Police truck hijacking result of alleged hit on inmate
Durban - A prisoner who hid under the seat during the hijacking of a police truck on Wednesday morning was the main target because he had a fallout with his accomplice accused of murder.
He said the conflict had started while in custody at the New Prison in Pietermaritzburg.
The truck ferrying 45 prisoners to the magistrate court was hijacked near Fort Napier.
The 31-year-old man whose name cannot be published for fear of being killed told the Sunday Tribune on Saturday that five armed men with rifles shouted his name after breaking the door lock.
He said he had to cover himself with a hat from another prisoner before hiding behind the seat. He alleged his co-accused in a murder case fled with his heavily armed friends. He said the accused name was Ntsuntsu Mkhize.
“We had a tiff over something unrelated. I am grateful to be still alive. We were friends before we were arrested. His friends stormed the truck and shouted for my name and he followed them,” he said.
During an interview at the prison five other prisoners confirmed that he was the main target and had he exposed himself he would have been killed.
The prisoners who remained in the truck and those who handed themselves to court officials about a kilometre away from the scene said they deserved to be given a second chance after they did not flee with others during the commotion.
Amar Sharma, 51, who had a robbery charge against him said he felt that it was wrong to flee. He confessed that he was a drug addict and has been jailed before for theft, housebreaking and fraud. He said it was like watching a gangster movie hijacking a van transporting cash. He said what scared them to death was when the assailants, carrying R5 rifles, started shouting for another accused while pointing guns at them.
"I am sure they wanted to finish him off. I was scared but thought to myself if I dared to escape I could be sentenced to three years for trying to run away. It was no use because one day I would get caught. But I decided to remain in the truck with few others. I also thought of my family" said Shama.
He said the two policemen were also taken aback by the incident.
Another prisoner Mandla Mncwabe, 42, from Henley Dam said he handed himself over to court officials after realizing that his violation of a protection order case against his ex-girlfriend was nothing compared to what could befall him had he escaped.
He said a commotion had begun when the truck hit a dead stop shaking them violently inside. Mncwabe said the door was forcefully opened.
“I walked to the magistrate court and when I got there I placed my hands above the head as a sign that I was not armed or anything,” said Mncwabe.
A Lesotho national facing a murder charge, Peyiso Mayisa, said he could not dare run away because Lesotho is far.
“I tried to warn others not to escape because it was against the law,” he said.
Another 20-year-old man who also faced a murder charge said he ran to the court because he did not want police to cause a scene at his home when they go look for him.
“I am proud that my conscience got the better of me otherwise I would be in trouble. I am an honest man who happened to be in jail because of circumstances,” he said.
A 39-year-old prisoner facing two murder charges and an attempted murder said he tried to stop his co-accused from fleeing but his advice fell on deaf ears. He said he thought about his one year old son and decided it was a bad idea to escape.
He pleaded with authorities to show them kindness by allowing the prisoners who did not escape to be released on bail.
“We have proven that we have no intention to escape. Wherever my co accused is hiding he is feeling guilty and soon we will meet in the dock,” he said.
KwaZulu-Natal Department of Correctional service spokesperson Thulani Mdluli said the prisoners attending court trials were escorted by the police.
“We are only responsible for those who have been sentenced,” said Mdluli.
The South African Policing Union (Sapu) provincial secretary Nurse Mdletshe blamed the police system for the incident.
She said the police system had been weakened to sacrifice the lives of their members.
“These are our members who were traumatised and facing investigation when the system let them down. They are court orderlies who were outnumbered by criminals,” said Mdletshe.
KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker said 30 out of the 45 awaiting trial prisoners were back in custody. He said they were still tracking the movements of the remaining 15 prisoners who were still on the run.
He said the Provincial Commissioner, Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi has ordered that the incident be investigated criminally and internally.
“Both investigations will run independently and it will not be fair for us to pre-empt the outcome of these investigations. We are also investigating who was behind the ambush on the prisoner transport vehicle as we are convinced that they intended to liberate certain prisoners that were in the vehicle and others took advantage of the situation that was created by the assailants,” said Naicker.