'no need for deaths'
The Jeppestown massacre that left 12 people dead - including members of the police - could have been avoided had police acted properly.
Defence lawyer Advocate Robin Ford told the Johannesburg High Court yesterday that it could have all ended peacefully had police asked the robbery suspects to surrender.
He is defending one of 12 men and a woman standing trial for allegedly robbing a Pick n Pay supermarket in Honeydew and later killing four police officers in a gun battle in a house in Jeppestown. The incident happened in June 2006. Eight of the suspects also died.
During cross-examination by Ford, Inspector Deidrick Hecther, Constable Christelle Harmse and Constable Anna Marie Smith, all agreed that when they arrived at the house in Jeppestown, neither they nor any of their colleagues had asked the suspects who were inside the house to surrender.
Recalling the events that led to the Jeppestown incident, Hecther testified that he and two colleagues were called to a robbery in Honeydew.
"When we arrived at the scene, police had already arrested one person. He had told them that the other robbers were in Jeppestown. So from there we went to Jeppestown police station to get back-up," he said.
Hecther said a convoy of police cars headed to the house and surrounded it.
"I was standing at the small gate with two colleagues when I heard a scream, and then gunshots followed. I ran towards the house and found Inspector van Heerden had been shot," he said.
Hecther continued to say that he found Van Heerden inside the house, sitting on the floor, bleeding.
"He just looked at me and told me that Inspector Victor Mathye had also been shot.
"I then noticed a shadow in the kitchen and then shots followed. I ran out, back to the gate," he said.
While taking cover, Hecther, Harmse and Smith noticed a man trying to jump over the gate of the house.
"He started shooting. Hecther shot back several times and while he was down, he instructed me to point a gun at him in case he was still alive and tried something. He then told me and Smith to run while he stood guard over the man. When we were at a safe distance, he also ran towards us. The shooting would stop and start again. It lasted for hours," said Harmse.
Among the families of the accused who packed the court was Elina Mweli, the mother of second accused Senzo Mweli, 29.
The distraught mother said she felt for the families of those who died during the incident, but could not say whether her son was guilty or not because she was not there.
"My son said he did not do it. My main concern is that he has been very sick since his arrest and he does not seem to be getting better.
The trial continues.