Durban - FOUR robbers died in a shootout with police in Westville on Thursday night and an innocent bystander is in critical condition in hospital after being hit in the forehead by a stray bullet.
Ben Njoko, 59, a businessman from Matatiele was caught in the crossfire at 8pm while filling up at the Sasol garage at the intersection of Harry Gwala and Booth roads.
Njoko’s son-in-law, Anele Neltasa, 36, and 4-year-old granddaughter were waiting for him at the garage.
He was going to spend the night with them at their Hillary home where his daughter Thandeka, 34, was waiting. Neltasa said he had got out of the car with his daughter to greet Njoko.
“As we were walking towards him we heard gunshots. I saw my father-in-law fall to the ground and there was blood.”
Neltasa said he ran back to his car with his daughter and hid until the shooting stopped. They escaped unscathed. Njoko is fighting for his life in hospital.
A few kilometres away, the four robbers were shot dead on the Harry Gwala (Spine) Road off-ramp, near the Pavilion shopping centre.
The robbers started their crime spree at a shop in South Coast Road where they stole airtime and cigarettes. They were making their getaway when police arrived and a shootout ensued.
Police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said the robbers fled in a white Peugeot 307.
Police pursued the car through Vus Mzimele (Bellair) Road towards Cato Manor and then Westville.
The men began shooting at police when they were forced onto the N3. The driver lost control and crashed into a barrier in Spine Road.
Two robbers got out and exchanged fire with police. They died in the bushes a few metres apart next to the freeway.
A third man fled over the N3 freeway and onto the Durban-bound lane where he fell to the ground and died. Police are uncertain if he died from bullet wounds or if he was hit by a car.
A fourth man was found in the back seat of the getaway car, slumped on his side with an AK-47 in his hand and a packet containing cartons of cigarettes nearby.
Two pistols, two revolvers and an AK-47 rifle were also recovered.
Police believe the suspects may have been behind a spate of armed robberies in the city.
Njoko was on a business trip to Durban from Matatiele, a close friend of his, Gugu Zwane, said last night. She said she had helped him with directions, driving ahead of him from the Durban CBD to the petrol station.
“I drove up to the petrol pump and ordered fuel. Njoko stopped in front of me and jumped out. He came to my side window and pointed to his son-in-law’s car. He said he was safe and would follow them home. He told me ‘thank you for everything’,” Zwane said.
“The next thing a car drove past and men inside began shooting out of the window.”
She said a Peugeot was being followed by a police car and when she heard gunfire most of the people at the garage went down on the ground. “The Peugeot did a U-turn and came back past us and gunfire went off, until the car sped off towards Chesterville. At first I did not kneel down until I saw Njoko go down,” Zwane said.
“I jumped (out of) my car and went down on the floor. I asked Njoko if he was fine. I noticed a pool of blood forming on the floor.
“He had a big hole in his forehead.”
Zwane’s screams alerted others and somebody called for an ambulance.