IN a dramatic twist, the trial of two men accused of robbing the KwaDwesi branch of Absa two years ago was stopped yesterday after the presiding judge asked whether members of the Police’s Tactical Response Team (TRT) should not be warned against incriminating themselves.
The TRT members were giving evidence about a wild shootout that led to the death of five other suspects in the heist.
Advocate Johan van der Spuy pointed out earlier in the trial that the TRT, led by Constable Mfundo Tola, fired hundreds of rounds of ammunition into the alleged getaway vehicle, killing all five occupants.
Tola yesterday admitted that when the shootout started they only suspected that it might have been the right vehicle.
Van der Spuy also said one of the men killed in the shooting was unarmed, while two others still had their firearms holstered. Another was found outside the bakkie with his firearm a few metres away.
The court heard that ballistics experts would testify that the eight members of the TRT fired "hundreds of shots” at the bakkie. In some cases members ran out of ammunition after using all 60 of the R5 rounds signed out to them and continued firing at the robbers with their pistols.
Crime scene pictures showed the bullet-ridden, blood-stained bakkie with both the front and back windows shattered.
"We shot up the bakkie like that,” Tola, who was also the driver, told the court.
He was giving evidence in the trial of Mpumelelo Lennox Mkize, 57, of New Brighton, and Mazizi Mbatyoti, 36, of Kwazakhele. Both have pleaded not guilty to a charge of robbery with aggravating circumstances, five charges of murder and two of possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition.
The murder charges relate to the deaths of five alleged accomplices – Kolisile Patrick Fulela, Andrew Piko, Lungile Martin Hlutywa, Lungile Price Mqekelani and Ndavela Ivan Made – killed in the shoutout.
Tola told the court that when they responded to the Absa robbery they confronted suspects who were armed and in an Isuzu bakkie.
He said while in pursuit of the vehicle a man pointed a firearm – which later turned out to be an Uzi machine gun – at them.
"I don’t know if he fired a shot or not,” Tola said.
He said, however, a shootout broke out but he could not quite tell the court what happened next.
"I tried to stop the vehicle and I had to take cover. One of the men was already out of the vehicle. He was holding his firearm ready to shoot.”
Referring to pictures of several bullet holes in the police minibus, Tola said he did not know what caused the damage.
"I don’t know if it was us or them.”
After a heated cross-examination by Van der Spuy, Judge Nomatamsanqa Beshe then stopped proceedings, asking the lawyers to address her on whether the TRT members should not be warned that they were not compelled to incriminate themselves while answering questions in the trial. The trial continues.