Theft victims complain about airport security

Police say crime at Johannesburg International airport is low, but it appears theft victims are discouraged from reporting their cases.

Two passengers recently fell victim to what seems to be a trend that is swept under the carpet: theft by officials and porters from travellers.

On July 7 this year, a freelance producer/cameraman was about to fly to Durban when his camera was stolen while he waited in line to get his ticket from South African Airways (SAA) in the general hall at the airport.

“It was a long line. I put my camera down for 30 seconds ... the line moved and the camera was gone.
It was literally gone in a flash. I couldn’t believe it,” said the Johannesburg man, who wanted to remain anonymous.

He reported the theft without delay, but was appalled by the reaction time and attitude of security officials.

“I found the Airports Company of South Africa [Acsa] unsympathetic and slow to react. The attitude was that nothing could be done. It was my problem and I should deal with it on my own.”

He asked to view the security cameras to ascertain how the equipment had been taken and who had taken it.

“I was told I had to have a case number before I was allowed to view the cameras. It took forever. It was extremely frustrating.”

He said the 1 200 security cameras Acsa has around the airport all appeared to be operated by one individual.

“Let me tell you something, those cameras are purely cosmetic in terms of security. In reality they are fixed on one spot ... it’s not like the cameras in Johannesburg’s central business district that are manned by a team of operators.”

The victim and security officials were able to make out that someone had dropped a jacket over the camera and then walked off with it.

This appeared to be the work of a porter, but the individual’s face was not clearly visible.

“Some of the Acsa staff told me there was a big problem with illegal porters who harass passengers and steal. There’s no control. I was told that some passengers have had their luggage stolen off their trolleys.”

Since the theft on July 7, neither Acsa nor the police have been in touch with the cameraman.

Foreign currency stolen

Twenty days later, another traveller had a similarly frustrating experience.

This man delayed his departure to Eastern Europe for a day after his foreign currency, worth about R6 000, was stolen from him in a “secure area” at the airport.

He was told nothing could be done and was advised to board his flight and forget the whole episode.

Security staff say this sort of theft occurs almost every night.

“They tell the passengers to just get on the flight and leave. Most of them are foreigners so they just go without every reporting the case,” said a security official, stationed inside the international-departures hall.

The official, who asked not be named, angrily observed that some of her colleagues are getting away with theft.

‘Nothing out of control’

North Rand police spokesperson Superintendent Eugene Opperman said the rate of theft at the airport is not high.

“From a police point of view there is nothing out of control. The airport has the lowest crime statistics for the whole of the North Rand area.”

Opperman said Acsa and all the airlines are responsible for security at the airport.

“They do arrest people. But there are very negligent people who leave their things lying around ... this happens from time to time.”

The unfortunate traveller bound for Eastern Europe was robbed of all his foreign currency and was determined to see the matter through.

He too asked to view the security cameras and spent an hour with the police giving his statement.

“I was so frustrated. I wanted to grab his pen and the write the statement myself. In that time the [thief] was able to take all my money and get away.”

He rescheduled his flight for the next night and before he flew out of the country, he went to view the security tapes for a second time.

It appeared as though an airline security official had picked up the wallet, went behind a screen for a few seconds and only then turned the wallet over to the SAA counter.

Matter under investigation

Acsa spokesperson Solomon Makgale said he is aware of the theft of the currency, adding that the matter is still under police investigation.

“Our aviation security division is currently reviewing the reports to establish exactly what happened and what additional measures can be implemented to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.”

Asked about the involvement of Acsa staff in criminal activities, Makgale said: “The company policy is very clear on this matter. If, after investigation, any staff member is found to be involved in crime they would unfortunately have to be dealt with in accordance with our internal disciplinary procedures.”

In the past financial year, Acsa invested about R53-million in upgrading and replacing security fences, barriers and access-control gates, closed-circuit television systems, permit systems and other security-related infrastructure.

A further R60-million has been budgeted for upgrades of perimeter fences, baggage management systems, control rooms and the installation of a vehicle number-plate recognition system.

The second victim of airport crime, now living in the Czech Republic, is awaiting the outcome of the investigation although he has given up hope of ever recovering the money.

“I just want justice. I want the culprit to go to jail.”—Sapa

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