A side order of terror

2013-03-21 00:00

IT’S a moment of terror some people in Ballito will never forget.

A video clip shot from the floor of a restaurant in the upmarket coastal town on Tuesday night shows patrons cowering under tables as a volley of shots just outside shatters the peace.

A voice in the background can be heard on the telephone imploring police to “hurry” as a battle between taxi associations engulfs the middle-class enclave.

For a few hours, the small town situated north of Durban was under siege.

Shop owners and customers locked themselves in restaurants, supermarkets and clothing shops at Ballito Junction and Lifestyle shopping centres, the two malls in the area that are separated by Main Road, where the violence exploded.

Two taxi drivers were injured during the battle, which had hordes of police scurrying to the area.

Twitter feeds told of the drama in real time, as police reinforcements were dispatched to quell the violence.

The kiddies’ play area at John Dory’s, the popular restaurant chain, is opposite the Ballito taxi rank where the gun battle took place.

Terry Hall, a Ballito resident who was at the Lifestyle shopping centre when the shooting occurred, described the scene as a “war zone”.

“I was going to the Woolworths when a taxi came reversing down with no lights on. The taxi driver fell out and fell down to the ground.

“Everyone started running in the chaos, downhill towards the Spur and to John Dory’s.

“After that I heard a further two shots and then I saw a man bleeding. It was like a war zone. Our business shops are around the taxi rank and we can’t go anywhere. It was mayhem, people were petrified.

“I heard kids asking their mothers what was going on, and all they could say to them was that it was fire crackers,” said Hall.

Colonel Vincent Mdunge said Umhlali police station was investigating two cases of attempted murder. Mdunge said the shooters fled before police arrived.

“The motive of the attack is unknown at this stage and no arrest has been made. The police are monitoring the situation,” he said.

Ben Magubane, Enforce head of security at Lifestyle shopping centre, said there was tension between two taxi associations.

The Witness knows the names of the taxi associations, but was unable to reach either. Both associations are believed to be fighting over a route that transports workers from Ballito to Tongaat.

Magubane said the tension had been building up for five years.

“People are not safe here. They need to close down this taxi rank.

“They must turn the area into a stop-and-go and introduce buses as an alternative for commuters.”

Magubane said a colleague of his, who was off duty yesterday, had to duck bullets and save two children who were trapped in a car.

Their mother was unable to reach them in the crossfire and he braved the barrage of bullets whizzing past him as he dived to get the children out of the car and to safety.

Pierre van Tonder, chief executive of the JSE-listed Spur Corporation, which owns the John Dory’s franchise, said: “Members of staff and patrons are obviously extremely traumatised by this event and will hopefully heal in the course of time.”

Theresa Mariayia, centre manager at Ballito Junction shopping centre, said people ran frantically towards the mall during the incident and found refuge in stores.

The shops closed their doors and offered refreshments to the terrified people.

Oliver Nadasan, an employee at Bargain Books at the mall who saw the incident, said there was a white Land Rover driving at full speed during the shooting.

“I have never seen a car drive that fast. It just pulled up, shots were fired and it started speeding off along the main road. Everyone was just running away,” he said.

The Department of Transport said in a statement that leaders of both associations met yesterday to resolve the crisis

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