28-year-old Zimbabwean Jack Maseko was recently mugged by three men in South Africa - they wanted nothing but his mobile phone and the dreadlocks he had spent three years patiently cultivating. "I used to see people selling dreadlocks on the streets and didn't know where it came from," he told the BBC.
Dreadlocks can take several years to grow but many people do not want to wait and it is this need for instant long hair that is pushing the demand for ready locks in the black market, according to hairstylists. The thieves are quick and sometimes ruthless and will use anything from a knife to broken glass to steal the prized hair - known on the streets as a cut and run.
The gangs operate in Johannesburg but the practice has also spread to the coastal town of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. Shoulder-length dreadlocks are sold for between 200 rand ($23) and 700 rand ($80), while longer ones cost as much as 2,000 rand.
Most South Africans first heard of this phenomenon when the case of another Zimbabwean national Mutsa Madonko, who was attacked and had his hair shaved off outside a Johannesburg night club, made national headlines last month. He had apparently grown his locks for 10 years.