Police have launched a manhunt for 10 armed suspects who burgled the Centurion Makro store and escaped with boxes of cigarettes and cellphones.
Community members were woken up on Wednesday by the sound of gunshots as police and an armed gang were exchanging bullets.
Police spokesperson Kay Makhubela said it was said that the armed gang arrived in different vehicles and held up a security guard at gunpoint to enter the premises.
They broke the glass near the area where cigarettes were usually kept. “The police were alerted and responded, however, as the police were approaching, the suspects started to shoot and the police returned fire.”
Makhubela said the gang jumped into their vehicles and drove off from the scene. None of the police officers involved was injured.
The gunshots were heard across the suburb and from as far afield as Rooihuiskraal, by people who took to social media concerned about what was happening.
Roads were closed off and helicopters circled above, shining their spotlights in an attempt to spot the escape cars, said to be BMWs.
The police on the ground rode around with loud-hailers, pleading with residents to remain indoors.
“They are armed and dangerous, do not be caught in a battle you can avoid, keep away,” was the message.
According to residents’ chat, they thought the liquor is what they wanted.
“Booze is gold at this time. They probably wanted to take the whole stock and sell on the black market,” said Highveld resident Calvin de Venter, who watched from his balcony.
Sylvia Santongo, who went to the store yesterday morning, said she heard the noise from her block of flats near the Gautrain station: “I wondered if people were killing each other, and for what, but knew once I heard the cop sirens that we should remain inside and locked down, to avoid being caught up in whatever was going on.”
As business started yesterday morning the incident did not seem to concern customers that much as a line of shoppers queued outside the store to stock up for the long weekend.
Makro is open to selling items considered essential, including food, toiletries, and baby goods. Alcohol and cigarettes may not be sold.
Nevertheless, contractors worked to replace the damaged windows, and empty cartridges lay near them on the ground.
The display storage boxes in the parking lot near the main entrance had bullet holes.
Makro group corporate affairs executive, Brian Leroni, said the store could see that the culprits had managed to steal cigarettes and cellphones.
“Some of these items were recovered by the police following a stand-off with the perpetrators. Fortunately, no one was harmed during the incident. Makro would like to thank the police for their quick response,” said Leroni.
A customer in the queue outside, who asked to remain unknown said: “I am glad the Lyttelton police reacted so quickly. It’s lockdown time, we didn’t expect criminals would take advantage and try to rob businesses.”
“This was a big victory for the police because those guys could have come here and looted so many valuables,” he said.