SEVEN men in their 20s were arrested in Bonteheuwel just after 21:00 last night (Monday night) for the theft of the Robbie Waterwitch and Coline Williams statue in Athlone last week.
The arrests were made in a joint operation by the Athlone Police Station and the Copperheads task force of the City of Cape Town. A blue Toyota bakkie, which police suspect may have been stolen, was seized during the operation. The seven arrests follow the detention for questioning of three men over the weekend, bringing the total number of arrests in the case to 10.
The Robbie Waterwitch and Coline Williams statue was found in 64 pieces at a scrap yard in Beaconvale on Friday. Questions are being asked, though, about how the statue could have been stolen last week Tuesday when key people in Athlone were alerted to a possible theft on Monday already.
The statue was reported to be lying face down on the ground on Monday, 3 March ("Stealing history", People's Post, 4 March), and was stolen the next day.
The value of this heavy statue is estimated at R400 000, but the Beaconvale scrap dealer bought it for just R9 000.
Captain André Venter, spokesperson for the Athlone Police Station, says the statue is made of bronze and copper, and not tar as was initially believed. He says a chemical was used to give the impression of it being made of tar.
Before People's Post made the attempted theft public, the fact that the statue had been dislodged and was lying face-down was reported to the Athlone Police Station and the ward councillor, Charlotte Tabisher, on Monday, 3 March.
Captain Venter says the Athlone Police Station expected the city council to do something about the statue, as the station knew on Monday that the council was aware of the statue lying face-down. He says that the police station ensured a patrol van was in the area on Monday to keep an eye on the statue, but the statue was stolen in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
When approached for her comment, Councillor Tabisher said, "It's amazing how when something like this happens, no-one wants to take responsibility." She then said provincial and local government should have done something.
Councillor Pieter van Dalen, chairperson of the City of Cape Town's Copperheads task force, says they knew nothing about the attempted theft on Monday. "We read about it the morning after the actual theft, and the mayor immediately instructed us to investigate," says Van Dalen.
When asked who should have been responsible for moving the statue when it had fallen, Van Dalen consulted someone close by and replied that the city's Department of Sports and Recreation should have moved it.
Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille says she acted the minute she was informed of the theft. She says the police are in charge of combating crime and should have been responsible for moving the fallen statue. "The statue is 100 m from the Athlone Police Station - they should have taken action," Mayor Zille says.
Subcouncil chairperson Charlotte Williams was shocked to hear the statue was not moved on Monday morning after it had been dislodged. She said the ward councillor should have raised the alarm.
Sumaya Taliep, chairperson of the Athlone City Improvement District (ATHCID), says it is unfortunate that the police delayed their response to reports of the statue being moved. "We will be calling an urgent meeting with the Athlone Police Station management and our security company, Sechaba, to ask for a detailed explanation."
Taliep says ATHCID is calling for more supportive and regular patrols by Metro Police and joint initiatives to be undertaken with Sechaba. She says ATHCID wants the perpetrators caught as swiftly as possible.
Aboubaker Basadien, general manager of Sechaba, says a Sechaba security officer was patrolling the Athlone CBD at 04:10 on Tuesday and noticed a white Nissan 1400 bakkie with no registration plates near the public toilets in Athlone. He saw about eight men load the statue onto the bakkie. A chase ensued when they saw the officer.
The unidentified security officer informed his office and contacted Inspector Vusumzi Mbalo, who arrived shortly after. Mbalo immediately contacted the Metro Police, but by then the men had disappeared with the statue. Mbalo wanted to lay a charge, but Metro Police said they would do it on his behalf.
Basadien asks: "If the statue was such a heritage, then why did it lie there for the whole day?".