WITS’ cocaine conman has struck again, this time swindling a student out of his Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
On Tuesday morning John Kelm* was approached by a man near the Planetarium at about 10:30am. Kelm said the man had a Nigerian accent and asked if he could use Kelm’s phone to call a friend to pick him up. The man made the phone call and told Kelm that his friend would call him back on Kelm’s phone.
After this, the man produced two small bags of “cocaine” and said that he was going to sell it to the man he had spoken to on the phone. The man then said he needed to take Kelm’s phone with him to go and meet his buyer, and that Kelm should hold onto the second bag of cocaine as proof that his phone would be returned.
Kelm refused the offer and the man responded by threatening him with a knife and then left with Kelm’s phone. He opened the packet to find that the “cocaine” was white flour. Kelm tried to run after the man, but he had fled.
Kelm described the man as being 1.75 metres tall and very well built. He also had a tattoo on his right shoulder. Kelm reported the theft to Campus Control and was told a similar incident had happened on east campus two days prior.
“They described the man to me, and it was the exact description,” Kelm said. The clearly frustrated student said he did not understand how the man was able to get onto campus. “Why aren’t they (Campus Control) doing anything about it?” asked Kelm.
Campus Control head of investigations Michael Mahada told Wits Vuvuzela that the matter had been handed over to Hillbrow police and the white substance would be chemically analysed.
Campus Control investigations officer Luvuyo Zitwana told Wits Vuvuzela that the cocaine con was increasingly common on campus with at least seven thefts of cellphones in the past year.
He said many more thefts likely go unreported by students. Wits Vuvuzela was shown security footage of the conman and of the actual cocaine con going down.
In the video, the conman is seen asking a student to borrow his phone. He then makes a phone call and waits for his ‘friend’ to call him back. In actual fact, the conman has called his own phone, set to silent and sitting in his own pocket.
He then slips his own phone out of his pocket and, with his hand hidden, calls back the victims phone. This makes it appear that entire phone conversation is legitimate. In the security footage Wits Vuvuzela viewed, the man is seen operating at John Moffat and Chamber of Mines.
Last year, Wits Vuvuzela reported that “I’ve lost my phone” stories similar to the cocaine con were one of the popular methods of theft on campus.
The conmen target students with the latest cellphones, such as Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones. In one case, the white powdered substance a conman used was found to be mealie-meal.
At the time, it was estimated that 50% of those arrested for theft were Wits students. Theft at laundry facilities in residences was particularly common.
Campus Control also stressed that non-students who gained illegal entry were responsible for many of the crimes on campus.
Lost or stolen student cards should be reported and blocked, and students should refrain from swiping in non-students. *not his real name
Members of Wits’ Law School locked themselves in a storeroom and called police after they were threatened with a gun by two men on Friday evening.
Nonkululeko Sunduza, academic officer of the law school council, said two men barged into their meeting; one of them holding what she says was a letter of admission, wanting to “know” about law.
Sunduza said one of the men was tattooed and had a gold tooth, while the other looked as if he were a “ hobo”
[pullquote align=”right”]“Ithii ngikhiphe izibhambu zam ngizonibonisa kahle” [Let me take my guns out so I can show you][/pullquote]
“I noticed that the other guy (The hobo), wasn’t really paying attention, he was just looking around” said Sunduza.
According to Sunduza the tattooed man became increasingly frustrated as he didn’t seem to understand what they were saying to him about the letter.
When they couldn’t answer his questions, he said in IsiZulu:“Ithii ngikhiphe izibhambu zam ngizonibonisa kahle” (Let me take my guns out so I can show you.)’
Sunduza screamed and told her fellow council member Lerato Thini to lock the door.
The eight council members then ran and locked themselves in the storeroom where they called Wits Campus Control. From the storeroom, Sunduza said she heard the men say: “We have to do this … we’ve been in cells together”
[pullquote]”Eight policemen arrived armed with rifles.”[/pullquote]
She said she also heard one guy explaining to the other how to use a gun. “Kufanele kuqhume isbhamu” (A gun must go off).
Fearing that Campus Control was taking too long to respond, the hotages called the police.
Senior investigating officer at Campus Control, Michael Mahada, told Wits Vuvuzela that he arrived on the scene and found Sunduza and Thini outside talking to Campus Control officers.
He said a few minutes later, about eight policemen arrived armed with rifles.
Mahada said one of the first things he noticed was a bag laying in the hallway with its contents scattered all around.
“There were some study guides of some sort, some clothing, and other documents”, Mahada said.
The “documents” turned out to be a letter from Wits acknowledging one of the men’s application to study at the University, as well as other personal papers.
Mahada said there was no gun in the bag or amongst the scattered items.
[pullquote align=”right”]She also told Mahada that her son was “not right”.[/pullquote]
“At first I thought the stuff belonged to a student. When I asked the suspect he couldn’t explain himself.”
Mahada said he then called one of the numbers on the documents, and the woman who answered said she was the suspects’ mother.
She also told Mahada that her son was “not right”.
Mahada said Campus Control would be looking at CCTV footage as they continue to investigate.
Constable Mduduzi Zondo of the Hillbrow Police station confirmed that a case of intimidation has been opened against the suspect, after he was apprehended on campus by the police.
The suspect remains in custody and is set to appear in a Hillbrow court tomorrow.
His accomplice ran away and has yet to been found.
A recent spike in criminal activities in Braamfontein is spreading onto Wits’ main campus, according to Rob Kemp, head of Campus Control.
There have been at least 8 muggings at gunpoint in Braamfontein in the past few weeks, and 6 where dangerous weapons were used, according to statistics from the South African Police Service (SAPS).
On Tuesday, a female student was approached by two well-dressed male suspects near the Planetarium, who threatened her, apparently with a firearm, and took her cellphone.
Last month, WitsVuvuzela reported a robbery apparently at gunpoint, at the science stadium while in March, two students were robbed at gunpoint outside the Cullen Library.
Kemp, said his biggest concern is that students are not aware that they could be targets of crime.
He said he wanted the Wits community to be streetwise without panicking. Lost or stolen student cards are a common way through which criminals gain access onto campuses and residences. ICAM is able to put a 24-hour block on lost cards if they are reported, and students do not have to pay to unblock them when they are found.
Some suspects also stand around turnstiles, asking students to give them access. Kemp said some of them tell “nice stories” to convince students that they are entering campus for good.
“I left my card in res, I’m rushing for a lecture can you please help,” he said as an example.
Spot checks for student cards are being conducted at bus stops. Campus Control investigations manager Michael Mahada said this is not done to “oppress or harass students”.
There is a proposal to fence the area around the bus stops to restrict access to circuit buses. However, he said it could be “very restrictive, very controlling, and we’re [sic] not sure how it would go down with our population.”
Campus Control plans to fill vacancies within the next two weeks to increase the number of officers on patrol. It has also budgeted for more staff next year, and plans to commission an extra reaction vehicle.
Published in Wits Vuvuzela 20th edition, 17th August 2012.
Campus Control’s tips on staying safe
Avoid isolated areas on campus, including toilet facilities. A student was recently robbed on his way out of a bathroom in the John Moffatt building. Kemp also advised students not to use empty tutorial or lecture rooms to study, they should rather find one that is already occupied.
Do not leave your valuables unattended in public places for any reason, for any length of time. The stranger next to you in the library that you ask to look after your laptop does not have to.
Do not leave your residence room unlocked, even to go to the bathroom down the corridor.
Keep cellphones and other mobile devices out of sight when on the road.
Ask to be escorted to your room or car if you are leaving campus late, and feeling unsafe. Camus control is available to escort Wits staff and students to Wits residences and car parks, and can be contacted on (011) 717-4444. Students living in Braam are urged to ask Urban Genesys security guards (dressed in green and beige uniforms) for escorting.
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