The mugger who pulled the knife out was just sentenced to 12 years in prison!!!!
This sends out a strong message to any other would be muggers.
Big up to the three guys who persevered and continued with the prosecution of the suspect/mugger.
Place: Skoornsteenkop, Hout Bay, Cape Town
Date: Saturday 20 June 2015
SAPS Case No: CAS 192/06/2015
(further to this story, please see the authors comments in the ‘comments’ section below)
Warming-up with Disclaimers
- This is a personal account of a wild and serious situation and where there is a lot of room for subjective interpretation. My companions may have seen things quite differently to the way I relate my perspective here.
- Unless there is prior agreement to actions and roles, it’s every man for himself. We had no prior agreements.
- Mountain mugging is not new to Cape Town. Hotspots have been the popular Lion’s Head hike, Sandy Bay, Rhodes Memorial and Peers Cave. A famous Cape Town climber and his wife have even been mugged and stripped at Maclear’s Beacon on top of Table Mountain.
- Racism and other forms of prejudice have no place with me. But neither has irrational ‘political correctness’. I will use descriptive features.
On a warm and sunny Saturday 20 June 2015 I parked my car on Whittlers Way and waited for my friend ‘G’. While killing time two unknown climbers parked alongside and we introduced ourselves. I immediately liked these men ‘R’ and ‘S’, and knew we’d become friends.
‘R’ and ‘S’ headed up the steep hill and ‘G’ and I followed 20 minutes later to arrive at the crag at around noon. I had my small dog Gizmo with me. ‘S’ was finishing with the warm-up route when ‘G’ and I got there – this is the second route along the wall and is called Stairway to Heaven. ‘S’ lowered off and the two moved on.
I led up Stairway to Heaven and belayed from the top. ‘G’ came up so that we could walk across the top to try something new on the other side. When he arrived, ‘G’ mentioned that someone had watched me climb. I thought ‘hello’, and asked ‘G’ if it was from across the slope. He said it was; I thought ‘hello-hello’.
A couple of questions in ten seconds clarified that a single black man had watched me climb then he had headed down the slope, presumably to Imizamo Yethu (“Imi”). I told ‘G’ that the man was on the **muggers’ route – the route back to ‘Imi’ that is used after accosting victims on the cycle track up to the Constantiaberg mast.
[**Note: this route I refer to is not a path but a generalised route. It starts up the burnt-out slope about 400m to the south of our approach route i.e. close to Imi. The route gets closer to the climbers route as it gets higher up the mountainside, and at the elevation of Skoorsteenskop the distance closes to perhaps 200m.]
‘G’ and I spent some hours top-roping potential new lines then headed back to our packs at the foot of Stairway to Heaven for tea and sandwiches and to spend some time with Gizmo. ‘R’ and ‘S’ joined us and while we were chatting away we noticed two black men hiking up the ‘muggers’ route’. Mental gears engaged and I mentioned that mugging was an issue and I told the story of Tommy Caldwell in Kyrgyzstan.
After a 15 minute break we scrambled up the rising rocky base of the cliff for 7m and then ‘G’ led up the fourth route along the wall – a route called Guru. A further 10m of scrambling higher took ‘R’ and ‘S’ to the base of the fifth route where ‘R’ started up Lichen It or Not.
While ‘G’ was climbing I looked across the slope of the mountain to do a spot check on the two men hiking up. I noticed Gizmo standing dead still, with her ears pricked up, and gazing into the far distance where we had seen the men. I thought ‘hmmm’ and I thought ‘okay, there’s lots of distance between us’. A few seconds later Gizmo turned 90 degrees left to look up the hill with intend. Uphill was mostly out of sight for us due to the boulders at our backs. My instincts started buzzing. I looked around behind us and saw two big black men approaching ‘S’. As loud as I could, but without communicating to the visitors, I told the guys that it looked like a mugging coming. I told ‘G’ and ‘R’ to come down urgently. When the strangers realised that they had been seen they asked for cool drink. ‘G’ and ‘R’ lowered off at speed and the men again asked for cool drink and ‘R’ said that we don’t have any. By this time everyone was on the same page.
My guys left the ropes and draws hanging in place and scuttled over the rocks downhill to the backpacks where I now was. I looked for rocks and told the guys to pick up rocks. ‘G’ hastily got his approach shoes on. I was wearing very loose slip slops and was about to reach down to my shoes when the guys rushed us from above with knives outstretched while shouting at us to ‘sit down, sit down’. In floppy slops I bolted downhill for two metres then out on a rock ledge that ends in a rock platform the size of a garage overlooking the approach path and with 15m cliffs below it and a big climbing wall above on the side.
My three friends were right behind me.
On the platform we turned to see the men start rifling through our gear. I yelled obscenities and hurled a big rock at the ring leader and narrowly missed him. The rock exploded next to him with my dog at his feet. The man bent down for a rock to hurl at us. As he wound-up Gizmo went ballistic and he spun round and used the rock to try to kill her. I realised three things: they had a lot more ammunition than us; we were very exposed; and my beloved furry friend was in mortal danger.
One of the men pursued us onto the dead-end platform.
I picked up two rocks and wound up to hurl a rock at him from close range. ‘S’ urged me not to do anything, to cooperate and to stay safe. ‘G’ traversed the wall over the void and was not to be seen till much later. The ringleader quickly went through all our backpacks while the accomplice had us corralled and repeatedly shouted ‘put the rocks down’ and ‘sit down’.
Like myself, or perhaps because of me, he was highly agitated. ‘S’ was of the cooperate-and-stay-calm school, I was of the angry take-them-on school. I didn’t hear anything from ‘R’.
The man who had come at us had mounted a large flat boulder that occupies much of the platform and stands about 1.5m high. From above us he waved his knife at me and ordered me to put my rocks down. I shouted that he had a knife and I had rocks and that I wouldn’t put them down so that he can use his knife on me.
He ordered me to hand to him a little nylon bag, belonging to ‘R’, that was at my feet. I put a rock down and was thinking here is my opportunity. I handed the bag up to the man and was about to lunge at his jacket to yank him over the 15m cliff below but my body language broadcasted my intentions and ‘S’ shouted at me to stand down. In the half-second that my resolve waivered the man moved to fend and the initiative was gone.
The ringleader had found all that he wanted and scrambled across the mountain at high speed. Our assailant backed-up and left. I ran to my kit and hastily put on my socks and shoes. ‘S’ said he hoped I wasn’t thinking of doing something stupid. I said I was.
I picked up two rocks and set off after the second guy through the thick vegetation across the slope. My plan was to get to the burnt-out section and then to a large horizontal rock shelf that is bisected by a gully down which the assailants would flee. From the shelf I would shower the attacker with rocks when he was 30m below. While in pursuit of the man he suddenly stopped. He hadn’t seen me but maybe he had heard me. I stopped in dense bush and slowly edged forward, desperately anxious not to bump straight into him. I lost some time – I don’t know whether it was 10 seconds or 30 seconds, and cautiously moved out onto the shelf. By the time I spotted the guy he was maybe 400 metres down the slope and about to get onto the pipe track. In a state of unquantifiable anger I watched him disappear into Imi.
On the walk back to the approach path I spotted a single young woman coming up the path. I yelled down to her to ‘go down and call the police as we’ve been mugged’. She beat a hasty, and smart retreat; and she did call Hout Bay Watchcon.
I hiked back to the crag thinking of my dog and found her teetering on a rock anxiously watching for me and unable to move. I recovered her, we had some love and then we walked up to our buddies. ‘G’ was busy abseiling the route to recover our rope and quick draws. We talked about all the things one would expect to be talked about. We itemised the losses. We packed and left.
Amongst the various items that were stolen was ‘R’ remote key to his SUV. He wouldn’t be driving home. We dropped ‘R’ &’S’ at a restaurant to await pickup by wives. The guys also lost iPhones and wallets with a fair amount of cash. I lost my one-week old phone for which I had paid over R12,000. ‘G s’ old phone was missed by the robbers. The usual follow-up hassles of reporting to the police, Hout Bay Watchcon and the mobile operators followed.
I for one had a bad night’s sleep, maybe two.
We made so many mistakes because we didn’t take the situation seriously enough. When we spotted the first single man we should have watched his movements and had a talk about actions. When we spotted the two men hiking up we should have hit the “all stations alert” button.
We should have packed up, got our shoes on, positioned ourselves and our possessions on high ground in a defensive position, armed ourselves with a lot of missiles, put a call through to Watchcon and been ready to dispatch one member of the group as a solo runner for help.
We were seriously remiss in not watching the two suspicious hikers and allowed them to unnecessarily gain a massive advantage – that of surprise. It is the element of surprise that gets the muggers a few metres from you where you cannot keep them at a distance, make a phone call or enaction other options.
At this point it’s down to cooperation or combat. And second of all, we had no weapons. I’m angry with the assailants and I’m angry that I made these mistakes that permitted their success.
The world is becoming progressively more dangerous and it is appropriate for the good folks to become progressively more tuned-in to the dangers and potential courses of action.
My suggestions, both general and specific to Skoorsteenskop are:
- Go as a group.
- Everyone to have the Watchcon number on their phones – 021 790 9333. This excellent emergency response deals with ADT, the police, Neighbourhood Watch and other first responders.
- Have a designated lookout on rotational duty.
- Have a designated sprinter who will go for help.
- Do not take anything you really mind losing to robbers.
- If taking expensive personal items hide them in a black pouch in a crevice and leave decoys (old phones, wallet containing R20, etc) in your backpack to mislead the robbers.
- Have men outnumbering women as attackers love the fear that flows from the threat of rape.
- Know yourself and agree how you see yourselves handling a mugging – fight, flight or cooperate. You cannot be a fighter if that is not in your physical or psychological make-up. If it’s fight, know that there is going to be bloodshed and the fighters must be the ones that front-up to the assailants while the others get to a position of relative safety and get useful making emergency calls and dropping rocks on assailants if possible.
- Those who are fighters should take weapons that can dominate knives from a distance – my favourite is a heavy ebony stick of 1.2 metres that I usually carry on Sandy Bay walks: wielded with confidence, knife-bearing assailants are going to come second. Others (but not for me) would be guns, tasers and (believe it or not) swords. Don’t take weapons that require close-in, hand-to-hand combat e.g. stun guns, knives and pepper spray. You’ll lose badly. Importantly, a weapon that isn’t actually intended to be used in anger should stay at home.
- Weapons must be zealously safe-guarded so as to be useful and so as not to be transferred into the hands of the attackers.
A person cannot be that which they’re not. With that out of the way, and spoken as the fighter that I am personally, I believe that it can only be a good thing if victims fight back and win (and don’t get hurt!).
When victims cave, perpetrators become emboldened – it’s a story of life and it bears a strong relationship to the concept of Cumulative Advantage. Every successful mugging is a catastrophe because of that which follows down the line.
Lastly, know that these are ‘the good old days’ if victims don’t successfully fight back. Imagine what another ten or twenty years of one-way dominance by the baddies will result in!