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Pensioner Khethi Chiya thought she’d seen it all at the ripe old age of 80, until she went to collect her pension and found herself dodging bullets amid a deadly gun battle.
Chiya was at Ntuzuma A Hall, where heavily armed men killed two security guards and a 60-year-old woman in a botched cash heist last week.
During the gun battle, which lasted about 15 minutes, Fidelity security guard Bongani Ngcongo was shot in the head at close range. His colleague, Siphiwe Ngcamu, was shot in the chest.
Chiya’s partially sighted cousin, Phumaphi Zondi, 60, was also shot dead before seven of the men fled without taking any money.
A 37-year-old man believed to be a serial robber was arrested after being apprehended by citizens.
As the dust settled last week, residents of Ntuzuma and Lindelani were still reeling from the incident, which has shattered the lives of three families and left a number of pensioners wounded.
Recounting the shooting, Chiya said she had been queuing with her cousin and her mentally disabled son, Siyabonga.
“I will never forget what I saw. My cousin and I had been standing in the queue. We went to buy sweets and the next thing we heard was the sound of bullets. People were running in different directions.
“My cousin ran to a house next door. I tried to follow, but I tripped and fell.
“The bullets were flying everywhere, going past my feet and on to the pavement. I looked for her and couldn’t find her. And when I did, I saw that she had been shot. I sat down and cried,” said the grand-mother, fighting back tears.
Speaking from the family home, Zondi’s brother-in-law, Siphiwe Zondi, said the affair was baffling.
“I heard the money had not even arrived when the shooting started. I’m not a criminal, but I’d think that if you were stealing something you’d wait until you could be sure it was there.
“It’s sad to think that if they hadn’t gone to buy sweets, they wouldn’t have been shot.”
Ngcamu’s sister, Mamsie, described him as a hard-working man who had struggled to find a job until three years ago. The father of three was also studying through Unisa to become a social worker.
“He was a great help in the household, contributing financially. He was a real father figure. Now that he’s gone, we don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said.
Mamsie said she had heard from Fidelity Guard employees that the incident had been a hit on Ngcamu, who was known to be a crackshot.
Ngcamu allegedly shot and killed a feared armed robbery gang leader during a robbery in Chatsworth, though Fidelity has denied that claim.
Duduzile Mkhize, a community activist in Lindelani and Ntuzuma, said of the attackers, “I wonder if these children we have spawned will receive a blessing. We are raped, tortured. We thought this country was liberated; we didn’t think we were going to get murdered.
“I wish doomsday would come and take away these children. We voted for this government not knowing we’re going back to Egypt. The young people are jumping on us, doing as they please.
“We want to tell the mayor of eThekwini that, as elderly people, we don’t feel safe at the pension payout.”
Police said no money was taken from the scene, but the security guards were robbed of three shotguns and three LM4 rifles.
Police recovered a Toyota Corolla that had been stolen in Umbilo.
South African Social Security Agency spokesman Vusi Mahaye said the incident had prompted them to look at other ways to enhance security.
The chief executive of Fidelity Security Group, Wahl Bartmann, sent his condolences to families of the deceased, saying they would receive the necessary support.
Responding to allegations that the shooting had been a hit, Bartmann said, “These men were performing guard duties. If it was a hit, it could have happened anywhere. I’d regard that as just a rumour.”
Bartmann said: “It’s a dangerous job, you know. And we do what we can to protect out employees. We give them semi-automatic rifles, bullet-proof vests and armoured vehicles.
“Our training is among the best in South Africa.
“We also have an investigative arm, which is able to pick up on incidents before they happen and works in conjunction with the SAPS.
“This was a tragic incident. We are following up all leads and hope to make arrests soon.” - Sunday Tribune