May 29, 2011

SOUTH AFRICA: "It was them or my family"

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DURBAN / Sunday Tribune / May 29, 2011

The 55-year-old building contractor chainsmoked as he paced the lounge floor of his daughter and son-in-law’s home in Winklespruit, marking out the events that led to the fatal shooting of a robber in the early hours of Tuesday.

“When I entered the house it was dark and completely silent; even the five dogs were missing. I thought my grandson and his parents were dead. My heart turned to stone,” he said.

Father and daughter hold hands as they recount their terrifying ordeal last week.

The traumatised man, who asked that his identity be withheld until the final member of a four-man armed gang who raided the property is apprehended, said the country was in “a state of siege” – families needed to barricade themselves in their homes and make sure they had the means to protect themselves.

“I am consumed by anger at what happened. I am not a violent man, but I do not feel a shred of remorse for shooting him,” he said. “It was either them or my family.”

The night before, the family’s home had been filled with laughter and conversation as the man’s daughter celebrated her birthday with their extended family. When her parents left for their home in nearby Amanzimtoti, she went to bed, allowing her seven-year-old son to sleep with her as a special treat. Her husband watched television, before turning in himself in the early hours.

“At around 2.30am the dogs started barking aggressively,” her husband said. “I got up to check on them, and three men were squeezing into the kitchen past a faulty burglar guard.” Unknown to him, there was a fourth man standing lookout in the garden.

Screaming, to wake his wife to call for help, he picked up the nearest possible weapon – his son’s hockey stick, and flailed at the intruders until it broke. One of the men pulled out a knife, and another said: “Move again and we’ll shoot you.”

In the bedroom, his wife had managed to phone her parents, “They’re in the house,” she screamed.

Her father sprang into action, taking his .38 special from the safe, then covering the distance between the two homes in minutes. CCPO and Blue Security company officers were already at the scene and followed close on his heels as he activated the gate’s remote control and inched around the building to the kitchen.

“I left my bakkie’s lights on, because the house was in complete darkness,” he recalled. “I got in through the sliding door to the kitchen, and took the safety catch off the gun, praying that the kids were not already dead.”

He called out: “This is the police. Come out or I will shoot.” Two men emerged from a room, pushing his son-in-law before them as a shield. He repeated the command, as the taller of the two angled a knife blade into his captive’s neck.

“Then he threw himself towards me, slashing with the blade. I aimed low and fired, knowing it would not be a fatal shot,” the man said. “He stumbled and I fired again, then he got behind the couch and a second man attacked me.”

The grandfather fired at his assailant, hitting him in the throat, but still the attack continued. “The first man reared up when I prodded him with my boot, and grabbed the gun with both hands.”

At that point his daughter emerged from the bedroom, where her son was cowering under blankets, and threw a battery-operated stun gun to her husband. He shocked the man clinging to his father-in-law’s back until he fled – back the way he had come in. He was apprehended a short while later by security guards – along with a third man spotted hobbling along a nearby bridge with a bullet wound to his foot.

Speaking of her ordeal, and her father’s bravery, the woman said:

“I told my son to keep his eyes shut tight, and pretend he was sleeping, and I piled blankets and pillows over him. I had the Taser in my hand under the blanket while one of the men shone a torch on our faces. He would not have got to my child unless he killed me first.”

“I am just so grateful I had the privilege of being able to save the people I love,” the grandfather said. “We all need to do whatever it takes to keep our families secure. If our homes have to become fortresses, then it’s a small price to pay.”

He praised the community watch body, the security company that had provided backup, and the SAPS for going the extra mile in the aftermath of his family’s crisis.

“The police could not have been more professional, or more caring,” he said.

George Snodey of the Amanzimtoti CCPO, had recently warned people living in the area to be extra-vigilant.

“If you see suspicious-looking people on foot or in a vehicle, contact the SAPS and security as soon as possible.”
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