Pretoria – Traumatised shoppers and taxi drivers have described frightening scenes during an armed robbery at Soshanguve Plaza on Monday, in which several people were wounded.
Eyewitnesses told of how it was pandemonium as people scrambled in panic when police and robbers exchanged fire at the entrance of the busy shopping centre. Many shoppers, including pensioners, had to run for their lives as they heard rounds of ammunition fired.
One shopper, Samuel Mkwanazi, who was close to the shop that was being robbed, said: “People started to run in the opposite direction to the gunshots. We tried to hide inside the surrounding shops, which were closing their doors quickly.
“When I threw myself on the floor I could see the assailants shooting. There were a lot of shots, at least 15.”
Echoing Mkwanazi’s sentiments was a taxi driver who said everything happened rapidly, just like in the movies. He said he was playing cards with his colleagues when they heard loud thumps in succession with people screaming. “When I looked closely, I saw a couple of men in balaclavas spraying bullets and trying to get away with bags. We decided to lie on the seats and told passengers to do the same.
“Luckily that saved our lives, as some of the bullets hit the windscreens and tyres of several taxis,” he said.
Another shopper described the horrific scenes that unfolded. “I was walking from the ATM when I heard several big bangs. I thought it was firecrackers, but after a few seconds of silence everyone shouted and scattered and we all just took cover. Pensioners with their grandchildren were crying on the floor with plastic bags of food scatted across the floor. “
A bomb squad was also present at the scene as it was believed that the robbers had left explosives inside the shop while fleeing the scene. “They never got a chance to activate the explosives wired to the ATM,” said police Captain Stephen Maluleka.
According to the police, eight suspects went to the OBC Meat and Chicken butchery at about 9am. They were all armed and robbed the manager of an undisclosed amount of money while other accomplices put their explosives in the Eazi Pay cash express ATM and tampered with it.
Some were on guard outside and their mission was disturbed by the four police officers from the Flying Squad. They started shooting at the police using pistols and rifles and the officers retaliated.
After the confrontation, the robbers only managed to flee with an undisclosed amount of cash from the tills.
It’s believed that taxis were a huge obstacle when the robbers tried to flee after robbing the shop.
“In just a split second, the robbers sprayed bullets to disperse the congestion from the taxis and cars. It was loud and rapid,” said a witness.
Across from the shopping centre were police in a Toyota Quantum doing routine checks.
They heard gunshots and retaliated.
The robbers managed to get away. Three people were wounded in the process and taken to hospital. They include two men and a woman. They were rushed to Dr George Mukhari Hospital where they are in a stable condition.
Parts of the mall were closed off by police investigating the brazen robbery and shootout but business resumed later in the day.
Maluleka said the suspects made off with an undisclosed amount of money and fled the scene in a white Mercedes-Benz and a white Polo 6. The registration numbers are unknown. Three Toyota Ventures were also damaged during the shootout. “We are also working tirelessly around the clock to apprehend the suspects and we call on the community to assist with information to close the net on these criminals,” he said.
Source: Pretoria News