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I found this little beauty while perusing my files and thought you all might appreciate reading it.

Crime Spurs South Africa's Inventors to Action

Mon Jan 3, 4:05 PM ET
By Alistair Thomson

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Want a computer that screams when a thief strikes? Or a personal tracking unit in case you get kidnapped?

All this from the nation that brought you the anti-hijack flame-throwing car.

South Africa's inventors are dreaming up ever more ingenious ways of getting one over on the criminals.

"We are a tremendously inventive nation," said Adi Paterson of the government's Department of Science and Innovation.

"We are some of the quickest imitators in the world as well -- if somebody comes up with a great idea somewhere else, we are very quick to pick it up and turn it into something successful," added Paterson, who chairs an Innovation Board Trust intended to foster new ideas and make them commercially viable.

The fund targets all manner of projects South Africans come up with, but Paterson says many are security-based.

"What we have done sometimes is put together think tanks to address a particular crime, and think how to tackle it more aggressively. For example, cash in transit -- there have been a range of inventions which have brought down the level of cash heists," Paterson said.

Attacks on security vans carrying cash are a regular occurrence in South Africa, and all too often it is the security guards and drivers who end up dead at the roadside.

Their companies and the nation's inventors alike are forever devising new systems to dye stolen bank notes with permanent ink, track stolen vehicles or seal off the cash section of vans in a constant battle to stay ahead of the equally resourceful criminals.

Anti-hijack devices and radio or satellite tracking devices for family cars are becoming ever more sophisticated.

In Johannesburg's wealthy northern suburbs scarcely a house is without radio-controlled gates, infra-red anti-burglar beams and electric fences that bring armed security guards bursting through the door at the drop of an intruder's hat.

"Joburgers" have become a byword for obsession with security, with an ad for cheap flights to the Indian Ocean resort of Durban showing a young buy on the beach building a sandcastle complete with an elaborate system of razor-wire.


With millions of guns in circulation, South Africa is fighting to contain a culture of criminal violence. Police chief Jackie Selebi says he will use his new post as head of Interpol to wage war on the spread of guns in South Africa and abroad.

At his farm northeast of Pretoria, Nic van Zyl is busy inventing a "smart gun," as he has been doing for 15 years.

With a computer circuit board concealed in the butt and a revolutionary laser firing mechanism instead of the traditional hammer, the "South African Intelligent Firearm" would not look out of place on the set of a science fiction movie.

The really clever bit is in the handle, which reads the user's thumb print so only the rightful owner can fire it.

And when it shoots, a camera takes a digital photo of the target, noting the time and the date -- just in case the user ends up in court having to justify opening fire.

"It records what you're firing at, not what you've just destroyed," said van Zyl. "If fitted with a GPS (global positioning system) you can even record the coordinates of where the gun was fired."


A few miles away in Johannesburg, Jason Roper has an idea for cracking down on office computer theft.

His system uses free wiring already present in most office networks. As soon as a computer is removed, the system sends a text message to the owner's mobile phone -- and blasts out a high-pitched alarm.

"It's not quite as loud as your car alarm, but somewhere near it," he said. "The PC itself screams at 97 decibels -- it just goes crazy."

Patrick Carter is touting a very different kind of device.

Venture out on the mean streets of South Africa and at the press of a button his handy "Buddi on Call" will inform family, friends and a central call center -- that the user is being kidnapped.

It may sound a little extreme in a country where kidnapping for cash is relatively rare. But Carter says the idea proved a hit after this year's high-profile kidnapping and murder of a student from a wealthy family who was snatched from her university car parking lot.

Most ideas -- however clever -- fail to make the grade commercially. Inventors would do well to bear in mind the experience of crime-fighting Charl Fourie.

Almost as soon as he launched his flame-throwing car to deter hijackers six years ago, it was banned.

(Additional reporting by Hannington Osodo in Johannesburg and Gordon Bell in Cape Town)

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