SMALL businesses continue to bear the brunt of armed robberies, but an initiative by Business Against Crime (BAC) hopes to help police and business owners to fight back.
The incidence of non-residential robberies increased 0.9% over last year, with the number of armed robberies on businesses having quadrupled since 2004/2005, according to the latest crime statistics released earlier this month.
According to police small businesses such as spaza shops, supermarkets, taverns and general dealers are the main targets of robberies.
It’s these businesses’ poor management of cash that puts them particularly at risk of robberies. This has been one of the key findings from an initiative which BAC has been running since 2008 in Thembisa and Johannesburg’s CBD, said BAC project manager Louis Ramono.
While BAC is currently engaging with service providers to put in place cash-management solutions, it is hoped that the initiative will help police in developing a national strategy to fight small business robberies, which Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa earlier this month revealed would be launched in November.
In the last two months a pilot project has also been set up in Durban’s Greenwood Park, while an initiative by BAC Mpumalanga was started three months ago to target shopping centres in the province. BAC Western Cape is also looking to identify areas to run similar initiatives.
Ramono said foreign business owners were particularly at risk as many didn’t have the necessary legal documents to open bank accounts. To tackle this BAC had arranged for the Department of Trade and Industry and South African Revenue Service to run seminars on the advantages of registering a business.
One key aim of the initiative is to help improve the relationship between police and business owners, as BAC had found that many business owners had been robbed two or three times, but had neglected to report these to police because of the poor relationship between the two.
The organisation has since helped business owners to set up business forums in four of Thembisa’s 13 of the community policing sectors and two of Johannesburg’s seven policing sectors. The forums have been running for six months in Thembisa and 10 months in Johannesburg.
In Thembisa the community has run patrols, with each sector allocated two patrol cars and business owners given the cellphone number of their respective sector police commander.
Business owners had mixed views over whether the business forums had succeeded in bringing down armed robberies.
Moges Giorgis who owns general dealer MGW Giorgis Trading and Projects and who is a member of one of the Johannesburg business forums said since forum was set up in his sector last year a lot of crimes had been prevented as business owners have been able to more easily report suspicious activity to forum members and police.
But Hygine Chukwu, a member of a Johannesburg business forum and owner of clothing trader Enjoyable Trading Enterprises, said many business owners still didn’t report incidence of armed robbery to police because they were scared of intimidation.
In Thembisa, community policing forum (CPF) chairwoman Pascalinah Nxumalo said that despite the forums being set up crime remained a problem in the area. She said a key challenge was that foreign nationals would shut their businesses late at night which put them at higher risk from armed robberies.
After reporting a robbery or burglary, foreign business owners often opted not to attend court appearances and so cases were never concluded, she said.
The CPF had encouraged voluntary patrols in the area, but Alfred Sithole, a member of one of the Thembisa business forums and as well as an owner of several businesses in the area said these had come to an end as community members no longer wanted to conduct these free of charge.
Sithole, however said he and fellow tavern owners had formed a separate forum which had had some success in bringing down crime in the area, after taverns followed a police request to close earlier for the night.
Mthethwa’s spokesperson Zweli Mnisi said the focus of the police’s small business robbery strategy would mainly focus on spaza shops – both those owned by South Africans and foreigners.
He said business forums were a viable solution to the lack of formal small business structures which often made it difficult for police to share information on crimes with business owners.
This article appeared in Business Day on 20 September 2011.
Stephen Timm is a