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Johannesburg - Two Chinese women are in critical condition in hospital after robbers poured petrol over them and set them alight in Mahikeng on Sunday.
A Chinese grocer stood helplessly and cried as he watched robbers douse his sister and sister-in-law with petrol and set them on fire.
As the two women screamed and cried, the robbers went around the grocery shop and poured more petrol, razing it to the ground.
One of the women was so badly burnt that she had to be transferred immediately to Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.
The grocer, his employees and some customers escaped from the burning shop unscathed.
The police arrived at the scene and found the 40-year-old grocery store owner inconsolable.
Police said the shop-owner was so traumatised, he could hardly speak.
The attack follows on the heels of an attack last week by a group of gun-wielding bogus cops on two businessmen at Bruma Lake, Joburg, raising suspicions that xenophobia was involved.
Cope MPL Ndzipho Kalipa said the group of “policemen” had held up the Pakistani businessmen before.
One man died and another was being treated for gunshot wounds at a Bedfordview hospital.
At 8.30am on Sunday, five men driving a white Jeep Cherokee are believed to have arrived at Carrot King, a fruit and vegetable store in Mahikeng.
Police said the five men were armed and one of them was carrying a container of petrol.
Once inside the store, the men allegedly told everyone to lie down and then robbed them of their belongings.
Two of them accompanied the owner upstairs to the office, where they ordered him to open the safe, while the others remained downstairs.
There was nothing inside the safe – the money had been taken to the bank the previous day.
The men went downstairs and started taking money from the tills, and made off with about R1 000.
It is not known what triggered them to set alight the owner’s 45-year-old sister and 47-year-old sister-in-law.
“This happened in full view of the owner, the employees and the customers. From there they doused the shop. It was totally razed to the ground,” said Sergeant Kelebogile Moilwa of the North West police.
A family friend, who asked not to be named, said the critically injured pair were taken to Mafikeng provincial hospital, where they were stabilised before being transferred to Klerksdorp-Tshepong Hospital.
“Cases of business robbery and arson have been opened. Others will follow later,” Moilwa said.
The DA caucus leader in the Mahikeng municipality, councillor Jacqueline Theologo, hoped that the people responsible for the attack would be brought to justice.
“Crime not only damages the fibres of the community but also the economic confidence in Mahikeng and South Africa as a whole,” Theologo said.
Professor Rudolph Zinn, a professor in policing and forensic investigations at Unisa, said the continuous use of excessive violence in robberies was something that continued to leave many South African researchers baffled.
Zinn said while many prisoners he has interviewed had stated that they usually resorted to violence to force their victims to comply during robberies, what happened in this case was concerning as it was extreme torture and violence.
He also said alcohol and drugs could not be blamed as most prisoners had said that when they went to commit a crime, they preferred to be sober so that they didn’t do anything that might result in them leaving evidence behind.
“They say… that it is very important to do that in such a short period of time so as not to get caught. However, that still does not explain the type of violence accompanying this crime.”