“What every South African needs to know about home invasions”
No matter where in South Africa you live, home invasion is a very real concern. It happens so frequently that it rarely even makes the news anymore – unless there are multiple murders or an especially gruesome twist. If you own or rent a home in any of South Africa’s major towns or cities, you are at risk.
But what do you do? How can you prepare? In this article, we will look at some of the things you can do to avoid, prepare and ultimately deal with the problem should it ever happen to you.
The average home invasion: what research tells us
We can learn a lot from the 19,284 home robberies that took place between 2013 and 2014. The most recent official statistics show that home robberies are on the rise.
According to SAPS research, 75% of robberies take place at night. The hours between 21h00 and 03h00 being the most common for a home invasion. Between 10:00-12:59 am, there is another spike. This is when domestic workers are home. Weapons are used in the vast majority of reported cases. The good news is that analysis of home robbery dockets has shown that the vast majority of home invasions end without physical harm to the inhabitants.
Official statistics don’t tell us everything. Research conducted by Professor Rudolph Zinn, a senior lecturer at the University of South Africa, provides some unique insights into home invasions in South Africa, and how to prevent them.
Preventing home invasion:
One of the key recommendations from Professor Zinn is to set up a layered defence around your home. An alarm system, an electric fence, a dog, burglar bars and common sense measures like locked doors, motion sensors and general vigilance will all help to ensure that nobody gets in.
Setting up your security system in a way that ensures you have fair warning when an entrance or window has been breached will give you an important advantage. Every second counts in those early moments of a break in and the more warning you have the more options you have. Contact alarms, which run off battery power and notify you if a window or door is opened, are a great addition to your home security setup. They’re cheap and easy to install. Installing panic buttons in the bedroom and most often used rooms in your home (such as the kitchen or lounge) will mean you can quickly summon help in the event of an emergency.
– Know response times in your area: knowing the average response time for the SAPS or your private security company in your area. In the event of a home invasion this is the length of time you will have to hold out.
– Identify escape routes and potential hiding spots: discuss and show these to your family members.
– Rehearse: Rehearse for a home invasion, just as you would for a fire. Younger children can be taught to hide quietly if they hear your signal.
– Communicate with your domestic worker, garden service: Have their cellphone numbers saved. Conduct background checks.
– Ensure that all family members know which emergency numbers to call. Whether that is the closest SAPS or your own private armed response. Save the number in all mobile phones, with a shortcut. Landline phones should have the number right next to them.
Worst case scenario:
1) Call for help: In addition to a landline phone, keep your cellphone on your person at home.
2) Escape: If your home has many exit points and you have enough warning, it might be worth it to escape. You can only do so if all members of the family are able to get out.
3) Hide: If you managed to call for help, and know that the response time is short enough, hiding may be a legitimate option. Take note, thieves will rip a place apart in search of valuables, so hiding under beds or anywhere in the master bedroom is a bad idea. Some areas where thieves are least likely to search include the bathroom and children’s bedrooms.
4) Keep it together: Despite the horror of the situation, remaining calm might save your life. Dr Zinn’s advice was not to look them in the eyes, speak only when spoken to and to do as instructed.
5) Co-operate: The most important thing you can do if a group of armed robbers breaks into your home is to co-operate fully. Make no sudden movements, do not scream for help and do not even raise your arms. These may all be misinterpreted and result in injury to you, or worse.
6) A word about fighting back: don’t. Research consistently shows worse outcomes for those that attempt to fight back with weapons, physical force or even screaming for help. The 2012 NCVS reported that 80% of victims did not resist the robbers, but those that did were more likely to be injured. Of those that resisted 40% were injured.
In a country where 12 million live in extreme poverty, home robbery is big business. Keep your family and home safe with basic security measures, vigilance and be prepared for the possibility of a home invasion. For further information, Professor Zinn’s book, “Home Invasion: Robbers disclose what you should know”, 2010, is available through Kalahari or at selected bookstores around the country.