Pretoria - One of the alleged robbers of the FNB Bank at Eco Park in Centurion nearly seven years ago told the Pretoria High Court on Monday that he was picking herbs in a nearby field when he heard shots and was confronted by armed police who arrested him for bank robbery.
Langstone Gumbi, 51, of Tembisa and his five co-accused are facing 13 charges, including three counts of murder, after three of their alleged co-robbers died on the scene in a hail of bullets when the robbers and the police exchanged fire.
Gumbi, George Sibanda, 41, of Joburg, Mgcina Mhlongo, 34, of Tembisa, Alpheus Mdawande, 41, of Daveyton, Essau Ndlovu, 41, of Joburg, and Mandla Benjamin Ndlovu pleaded not guilty to all charges.
They are also facing two attempted murder charges after two policemen in a marked police car who gave chase soon after the robbery were fired at, and several charges of robbery with aggravating circumstances.
It is claimed that on April 4, 2007, the group robbed the bank of more than R51 600. Clients and bank officials were also robbed of their valuables.
The State claims the group and some of their friends, who escaped, robbed an eMalahleni resident of his Mercedes minibus about two weeks before the bank robbery.
The group allegedly planned to use it as one of their getaway cars after the robbery.
They allegedly stormed the bank at about 2pm that day. Some were apparently armed with semi-automatic pistols.
An AK-47 rifle was also used.
Some witnesses testified earlier that they were threatened with the firearms, and verbally, to hand over their money and valuables.
The group left the bank and some of them allegedly fired at a security guard before they got into two getaway vehicles with their loot.
The occupants in one vehicle got away, but police followed the occupants of the minibus as they were driving along Nellmapius Drive in Centurion.
The people in the minibus allegedly fired at the police, who returned fire. The minibus came to a stop and the State says a “gun battle” ensued between the parties.
The five accused were arrested, while three of their friends died in the crossfire, for which the State is holding the accused responsible.
Gumbi testified on Monday that he knew nothing about the robbery.
He said he was in the area with a friend to gather herbs, which he wanted to use as “muti”.
Describing himself as a taxi operator, he said his friend had dropped him off near a train station in Nellmapius Drive, as he had previously picked herbs there. His friend left to buy food, he said.
“I remained there, looking for muti, when I heard a gunshot. I did not know what was happening.
“After a while I saw policemen coming towards me in the bush. I screamed at them, asking what was happening. They pointed firearms at me and told me to walk towards them. One of them started kicking me and stomped on my hand.”
Gumbi said he was made to stand with his hands against a white Mercedes minibus, which he was seeing for the first time. “They searched me, but all I had with me was my ID book and a small amount of cash.”