SLAIN: Thato Mhaula

Johannesburg - The owner of a spaza shop where a four-year-old boy was shot and killed during a robbery has told how he heard a child crying, followed by a gunshot and complete silence. Moments later he heard a customer shout: “They’re gone, they’re gone”. It was when he got up that he saw a child lying on the floor. He was not moving and blood was coming from his head.

The robbers had shot Thato Mhaula as they left the shop. Although the little boy clung to life for five days, he succumbed to his injuries two days ago. He would have turned four on June 30. Pakistani national Sahle Debesai said it was around 6pm on June 13 when two men entered his tuckshop, Sunshine Supermarket, on Coalbrook Road in South Hills, Joburg. He said they started looking around.

“I thought they wanted to buy something but moments later three others came in. They ordered everyone to lie down. One of the men opened the burglar door and came to where I was sitting, next to the till. He pointed a gun at me and ordered me to sit on the chair. He later said I should lie on the floor,” Debesai said.

“I could not tell what they were saying because most of the time they were speaking in what I later found out was isiZulu. They took money, many packets of cigarettes, body lotion, canned food and other items. As they were about to leave, a little boy who was in the company of two other young children came in. I heard the boy cry and then there was a gunshot. I was still lying on the floor, and after the robbers ran out of the shop, one of the customers said they were gone.

"We all got up and realised that the baby had been shot in the head. We tried first aid, and then we stopped a car that was passing by and asked that we should take him to hospital,” he said. Debesai said he was traumatised by the incident and that his heart went out to Thato's family. “There was no need for them to shoot the little boy. He was just an innocent child.”

Thato's father Sifiso Mtshali said the family were struggling to come to terms with his death. Thato had been on life support in hospital. The Star understands that all Thato wanted was a packet of chips when he entered the store. “From the day he was shot, there was no progress with his condition. We were told that when the bullet hit his head, it damaged his brain and went out on the other side,” a distraught Mtshali said.

He said Thato's older brother who witnessed the shooting had not yet been informed of his death. Moffat View police spokesperson Captain Jeff Phora said they initially opened a case of attempted murder and business robbery, but now that the boy had died, a case of murder would be investigated.

He said the robbers fled in a black Audi A4 and were still at large. He appealed to the community to assist with information. Less than 700 metres away from Sunshine Supermarket is another store owned by foreign nationals. Mohamed Khan told The Star that Athena Supermarket and Takeaway on Estantia Road was robbed twice in less than a month.

“The latest incident happened on Sunday afternoon. A young boy with a knife came and took flour and instant soft porridge. Last month, a group of about seven armed men robbed us of cash and cigarettes. They fired shots in the air and took off. I reported both incidents to the police but no one has come to us for further investigations. I know we are foreign nationals; what should we do when we are robbed?” Khan said.

Phora said the police management would follow up on Khan's claims and action would be taken against any officers found to have failed to carry out their duties.

The Star