MEC nearly shot at airport

2009-08-31 09:30

Bloemfontein - The Western Cape's minister of agriculture and rural development, Gerrit van Rensburg, and a man from Kimberley narrowly missed being shot in a dramatic shootout at Bloemfontein airport over the weekend.

Visitors who landed at the airport on a flight from Cape Town at about 14:00 on Saturday found themselves in the middle of a wild shooting match between the police and a suspect.

The incident, and the police's handling thereof, has raised serious concerns about the refurbished airport's ability to ensure the safety of visitors.

Not only were Van Rensburg and Ronsard Allen from Kimberly nearly shot by the police, but the manner in which the police "cruelly assaulted" the wounded suspect, has evoked serious criticism.

Car window shattered by bullet

Van Rensburg was sitting in his rented Mercedes-Benz C180 in front of the airport building, when the passenger side window was shattered by a bullet.

If someone had been sitting next to him, they would most certainly have been hit.

"I just sat still and prayed that nothing would hit me," he said.

Joyene Isaacs, head of the Western Cape's department of agriculture, was one of the witnesses, as well as guests who attended the National Female Farmer of the Year award ceremony in Bloemfontein.

The drama unfolded right before the eyes of JP Roodt, senior partner at Marcus Brewster Publicity in Cape Town, and the company's freelance photographer, Fazlur Phillips, who were responsible for the award ceremony's public relations.

"You always hear about the brutality of the police, but here it happened right before our eyes," said a shocked Roodt.

Man ran across runway

Shortly after flight 1093 from Cape Town had landed, a man jumped over the airport fence and ran across the runway.

Free State police spokesperson Rulene Kühn said the airport's security officials arrested the man and took him to the police station at the airport.

"The suspect became violent outside the station. The police officers sprayed him with pepper spray."

Kühn said the man produced a broken bottle neck. In a struggle between police officers and the suspect, one of their firearms fell to the ground.

The suspect picked up the firearm and fired several shots at the police. They then returned fire.

"I heard the shots fired and then the window at the passenger side of my rental car was shattered by a bullet, while I was sitting in the driver's seat," Van Rensburg said.

He said he usually travels with a driver and a bodyguard, but had decided not to make use of them on that particular weekend. He decided to rent a car and drive it himself.

Police pounced on suspect

He was standing next to the rental cars in front of the building when he saw the man running ahead of the police and heard the shots.

"About 30m further, the man lay down on the ground and the police pounced on him."

Allen, who was sitting in a bakkie in front of the airport building, also heard the shots.

"I got out of the bakkie to run away. Right at that moment, a bullet hit the bakkie. In that moment I saw my life flashing before my eyes."

He also saw how the suspect dropped his firearm and lay down.

"I couldn't see if he had been shot, but I saw how several police officers pounced on him and assaulted him."

Photos erased

Roodt said the manner in which the police officers assaulted the man, left him speechless. He is also upset because the police forced Phillips to erase the photos he had taken.

According to Kühn, the suspect was wounded in the left arm and right shoulder. He is being held in a hospital under heavy police guard.

According to an informant, the suspect was not quite in his right mind.