By Graeme Hosken and Carien du Plessis
"The police left us to die. They shot us, stopped for seconds and then just drove off."
These were the harrowing words of SA Air Force pilot Captain Simon Mathibela, who, along with three friends, survived a bloody attack by police that left a Pretoria woman dead.
Olga Kekana was shot through the head when she, Mathibela, her childhood friend Sofie Kgagara and Andrew Singo were mistaken by police for hijackers during the early hours of Sunday morning.
Yesterday, as details emerged of the circumstances of the police shooting, President Jacob Zuma's spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, said the president was "obviously disturbed" after police fatally shot an innocent woman mistaken for a hijacker.
"But it would not be accurate to attribute what happened to what the president has said," he added.
Asked whether Zuma's tough stance on crime could lead to police acting recklessly, Magwenya said it could not. "The president was very clear in his pronouncement that police can only act when under attack."
He was referring to Zuma's recent meeting with about 1 000 police station commanders, where he voiced his support for changes to the law that would give police officers more leeway in using firepower when confronted by armed criminals.
Recalling the incident, Mathibela said he and Singo, who had met Kekana 20 minutes earlier, when they picked her up from her Stinkwater home along with Kgagara, were driving through Mabopane when they were attacked.
Police from the Soshanguve Dog Unit, Rietgat police station and Pretoria Flying Squad were on the lookout for a grey Toyota Conquest that had been hijacked between Rosslyn and Ga-Rankuwa the previous evening.
Unbeknown to the four, as they drove in Mathibela's grey Toyota Conquest, the police were after them. Within seconds of two police vehicles flashing their emergency lights at the four, at least 13 gunshots were fired. It is believed that eight policemen opened fire with their R-5s and 9mm pistols, riddling Mathibela's car with 13 bullet holes.
At least one of the three shots fired through the car's back window and right-back passenger window struck Kekana, killing her almost instantly.
Two bullets ripped into Singo's thigh and left hand, while one tore through Kgagara's back and chest.
Despite Singo putting on the vehicle's emergency hazard lights and Mathibela stopping his car and waving his military identity document to stop the attack, the police allegedly continued firing.
It is believed they stopped firing only when they realised that the vehicle registration did not match that of the hijacked vehicle and that two of the occupants were women.
In a twist of fate, the hijacked vehicle was found abandoned about 500m away.
Singo, speaking from his Dr George Mukhari Hospital bed, said that within moments of realising they had made a mistake, the police in the two vehicles who had shot at them drove off.
"They didn't even stop to help. They just left us. They could see that Olga was dying. They could see blood everywhere. They could see that we were not the people they were looking for," said Mathibela.
Mathibela said they did not know "what the hell was happening".
"Within seconds of seeing the blue lights, bullets were ripping into us. The warning shot, which was definitely meant to kill, was the shot that killed Olga.
"There was no high-speed chase. There were no sirens. They didn't give us time to stop. They just shot, and when they realised we were the wrong people, they left us," Mathibela said.
He said the only police who stopped were some of the officers from the Flying Squad, who had been close behind the policemen who shot them.
"When they reached us, they asked us who we were, if we were okay and what had happened. When they realised we were the wrong people, they kept on saying sorry.
"The police action is disgusting. They have not even gone to our families to say sorry," he said.
Describing how Kekana had died, Singo, who was sitting next to her, said that as she turned around to see what was happening, she was shot in the head.
"She just fell over. I could hear her dying, but I couldn't do anything," Singo said.
Acting National Police Commissioner Magda Stander declined to comment, "as we might jeopardise the investigation".
Independent Complaints Directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini confirmed they were investigating allegations that some of the policemen had driven off moments after the shooting.
"We are looking into a number of other allegations and are questioning witnesses, including the police involved. We have confiscated eight firearms and sent them for ballistic testing to clarify exactly what happened," he said.
"Death through police action or while in police custody is a serious case, and if the policemen are found to have used excessive force, we will make recommendations to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions for them to be charged and tried in court."