No arrests have been made after three South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers allegedly opened fire on a marked police vehicle and that of a tracking company.
According to provincial spokesperson Colonel Leonard Hlati, detectives from Mbuzini are investigating three SANDF soldiers who allegedly “ambushed” a marked police vehicle and that of a tracking company following the hijacking near the Mozambican border at around 22:30 last Wednesday, Lowvelder reported.
The incident came after a vehicle was reported stolen in Tonga, Mpumalanga that night. The vehicle was fitted with a tracking device and the managing company, Cartrack, located the abandoned vehicle a few hundred metres from the border.
Tonga police were then notified of the recovery and invited to the scene where the abandoned vehicle had been left. An SANDF commander was then notified that the abandoned vehicle would be returned.
“Soldiers are patrolling the border and we wanted to warn them that we would be returning to the scene, so that they would not open fire on us,” a source who was at the scene, said.
With the Cartrack vehicle travelling in the front, followed by the marked police vehicle, the party approached the hijacked vehicle. “We had our emergency lights and sirens on,” the source added. However, the recovery party was still fired upon.
The occupants of both vehicles saw it was SANDF soldiers patrolling the fence who were shooting at them.
They shouted and called on the radio for the soldiers to cease fire, but to no avail. The soldiers kept on firing at the convoy. The police vehicle’s engine was hit and it eventually seized.
One witness described the incident as an “ambush” and added that the shots fired were not warning shots, but aimed to kill.
The SANDF soldiers accused of firing the shots claimed to have thought the approaching convoy to be hijackers, despite the notification from police.
SANDF spokesperson Colonel Piet Paxton, confirmed the incident and said a panel of inquiry had been requested.
“As far as we know, five shots were fired, believed to be from one firearm.
“One soldier could not account for five bullets and it seemed as though five shots were fired at the convoy. The panel of inquiry will investigate the circumstances around the shooting, as well as which disciplinary steps would have to be followed,” He said.
Paxton added that it was almost impossible for the major on duty to notify troops in the field of the police’s arrival, thus the troops had been unaware.