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Durban - An off-duty policeman who surprised robbers when he drew his service pistol in a packed uMlazi taxi, is fighting for his life after he and another commuter were shot.
As his gun jammed, one of the shots fired at the policeman grazed the conductor’s head before hitting the policeman in the stomach. Another passenger was shot in the head.
The two victims of Sunday’s shooting are in a critical condition at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital.
The policeman’s pistol apparently jammed as he tried to stop one of the robbers, according to taxi driver, Siyabonga Mazele, 29.
He said taxis were being targeted by criminals who robbed drivers of their takings and passengers of their valuables, and it appeared the policeman wanted to put an end to it.
Mazele said he heard the officer say, “You robbers usually do as you please, but not today”, before drawing his pistol which he pointed at one of the robbers. He pulled the trigger twice but nothing happened. The robber then opened fire.
The incident took place on Mazele’s Durban-uMlazi route when he picked up passengers from another taxi. The two robbers were part of the group, he said.
“The taxi was full and the conductor was standing because there was no place to sit,” Mazele said.
He said he stopped at a bus stop in V-Section, uMlazi, when he heard a passenger behind him sounding annoyed. “I heard one of the passengers saying, ‘Get off of me’ because it appeared that a drunken man on board was leaning on him,” he said.
The supposedly irate passenger moved and sat next to him.
“A few moments later when I stopped the taxi to allow a passenger to get off, I felt a cold, hard object being pushed against my ribs and heard, ‘Leth’ imali, sfebe’ (give me the money, bitch),” he said.
Mazele said he heard the other robber shouting at the passengers to hand over their valuables.
During the commotion, the policeman, who was seated two rows behind the driver, intervened.
Taxi conductor, Lindokuhle Zulu, 29, whose head was grazed by a bullet during the shooting, said the robber who was shoving him back into the taxi saw the policeman pointing a gun in his direction and fired.
“The bullet scratched me on my head because I was falling at the door and it hit him (the policeman) in the stomach,” Zulu said.
He said he heard three shots being fired. “The one hit the police officer, the other hit another passenger in the head and another hit the roof.”
The driver and conductor agreed that things could have been worse for the policeman had he not taken action, because the robbers would have searched the passengers. “If the robbers had found a gun on him they would probably have killed him,” Zulu said.
After the shooting, the robbers fled with about R1 600 in takings from the driver.
Mazele then sped to the uMlazi police station to report the matter, after which he took the injured pair to hospital.
uMlazi policeman, Warrant Officer Solomon Mbele, said a case of attempted murder had been opened.
The owner of the taxi, Leonard Ngubane, said he was not surprised by the robbery and shooting, saying this had become the norm in uMlazi.
“We are being targeted, this is the fifth time this has happened,” he said. “My drivers do not feel safe anymore.”
Mzamani Mthiyane, the chairman of the Myandu Taxi Owners Association, said they were aware of such crimes, which were more common during the festive season.
“However, we are going to put measures in place that will make sure that this comes to an end.”
Mthiyane suggested that an increased police presence would help stop such crimes.
“We are also looking into somehow installing metal detectors in our taxis to prevent having passengers with guns from boarding because they are a danger to everyone around them,” he said.
The KZN chairman of the South African National Taxi Council, Boy Zondi, said passengers needed to be aware of their surroundings.
“Passengers also need to look out for the taxi driver because he does not see what is happening. However, this is the first time I have heard about passengers being robbed,” said Zondi. “We usually have drivers being hijacked and that’s why in some areas they don’t work late.”