Durban - Seven armed robbers held up the Wentworth Spar, south of Durban, in a brazen daylight attack on Monday, then, with their loot in a plastic crate, hailed a loaded minibus taxi and, at gunpoint, directed the driver to help them escape.
About 30 staff and a handful of customers were in the shop during the robbery about 8.20am. The robbers made off with about R200 000.
Several staff and one of the shop’s owners, John Stavrinou, were beaten and pistolwhipped by the men.
A woman who works in the deli said two men came to the counter with a packet of rolls in their shopping basket.
“I asked if I could help them, but they both pulled out guns and told me to sit down and not look at them.”
As she went down, she saw another two men beating a colleague and dragging him upstairs towards the manager’s office.
Another worker said she was upstairs when she heard screams.
“I glanced downstairs and when I saw the armed men coming up, I dashed into the manager’s office, but before I knew it they were behind me. They pointed guns at me and one guy slapped me twice and I fell down,”
She heard them telling Stavrinou to show them where the money was kept.
Stavrinou, who had a bloody eye and red marks on his neck, said he lay on the floor while the robbers emptied the safe.
“They loaded coins and banknotes into a crate which had contained milk bottles,” he said.
Stavrinou said a similar incident happened two years ago, but that time the robbers did not get away with any money.
A security guard who patrols the centre where Spar is a tenant said he missed the men when they entered and saw them only when they came out.
“I ran to press the panic button. They saw me then and escaped through the back gate,” he said.
“I suspect their (getaway) taxi was waiting for them in the front and when they used the back gate, the driver didn’t know where they were,” the guard said.
He said the men’s faces were not disguised.
It was then, at the back, that the men stopped a passing taxi with passengers inside.
The taxi’s conductor, Sebastian Young, said they saw the men signing for town but did not realise they had guns.
“They jumped into the taxi, two of them holding the crate full of coins and banknotes. The crate was covered with see-through plastic and we immediately suspected something was wrong,” he said.
Young said the man who was in front took his gun out and pointed it at the driver.
“He said: ‘You better be fast and listen to whatever instruction I pass on to you,’ and he told him to speed up and go straight down the road leading towards the city.
“We already had passengers in the taxi. All of them screamed and hid under the seats and others prayed. I didn’t know what to do. I was in shock, just as they were.”
Young said another taxi, which was believed to have been stolen, drove alongside at high speed and the men instructed the driver to stop. They jumped out and got into the other taxi.
“While we were trying to look at the taxi’s registration, it sped off so quickly that we only got ND 507… we could not get the rest of the numbers,” he said.
“It was a white Sesifikile Quantum, with ‘Ndabazabantu’ printed in front.”
When The Mercury visited the scene on Monday the police had cordoned off the shop’s entrance.
The taxi was parked outside the shop, as police were still taking statements from the driver and his conductor.
One worker had an injured ankle and was admitted to the nearby Wentworth Hospital, her colleagues said.
Four hours later, the other taxi was recovered at Glebelands Hostel, uMlazi.