Call for safer mountains

* Take Back Our Mountains celebrated its first anniversary on Sunday with 231 hikers joining the hike to St James Peak above Kalk Bay.

Involving locals from surrounding communities to reduce crime on mountains and beaches could not only help safeguard the areas for locals and tourists, but can also create employment.

This was one of many ideas discussed by a group of concerned far south residents on Thursday January 10 at a meeting organised by Angela Botha of Fish Hoek Tourism.

The purpose of the meeting was to explore how to increase security on mountains and beaches.

The group expressed concern about how crime will affect tourism in the far south especially after a spate of attacks in 2018 where two people lost their lives.

The guest speaker was Taahir Osman, founder of Take Back Our Mountains.

He started the group last year after coming across a group of nine hikers shortly after they were violently stabbed while hiking on St James Peak near the amphitheatre in January,(“Call for hiker safety,” Echo, January 2018).

“They sustained deep stab wounds, and the attack left a bloody trail down the mountain. “The blood was still visible a few days later when I took forensics up the mountain,” he told the group.

Take Back Our Mountains targets hot spots by hiking in large groups.

Last year the group started in Kalk Bay after the attack on the hikers. They then moved on to Echo Valley after Kalk Bay resident Doug Notten was stabbed to death on January 28 while hiking with his wife (“Murder on the mountain,” Echo, February 1, 2018).

“We hike in Newlands Forest, Hout Bay, Simon’s Town, wherever there’s a hot spot area”, he said.

SANParks was placed in the spotlight with the group agreeing they are not doing enough.

During discussions, the group acknowledged that it was a mammoth task to safeguard Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) due to its size and agreed that various social factors within the surrounding communities, such as unemployment and poverty, contributed to crime as well as a lack of hefty jail terms for perpetrators.

Mr Osman said he hoped to establish a hiking group in Hout Bay this year.

He often hikes with members of Karbonkelberg Tourism and said that when you hiked with the locals, you were safe.

“They know the area and they know the people,” he said.

In discussion, Scarborough resident and tour operator Russ Weston suggested involving more people from local communities.

He said while many people living in poverty were desperate, involving the community could create employment opportunities for them.

“We need a proactive way to engage with the community and get them to stand against what is happening,” he said.

A Glencairn resident and chairman of Simon’s Town Amenities Development Company (STADCO), Arne Soderlund, said it was vital to get the City involved and to do so, they needed statistics to state their case and create a strategy.

He said many areas on the mountains did not have cellphone reception and the community had to start looking differently at cell masts.

A Canadian woman, who did not want to be named, said she had been hijacked and shot at and was the worst ambassador for South Africa.

She is a “swallow” who lives in Kommetjie three months a year.

“I don’t want my family or friends to come here. Tourists don’t realise how dangerous it is here,” she said.

She said she had been very upset during the attacks on the beaches and the mountains last year and believed something had to be done.

The meeting was attended by a City of Cape Town tourism representative but no SANPark representative was present, despite being invited.

The Echo asked SANParks why it had not attended the meeting arranged by Fish Hoek Tourism as well as what workable strategies had been implemented in the far south after the attacks.

SANParks spokeswoman Janine Raftopoulos said it was impossible for SANParks to attend every safety meeting it was invited. That was why it had quarterly meetings with the City of Cape Town where safety and security, among other issues, were on the agenda.

She said that in future it would be best if issues raised by the community were channelled through the ward councillor to the City so they could be placed on the agenda to be discussed at the quarterly meetings.

“TMNP strives to ensure a safe platform for visitors, but, given the extent and remoteness of the park, it is a challenge to have a presence everywhere at all times, and therefore it must be stressed that users exercise caution and remain vigilant given that entry, use and access to the park remains at own risk,” she said.

She acknowledged that TMNP had seen an increase in crime near urban areas due to social factors such as unemployment and said reporting crimes in real time was a challenge due to no cell phone reception in remote areas of the park.

Since the attacks, she said, crime signage in bright red had been posted at all major entry points to the park and collaborative efforts with the relevant role-players to monitor the urban edge and deter potential criminals from entering the park had been made.

There had also been more joint

operations with SAPS, Metro police, City law enforcement and private security companies, the creation of more surveillance observation points and an increase in ranger deployments and patrols in hot spot areas.

“A dedicated visitor safety unit has been appointed in TMNP with its primary focus on safety across the entire park. This unit has produced many successes and in addition the park also has a ranger corps which includes a dog unit,” she said.