From packing up a house renovation to hiding it from flying bullets in a garbage can, last Monday afternoon took a dramatic turn for a Johannesburg construction worker when police and a group of suspected robbers deadly shooting in the Rosettenville neighborhood of Johannesburg.
The construction worker’s small stature served him well as he was desperately trying to find shelter when gunshots exploded late Monday around him. His attempt to jump into a 90-gallon container was initially unsuccessful, but he told The Vanir-exodus how he managed to escape the gunfights by strapping on a second container.
“I decided to lay the box flat on the floor and pulled another one up to cover my exposed part. I lay still and silently prayed to God to save my life,” the 25-year-old explained Tuesday.
He spent the better part of an hour there praying as police and the group of robbery suspects exchanged shots, killing eight suspects and one police officer.
As he lay hidden in the bins, laden, his colleagues believed he had died in the crossfire, and one of his colleagues who took him to the site was concerned about how he would tell his family.
“He was wearing blue dungarees and a black top, so when I looked around after the shooting had stopped, I saw someone in the same clothes lying dead on the floor. I was sure it was him. A moment later I saw him slowly emerge from one of the rooms and I have never been so happy…”.
The painter from Mpumalanga, who also declined to be named, says that moments after the shooting began, they saw men climbing the wall, wearing overalls and pretending to be part of the work crew.
He said there was a loud banging on their steel gate when the police yelled for them to open the gate.
“I opened the gate and was told to put my hands on my hands as several police officers stormed in and opened fire. I was taken to the police vehicle and locked up when the gunfight ensued,” the worker said.
Bank robbery foiled
The man explained that he and four colleagues were finishing the ceiling painting of the house they were renovating when suddenly the quiet Monday afternoon was filled with the roar of a low-flying police helicopter.
A volley of automatic rifle fire erupted from the back of the house opposite theirs, and what unfolded next is evidenced by pools of drying blood and a piece of what appeared to be human flesh on newly laid tiles left behind Tuesday.
According to neighbors, the house under renovation was the second of three scenes when some of the robbers climbed the walls of the perimeter fence to adjacent gardens to escape while firing at the police but were cornered and killed.
The shooting apparently started when a multidisciplinary team led by the National CIT (Cash-In-Transit) Task Team in Moffatview, south of Johannesburg, intercepted information that at least 25 suspects were on their way to hit a cash truck.
The suspects reportedly opened fire on the police helicopter, injuring an Airborne Law Enforcement Officer (ALEO), and police responded with fire from above and on the ground.
By the time the smoke had settled, at least eight suspects had been shot and ten suspects had been arrested – two of them under police guard at the hospital.
On Tuesday, the house they stood in was covered in blood from the freshly painted white ceiling, with the front door where one of the suspects appears to have been shot riddled with bullet holes.
There were apparently so many shots fired that crime scene technicians hadn’t collected all the used stun grenades and R1 shells still visible at the front door on Tuesday afternoon.
House with a reputation
The house in which police killed the eight suspects is apparently a known hiding place for criminals and police have previously failed to respond to information, according to neighbors.
The current owner of the house, a Nigerian The Vanir-exodus, moved in around 2017 and made changes to the house, including adding rooms in the backyard and dividing the main house for rental.
“He also built a high wall around the property and our main concern was the kind of people occupying the property,” said community leader Agnes Skosana.
She said they marched to the house two years ago with the intention of kicking the residents out and setting the property on fire.
Skosana said they were warned on the way to the property that they would be killed while residents were armed to the teeth and waiting. She said the area was overrun by criminal elements and that is why most of the people left.
Skosana claims that the police have information about the house since late 2017, but have done nothing, as the situation could not have reached this deadly point.
“It’s just a miracle that no one got caught in the crossfire as this is actually a busy area, with a school across the road and a daycare center down the road. If the police could respond quickly to information, it would not come to that. We are not xenophobic but scared and concerned The Vanir-exoduss,” she said.
Police said at least 20 of the 25 suspects were Zimbabweans and among the 10 arrested was a Botswana national, believed to have masterminded several attacks on money trucks.
A former janitor, who declined to be named, said he warned the property’s owner about taking in criminals, especially drug dealers, but he wouldn’t listen.
“I told him to be careful about people he rents out rooms to and that some of them were dealing drugs, but the numbers kept growing, so I moved. I was at work when I saw the property on the news and told myself it was a long time coming,” he said.
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