Amil Umraw
6 minute read
2 Nov 2016

‘Boxer Gang’ hits five stores

Amil Umraw

A single, highly organised gang may be behind Tuesday’s wave of supermarket robberies that left one police officer dead and another fighting for his life.

A single, highly organised gang may be behind yesterday’s wave of supermarket robberies that left one police officer dead and another fighting for his life.

Dubbed the ‘Boxer Bandits’ because of the Boxer Superstores targeted by them on Tuesday, the robbers struck at five different outlets across the breadth of KwaZulu-Natal in the space of six hours.

Police sources described the robbers as a “mini military contingent” armed with automatic assault rifles loaded with armour piercing rounds. Before they hit, scouts surveyed the targeted stores for police and security officers.

During a robbery in Ixopo at 2 am on Tuesday morning, the attackers opened fire on private security guards and a police patrol van that responded to an alarm at the Boxer supermarket.

Ixopo police officer Constable Virginia Ndlovu (36) was killed in the shootout.

It is believed members of the same gang struck at Boxer outlets that are hours apart by road, in Bergville at 2 am, Hlabisa at 6 am, and both Jolivet and Hammarsdale at 7 am.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane said of the first hit in Ixopo that Ndlovu and her partner had been patrolling the area when they received a report of a robbery at the supermarket.

Zwane said when the pair approached the shop, they were met by a hail of bullets.

Ndlovu was shot through the neck while her 28-year-old male partner was wounded on the arm, stomach and chest. He was taken to hospital in a critical condition and sources said yesterday afternoon that he was still fighting for his life.

“The suspects fled the scene in their gateway vehicle with an undisclosed amount of money.

“Ixopo police are investigating charges of murder, attempted murder and robbery,” Zwane said.

Boxer Superstores marketing director Andrew Mills said the gang gained entry into the premises around 1.48 am and bombed an ATM in the store.

It is believed Magma Security officers were the first to attend the alarm activation and were directly in the line of fire when the shooting began.

A source close to the investigation said the robbers opened fire on the Magma vehicle before Ndlovu and her partner could arrive.

“The guards ducked for cover and in the frenzy, one of the guards sustained a deep cut on his leg. The police patrol van was ambushed and the officers tried to drive off,” the source said.

“However, it appears the robbers had another team further up the road close to the traffic offices and the officer [Ndlovu] was eventually shot dead there, about 100 metres from the store.”

The source said the robbers had more than one vehicle. “We believe there were other accomplices who were patrolling the area on the lookout for police. They had one white Toyota Tazz and other vehicles,” the source said.

“When the police van approached, three robbers chased after it on foot, shooting all the while. There must have been more of them up the road.”

There were conflicting reports about a second attempted burglary at the Boxer Punch store in Bergville, about two hours by road from Ixopo.

Mills said the incident occurred at 2 am, 10 minutes after the shootout in Ixopo, but Zwane said it happened before midnight.

This robbery did not go down as planned after police received information that thieves were planning to strike at the store and pounced on three suspects, catching them in the act.

The men, aged between 30 and 40, were allegedly caught with housebreaking implements and are expected to appear in court on Wednesday [today].

Four hours after the incident in Bergville, a Boxer Punch store in Hlabisa near Richards Bay was targeted.

Mills said armed robbers entered through the front door at about 6.20 am and held staff at gunpoint before escaping with cash.

Zwane said six suspects are believed to be involved.

“An assistant manager and security guard were opening the shop when they were confronted by six suspects at gunpoint.

“The robbers instructed them to be quiet and demanded money from the assistant manager.

“No shots were fired,” Zwane said.

At around 7 am another Boxer store was struck, this one on the South Coast. Four men armed with AK47s and pistols held up a security guard and the store manager at Boxer’s Jolivet store. Zwane said the robbers allegedly forced the pair to open up the safe and escaped with cash in a black Mercedes- Benz. Minutes later eight armed men opened fire at Boxer supermarket in Hammarsdale, some 130 km by road from Jolivet.

Zwane said the robbers demanded cash from the cashiers before opening fire. Nobody was injured and the robbers escaped in an unknown getaway vehicle.

Mills said the store was expecting a cash delivery for an ATM inside the premises when the incident occurred.

Zwane said the police cannot confirm at this stage if the incidents are linked.

Mills said the all five targeted stores were open for business on Tuesday afternoon. Affected staff will receive trauma counselling. He expressed condolences on behalf of Boxer stores to Ndlovu’s colleagues and family.

Anyone with information about the culprits is urged to contact their local police station or Crime Stop at
086 001 0111.

Institute for Security Studies (ISS) researcher Johan Burger said while saddened over the murder of yet another police officer, the brazen modus operandi of the Boxer Bandits does not surprise him.

Burger said the capabilities of organised criminal syndicates in South Africa are extensive, with well-planned schemes to outmanoeuvre the police and get away with their bounty at all costs.

“Such syndicates plan every detail and argue every outcome. If they are dealing with sophisticated alarm systems, safes and explosives, they have a member on their team that is an expert in these fields,” Burger said.

“Since 2006, when cash-in-transit (CIT) robberies reached their peak in South Africa, companies and police have upped their security contingents and effected better security measures making it more difficult to rob vehicles transporting cash.”

Burger said this has prompted gangs to target ATMs, even though there is less cash available.

“In order to get away with the same amount of cash as from a CIT vehicle, syndicates have to embark on an excursion of robbing ATMs. They attack at times when there will be the least resistance and in a single night, will rob a series of ATMs to collect the same haul as from a CIT vehicle.”

Burger said the type of robbers who shot Ixopo officer Virginia Ndlovu will not hesitate to kill if their operation is endangered.

“Sophisticated gangs like these will even have lookouts stationed outside police stations to communicate the movements of officers,” Burger said.

“It is an extremely sad situation when a police officer has to fall victim to these criminal elements.”