The Newcastillian had an extremely unique opportunity, one which took some convincing, 2 boxes of smokes and an interesting adventure. Arriving at the home of a gentleman and his longtime friend, who lived but a stone’s throw away. I was introduced to two, extremely friendly and welcoming people.
After a warm reception, I sat down to chat about their lives, their story. Two people who have lived lives, which put fear into every “average Joe”. The life of a burglar.
Sitting on the lawn outside a home in Madadeni, enjoying the warm winter morning, a relaxed chat with Bongani* and Sipho* got underway. Two buddies filled with laughter and quick-witted humour that would leave you crawling in laughter.
But these two friends are not like most people. They have both been convicted for burglary.
“The first time I was arrested, I was given a five-year suspended sentence. The second time I was convicted was in 2010 and I got four years,” Bongani says. Sipho says he has been convicted four times for house burglary.
With years of experience in the crime world, burglary being their profession of choice, one needs to ask, how do you get involved in this line of work? I was very fascinated, as the two men seem highly intelligent, filled with immense potential.
“I got involved in drugs and in order to support my habit, I got into house burglaries. As it is an easy way to make money,” Sipho says.
Bongani’s journey began through another social evil. “I was about 23-years-old and schooling in Durban at the time. I got involved through peer pressure. A lot of my friends were doing it and I was eventually drawn into the world.”
Motivated to commit crime for various reasons, the two men explain when it comes to burglary, the community needs to realise one thing.
“People don’t break into your home just to get money and food. While some do it to support themselves and families, the biggest drive for burglary is drugs,” Sipho says. A point which Bongani fully agrees with.
As with most careers, we tend to look up to a mentor, someone who can steer us in the right direction, bestowing upon us their knowledge and expertise.
“We have someone who teaches us, and it is usually someone with more experience,” says Bongani.
Sipho says these mentors are actually easier to find than one might imagine. “Usually you will be doing drugs with the guys and you will mention how you don’t know how you are going to pay for your next hit. One guy will then mention how he broke into a house. You will think about it for a week or so and approach the guy and say you want a job. He will then show you the ropes.”
How does a burglar select a house?
Apparently, the first thing a burglar does is determine how many people live in the house. “From there we see if it is a nice house, so we can establish if the house will have nice appliances,” says Sipho.
This is done through peeping through the windows and watching what their potential targets bring home from shops.
So what do you they target once in the house?
The two burglars explain they usually go for appliances and jewellery. “If we see you have nice pictures on the wall, we will take that too,” Bongani laughs.
As for appliances, Sipho says they avoid older television sets. “Those older TVs which are big, and you have to reach around and stretch your arms around the back, are just horrible to hold, while you are trying to get away.”
While crime is no joke, the blasé manner in which Sipho said this had me laughing, as I could picture him trying to escape with an old school, box TV set from the late 1990s. Something the youth of today could not imagine
Ignorant of the crime world, I asked Bongani and Sipho how do they sell their wares. Also, is it a quick or slow process?
“It all depends. Sometimes it will go quick and there are times where it takes longer to sell the goods,” says Sipho.
Bongani adds that they will sell the items to people in a private capacity or to pawn shops. “It doesn’t really matter who we sell the stuff to, as long as we get our money,”
As a law-abiding citizen, leading a rather sheltered life. Sitting with these men was an entirely new experience for me. As curiosity set in and the conversation built, I got curious about how they manage to elude security, alarms and burglar guards.
“We will either find an open window or break a window, so we can trigger the alarm. We will then hide until the security guards come. Once they leave, we will then trigger the alarm again and again until they don’t check the property properly and simply leave notes to the homeowners to say they were there. After that, we go in and get what we need,” Bongani explains.
Burglar guards can be problematic, but the two burglars claim they can work around it though. “I need to admit, Maxidor and Trellidor are really good. We battle to get through them. But the usual ones in the shops or made at home, they are quick to get past,” Sipho says.
Then there is the question of high walls. While high walls mean homeowners are possibly hiding quality appliances, there is a potential for the burglary going wrong.
“With big walls, you can’t see if there are big dogs. If you jump over and the dogs start biting you, there is no way you going to jump over quick enough,” says Sipho.
Bongani says to occupy dogs, they often through pieces of chicken over so the dogs can eat while they get inside.
To be honest, I was rather flabbergasted. These two men, speaking about the ease of getting past our defence systems, which we believe are keeping us safe and not just another statistic.
As professional burglars do they prefer breaking into a house when its owners are out or when someone is at home?
Both men claim they prefer the homeowners to be out. “We have the power to do what we please with the homeowner, but if we get caught, our sentencing will change from that of burglary to house robbery and we will sit longer,” Sipho says.
For this reason, these two burglars avoid taking any weapons with them when breaking into a house. Therefore, if they are caught, they will face less jail time and avoid any possibility of anyone getting seriously hurt.
Thinking about the safety or lack thereof in stand-alone homes, I automatically assume that complexes are the place to live, being safe and free from the wondering eyes of criminals. Bongani and Sipho justed laughed at my naivety when I suggested this.
“We prefer complexes over houses. At a house, there is always a chance that there is someone at home or the neighbours will see you. But in a complex, we know that there is almost never anyone at home. It is either a single parent or a married couple who both work to pay the rent, and the children will be at school,” Bongani says.
Through their years in the crime world, both men claim they prefer working in teams when burgling a home.
“My partner is my eyes and ears. While I am busy, he can say duck or run when he sees someone coming,” Sipho says.
What advice can they give Newcastillians?
“Don’t choose the cheaper burglar guards or safety doors, we can get in. Spend more and ensure your home’s security is upgraded,” Bongani concludes.
This life changing conversation ended with a smile-filled greeting and me driving back to the office digesting the world which so many choose to snub or ignore…until its in their home.
Both their names had to be changed to protect their identity, safeguarding them from potential vigilante action. However, their story makes one realise how easy it is for crime to pounce upon us.