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Pretoria - Shopping at The Grove Mall came to a standstill on Wednesday before lunch-time when a gang of would-be robbers and a jewellery shop owner exchanged gunfire.
Shortly after the thugs stormed into Francois Jewellers, finding two woman employees inside, shoppers were sent diving for cover as a Wild West movie unfolded in front of their eyes.
The gang members, believed to be five in number, informed the jewellery store employees that it was a business robbery and ordered them to open the showcases where they kept the jewellery.
Little did the gang know that the shopowner was in his office watching them on a TV screen.
He said he watched them for some time and realised something was wrong when he saw them push one of the customers.
“I pulled out my gun and made my way to the front of the shop. As I stepped inside the shop, one of my staff members said don’t come out because they will shoot you,” Francois du Toit said.
One of the gang pulled out a 9mm pistol and fired at Du Toit. But he missed.
“I was a bit dazed because of the loud noise of the shot.
“But when I came around, I drew my firearm and shot the suspect twice in the back.
“The wounded man fell to the ground, but kept on shooting back at me. The suspects managed to flee.”
As the gang were fleeing, the shopowner chased them outside, where they continued shooting.
One of the men dropped his 9mm pistol as he made a dash for his life.
There were bloodstains on the floor leading from the shop to the exit from the centre.
The men shot and damaged four cars in the parking lot as they made their way to their gateway cars, a Toyota Condor and a Toyota Avanza with false licence plates.
An owner of one of the damaged vehicles, Gerhard Meyer, was speechless when he saw his Isuzu bakkie with its windows shattered by the bullets. He was inside the mall when the gang struck.
People working in nearby shops told the Pretoria News of their ordeal.
An employee of The Body Shop, next to the jewellery store, said she heard the shots, but did not see the suspects.
“The first shot went off. Then it was quiet for some time. When the second shot went off all hell broke lose,” she said.
“We were shaken in the store, but now we are fine.”
Honey Strydom, an elderly woman from the Gauteng Flower Club who was arranging flowers at the centre for a competition, said one of the bullets flew past a woman who was working on a bouquet. She said she heard about 10 or 12 shots.
“We were working and I heard two shots. I saw someone fall down. I then saw people coming out of the jewellery shop,” Strydom said.
“The experience was scary because one bullet went past one of the women decorating the flowers. During the commotion, the women from one of the shops called me inside their store to hide. It is scary when such things happen.”
Police spokesman Captain Jan Sepato said the gang were not able to take anything.
He appealed to members of the public who might have information on the gang to come forward. “Cases of an attempted robbery and attempted murder have been opened,” said Sepato.
The mall’s marketing manager, Leanne Nell, said nothing was stolen.
The attempted robbery comes barely a week after a gang of eight men robbed the NWJ jewellery store in the Menlyn shopping centre. The men are still at large. It is not known whether the same men were involved in yesterday’s hit.