Armed robbers jailed for deadly N2 shoot-out
Durban - A high noon chase and a shoot-out between a fleeing gang of five robbers and the police on the N2 Freeway north-bound, near Nandi Drive, had motorists ducking for cover on August 4, 2017.
The gang rammed the VW Golf 6, driven by police, off the road, but their Mercedes Benz also veered out of control and came to rest on the middle of the road, near where the policemen’s vehicle landed on the adjacent carriageway.
The gun battle continued on the roadside.
When the action eventually ended, only two gang members, Sihle Zulu, 24 and Ayanda Thabethe, 29 survived.
Both men were arrested and, last week they were handed lengthy prison sentences at the Durban Regional Court.
They collectively received sentences totalling more than 110 years for an array of charges against them from Magistrate Nanette Otto.
However, Otto ordered some of the sentences to run concurrently, which left the pair with 16 years each of actual jail time.
The charges included three counts of murder, attempted murder, reckless driving, driving a stolen vehicle, possessing housebreaking implements and possessing prohibited firearms and live ammunition.
The bodies of two gang members, guns, ammunition and bag with a bolt cutter, crowbar, screwdriver and other implements were found in the car.
Zulu was the driver of the vehicle. He was arrested while attempting to get away from the crashed Mercedes by warrant officer Donovan Naidoo of the SAPS’ National Intervention Unit (NIU).
Thabethe and another gang member were in a shoot-out with Naidoo before taking cover in the bushes.
They were both arrested, with the other gang member succumbing to his injuries on the roadside.
State prosecutor Surekha Marimuthu said the trial of Zulu and Thabethe was lengthy (3 years and 8 months) due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the unavailability of the accused at times.
Naidoo was a key witness for Marimuthu.
He told the court he received information from the Hawks and their Crime Intelligence division about armed robbery suspects, in a white Mercedes, with plans to rob an Engen garage, off Nandi Drive.
Naidoo teamed up with warrant officers Yogendran (Megan) Munsamy (NIU) and Viresh Panday of the Hawks.
While patrolling they spotted the Mercedes passing the Engen garage and pursued the vehicle as it fitted the description they received.
When the gang ignored a red traffic light, Naidoo said they upped their pace and drew closer.
“They shot at us when we came alongside them on the N2 and we returned fire, mindful of other motorists,” said Naidoo.
As the driver of the Mercedes changed his grip on the steering wheel, Naidoo realised they were going to be “swiped” off the road.
Both vehicles collided and careered through the metal barrier, towards the south-bound carriageway.
The VW landed on the south-bound fast-lane and was hit head-on by a SUV, the impact caused it to spin.
Mindful of the gang, Naidoo realised he needed to exit the vehicle. Panday was unconscious and Munsamy was disorientated. They did not respond when he called out to them.
He jumped from the moving vehicle and had a dizzy feeling as he got to his feet.
But his survival instincts kicked in when he saw Thabethe and another gang member exiting their vehicle, and one of them shouted “Shiya (attack), Shiya”.
“With my R5 rifle no longer slung over my shoulder, I drew my pistol.”
Naidoo instinctively moved towards the VW to shield his two badly injured partners and returned fire at Thabethe and the other gang member, causing them to flee.
As Zulu attempted to get out of vehicle, Naidoo apprehended him and kept an eye on the other two as they hobbled into the bushes, hampered by their respective injuries.
While Munsamy and Panday were taken to hospital for further treatment, Naidoo, who was bleeding from his head and other injuries, refused to leave.
He waited until the SAPS dog unit arrived, about 90 minutes later, and assisted with tracking Thabethe and the other gang member.
For his heroics, Naidoo received a bravery award from the SAPS.
The jaws of life was used to free the female driver of the SUV that crashed head-on into the VW.
Ahead of sentencing, Marimuthu told the court that the accused acted in common purpose, three lives were lost, Panday sustained severe concussion, and Munsami required facial reconstruction surgery, which included the insertion of metal plate.
The incident left Munsami with poor eyesight and Naidoo continues to be plagued by migraine headaches.
She also said the freeway was closed for several hours, innocent people were stuck in traffic, and the Mercedes was stolen in a prior armed robbery.
Therefore, sentencing must be a deterrent for like-minded people.
Otto told Zulu that the crimes he committed were “very serious”.
The action was well planned by first stealing the Mercedes, possessing the implements and a police radio so that the gang would be on top of things when they hit petrol stations.
If they received any resistance they were prepared to shoot their way out.
When addressing Thabethe she said when he saw some of his friends dead, he tried to shoot at the police as he ran into the bush.
“The injuries you sustained was due to your own actions and you were still accommodated in hospital at the expense of taxpayers.”
The legal representatives of Zulu and Thabethe indicated they required leave to appeal Otto’s judgement and sentencing.