survivor cop speaks

Dudu Busani

Dudu Busani

A policeman who survived the Jeppestown ambush described in court how he saw his colleagues mowed down in front of him.

Sergeant Willem "Wimpie" van Niekerk was among the first four policemen to enter the house of death on the fateful day of June 25. He related to the Johannesburg high court yesterday how he survived.

"We entered the house and noticed that the third door was closed.

"We opened it and ordered the people inside to lie down.

"The response was a volley of deafening gun fire from the room. It was AK47 fire.

"I watched my colleagues fall. I tried to push the door in but there was somebody behind it.

"There were four of us when we entered.

"I noticed that two officers were dead but I did not know what had happened to the fourth man. I retreated," he said.

His colleagues - Frederick van Heerden, Peter Seaward and Victor Mathye - died.

Van Niekerk said he was the last to enter the house behind Van Heerden, Seaward and Mathye.

He said that as the first two policemen entered the room, he heard them shouting "Get down" three times.

"I realised then that there were people inside the room, I tried going in but the door wouldn't open further. Then there was gunfire, an AK47. I saw them both fall down on their stomachs. I shot back over their bodies before I realised I had been shot in the foot," he said.

Van Niekerk continued shooting back, while walking backwards towards the door. He said all he did after he got out was sit on the bench in the courtyard.

"I didn't know where my third colleague, Mathye, was until I saw him crouching out of the house on his back. His leg was rigged and his right arm was bleeding.

"He still had his two guns in his hands. I ran towards him, another officer took his guns away and I pulled him into the courtyard," he said.

Van Niekerk said they were both bleeding and in pain.

"As we lay down with Mathye, someone started shooting at us. I shot back, but Mathye was seriously injured and he couldn't move. They shot him, he died lying there," he said.

Van Niekerk was taken to hospital before hostage negotiator Superintendent Lucky Matlaila convinced the men to surrender.

Matlaila testified in court that he was called to the scene about two hours after the gun battle started.

"I arrived there at about 12.30pm and was given a cellphone number of someone called Benzi who was inside the house. I phoned him and told him I could help him get out of the house if he would tell me what was going on inside. He said all the shooters had died, that there were bodies of dead policemen on the floor.

Benzi, who was later identified as accused number eight, Muzulelwa Vezi, 28, told Matlaila that he was hiding under the bed. His cellphone then went off.

"He phoned me back after some time and told me that one of the men inside the house had shot himself in the head," said Matlaila.

The men surrendered after Matlaila spoke to one who was said to be a taxi driver the alleged robbers had hijacked earlier that day. The man was later identified as Sizwe Dlamini, 21, accused number six.

The trial continues.