The heroes of the forecourt

2014-02-19 00:00

PETROL attendants are in the firing line in a spate of service station robberies — and many are heroically fighting back.

Despite earning just R19 per hour and watching their tips vanish — due to the increasing use of credit cards and the petrol price boom — pump jockeys have confronted fraudsters and chased crooks in a series of recent service station crimes around Durban.

On Friday, attendants at the Brookdale Shell garage in Phoenix — who were also beaten and robbed last year — had to scramble for cover when nine robbers fired pistols and an AK47 in the forecourt.

The “split” for these nine robbers was just R300 cash each, and a share of Cadbury’s chocolate bars, Clorets breath mints, and cigarettes.

On February 6, attendants at the BP service station in Kloof were herded into a back room by another armed gang, who then engaged in a massive gunfight with a policeman on the premises.

And, earlier that week, the entire forecourt staff at the Total Gateway 1 garage in Umhlanga charged after yet another armed gang — and at least two kept chasing even after robbers fired at them.

Meanwhile, last year, another Umhlanga petrol jockey earned police praise for bringing down a criminal in a flying rugby tackle that his boss described as “better than the Sharks”.

Yesterday, Alan Clarke, manager of the Total station, said staff members Zuko Evans and Vusi Chimele chased the group of three robbers almost 300 metres, and helped police apprehend one of them on the M4 highway.

“These guys have great pride in the place where they work, and they just weren’t going to put up with being robbed,” said Clarke.

A former policeman, Clarke said South African service stations were unique in the world in offering trusted safe havens for citizens — and that he often noticed motorists stopping in the forecourt when they feared they were being followed.

Evans told The Witness he was pleased to have played a role in thwarting the robbery, in which at least one suspect has been arrested.

Tyron Powell, managing director of Marshall Security, which provides security for some Durban petrol stations said,

“There was a spate of robberies at service stations a few years ago; it died down, but now they seem to be targeted again.”

He said he believed the same armed gang that robbed Brookdale garage then stormed the Top of the Rock supermarket in Effingham on Saturday night — also spraying gunfire in the air to cover their escape.

Ismail Mansoor, manager of Brookdale, said CCTV footage captured the Friday night robbery — and errors in media reports about it.

“There were no customers in the shop while it was being robbed; there was no [phone] airtime taken; the robbery took place at 9.41 pm — not 8.30 pm — and was over in four minutes.

“The getaway car was a Peugeot 207, not a Golf 5; and we have no evidence that no shots were fired at the security officer,” said Mansoor.

He said one man patrolled the forecourt with an AK47 while six accomplices raided the shop of sweets and less than R3 000 in cash, while two get-away drivers waited in their cars.

Mansoor said, that despite two armed robberies within 11 months, he would not consider hiring an armed security officer.

“Service stations can’t take the risk of escalating these situations by having an armed guard.”

Having to pay for security from their own budgets, some service stations have resorted to creative strategies to ward off robbers.

The Shell garage in Umhlanga now offers free coffee to SAPS and Metro police, and invites policemen to use their limited parking bays when visiting the hospital nearby.

Manager Colin Bower said, “We want it clear that police are welcome here, and crooks are not”.

It was one of Bower’s forecourt staff, Mzo Peter, who tackled a fleeing fraudster last year.

Peter had helped set up a police sting on the fraudster after he noticed a cloning device attached to the bank ATM at the station and reported it. Plainclothes policemen came to the site to see if the crook would return to collect his device.

Bower said that while Peter was changing a flat tyre for a motorist, the fraudster fled from the police — so Peter raced off and tackled the man.

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