‘You can’t buy bread, and you may get shot’

By Leanne Jansen Time of article published Oct 8, 2012

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Durban - Two policemen were shot dead in Durban over a weekend in which ordinary citizens came under fire in a shopping centre, on the streets and in a takeaway restaurant.

On Sunday, an off-duty policeman was killed in KwaMashu, close to the area where a councillor was abducted and murdered on Friday.

News of his killing came as people from Pinetown and New Germany gathered outside a New Germany Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet to lay flowers and bid farewell to Detective Constable Ajith Krishinlall, who died after being hit several times in a shoot-out with robbers on Friday night.

His colleague, Detective Constable Jerome Ngoma was critically injured in the same robbery.

At 7am on Sunday, customers and staff in the Sunningdale Centre Spar in the northern suburbs escaped with their lives when 15 men stormed the shop with pistols and AK47s. They emptied the tills and robbed people of their wallets and cellphones. A shoot-out ensued and, it is understood that a Blue Security guard was injured, although this could not be officially confirmed.

Dianne Kohler Barnard, DA police spokeswoman who was at the KFC gathering for the dead officer, described the city as “the wild west”.

“You can’t go to buy a loaf of bread, and you might get shot. Then the minister (Nathi Mthwethwa) wants to tell me crime has gone down…” she said.

A frustrated senior policeman, formerly of the Pinetown area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said “our hands are being tied behind our backs”.

“On the one hand, the public says we’re not providing a service. On the other, we’re accused of brutality,” he said.

What has incensed the Pinetown and New Germany communities is that a third policeman, who also responded to the KFC robbery and who shot dead a robber, was subsequently charged with murder by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

The directorate were also accused of hijacking the crime scene and contaminating evidence, allegations which spokesman Moses Dlamini categorically rejected.

“It is a known fact that the directorate has upset a lot of policemen by arresting members of the infamous Cato Manor unit and that some of their friends and supporters will go out of their way to tarnish the name of the Ipid and its investigators,” Dlamini said.

He said the officer had not been arrested and was not to appear in court, but that the directorate had registered a murder docket, as was routine, when a person died as a result of police action.

But Jacques Stephen, a reservist who addressed the emotionally charged KFC gathering, said: “The SAPS are expected to love and hug [criminals] because they’ve got rights… there are members who have lost the fight, who get charged and prosecuted. The police are taken off the streets for doing their jobs.”

Kohler Barnard, whose son Peter, 24, was hijacked outside their home a week ago, said: “If you hold a gun to someone’s head, any cop… has the right to take you out.”

Krishinlall’s family was suffering the same devastation as “many other families, whose relatives had died in the line of duty. “These are the people who put themselves between you and a bullet,” she said.

“If I find that [the Ipid] destroyed forensic evidence, I will not let this matter drop, I assure you.”

The crowd released white balloons into the afternoon sky for the dead policeman.

The daughter of a policeman clutched a placard which read: “Is our dad next?”

No arrests have been made for the KFC killing, but a case of business robbery, murder and attempted murder is being pursued, SAPS spokesman Thulani Zwane said.

Another SAPS spokesman Jay Naicker, said the fatal shooting of the off-duty officer outside KwaMashu Hostel couldn’t be linked to tensions between members of the IFP and NFP.

The policeman, who was in civilian clothes, was on his way to a friend when he was shot repeatedly at 3pm.

No arrests had yet been made in that murder either.

In the Spar hold-up, witnesses said the robbers had herded them into the receiving bay when Blue Security arrived. The robbers then fired shots through the store’s windows at the guard.

Spar owner Garth Slater, said one customer was hit on the head and was taken to hospital, but was treated and released.

He said support from the Sunningdale community had been “amazing”. Twenty minutes after the incident police reservists, volunteers and a crisis team arrived to assist staff.

The Mercury, with additional reporting by Bongani Hans, Wendy Jasson da Costa and Andile Dube.

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