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REPORTING UNDER FIRE

Daily Maverick journalists came to cover death in Shoprite cold room – security guards retaliate with rubber bullets

Daily Maverick journalists came to cover death in Shoprite cold room – security guards retaliate with rubber bullets
Daily Maverick’s journalist Nonkululeko Njilo takes shelter behind a car from a hail of rubber bullets fired by a private security company near Shoprite at Ratanda Mall. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Daily Maverick journalist Nonkululeko Njilo and Chief photographer Felix Dlangamandla came under fire when Personal Protection Specialists security officers fired rubber bullets and stun grenades into a group of residents asking for answers about the death of a community member. They share their traumatic experience.

Njilo’s account

We had been alerted on the morning of 20 May that a man had allegedly been held in a Shoprite cold room for stealing a chocolate bar. The information we had was that he had died. It was around 1.50pm when we arrived at the Ratanda Mall in Heidelberg, Gauteng.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Man allegedly dies in Shoprite cold room – security fires rubber bullets at protesters and journalists

A crowd of about 100 people was gathered outside Shoprite and we parked well away from the mall’s entrance, which is dominated by the anchor tenant, Shoprite.

Shoprite

Residents hid behind cars and fled while private security shot at them outside Shoprite supermarket in Ratanda Mall. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

We approached the crowd and introduced ourselves. The community spokespeople were welcoming. About 15 minutes later they pointed out family members of Bandile Tshabalala, the man who had died.

At the centre’s entrance, I introduced myself to his sister Simangele Tshabalala. Then a man claiming to be the centre manager came up to us and told us to leave the premises, threatening: “Get out or you’ll have serious problems”.

It was obvious that I was a journalist as I was recording interviews with my phone and writing in a notebook. A colleague from Kaya FM had also joined with their recording equipment.

We stood alongside the crowd, which had grown restless. Then the security guards fired rubber bullets and stun grenades and the crowd scattered.  Some in the crowd retaliated by throwing stones at the guards, who continued to fire even after the crowd had fled the premises.

Bystanders, shoppers and pedestrians sought shelter behind trees and cars. Like everybody else, I ran for my life, and sought shelter in front of a vehicle.

Nearby, a woman was hiding with her child in a school uniform. “They are killing us, they are killing us,” the woman screamed.

The seemingly trigger-happy, uniformed and heavily armed private security guards, some of whom wore masks, were terrifying to behold.

Shoprite

Residents and TV crew hiding behind cars while private security shoot rubber bullets outside Shoprite Supermarket in Ratanda Mall. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

All the residents wanted was answers about the death of a member of the community. Afterwards, another resident, Thokoza Dlamini, told me that last year her niece stole a packet of cheese from Shoprite and was locked in the supermarket’s cold room. This was a standard procedure, according to the more than 10 residents we spoke to.

I am left with the question of why the security guards continued shooting even after they had secured the area.

Residents hide behind cars while private security shot at them outside Shoprite Supermarket in Ratanda Mall. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Shoprite did not respond to questions and only confirmed they had instituted an investigation into the incident.

“The supermarket chain extends its condolences to the family following their loss. The allegations are seen in an extremely serious light and the necessary steps will be taken pending the outcome of a full investigation.

“We cannot comment on the details of the incident as it is a police matter…”

Shoprite, Ratanda Mall

Private security shot at residents after the death of Bandile Tshabalala after allegedly being locked in a cold room for about 11 hours, at Ratanda Mall. 19 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Dlangamandla’s account  

As shots were fired in our direction, I lost sight of Nonkululeko. I saw people running in different directions seemingly in a bid to find shelter of some sort. My first instinct was to film all of it, to get the images.

I took a couple of images, but the situation appeared to be getting out of control and dangerous with the shots continuing. As someone who has covered many unrest situations, I felt the response was excessive — the crowd was small and not violent. I also knew rubber bullets can kill you if fired at close range or cause serious damage such as the loss of an eye.  When a police van drove past, I was left with no choice but to take cover behind it to avoid being shot — while still doing my job, trying to get a picture or two.

Voetsek, voetsek,” one policeman shouted at me. Then he saw my cameras and said, “Oh, journalist … sorry.”

I noticed Nonkululeko taking cover behind the car, many others were doing the same, desperately trying to find shelter behind trees and cars. I continued taking pictures.

Shoprite

Residents hiding behind cars and fleeing while private security open fire outside Shoprite, Ratanda Mall. 19 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

The guards fired non-stop and some people retaliated by throwing stones.

Crouching while running to the car, I successfully opened the doors and Nonkululeko immediately jumped into the back seat — still crouching and shouting at me that we urgently needed to get out. “Felix, you are endangering our lives,” she shouted.

I started the car, drove to the other end of the mall and parked under a tree.

We could have left, but our job was not done. We walked back. My colleague did this while limping after hurting her knee. Although most of the crowd had dispersed, we had to duck the rubber bullets which were still being fired.

The guards did not stop shooting, although the few individuals throwing stones did so from a distance and the guards were in no danger.

We were able to locate the sister of the late Bandile Tshabalala. While interviewing her, shots still rang out and continued as we left. DM

Daily Maverick has made attempts to contact Shoprite management directly. However, we have been referred to an email address with no name or indication of who the communication will be addressed to. Daily Maverick will continue to make efforts to reach Shoprite senior management and will be reporting the incident to the SA National Editor’s Forum. 

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ismail Fredericks says:

    There is so much wrong. A man is murdered for shoplifting. People are hungry and desperate and they need to steal to survive. We live in a country where crime is normal and lawlessness is sinking civilisation. Journalist cry about being victims when they are often complicit in eroding the morality of our nation. What a sad state of affairs

    • Denise Smit says:

      Well said. And everybody on edge about what happened in 2021 when most businesses where destroyed by crowds . You really can understand the overreaction and readiness to try to protect against property being destroyed again. It just takes one group of people and one spark. And if the media are there to film, they also get attention and up the act. Look at what happened now in Limpopo in the clash between EFF and ANC

    • Geoff Coles says:

      Well not deliberately murdered, rather by neglect and uncaring. But did he not steal a chocolate bar, hardly because of being hungry and desperate.

      • Valerie Goslin says:

        Struggling to imagine how someone can be so callous! So in your opinion if he did steal a chocolate bar it’s perfectly acceptable to lock him in a cold room for 11 hours, and his death is also not murder… mind blowing. More importantly, I shared this event with my domestic worker and discovered that apparently this treatment is commonplace for Shoprite and it is known widely that it is their practise! What do you have to say for yourself and your employees Mr. Pieter Engelbrecht!?

    • Jane Lombard says:

      What are you talking about??!!

    • Jane Lombard says:

      Thank you both. I could never be a journalist. My word!

  • Charles Young says:

    Truly appalling.

  • Greeff Kotzé says:

    Was PPS engaged by the mall, or by Shoprite? It would be good to clear that up.

    And yes, rubber bullets can indeed be lethal at close range — one is reminded of the unjustified killing of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg in 2011, when a rubber bullet was fired at him in such close proximity that it penetrated his chest.

    It’s regrettable that SAPS and/or a mediator of any kind was so conspicuous in their absence here, though it also bears remarking that one never quite knows what one will get with public order police units these days, so it may not have been an improvement either.

  • Troy Marshall says:

    Stealing is wrong – yeah ! yeah ! I hear you – needs to be punished
    Locking someone in a freezer – for eleven hours – for stealing chocolate???

    It makes me angry and it beggars belief. I mean we humans have stepped on the moon. We are clever, right? How can that be when there those that do things that beggar belief.

    Now we have the icing on the cake – shoot rubber bullets at those who are not happy about this

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    You die for stealing a chocolate but get to live the highlife in Dubai for stealing Billions from the taxpayer – go figure!!!!

  • Denise Smit says:

    Getting quotes for emergency treatment is impossible. Anything my be wrong so it is impossible to give an estimate. It is not a hip replacement. Who is the EFF trying to fool?

  • Pete Farlam says:

    This is wrong on so many levels. Shoprite management, we need answers at the very least. Locking up someone in a cold room is criminal behaviour. Remember the principle of Dolus eventualis? This is murder.

  • Pieter van de Venter says:

    Unfortunately, I was in a crowd control situation with about 60 of (all around 18 or 19 years old) with an angry crowd of between 5 to 6000 people. It is not pleasant.

    My decision that day was very simple – If I am challenged and I feel my life is in danger, I will use live ammunition. At least. there will be months for others to dissect my actions that I had to decide on in a split second. At least, I will sit in a courtroom and not be in a box in the ground.

    So, I would suggest that anybody that has not been in a similar situation to keep their opinions to themselves. Like these two opinionistas (not journalists).

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