need for initial capital injection to hire car guard
2. Verification of contour path to the climbing area
3. Remove bridges and planks that cross the canal
4. Hire guides and equip them with radio’s
5. Set up contracts with a security company
6. Structure climbing hours; for climbers who wish to climb at off-peak times, a number will be provided and a guard will have to be procured at a premium
We hope that the above initiatives can be self-sustaining in the long term; initially, however, we will require assistance from the Mountain Club of South Africa and other concerned individuals.
Plan for the longer term objectives
1. Obtain key contacts in the community – leverage off their knowledge and contacts
2. Employ security guards and guides from within the community
3. Initiatives to introduce climbing to the youth (Rhodes University Mountain Club model)
Support from all key stakeholders is required to ensure that the proposed solution can be implemented to the benefit of all concerned.