Pietermaritzburg - “This is like Marikana all over again”.
This was the sentiment of striking Willowton Logistics employees who watched four of their colleagues being shot in cold blood by unknown gunmen in Mountain Rise during the early hours of Monday morning.
Two men, identified as May Mofokeng, 45, and Alfred Malinga, 32, were shot dead and two others, Themba Mvelase, 50, and Christian Masisi, 45, sustained critical injuries from gunshot wounds when an unknown number of gunmen attacked eight men sleeping in their vehicles on a field near the Mountain Rise police station.
The men, who would not disclose their names for fear of victimisation, are part of a group of about 20 truck drivers who have been protesting outside Willowton Logistics offices on Ohrtmann Road for the past month.
The eight men live in other parts of the province and come into Pietermaritzburg on Sunday evenings, remaining in the city during the week and sleeping in bakkies at the field after concluding their protest action during the day.
Instead of returning home on Friday last week, as they had done every weekend for the past month, the men said they did not have enough money to make the journey back and decided to remain at the field.
According to four of the men who witnessed the shooting, they were awoken just before 01:00 by the “cracking” of gunshots.
The gunmen had made their way to the first of three bakkies parked together, where three men were sleeping in the back under a canopy. The gunmen allegedly opened the canopy door and shot at the three men while they were asleep, killing one instantly.
A second man from the same vehicle died shortly afterwards.
One of the gunmen then approached the second vehicle and shot through the driver’s window at a man who was asleep on the passenger seat.
He sustained a gunshot wound to the arm.
“I heard a gunshot and then the cries of the guy in front screaming that I need to take him to the hospital,” said a man who was sleeping on the back seat behind the wounded passenger.
“I jumped from the back seat into the front seat and sped off to the police station to report what was going on.”
According to the man, the police only responded 15 minutes later.
The men in the third vehicle were unaffected by the shooting as the gunmen fled after the second vehicle took off towards the police station, which is less than 20 metres away from the site of the incident.
“We slept near the station because we thought it would be safe,” one man said.
“This was definitely an organised hit.”
The men said they would have to find alternate accommodation as they are fearful of returning to the field.
According to ER24 spokesperson Paul Knoesen, when paramedics arrived, they found one man dead and three others critically injured.
Paramedics tried to resuscitate one of the men when he stopped breathing, but he was declared dead.
“The other two men were rushed to Grey’s Hospital and Northdale Hospital for further treatment,” Knoesen said.
Willowton Group director Shoaib Moosa on Monday said the Labour Court had declared the strike unprotected and illegal.
“If the workers do not return to work, they could potentially face dismissal. We are saddened at what has happened and we feel for our drivers, regardless of the situation,” Moosa said.
According to Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Mthokozisi Ngobese, officers including the Tracing Task Team attended the crime scene.
“Police officers combed the crime scenes for hours to gain as much evidence as possible, to assist in the investigation of the crime. The motive for the murder is unknown. However, investigations into the case will soon reveal why the deceased were shot,” Ngobese said.
Pietermaritzburg cluster commander Major-General Lucas Ngobeni appealed to the community to come forward with information that would result in the gunmen being apprehended.
Anyone with information should contact Captain Pipes Haffajjee at 079 500 0264, or Detective Warrant Officer Nzuza at 072 516 8907.
Last month, The Witness reported that a labour dispute that turned nasty between Willowton Logistics and 24 of its 200 drivers may have resulted in the deaths of three people on June 23.
The three died and a fourth was critically injured when two trucks collided on the N3 near the Lions River turnoff.
Circumstantial evidence from the accident suggested that a large “concrete block” was thrown onto a Willowton truck as it drove under the Lions River bridge, causing the driver to lose control and crash into a Honeydew truck.
At the time of the incident, Willowton Group director Shoaib Moosa alleged the drivers on strike were responsible for the incident.
The drivers denied the allegations the next day.
The dispute centres on the drivers wanting their own union, which they said the company would not recognise.
At the time, Moosa said the company would not recognise the union as Willowton Logistics belonged to the Transport Bargaining Council, which regulated the working conditions and salaries of employees.