Tongaat couple shot dead in robbery by men clad in police uniform

2014-04-02 00:00

A HUSBAND and wife were gunned down by armed men clad in police gear as they tried to escape a pension cash heist.

The double murder has angered residents, with this being the second armed robbery in just two days in the Tongaat area.

The five men, wearing police bullet- proof vests and wielding AK47 rifles, unleashed a torrent of gunfire at the couple making a rapid escape in their vehicle while nearly 100 pensioners stood nearby. They then demanded the store owner hand over the pension funds estimated to be R300 000 before making a getaway. The entire robbery took less than five minutes.

The drama unfolded around 7.30 am yesterday when Nishen Maharaj was dropping off his wife, Maureen, a manager at Saverite Mayitapele on Noodsberg Road (R614), an area known as Upper Tongaat. The owner of the store, Selvan Reddy, had also just arrived. They had not even opened the store.

As the Maharajs drove into the store premises, they had witnessed the robbery talking place. The security guard manning the gate had let the robbers in thinking they were police officers.

Nishen immediately tried to escape but as they drove away the men started shooting at his bakkie, instantly killing his wife with a head wound and fatally injuring him.

About a kilometre down the road, Nishen lost control of the vehicle and drove into a banana plantation. He phoned the private security firm Reaction Unit and informed them of the robbery and the need for medical attention. He died an hour later shortly after paramedics arrived.

By noon the police recovered the suspects’ car — a white Toyota RunX that had been stolen recently in the Berea — at Cottonfields, Verulam.

Reaction Unit spokesperson Prem Balram said witnesses had told them the men had uniforms with police insignia, although the police could not confirm this. “We used our helicopter to do an extensive search for the suspects but could not find them,” said Balram.

The Reaction Unit Facebook page was awash with anger after the double murder. Sharlene Padayachee said the “death penalty needs to be reinstated”.

“That’s the only way to get rid of these heartless creatures who call themselves humans.”

Salona Govender said the crime rate in Verulam and Tongaat is getting out of control.

Aneeta Arjun said the deceased couple were “pious people and did not deserve to die like this”.

“RIP Nishen and Maureen. Jai Raam, Shri Raam, Jai Jai Raam Om. The bastards that did this must be found and dealt with,” said Arjun.

According to Umhlali SAPS media liaison Captain Percy Buthelezi, the supermarket was a regular pension pay-out spot.

“There were five suspects. They started shooting first and then asked for money. One employee managed to escape into the nearby sugarcane fields. Nearby, at a pedestrian entrance that was still closed, about 100 pensioners were in a queue. When the shooting started they dived for cover. The spent cartridges will be sent for ballistic testing and the car will be checked for fingerprints.”

Reddy closed the shop for the remainder of the day while police searched for clues. His friend, Sagren Govender, said the entire shooting had shocked everyone. “The suspects just started shooting indiscriminately. The Maharajs had children. We are uncertain if any funeral arrangements have been made at this point,” said Govender.

KZN MEC for Safety and Security Willies Mchunu said he was “sickened” by the double murder and the “reckless deeds of heartless criminals”.

“We call upon all peace-loving people to work with the police to ensure that those responsible for this are brought to book immediately,” said Mchunu.

This is the second armed robbery in two days in the Tongaat area. On Monday a betting hall in the centre of Tongaat and next door to the police station was held up by four armed men. The men used the tote’s patrons as human shields as they tried to escape.

The police killed one suspect and arrested another three.

Also yesterday the Tongaat SAPS reported two home invasions in La Mercy. The suspects had been driving a Mercedes-Benz Kompressor. They robbed the homes of electronic equipment.

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