In the line of fire

It was another Freedom Friday… I awoke, checked my mails and tweeted.

I did not go into the office as I had a speaking engagement at a graduation ceremony in Pretoria. It was 9:30am. I was in the bathroom… and of course listening to Talk Radio 702. The Eyewitness News headlines were being read.

Moments later, I heard my wife Firoza screaming. Yes, that scream when you know something is wrong. It continues to echo in my head. It’s a scream I doubt I’ll ever forget.

I yanked open the bathroom door to find a man pointing a gun at me. He threatened to shoot, demanding the keys to my BMW. In the background I saw another man with Firoza.

The men retreated, grabbed the keys and fled to the garage. I followed and locked the front security gate. I then ran to wake my son Zaheer (21) who was asleep in his bedroom. I grabbed my firearm and stood in the courtyard as the robbers reversed the car out of the garage. Zaheer joined me.

They spotted us and opened fire. We immediately returned fire. My car was hit several times during the gunfight. The men escaped, but their freedom was to be short-lived as the law caught up with them a few days later.

My story is not unique. There are few, if any, South Africans who have not been affected by crime. I am among the thousands, no millions, that have fallen victim to crime. For me this was not the first time. I have first-hand experience of the anxiety and trauma that a victim of crime experiences. I can at least say that in my case my family wasn’t harmed physically, but the sense of helplessness and anger of the situation stays with you long after the crime.

My incident appears to be a random one. Many of the crimes are so-called “opportunistic” in nature and these thugs simply just want to part you from your hard-earned possessions.

Police acted swiftly and apprehended three suspects in connection with the robbery at my house. The men are now being linked to a spate of hijackings, house robberies and burglaries across Pretoria. Two illegal firearms and five vehicles were seized during police operations. More arrests are expected.

The cops were very professional and for that I compliment them. Some say it’s a “high-profile” case and that is why we are seeing the swift and efficient action. That may well be the case but let’s not forget that a gang which has allegedly been terrorising the community has been nailed. That’s the bigger picture.

CCTV footage obtained from my premises assisted to bring these men to book. Over the coming days, I hope to release the footage to show how brazen these criminals are.

I now hope the law takes its course and that the suspects are convicted and punished. I hope they don’t get bail. There are suggestions that at least one of the men is out on bail on other charges.

I will continue to be vocal against crime. If anything, this incident has made my resolve to create a safer South Africa even stronger.

We must strengthen partnerships on all levels. Communities must play a bigger role in fighting crime. Tip-offs work. Information to Crime Line and Crime Stop has led to the arrest of thousands of criminals. We must continue to blow the whistle on crime.

I have been asked over recent days why we simply don’t put our hands up and give up the fight against crime. We can’t. We cannot give in to criminals. If anything, we must become even stronger to fight the scourge. There are many pockets of excellence within the police. But, there is also lots of hopelessness. We need the police leadership and our politicians to up their game.

The buck doesn’t stop with the police though. We need a strong and effective justice system and we need it now. For one, the reports of dockets disappearing are of grave concern and urgent intervention is needed. Far too many criminals are roaming our streets and South Africans live in fear. For how long is this going to continue?

Let’s unite and act. As the latest victim of crime, and as much as I am feeling despondent, I am determined to make a bigger difference.

The support from across South Africa I am continuing to receive means a lot. We are by far a peace-loving nation.
For the criminals in our midst, we must continue to root them out of our communities and put them where they belong – in orange uniforms, behind bars.

Yusuf Abramjee is the Head of Crime Line and Second Vice-President of Crime Stoppers International (CSI). He writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on twitter: @Abramjee

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