Raymond Jaravaza, Showbiz Correspondent
CRIMINALS are known to be an ingenious lot that devises new methods of stealing from unsuspecting victims and a new breed of thieves has taken their criminal acts to a whole new level at the makeshift commuter omnibus terminus in Bulawayo.
The commuter omnibus terminus on Sixth Avenue becomes a hive of activity at night with thousands of commuters trekking back home after a long day’s work.
It’s under the cover of darkness, that a syndicate of pickpockets targeting cellphones strikes.
The syndicate’s modus operandi no longer involves pick pocketing from handbags, purses and pockets.
Snatching cellphones off the hands of their victims is the name of the new game. This happens to passengers seated near windows of moving kombis with cellphones in hand. The thieves snatch the gadgets and run away in the opposite direction.
“There is so much traffic from Corner Herbert Chitepo and Sixth Avenue leading to the Renkini Bus Terminus with buses and kombis ferrying passengers during peak hours and these guys (cellphone snatching syndicates) take advantage of the commotion to steal from their victims.
“All it takes is an open kombi window and a distracted passenger busy on WhatsApp (social media) and in a split second the phone is snatched from their hands and the guy disappears into the darkness,” kombi driver Prince Muleya told Saturday Leisure.
Muleya says three of his passengers fell victim to the cellphone snatching syndicates in just one-month last year.
“Passengers sitting close to the windows are the easiest targets. After snatching the cellphone, the guy will disappear into the darkness and by the time I stop the vehicle he will be gone.
He strongly believes that the thieves are a syndicate.
“Once a phone is snatched, the guy disappears but his friends remain behind at the scene of the crime to try and find out if the victim can identify their partner.
“We try our best to remind our passengers to put away their cellphones when it gets dark,” said Muleya.
An official at Tshova Mubaiwa, a public transport association in Bulawayo, Ndaba Mabunda called on passengers to take heed of warnings by kombi drivers to put away their cellphones, especially in crime hot spot areas.
“Our passengers used to fall victim to pick pockets and we addressed the problem by making sure that pushing and shoving while boarding our kombis is eliminated and now it seems thieves have come up with new ways of stealing.
“Passengers should take warnings from our drivers very seriously and remain cautious all the time, especially at night,” said Mabunda.
It appears cellphone snatching is a replica modus operandi that once hit South Africa a few years ago.
Media reports in the neighbouring country were awash with incidents of cellphone snatching syndicates targeting plush restaurants in Johannesburg’s affluent suburbs.
A business owner, quoted by the South Africa media, narrated incidents of snatching of cellphones from unsuspecting customers, particularly those who sat at outside restaurant tables.
He described how he witnessed a patron who was having a cellphone conversation, being accosted before having their phone snatched out of their hand.
The perpetrators were said to be smartly dressed and able to blend in with the crowd
A police officer stationed at Bulawayo Central Police Station, who chose to remain anonymous as he is not allowed to speak to the media, said most of the stolen phones find their way into cellphone repair shops.
“Generally, members of the public are wary of buying stolen phones so the thieves sell their loot to cellphone repairs shop owners who in turn dismantle the gadgets for parts.
“The cellphone repair guys know the right parts to keep and the ones to throw away, which can be used to track the stolen phone back to their shops. High end phones such as Samsungs and iPhones are sold in neighbouring South Africa where they cannot be traced,” he said.
Buying stolen goods is a serious offence that can land one in prison. — @RaymondJaravaza