Four people, including two policemen, a suspected robber and a truck driver, died in Durban's city centre during a shootout between police officers and suspected robbers.
A third police officer and a civilian were injured. Both are in a critical condition in hospital.
The names of the dead have not yet been released.
Onlookers and pedestrians in the city centre had to run for cover yesterday during the shootout, which broke out after five suspects robbed a car dealership in Durban's Mazeppa Street.
When Sowetan arrived at the scene, a police officer was already lying dead. The other police officer, who was critically wounded, died a few minutes later.
Shocked onlookers stood by, some unable to speak or move, as police scoured the building in search of a suspect apparently holed up inside.
After nearly two hours of searching, police gave up as they could not find the suspect.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Vincent Mdunge said the shootout started after the car dealership was held up.
Five suspects entered the dealership, held staff at gunpoint and demanded cash, cellphones and jewellery, he said.
"One of the people who witnessed what was happening activated the alarm," he added.
"Police were quick to respond to the alarm."
Mdunge said when the suspects realised that they had been cornered, they started shooting.
As the gang ran off, they scattered in all directions, in a bid to confuse the police officers who were chasing after them.
Two officers were then shot and killed by the gunmen.
"In the ensuing shootout with police, one suspected robber was killed, three arrested [two wounded and one unharmed] and a fifth is still at large," Mdunge said.
As cops gave chase, a civilian truck driver was caught in the crossfire when one of the robbers shot at police.
The man died after his vehicle rammed into a palm tree. He had been shot in the head.
Another member of the public is in a critical condition in hospital. A third police officer was also shot and seriously wounded.
While the incident has shocked many, police say they will not back down on fighting criminal gangs.
"We will fight crime and criminal elements and we will use all that it takes to bring down the criminals," said Mdunge.
Sowetan has learnt that before the robbery at the car dealership, the gang reportedly robbed JPL Agency - a company that helps people from outside South Africa to deposit or send money to their respective countries.
One of the employees at JPL, who asked to remain anonymous, said three men had entered their premises and pointed guns at the staff.
"They took money - some of which was in rand and in dollar notes - and then went off."