The police in the province have issued a warning to hitch-hikers and motorists who offer lifts to strangers about the dangers thereof. According to police spokesperson, Brigadier Leonard Hlathi, the warning comes after several incidents occurred in some parts of the province, where victims were robbed as they either gave lifts to strangers or were offered a lift by unknown motorists.
He said in one of the incidents which occurred in Delmas earlier this year, a man was driving a silver grey Toyota Etios on the N12, when he saw three men who appeared to be hitch-hiking. He said the men were wearing reflector jackets and blue work suits and this made it look like they had just knocked off from work. The driver sympathised with them and offered them a lift, however, they turned against him along the way. One of the suspects took out a rope and strangled the driver, forcing him to the back seat of the vehicle. They drove away with him but later abandoned him at a secluded area then drove away in his vehicle.
“In a separate incident, a man who was hitch-hiking became a victim of an armed robbery in February 2021, at Emdicott also in Delmas, after he was offered a lift by three suspects who were driving in a black BMW. Along the way, one of the suspects pulled out a firearm and held the man hostage. The suspects robbed the victim of his laptop, cell phone as well as an undisclosed amount of cash before ordering him to alight their vehicle,” said Hlathi.
“A 45-year old man also became a victim of a hitch-hiking scam, an incident which occurred on 19 June 2021, as he was travelling from Sabie to White River. He was offered a lift by three suspects who were driving in a blue Suzuki vehicle. Along the way, the driver stopped the vehicle and demanded the victim’s cell phone while pointing him with a firearm. The suspects reportedly robbed the victim of his cash as well as bank cards and further instructed him to electronically transfer cash to them. The suspects then ordered him to alight their vehicle too, firing some shots to scare him as he ran off,” he added.
Hlathi said that similar incidents were reported in March this year, where suspects preyed upon hitch-hikers in Mavakamela on the Sabie / Whiteriver road. He said the hitch-hikers were robbed by the suspects who offered them lifts.
“Their intention is always to rob victims of their personal belongings, including cash and cell phones. Some of the hitch-hikers were even held hostage in the bushes and suspects used their bank cards to withdraw cash from the ATM’s against their will,” said Hlathi.
“On Sunday, 30 May 2021, another man driving a taxi, offered a lift to a hitch-hiker at Bronkhorstspruit. The person indicated that he was going to the KG Mall at Vosman and when they arrived there, he further made another request to the driver to ferry him to the location so that he could fetch money to buy petrol for his vehicle. The driver or the owner of the taxi acceded to the request unbeknownst to him that he was setting himself up for a robbery. The hitch-hiker went to a certain house and came out with another man who both boarded the taxi and asked the driver to get moving. Along the way, they produced firearms and took over the driving. The suspects gave other hitch-hikers lifts then robbed them in the process,” he said.
Hlathi said the worst stunt the criminals pulled on that day, was when they gave two women a lift, dragged them to the bushes together with the taxi owner and then forced the taxi owner to rape one of the women while they took turns raping the other. He said immediately after the horrible ordeal, they tied the taxi owner as well as the women and left them in the bushes, the captives were rescued by a passer-by.
The police appeal to the community to use a formal mode of transport than hitch-hiking and also for motorists not to give lifts to strangers. Hitch-hiking or offering lifts to strangers has proven itself to be dangerous and must be avoided at all costs. Reports also suggest that there are cases of rape that were reported at other police stations hence the plight by police to caution the community.
Major General Thulani Phahla, the Acting Provincial Commissioner of the SAPS in Mpumalanga, has advised people to avoid hitch-hiking and motorists are urged to avoid offering lifts to strangers.
“We are aware of the economic challenges that our people are faced with, however; lives of citizens are more precious than anything else,” he said.