Former multiple South African track and road champion Wimpie van der Merwe believes measures will be taken and safety improved following two separate brutal attacks on cyclists at a crime hotspot in Gordon’s Bay Road.
Van der Merwe and Elize Janse van Rensburg were attacked by a group of men two weeks ago during which Van Rensburg was badly injured.
A week later Shaun Wayne was stabbed in the head with a knife while cycling to work at a Strand restaurant. He was lucky to survive, apparently without brain damage after surgeons removed the knife.
Van der Merwe posted graphic photographs of Wayne with the knife in his head and an X-ray of his skull on Facebook.
“I’d like to know whether his attackers weren’t [previously] in jail too, like mine were. If these guys are on drugs they’re completely irrational,” said Van der Merwe.
In the attack on him and Janse van Rensburg, the latter was flung into the curb. She shattered her pelvis, hip and coccyx.
Her helmet broke and her cellphone was stolen. Van der Merwe got off his bike and started chasing the attackers on foot. One of the men threw the bicycle down, before they started to regroup for a second attack.
Van der Merwe started waving cars down. An off-duty security guard and motorcycle stopped and the men fled.
“The image is imprinted into your mind, looking at those faces and the absolute intent, like a predator going for its prey. I think I will never forget that shriek of Elize shouting ‘nee, nee’,” Van der Merwe said.
He said the first signs of trauma appeared for him 24 hours afterwards when he started shaking uncontrollably and had no control over his emotions.
“It does affect you and you feel violated and invaded. You just think of the fact that somebody really wanted to do you physical harm and if so, wanted to kill you.”
In a social media statement made by Van der Merwe on November 19, he announced that three suspects had been arrested in connection with the assault on them.
“The justice system is failing us because they’re allowing these people back on the streets too soon. It’s not an unknown fact that they get off very lightly.”
He added that if the authorities and cyclists took the necessary measures to look after their safety, word would reach those would-be attackers.
“They will know that we will not be deterred or terrorised,” said Van der Merwe.
“We’re going to be watching them and be prepared for them.”
The 61-year-old recently returned to that specific route and noticed visible policing. “The community is doing something by putting armed response there.”
In the long run he hoped to see an improvement in safety in general. He felt it only took one high-profile case such as theirs for action to be taken.
“I believe this is going to have an impact on cycling in the Western Cape, because of the amount of ‘hot air’ we’re creating around it. The police are being watched by the minister and ombudsman who are ensuring they are tasked to do their job.
“There is also a lot of response from people prepared to assist with policing in the area, which is fantastic and means people are taking safety seriously. Something good will come from this,” said Van der Merwe.
After their attack Van der Merwe approached the estate which includes that part of the route and requested that they put op more CCTV cameras, which was approved.
“We were attacked right next to a CCTV pole, but we were not in the vision of the camera, so this [more cameras] will be a big plus.”
The Strand resident added that one could not always protect oneself against an attack, because of the element of surprise.
“If we had known what to do, then it would mean we actually may be able to prevent attacks. The warfare could escalate if we took firearms with us as we then become very interesting targets for criminals. They would then shoot us to be able to get the firearm.”
Van der Merwe said he had been attacked three times and felt there were a couple of phases involved.
“Firstly, you’re going to possibly be injured. You will be on the ground and it could be that they’re still attacking while you’re lying there.
“You should have a second phase that is a form of defence. Either you need to have some self-defence tricks to protect yourself against blows and kicks, or have some form of a weapon on you – not on the bike, because by that time it had been stolen.”
Options he mentioned included having a tracker on you that featured an SOS button or wearing a waterproof and sweatproof pepper-spray pellet gun.