Pretoria - The escape of two accused from the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court, during which two shots were fired, injuring a policeman and a court orderly on Tuesday, was the first of its kind at the court.
Pretoria chief magistrate Desmond Nair said it could well be the last as an urgent meeting would be convened on Wednesday to discuss the incident and security measures at the court.
“The meeting will discuss the incident in detail and focus on an action plan of evacuation and safety of staff during incidents of this nature.”
Nair said shots had not been fired before while the magistrate was in court.
The incident was shocking, he said.
“I can confirm that an orderly was grazed by a bullet and a police officer shot in the jaw. Both were taken to hospital.”
The police officer had gone to testify against the two men, who were appearing on charges of house robbery and possession of unlicensed firearms. Nair said the magistrate, whose name was being withheld for safety reasons, had not seen the shooting.
However, on hearing shots in Court 7, on the third floor, he turned around and saw the two men running away. He stood up and walked out.
Nair said he was glad staff had maintained their composure during evacuation.
Attorney Mpho Nefuri, who was in Court 7 for another case, described the events as scary. He said two shots were fired and he saw blood on the head of the police officer.
“At first I thought he had been shot in the head,” she said.
By 11am, staff were standing in front of the court building, near the intersection of Francis Baard and Sophie De Bruyn streets in the city centre. They spoke of the shock of hearing shots in the building.
Others jokingly said they needed counselling and should be sent home, as they had been after the 5.5 earthquake that struck the region last month.
Security officers manning the entrance to the building prevented people from entering. Entry was allowed only after crime scene experts had secured the affected area.
Vusi Pongola pleaded with them to allow him to get to his terrified wife, who was still in the building.
His requests fell on deaf ears. His wife was eventually able to leave after the scene had been secured.
The two men had come out of the holding cells and surprised all by storming into the courtroom with firearms and shooting, said provincial police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Khensani Magoai.
There were two versions of how the gun made its way into the building. Insiders pointed to security scanners that were not working, while others said a firearm had been seized from an orderly who went to fetch the men from the holding cells.
Nair said the two men were in the holding cells and could not have walked in through the front door.
Magoai said that both possibilities would be investigated by the police.
Police have since identified the men as Nchabele Mahlatse and Lucky Segopo. On leaving the court building, they hijacked a police Ford Ikon on Francis Baard Street and sped away. The car was found abandoned in Atteridgeville, where the fleeing pair hijacked a red Volkswagen Polo.
Magoai said that when caught, they would be charged with attempted murder, illegal possession of a firearm and hijacking.
Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko said the incident highlighted the worrying trend of attacks on the police.
His department was looking at the protection of those working at and visiting police stations and courts.