KwaZulu-Natal police officers on Friday had their hands full attempting to apprehend three alleged carjackers and intervene in a shoot-out between rival taxi drivers in Pietermaritzburg while Police Minister Bheki Cele was in the province strategising.
In the safety of the KwaZulu-Natal SAPS provincial office, Cele and directorate for priority crime investigation judge, Frans Kgomo, presided over the swearing-in of new Hawks head Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya.
The swearing in was followed by a media briefing at which Cele assured South Africans that crime will be reduced with the help of all crime-fighting agencies.
“South Africans soon will be safe as we are going forward. We are putting all our minds together to ensure that we fulfil our mandate to prevent, combat and investigate crime.
"We want to give our utmost assurance that the gigantic footsteps of the [police] will be felt from all corners of this country,” News24 quoted Cele as saying.
Just a few kilometres away, in Avoca, a township in Durban, a shoot-out between alleged hijackers and officials from the SAPS was ensuing, only to be followed by another shoot-out between rival taxi drivers a few hours later at a taxi rank in Pietermaritzburg.
The hijacking, which resulted in a fatal shoot-out in Avoca, took place on Thursday afternoon when three men robbed a tuck-shop.
As they were fleeing, they attempted to hijack a vehicle.
The suspects allegedly shot and killed the driver of that vehicle, Kelly Chetty, in front of his children.
They left this vehicle and went on to hijack another vehicle that was in close proximity.
The three assailants fled the scene of the crime in the stolen vehicle.
Corporate communication and liaison officer, Brigadier Jay Naicker, said “police who were tracking the movements of the suspects the whole night spotted the vehicle at the KwaMashu Hostel”.
According to Naicker, the suspects attempted to flee and crashed their vehicle into a house.
There was an exchange of gunfire between police and the armed robbers at the scene and two of the suspects were fatally wounded in the gun battle.
“The third suspect (31) managed to flee the scene during the shoot-out. He was arrested at the Poly Clinic in KwaMashu where he sought treatment for gunshot wounds sustained during the shoot-out.
"He was taken to a local hospital for treatment and remains under police guard until his court appearance,” said Naicker.
As that storm was clearing, yet another one ensued, News24 reported that commuters and pedestrians were caught in the middle of a shoot-out between rival taxi drivers that broke out in a Pietermaritzburg taxi rank.
In videos circulated on social media after the incident, several rounds of gunfire can be heard and people are seen ducking and diving for cover as taxi drivers fire numerous shots at each other.
An official at the KwaZulu-Natal police media centre, who requested to remain anonymous, said they were aware of the shoot-out at the taxi rank however they had not received any information regarding any fatalities.
Acting provincial commissioner, Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, who visited the Avoca scene on Friday morning, commended members of the eThekwini inner north trio crimes task team and crime intelligence officers for working throughout the night to track the perpetrators.
“Your dedication and commitment to protecting and serving the community must be commended. Please remember to always take extra precautions when approaching criminals as they will always shoot first.
“We cannot afford lose dedicated and hardworking police officers in these shoot-outs,” Mkhwanazi said in a media statement.
Cele has pulled out all the stops in an attempt at quelling the spike in crime that has met his administration since taking office from former Police Minister Fikile Mbalula earlier this year.
Lebeya’s appointment as head of the Hawks has been welcomed, with Cabinet approving his nomination.
Lebeya has had a stellar career, with 30 years’ experience, but has also had challenging times as he was engaged in a long legal battle with former national police commissioner Riah Phiyega after she tried to dismiss him in March 2014 following the former heading an internal investigation into alleged maladministration in the crime intelligence division under Phiyega.
Lebeya is also a former candidate for the Public Protector position – he was pipped to the post by Thuli Madonsela.
His appointment follows a period of turbulence in the Hawks who under former head Berning Ntlemeza were involved in an ugly public spat with then finance minister Pravin Gordhan and have been in recent times been accused of dragging their feet on corruption cases, especially those involving state capture.