durban - A Sydenham policeman was shot in the face with an AK-47 after he and his partner were flagged down at the scene of a house robbery on Tuesday.
While two women on the property - a domestic worker and a tenant - managed to give the robbers the slip after putting up a fight, Warrant Officer Promise Hitler, of Sydenham SAPS, was caught unawares as the fleeing gang came out of the Clare Estate house with guns blazing.
Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said the tenant had flagged down the passing police patrol van and told officers her landlord’s Spencer Road home was being robbed.
“Two men came out of the house and shot at the police. The policeman was wounded and taken to hospital,” Zwane said.
The 40-year-old tenant, who gave only her first name, Susan, said she had been hanging out washing in the backyard when she heard footsteps.
A man appeared and placed a gun to her head, she said.
He grabbed her, demanding she hand over the keys to her landlord’s house.
Susan said she managed to slip out of her T-shirt, throw it on to the robber’s head and bolt up the driveway. She saw the patrol van through the gate and screamed for help.
Before the shooting, the second robber had entered the quarters shared by Susan and the 30-year-old domestic worker, identified only as Happiness. The robber had barged into Happiness’s room where she was ironing clothes and demanded the keys to the main house.
“He asked me for the keys to my boss’s house and who was inside. I mustered up the strength, pushed him out and shut the door in his face. He slammed the door with his gun and it opened,” she said.
“He grabbed me by the wrist. I gave him a set of keys and broke free of his hold. I ran into the backyard, down an embankment and into my neighbour’s property.”
Happiness suffered cuts to her hand and feet.
Susan said she had activated the automatic driveway gate and stepped on to the verge after it opened. That was when she heard gunfire.
“I heard a loud explosion and I took cover behind a car. I ran to alert the neighbours.”
She had scratches on her hand and bruises on her knee.
Hitler was a passenger in the police van. His partner, the driver, did not want to be named.
They had stopped outside the driveway of the house when a man stepped out from behind a neighbour’s wall and opened fire with an AK-47.
Several bullets struck the van and one went through the windscreen and struck Hitler on his right cheekbone. His partner took him to hospital.
The bullets also struck a light pole and left gaping holes in the fencing and walls of houses three properties away.
Bradley Hludi, a spokesman for Hitler’s family, asked the media to give the policeman some privacy while he recovered.
Zwane confirmed this morning that Hitler was in a stable condition.
Police believe the firearm used in the shooting was an AK-47, but this can only be confirmed once ballistic tests on the shells have been completed.
Two weeks ago a policewoman, Constable Zethu Cele, was shot dead near Warwick Triangle with an AK-47.
And last week, bullets from an AK-47 struck the windows and the house of Rosemary Nicholas, 69, in Sydenham.
In Clare Estate on Tuesday, Leeyen Reddy said when he arrived at home he saw bullet shells on his neighbour’s driveway.
The street and driveway had yellow circles marking the spots where shells were found and where bullets had struck.
“Thank God my mother, who is 76, was visiting a neighbour at the time,” he said. “I do not think we will sleep well after tonight.”
Satish Dhupelia, spokesman for Sydenham Community Police Forum, said the life of a police officer was fraught with danger. The community appreciated the risks they took when responding to a crime, he said.
Dhupelia called on police to intensify vehicle stop-and-search operations to root out criminals.
The DA’s spokeswoman on policing matters, MP Dianne Kohler Barnard, blamed the attack on illegal firearm trade in the country.
“No civilian may legally buy an AK-47. Was he (Hitler) shot by an SAPS weapon, one sent in for destruction or was it stolen from our defence force? Thousands of SAPS firearms are on the streets in the hands of criminals,” she said.
“It costs the SAPS millions in tax money to replace them.”
Provincial police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni, said police units dealing with serious crimes were on alert after the shooting.
“We warn these criminals that we will not give up. We will track them down.
“Police will defend themselves if criminals shoot at them.”
Zwane said Sydenham SAPS were investigating a case of attempted murder.
The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union said it was concerned about the recent spate of violent crimes targeting police in the country. Spokeswoman, Theto Mahlakoana, called for more community involvement.
Last week, the union called for the provincial SAPS management to urgently convene a summit on police killings.