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Johannesburg - The bullet missed Samson Matope’s head by centimetres. It slammed into the windscreen of his truck as police and would-be robbers were engaged in a shoot-out just metres away.
But Matope didn’t check to see where the bullet had come from - he ran to an open lot and took cover.
He was one of several bystanders caught in the middle of a 10-minute gunbattle in Wadeville, Ekurhuleni, on Thursday, which was to leave a police officer and three would-be robbers dead.
It was a police operation to stop a cash-in-transit heist.
SAPS spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Katlego Mogale said police had mobilised after they received a tip-off that a heist had been planned for Wadeville on Thursday morning.
The robbers, she said, knew what time the cash would be picked up from a scrap metal yard in the area.
Just before 11am on Thursday, a group of police officers, including the Ekurhuleni metro police department (EMPD), the K9 unit and crime intelligence, set up an ambush for the gang.
At about 10.45am, the gang were spotted on Davidson Road heading to where they intended to rob the cash van. They were driving in a hijacked Kia sedan, a Toyota Corolla and a VW hatchback.
A shoot-out then broke out between them and the police. Two robbers were shot dead in the initial exchange, while the rest were chased about 150m up the road before being apprehended.
The surviving four suspects were arrested. Two of them were injured and had to be taken to hospital.
Two EMPD officers were also injured and taken to hospital.
By the time it was all over, the crime scene was littered with shell casings, and the gangsters’ vehicles were riddled with bullets and smeared with bloodstains.
Two sisters were working in a caravan cooking food when two bullets came through the window, grazing the head of one of the sisters.
“My sister asked me, ‘Am I hurt?’, and that’s when I saw blood on her,” said one of the women.
Her injured sister was taken to hospital.
Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Faith Mazibuko said she applauded the police for their swift reaction and for “stopping these heinous criminals in their tracks”.
But while forensics were still processing the scene in Wadeville, news arrived of another cash heist at the Northgate Mall.
Mall spokeswoman Michelle Papastefanou said the incident took place at about 2.40pm at an entrance of the shopping mall.
She said three vehicles had been used to rush an armoured vehicle. A gunman then took the cash box and fatally shot a guard.