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Durban - The family of a North Coast couple who died in a hail of AK47 fire during a pension point heist are devastated and puzzled by the senseless slayings.
Nishen, 46, and Maureen Maharaj, 48, were in the wrong place at the wrong time when they arrived at the Saverite Supermarket in Isenembe, near oThongathi (Tongaat), at about 7am on Tuesday.
The couple arrived as five armed men, who had followed owner Selvan Reddy to his supermarket, were robbing him of an undisclosed sum of cash he had been carrying for the monthly pension payout.
Nishen, dropping off his wife who worked at the supermarket, realised they were witnessing a robbery and tried to reverse away at speed, but the men fired shots at the couple’s bakkie – hitting Maureen in the head and Nishen in the leg.
Their car was found about a kilometre away in a banana plantation. Both died at the scene.
They are survived by their sons, Mikhar, 18, and Neerav, 21.
Maureen’s brother, SAPS Colonel Gerald Singh, said he had been planning to surprise his older sister on Tuesday with an unannounced visit.
He said he had last seen her about two months ago and had planned to visit after performing his duties in Wartburg.
Singh said he was close to his sister and they had kept in touch by phone.
“She is going to leave a big void in our lives. The big problem is the sons; they have been informed and they were quite emotional,” he said, holding back the tears.
“No one will ever fully understand what goes through the mind of criminals, but we will have to find out when they get arrested why they had to shoot,” he said.
He could not understand why the couple was shot as Nishen did not own a firearm. The funeral would take place once a post-mortem had been conducted, he said.
An experienced police team led by KwaDukuza cluster commander Brigadier Derek Hastibeer was sent to the crime scene on Tuesday.
Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said the five robbers were at large and the getaway car, a Toyota RunX, had been recovered in Cottonfields, near Verulam.
“The police arrived and found the driver still alive, but shortly thereafter he died. His wife was already dead when the police arrived. The suspects took an undisclosed amount of cash, cellphone and a firearm from the shop owner.”
Zwane confirmed a case of robbery with aggravating circumstances and that two murder dockets had been opened by the Umhlali police.
Nishen’s brother-in-law, Rajen Keso, said the couple had been married for 22 years and lived about 10km from the supermarket.
Nishen was a sugar cane and litchi farmer, a cook, transport operator and played in a music band, he said.
“They were just innocent people who were going to work to make an honest living. They were prominent people in the society of Isenembe. Nishen came from a family of educators and principals, and Maureen was originally from Shallcross,” he said.
Keso said burglaries and robberies were rife in the area, but they did not usually involve shootings.
He said the couple’s children were both studying. Mikhar was in Grade 12 and Neerav was pursuing maritime studies.
Segran Govender, a director at the Saverite Supermarket, said they had been in business for about 18 months and the pension payouts had started about six months ago.
Govender said Maureen had been hired by the supermarket about two months ago .
“We need to get all the people who have witnessed for counselling. It’s a really sad loss for us, knowing that innocent people have died like this.
“We can’t take anything for granted, we should be more cautious, everybody should be more cautious in the community. This senseless killing is not called for,” he said.
A fruit vendor outside the supermarket said she feared for her life and would no longer sell there.
She said she had never experienced anything like it, and said many more people could have died if there had been traffic on the highway as people had fled across it to the plantations to escape the gunfire.
A pensioner said she would now have to travel to oThongathi and pay R20 a trip for her pension.
She usually walked to the supermarket with other women, a journey of a few kilometres. She was one of many elderly people who had to dash across the busy road and into the plantations after the first shot was fired.
The woman said the ordeal had lasted about five minutes.
There were unconfirmed claims that the suspects were wearing police-issue bulletproof vests and reflector vests during the robbery.
Zwane said the police were aware of that information and were investigating the claims.
A teary-eyed Reddy said he was too distraught to speak.