Trespassing and housebreaking: all part of the daily routine

Thieves broke into a local Muldersdrift bar, at The Wedge Outdoor Park, on the 21st of February, leaving the owner baffled, furious, and skeptical about South Africa’s current laws and crime rates. 

The Wedge Outdoor Park is a fully-licensed restaurant and pub with a golf driving range as well as 4x4 and airsoft activities. An intruder (or intruders) broke into the pub during the early hours of the morning and stole numerous items. The perpetrator (or perpetrators) lifted the electric fence with cutting pliers and a slim tree branch to get to the bar.  

The bar’s first alarm went off at 11:53 pm and again at 12:50 am, said Foster Mwale, the manager and barman who resides on the property. Security and Manpower Solutions (SMS security) arrived on both occasions but reported that everything was as usual. It was only with the morning sun that the crime was revealed.  

“At first, I thought they might have gotten in through the roof, but then I saw that the window was broken and the burglar proofing vandalized,” Mwale said. Both entrance and exit were made through that window. The Wedge contacted the police, and two police officers arrived. The police could not deliver a comment to the media but did mention that there are about eight to ten break-ins in that area daily.   

This is the furthest anyone has ever trespassed onto The Wedge’s grounds, said Warrick Ward, the owner of The Wedge. “There have been many attempts to get onto our property, but this was the first time that anyone has succeeded,” he said. Not only did the thieves trespass, but they also took part in housebreaking when they forced their way into the bar. Housebreaking consists of unlawfully and intentionally breaking into and entering a building or structure with the intention of committing a crime in it, according to a dissertation written by Richard Mkhize.  

The thieves stole a plentiful supply of liquor, cigarettes and a 55-inch TV, said the manager, which leads him to believe that there was more than one perpetrator. Strangely enough, the first-aid box was lying open on the floor, probably to see if there was anything of value in there, he said, and the cash register was emptied out.

“I’ve learned from past experience to leave the cash register open when the bar is closed,” Mwale explained. “At my previous work they broke in and struggled to open the till to retrieve the money, so they just took the entire thing with them. At least this way, the till is not damaged, and we don’t have to buy a new one.”  

“The current condition of South Africa is negatively affecting businesses like The Wedge,” Ward said, “and people are closing their pubs due to the crumbling economy. Crime is out of control; the criminals do the what, the where, and the why, when and however they want to.”

The previous night someone stole a strip of The Wedge’s Eskom cable, the owner said, so the business had to use backup batteries and generators. The theft was done on purpose to get onto the property and into the clubhouse (where the bar and restaurant are), said the owner. 

Without electricity, the alarms’ batteries ran low, rendering the CCTV cameras useless, said Ward. “Our security systems and guard (with his panic button) are not enough, but I can’t afford an armed guard that operates 24/7. I’ve done pretty much all I can do,” he said.

The property must be safe if the place expects to host more functions in the future, Ward said. In March the Muddy Puppies (an obstacle course for you and your dog) will join them, he said, and in the past The Wedge also hosted the Beast challenge (similar to the Warrior or Iron Man Challenges).

Ward grew up on the property and has worked diligently to provide Muldersdrift with such functions to bring members of this community together.

“You’re trying to make a living,” he said, “You catch the guy that committed a crime on your premises. They lock him up and he’s out on bail the next day. Most of the time you can’t even shoot at someone who’s trespassing on your property, because according to law they might have a valid reason for being there, even if it is in the middle of the night.”

So, he said, if you hear a knock at your door late at night, is it a friend coming to visit or is it a foe breaking it down?

One cannot use excessive force to remove a trespasser, according to the SA Law Handbook. Ward said that if he is threatened and he has the chance, then he’ll do what he needs to do.

According to SA Law, the best course of action is to call the police and later sue the trespasser for any damage caused.    

“A great deal of confusion continues to surround this area of the law because of different interpretations by different authors in criminal law,” states the case report pertaining to The State vs. Othniel Sello Maieane in 2008. In South Africa there is no offence called ‘trespass.’ The offence is contravening section 1 of the Trespass Act 6 of 1959. The case report reads that proof is needed beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused entered the premises without permission of the owner or occupant, with the intention of remaining on the premises.

“Hopefully things will turn around, because I’m getting really annoyed,” said Ward. “What’s the point of carrying on?”

The window that the perpetrator (or perpetrators) broke to get into the building:

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