The first champion for safety in TMNP was Ray Chaplin who maintained a database of incidents in the Park. Believing, initially, that he could work with Park Management, he soon found this not to be the case when he was thrown out of SANParks’ offices and attacked in what he calls a public smear campaign. Following in Chaplin’s stead, came Andre van Schalkwyk who formed the Table Mountain Safety Action Group in 2007, and who to this day continues to attempt to hold SANParks to account through his group Table Mountain Watch. Although he too was thrown out of SANParks offices, he used the press to report news of incidents and attacks within the greater Park thus forcing crime into both SANParks’ and the public’s awareness. He also, along with the Mountain Club of South Africa, maintains a database of muggings and attacks.
In February 2006, the Constantiaberg Bulletin published a letter from a local resident, Tim Hagen, in which he stated, referring to the fynbos in Lower Tokai, “SANParks have their hands full just keeping the paths on TM clear. Low growth also provides good cover for muggers (SANParks are struggling with this issue too).”
In January 2008 an article was sent to the press in which the writers stated that the “lack of visibility in a fynbos environment is a key concern; the shrubby foliage is likely to exacerbate still further incidents of crime in the Park.”
In a 2010 report it was the contention of Table Mountain Safety Action Group that 50% of attacks in the two prime “hot spots” could have been prevented, and that 75% of attacks may have been prevented by visible patrolling by TMNP/SAPS at the top four hot spots. The stats furthermore show that crime rises in the winter months when visible policing diminishes. They also show that the majority of victims of crime are locals rather than tourists.
The latest Table Mountain Watch stats show that pre-2000 crime in the Park was remarkably low; it peaked in 2004, increased in 2007 and 2008 and rose dramatically in 2011.
In February 2011 Caryn Dolley of the Cape Times wrote a substantial piece addressing issues of crime and referencing attempts by members of the public to assist TMNP authorities in dealing with that crime. The article notes that “from January 2004 to December 2006…about 280 incidents occurred…” The piece also quotes van Schalkwyk as saying that despite repeated attempts to work with TMNP their group was withdrawing from the Table Mountain Safety Action Group (TMSAG) because “TMNP made many promises but didn’t deliver them in the end.”
In February 2013 an article on News24 regarding attacks in TMNP, quotes van Schalkwyk as saying: “As much as we watch them [the criminals], they watch us. As soon as they see that observation posts are not being manned, they move back in.”
TMSAG, formed in the late 2000s, “fell away” in 2013, but after crime started to rise again in 2015, Table Mountain Watch insisted that the Table Mountain Safety Forum be reconstituted. It meets monthly and provides joint (City Metro Police, Law Enforcement, SAPS, TMNP Safety Rangers and even Metro Traffic) forces to address sensitive areas (or hot spots). It is through this forum, that public interest groups attempt to hold SANParks to some account. It should be noted, however, that according to the SANParks’ website there are only, “52 dedicated, trained staff who patrol the Park equipped with dogs, vehicles and radios…” – i.e. 52 people to patrol the entire 221 sq km Park. Furthermore, SANParks takes the view that “…it’s a vast open area park…” despite the hotspots remaining much the same over the years. SANParks are also aware of groups of vagrants (some seen to be responsible for some of the crime) living in the Park, yet fail to do enough to effect their removal – this includes vagrants in Lower Tokai. To this end it becomes, somewhat unreasonably – given SANParks’ obligations to the City and public – the responsibility of local communities, interest groups, neighbourhood crime watches, and residents associations to reach an agreement with SANParks to look after their own safety. It should be noted that SANParks do not facilitate or assist this involvement easily and are regularly described as regarding the public as a nuisance, while SANParks officials are often seen as being arrogant, distant, following a Pretoria head office approach, and failing to deliver on undertakings.
In recent years, mountain bikers cycling in Upper Tokai have been repeatedly attacked, despite Pedal Power having paid towards the development of cycle tracks within the greater TMNP. With the closure of Upper Tokai due to the March 2016 fires and subsequent tree felling, bikers have been cycling in other areas of the Park, including Lower Tokai. In November 2015 Robert Vogel of Pedal Power, posted on the group’s website: “Cyclists and the other users of the mountain simply don’t feel safe anymore and it is high time we understand what SANParks are doing to keep us safe…. On an operational level, SANParks are stretched as they have a total of 58 rangers that patrol the Park. Some of those might be on leave or off sick, which can bring the available daily complement of rangers down to 21-25.”
A further and final critical concern which arises regarding safety in high recreation areas like Lower Tokai is the proximity of fynbos to the urban edge. While there is valid argument around an alien treed environment vs a fynbos/indigenous environment, a critical point must be borne in mind: the tall stands of trees once prevalent in Upper and Lower Tokai and Cecilia offer greater visibility. (It is less the case in Newlands which includes dense pockets of Afromontane Forest.) Incidents of crime in these areas have only become prevalent with the removal of tall trees and the resuscitation of dense, shrubby fynbos. The relevance of this is borne out in a statement made by Park Manager, Paddy Gordon, in December 2007: “We protect the bossies, but now have to be aware that muggers hide behind them.” The pines (or any other tall – 3m clearance – trees alien or indigenous) are seen as safe, however, the adjacent fynbos is not. It is exactly this combination of trees and the failure to patrol/police dense fynbos surrounding it by SANParks that provided the opportunity for the murder of Franziska Blöchliger.
ClimbZA maintains a listing of incidents within TMNP that have been reported on by the media.