Most local residents know Centenary Park to be a hazardous place to venture, because it is remote and favoured by criminals who lurk in the bushes waiting to prey on people.
There have been numerous incidents of robbery there over the years, with victims including anglers, picnickers and people just driving through. A tactic favoured by criminals is to bock the road – an off-road path really – with branches or other debris and then attack the vehicle’s occupants when they get out to clear the road.
This is what happened to Peter van Staden in June last year. A relative newcomer to Port Alfred, Van Staden did not know of Centenary Park as a crime hotspot and started taking his dogs for walks there during the lockdown.
He was a victim of the blocked road tactic, attacked from behind as he exited his vehicle. Suffering multiple blows to the head, he was left bloodied and unconscious. The robbers took his gold ring, cellphone, prescription sunglasses, normal spectacles and wallet, though he had no cash in it.
He did not even know how many assailants there were. To date, there have been no arrests.
Like Van Staden, the students visiting Port Alfred for the Universities Boat Race may have been completely oblivious of the risks of going to Centenary Park, as reported in our front page story.
It’s not their fault. Once there used to be a sign at the Wharf Street bend warning people that the park was a crime hotspot, but this sign has long since disappeared.
Policing the park seems to be logistically impractical, and as loathe as we may be to give up an area which used to be a beautiful, popular picnic spot in days gone by, it is well past time for another sign to be placed there warning both residents and visitors of the risks of going to the park.
Ndlambe Municipality should take up this issue as a matter of urgency, and perhaps local businesses can also contribute towards such signage, which should also have police contact numbers.
Every incident like this is damaging to local tourism, and it is irresponsible of the authorities not to warn visitors about Centenary Park.
We are glad the students were not physically harmed, although it must have been traumatic to be threatened with a knife. Just one knife-wielding robber was able to intimidate five students and take their valuables. Imagine a group of such robbers, as happened to anglers at Cob Hole twice last year. There have also been no arrests in those cases, despite an identified suspect.
– Jon Houzet