Published: Monday 31 March 1997

-- Burglars beware! Harare is fast emerging as an ideal venue for 'watch-snakes'. Zimbabwe has a low rate of violent crimes but a fairly large number of burglaries. As most jobs offer a month's vacation, the majority of employed Zimbabweans are forced to leave their houses unoccupied for long durations. In this situation, only one company came up with a novel idea to provide security.

For about US $12 a day, Ben Vermuelen of the company Repsec, leaves a few snakes inside the house of the client with signs in two languages outside and a cartoon version for the illiterate, that the house now has new occupants with a bad attitude and very wide necks. However, the government is a little unsure of this system. When Vermuelen recently applied for a permit, it was refused to him. "Slithering over settees and polished floors is not exactly their natural environment", said a government official.

"People put in hi-tech security systems," said Vermuelen, "But criminals are going hi-tech as well. I'm getting to basics, superstition and fear." In Harare, highly poisonous Egyptian cobras run wild. And Vermuelen picks them up for a fee from those who do not like free-lance cobras patrolling their backyards.

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