‘It was an inside job’: The 7 school robbers ‘knew exactly where to go’

2019-01-17 16:42

Two patrollers who were on duty on the night of the robbery at Menzi Primary School have told police that seven perpetrators were involved in the incident. The school’s administrator believes that it was an inside job, because the men knew exactly where the valuable equipment was stored.

The newly built Langaville “smart school” was the pride of the community, and had recently been kitted out by the Gauteng education department.

The men said they were overpowered while they were patrolling the grounds on Tuesday evening. Their arms were bound with shoelaces and they were locked in a strongroom while the school was looted.

The school, which was previously run from a derelict structure, was now worth more than R100 million and catered for about 1400 students and 50 staff members. It was officially opened by Gauteng education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi, and Gauteng Premier David Makhura on January 9.

According to Lesufi, the main administration block and IT offices, where tablets were charged,were targeted.

“Equipment was stolen, including 185 learner tablets, eight teacher laptops, two data projectors, 3 desktop computers and petty cash of less than R500,” he said.

Spokesperson for the Ekurhuleni SAPS East Cluster Captain Johannes Ramphora told City Press that they believed seven suspects were involved.

Menzi Primary School principal, Ndumiso Mnguni said he was disappointed by the robbery at his school Picture: Palesa Dlamini

“A case of robbery was opened by the department [Gauteng department of education] and an investigation is still ongoing. The two patrollers who were on duty told us that they were initially tied up by two armed men in balaclavas who were later joined by five other perpetrators. According to the patrollers they were then locked in one of the strong rooms in the admin building as the men went on to rob the school,” he said.

The school’s administrator, Bongani Dyibana, said that both the burglar gate and main door into the administration block were damaged.

“After the admin block was broken into, the perpetrators broke into my office where I usually have valuables like computers which I put into the strongroom at the end of each working day. That was where they were taken from,” he said.

Evidence of forceful entry was visible on the doors including the key hole of the strongroom where the computers and keys to other areas of the school were stored.

“The key for the strongroom no longer works because of the damage that was done to the door when they vandalised it to unlock it,” said Dyibana.

“I think whoever did this was an expert because I don’t think anyone could just attempt to unlock this door without some knowledge or information about the door itself or how to do it.”

The stolen computers contained information on all students and staff members of the school.

Thanjekwayo added that she believed those involved in the robbery were possibly closely linked to the state-of-the-art, paperless school.

Dyibana said that the school was equipped with about 16 cameras but all the footage from the surveillance cameras was no longer available.

“One of the other things that was taken was the hard drive of the digital video recorder which had all the recorded footage from the cameras around the school. So we don’t have the footage. It seems like these people knew exactly which rooms to go into to find what they were looking for. They specifically broke into rooms that had valuables,” he said.

Chairperson of the school governing body, Lizzie Thanjekwayo, said that the manner in which the announcement about the new equipment the school received was made could have led to it being targeted.

“The new technology was a step in the right direction for the school. But as soon as the announcement was made, people probably had their eye on it [equipment]. It seems as if we take 10 steps forward as a country, only to take 20 steps back,” she said.

Thanjekwayo added that she believed those involved in the robbery were possibly closely linked to the state-of-the-art, paperless school.

“This was definitely an inside job. I cannot point fingers because I obviously don’t know what exactly happened or how, but I can say that, from my perspective, it was an inside job. The way the robbery was carried out so quietly makes me believe that someone who was involved, was linked to the school,” she said.

During a visit to the school on Wednesday, City Press saw police officers questioning the two patrollers and security guard who were on duty. Two other men were also interrogated.

The security guard, who was wearing handcuffs, told police that he had been solicited by an elderly man to help him carry out the robbery.

The elderly man, who was fingered as the kingpin of the operation, denied any involvement.

Police officers said that the three men’s stories did not make sense.

Ndumiso Mnguni, principal at the primary school, said that teaching was continuing.

School administrator Bongani Dyibana showing how the strong room lock was vandalised and is no longer functional Picture: Palesa Dlamini

“In terms of teaching and learning it’s business as usual, but in terms of the investigation and replenishing of the stolen goods, the process is still ongoing,”he said.

Spokesperson for the Gauteng department of education, Steve Mabona, said that the department had not made a decision whether the stolen goods would be replaced if they were not recovered.

The spokesperson explained that his department could not comment on the investigation thus far but were hoping for the best.

Mnguni urged community members to keep an eye out for any information and to also use old-school methods like literal whistle-blowing to warn each other about suspicious behaviour.

Lesufi officially opened another “smart school”, Centurion Primary School, on Wednesday. Mabona said the department would work hand in hand with the community to prevent a repeat of what happened at Menzi Primary School.

“We appeal to the community to assist in safeguard schools and report any criminalities,” he said.

Lesufi will visit Menzi Primary School to meet with parents and the community later on Thursday to provide an update on developments.

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September 15 2019