SANDF soldiers help nab vehicle smugglers

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Several suspected vehicle smugglers have been apprehended by the South African Police Service (SAPS) with assistance from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) following a shootout in Mpumalanga.

Four people were arrested in the early morning of 3 May after the SAPS in Tonga spotted a suspicious Toyota Fortuner parked at a guest house. Upon investigating, police found that the Fortuner was left there by two men, and there was another couple in the guest house that were accompanying the men. The couple were travelling in a Volkswagen Polo also parked on the premises.

“Police knocked at the room allocated to the couple, and a male suspect opened the door. When he noticed the police, the suspect fled from his rented room and police gave chase,” said police spokesperson in Mpumalanga, Brigadier Selvy Mohlala.

“The suspect allegedly started firing gunshots at the police who returned fire with fire. The suspect took a dive and police rushed to him. He sustained a gunshot wound on his right thigh and was still holding a pistol in his right hand.” The man was rushed to Tonga Hospital. The 9 mm Beretta he was carrying is believed to have been stolen.

“Members went back to the guest house to conduct a search in the room where the suspect was sleeping. They found a 30-year-old woman who identified herself as the owner of the Polo,” said Mohlala.

“Her claims did not prevent the dedicated members from conducting further investigation on the vehicle which tested as positively stolen. The woman was then arrested for possession of suspected stolen vehicle. The female suspect disclosed that they were with two other counterparts who were driving in the Toyota Fortuner, and she revealed that they slept in a different guest house.”

“Police headed to the identified guest house where two suspects aged 31 years and 37 years were found in possession of the Toyota Fortuner keys,” said Mohlala. “They were both taken to the guest house to open the Toyota Fortuner. On further investigation, the vehicle also tested positively stolen. Both the suspects were arrested for possession of suspected stolen vehicle.”

Soldiers from 15 South African Infantry Battalion deployed at the Macadamia Area of Responsibility on border patrol duties reacted to a call for backup from the SA Police Service to investigate the suspicious vehicles at Mtsimba Guesthouse, approximately 35 km South-West of the Lebombo Port of Entry between South Africa and Mozambique.

The SANDF said that the suspect who was shot is linked with other cases which involve cash in transit robbery, murder and several robberies. The suspect is currently in Tonga Hospital in stable condition under police guard. The other three suspects and the vehicles were taken to Tonga SA Police Services under police custody.

The female suspect is a South African and the other two men are from Mozambique.

The Fortuner and the Polo were allegedly reported stolen in Witbank.

The SANDF has 15 companies of soldiers deployed along South Africa’s borders under Operation Corona. They regularly recover stolen vehicles, especially those attempting to cross into Mozambique from South Africa.

In April, soldiers prevented ten stolen vehicles from leaving South Africa’s borders, down from 16 in March. The vehicles seized last month were valued at R3 million. Meanwhile, last month over 1 000 illegal immigrants were apprehended by soldiers, and nearly 500 kg of dagga was seized.

It costs about a billion rand a year to keep the SANDF’s border protection mission running, Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) heard in March this year.