A robbery described as well-planned and executed with military-like precision has left children at the Viva Foundation School in Mamelodi East traumatised, with images of Monday’s attack still fresh in their minds
Around 12:10 a group of men entered the school’s premises at the same time as 19 international students and two professors had arrived to take part in an outreach programme.
Under the guise of being part of the international group, the group of men quickly took control of the school once inside.
An employee at the school, who declined to be identified, witnessed the ordeal. She had opened the gate for the visitors.She noticed that some of the visitors seemed out of place because their clothes appeared dirty, but didn’t say anything as she assumed they were part of the visiting group.
After opening for the American students, she directed them to wait at a certain area and went to call the principal.
“When I came back, the visitors were not where I told them to go,” she told News24.
“They were taken next to the Grade One’s class. They were all lying down on their stomachs.”
“I asked what is happening and one guy came to me and told me I better go to the kitchen if I wanted to live and not die.”
Playing a game
Rheece Kriel, the son of Viva Foundation chairperson Leon Kriel, was in a classroom at the time, painting the walls of a converted container when he saw a commotion. He initially thought the American students were playing a game with the school’s pupils.
“I looked outside and saw the Americans arriving. Then they started going down and rushing around, I didn’t know what was happening, I thought they were playing a game,” Rheece said.
“Then I saw the pistols.”
Once terrified students and pupils started screaming and crying, the gunmen started forcing people into the classrooms.
“They drove everyone inside here and made them stack against the wall, I was here [in the classroom] where they told me to sit down,” Rheece said.
The gunmen then started searching everyone again, checking their bags and pockets.
At this point, the gunmen had already robbed the international students of their laptops, cellphones, cameras, passports, plane tickets and US dollars.
As the gunmen fled the school, Rheece said he heard four gunshots ring out.
Pistol whipped and gunshots
Rheece’s sister, Jennifer Kriel, who is a computer science teacher, then emerged with her hair soaked in blood. She had been pistol-whipped by one of the gunmen.
She also injured her arm and legs after falling down a flight of stairs.
The employee who witnessed the robbery said as soon as the gunmen left the premises, everyone started screaming for help.
“We screamed for the community to help us and when the community came to help, they (the suspects) started firing, they fired some bullets and one lady was shot in the hand,” she said.
The injured resident was rushed into the school and treated, while school staff and teachers tried to calm pupils.
Leon Kriel told News24 it was clear that the robbery was well-planned.
“There were five to eight gunmen, a taxi with no number plates. When they came in, according to the witnesses, they moved with military precision through every classroom, clearing every classroom, doing sweeps,” Leon said.
“Also their plan on getting into the actual village was brilliant, because we didn’t know who was actually coming. We knew there was a bus coming in the morning, we knew there were Americans coming, but we didn’t know what they looked like.”
“They were already waiting here. When the bus opened its doors and the students stepped in here, they just basically came in with the students through security and our security took it for granted that they were part of the American students.”
Leon was not surprised by the robbery, saying a similar modus operandi was used in December in two separate hijackings at the school.
“This Christmas we had the same modus operandi, gunmen in taxis. The taxi would ride and basically turn in front of the car, doors would open, gunmen would come out and take the vehicle.”
The getaway vehicle used by the gunmen was abandoned at the Mahube Valley Mall, also in Mamelodi East on Tuesday morning.
Gauteng Police Commissioner, Lieutenant General Elias Mawela told News24 that a forensics team was combing the vehicle for DNA evidence that could help trace the suspects.
“I have no doubt in my mind with the team that is assembled for this case that they will crack it very soon.” Mawela said.
Mawela also believes that the robbery was well-planned and that the international students were not followed to the school. Instead the suspects were waiting for them at the entrance of the school, he said.