A recent spate of bomb threats in public places in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape have heightened panic and fear, however authorities have not yet determined what is driving these incidents. A number of local shopping complexes were evacuated in Cape Town after officials were alerted about alleged explosive devices on the premises. This was followed by an incident at Wynberg Boys’ Junior School, which instituted restricted access to the premises after the institution received a message alerting them of a bomb on the premises. The incident is currently under investigation by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, the Hawks. The Portfolio Committee on Police has since called for a stringent approach to curb the recent increase in hoax bomb threats.
Speaking to VOC News, anti-crime activist Yusuf Abramjee said that given the prevalence and nature of the bomb threats in recent week, the incidents are becoming increasingly worrying.
“We know in Kwazulu-Natal – specifically Durban – there has been a series of bomb threats. The very worrying part is that a number of explosives were found, I think the latest count was eight.
“Yesterday afternoon, the Hawks confirmed that after a receiving a threat they searched premises in Durban and another device was found,” Abramjee explained.
The premises he refered to was that of the Woolworths store in West Street. Woolworths spokesman Kirsten Hewett confirmed on Wednesday that another incendiary device was found. In the past two weeks several incendiary devices were planted at other Woolworths stores in the city as well as at the Vodacom Durban July.
According him, police commissioner general Khela Sithole described the investigation as “sensitive” at this stage, but provided little clarity about the details on the kind of devices that have been found in the bomb threat locations.
Abramjee added that authorities remain uncertain about the motive for the attacks.
“[Police] are unable to give a ‘blow-to-blow’ account of what is happening and what the motives are, but [general Sithole] did assure me that arrests will be made.”
He further questioned why the devices were not detonated.
“The reasons why these devices haven’t gone off is either possibly they don’t know how to put them together or detonate [them]. Secondly, it could simply be a scare tactic by ‘whoever’ is trying to cause fear and panic.”
Meanwhile, research director at the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum, Dr Simon Howell, warns that a bomb scare is a criminal offence.
Howell explained that there are severe penalties for planting a hoax bomb or issuing a bomb scare, since bomb scares are considered threats under law and carry with them the same punishment as physically threatening someone with a weapon.
“If the threat is directed against an individual then the maximum penalty is 10 years or a fine, or both. Whereas if it is directed at a public entity or a public space, or it aims to incite public fear then the maximum penalty can be up to 25 years,” he noted.