South Africa: Brazen Thieves Drive Off Into Lesotho With Free State Man's 30-Ton Excavator

An excavator, weighing in at 30 tons and worth about R1m, was stolen from a sand mine in Hobhouse in the Free State on Monday and brazenly driven across the Caledon River into Lesotho.

According to PC Hugo, owner of Hugo & Seun, a supplier of sand and building material, four men overpowered two of his employees in the early hours of Tuesday morning and tied them up.

"As far as we know, at least one of them was armed. They then got into the excavator and drove off into Lesotho, over the river and a steep hill," Hugo told News24.

"The also tried to steal one of my loaders. They plundered the loader because they were trying to find the tracking device. But when they couldn't find it, they left the loader behind.

No tracking device

"Unfortunately the excavator doesn't have a tracking device."

Hugo then went to Lesotho early on Tuesday morning, hoping to find his machine.

"We contacted the Ladybrand vehicle theft unit who made contact with officials in Lesotho. I was then assisted by one Inspector Masila in Maseru. He told me he had an informant who might be able to assist me in finding my excavator."

Police followed the excavator's tracks to where it was seemingly loaded on to a flatbed truck near the village of Tholo in Lesotho.

"That was the last information I received," said Hugo.

Sidney Leech, the DA's logistics and operations manager in the Bloemfontein area, who also happens to own a farm in Hobhouse, started making a few calls which prompted the police to get more involved, according to Hugo.

"I got a call on Thursday morning, saying that the excavator had been found. I was thrilled! But once I received photos, I saw it wasn't my machine, but another that had also been stolen."

Hugo says he has no idea why equipment of this nature is being stolen.

Well-organised operation

"There are rumours that new contracts have been handed out in Lesotho and guys now need this kind of equipment; another rumour is that the equipment is used at a diamond mine and yet another is that it is used in construction. I just don't know.

"I've been in this game for a long time and this is the first time something like this has happened to me. You know, this is a 30-ton excavator. It had to have been well organised. This machine was driven into those mountains and loaded on to a flatbed.

"These guys know what they're doing."

Hugo said, while his excavator was insured, he'd rather have his own machine back.

"Insurance is always the last resort. You don't always get back the real value. This machine was well maintained and in a good condition."

'I hear that a lot of machinery has been stolen'

"I am hopeful that I will get my excavator back, either today [Friday] or tomorrow," he said.

According to Hugo, his wasn't the only equipment to be stolen since the weekend.

"I hear that a lot of machinery has been stolen and taken into Lesotho in the past week or so. So there has to be something behind all of this..."

In the meantime, Hugo's operations have been brought to a halt.

"I haven't been able to operate for the past few days. I am very dependent on that machine, because that's the only excavator that can extract sand from the river - my other machines get stuck."

News24 spoke to various SAPS spokespersons in the province, but they could not confirm whether this or similar cases were being investigated.


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