September 29 2007 at 02:21PM
By Christina Gallagher
A group of street children are being blamed for the increase in assaults and muggings of university students in Melville.
Nine robberies, some of them at knife-point, have been reported to police in 2007 by students of the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
In the most recent attack, on Thursday, a female UJ student was robbed off-campus by a young male armed with a knife.
Ward councillor Cindy Grobbelaar said street children – mainly youths from neighbouring Westbury and River lea – had been a problem in the area for the past five years.
Grobbelaar attributed the recent increase in crime to the collapse of a street child education programme earlier this year and also to the death last month of one of the ringleaders of the group.
"Lucky was the one who kept the youth in check," said Grobbelaar.
In recent weeks there has been a dramatic increase in attacks on university students.
Earlier this month a female student was robbed at gunpoint while walking to campus. A 14-year-old streetchild, who had a toy gun in his possession, was detained by campus security the following day after the robbery victim spotted him.
University spokesperson Sonia Cronje confirmed that the number of incidents of assault and robbery reported by students had increased this year.
Police crime statistics for the past year also reflect that cases of armed robbery in the area have increased.
Cronje said the university had made "extensive additions" to security services this year. But Roelof Hugo, the head of UJ protection services, admitted that resources were insufficient to protect all students in the area.
Surrounding businesses also appear to have been affected.
Manana Serote, the manager of McDonald’s in Melville, said the restaurant had been forced to erect a fence around its premises to keep the streetkids out.
"They were harassing our customers for money. Our security guards had to escort customers from the building to Campus Square across the street to keep them safe.
"If we hadn’t put up the fence, we wouldn’t have any customers," she said.
A student, who asked not to be named, confirmed that a group of 20 streetkids were often seen in the afternoons in front of the McDonald’s, and they were joined by more youths over weekends.
The recent redeployment of Constable Veli Mkhwanazi, a Brixton policeman who has worked closely with the streetchildren, was said to have left the group idle and contributed to the rise in crime.
"The constable used to organise activities for these kids," said Superintendent RDM Sithebe.
"We are busy looking for someone else to do this. We don’t just want to arrest the kids. We want to educate them too."