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Pretoria - A former policeman was so traumatised when his partner and friend, with whom he patrolled the city streets for 10 years, was gunned down next to him by a gang of ATM robbers, that he is still receiving psychiatric treatment. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t have a nightmare about that fateful day when “a mini war” broke out.
This was the evidence on Monday of former Inspector Pieter Otto, the first witness to take the stand in the Pretoria High Court trial of one of the alleged gang members.
Inspector Jaco Botha, 37, was shot dead when the police were ambushed on June 18, 2008, by a gang who blew up two ATM machines at an Engen garage, next to the Spar in Kilnerpark.
Sibusiso Moloi, 30, of Soweto, the only man arrested, on Monday pleaded not guilty to an array of charges. These include the murder of Botha, the attempted murder of Otto and two robbery charges.
Moloi, through his lawyer, said he was never on the scene that day, nor in the Kilnerpark area.
Otto told Judge Bert Bam that he and Botha (who was driving at the time), and members of the dog unit in another vehicle, went to the garage after they received a call that someone was tampering with an ATM machine.
As they were approaching the scenie, they heard shots being fired. “It sounded like a mini war… There was a black BMW parked next to the road with all four doors open. I saw a man aiming an automatic machine gun towards us.”
Otto said shots came from everywhere. At some stage he saw another man next to the shopping centre, aiming his firearm at them.
“He had a rifle in his hand and he was aiming at us. He is in my mind the man who shot Jaco.
“I saw Jaco putting the police vehicle into reverse and then I saw his head jerking backwards.”
Otto said Botha’s foot became stuck on the accelerator and the police vehicle moved backwards at a speed. It was out of control and collided with a wall and overturned, landing on its side. “I wanted to crawl out, but the robbers kept on firing at us.”
Otto tried to drag his colleague out by his pants “but he was half pinned under the vehicle… I just wanted to get him to safety.”
Otto saw the vehicle with some of the robbers driving towards them. “They kept on shooting at us.”
Otto once again tried to escape from the overturned vehicle - this time through a broken back window - but as he peeked out of the window, shots rained down around him.
He crept back to his wounded partner. “I kept on talking to him but he did not respond. I tried to move him but he was pinned down. I did not know if he was still alive.”
The robbers fled when the owner of a nearby security company arrived in his Land Cruiser.
Asked by the State on Monday “what saved you?”, Otto responded: “Only the Lord saved me that day.”
Otto said when he could not escape, he sat inside the vehicle, listening to the shots being fired all around him. About 70 AK-47 cartridges were later found at the scene, but somehow only one bullet hit the police vehicle.
Otto said it was astounding - only one bullet hit the bonnet, then ricocheted through the front windscreen - and hit Botha in the throat.
Inspector Frederick Weilbach, who drove in the police vehicle ahead of Botha and Otto, said he saw several blazing AK-47s aimed in their direction. He saw a masked man [with only his eyes visible] with an AK-47 stepping towards his vehicle. “I immediately realised this was an ambush and big trouble.”
As he drove on he heard two ATMs exploding. He in vain tried to catch the robbers. When he returned, Botha had been declared dead at the scene.