Survivor: Andre Erlank describes how he was shot during a robbery at the Mnandi Spar in Pretoria
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"They were the devil. You could see the evil in their eyes." This is the image that is stuck in the mind of Mnandi community watch member, Andre Erlank, who miraculously survived after being shot in the bloody attack on a late-night supermarket which claimed the life of his friend, Louis Viljoen, 39.
Describing how a gang of robbers, armed with handguns and AK-47s, opened fire on shoppers, motorists and community watch members rushing to help people caught in Monday night's assault, Erlank on Thursday said it was an all-out assault.
"It was a cold-blooded assault. They went there to kill," he said, adding that they were shooting at everyone, white and black. Erlank and his son, Andre jnr, had just stopped at the Mnandi Spar to buy wood and charcoal for a braai when the gang of 20 robbers attacked.
Erlank said he was watching a father and son walking into the shop when he saw a gunman run into the shop after them firing. "From then on it was war. There were gunmen running from every direction, arms outstretched, shooting," he said.Grabbing his two-way radio Erlank raised the alarm and called for help.Three of the gunmen, posted at strategic positions around the centre, spotted him as he called on the community watch for help.
Pulling open the door one of the men, who was smiling, shoved a gun at him and opened fire at point-blank range.The bullet, which is believed to have been fired from a Colt .45, tore into his chest, hitting his artery before continuing through his bakkie's window."When I saw the gun I knew I was going to be shot. I just shoved myself as far back into the seat and carried on calling out over the radio.
"I knew that if I did not, people were going to die," he said, describing how he was repeatedly shot at.Bleeding profusely, Erlank's only thoughts were to get to his son, who was inside the shop. Unbeknown to him, his son had miraculously escaped death when one of the gunmen cocked a gun against his head.
The gunman stopped when he heard his accomplices opening fire on Erlank snr.
Collapsing as he fell from his car, Erlank desperately tried to crawl to his son, fearing the worst.
The gunman and his accomplices followed Erlank as he tried to crawl, repeatedly firing at him. Even as Erlank collapsed against a wheel which was shot out by one of the gunmen trying to shoot him in the head, no other bullets hit him.
Convinced that he was about to die, Erlank made a last-ditch attempt to reach his son. "All that I remember as I crawled towards the shop was seeing a silver cloud around me as one of the gunmen who stood over me, his feet next to me and held a gun near the back of my head trying to shoot me. When I heard the gun go 'click' I knew I was safe.
I knew I was not going to die," he said. Describing the look in the eyes of his attacker, Erlank said they had the look of the devil. "I have never seen a look like that before. It was beyond hatred. They wanted to kill," he said.
The attack was aborted when members of the community watch reached the centre and ran to help. "If it had not been for them I would be dead. They saved a lot of people," he said, recalling how several members braved unrelenting gunfire to reach him and drag him to safety.
Erlank was rushed to hospital in a friend's bakkie clutching at his artery in a desperate bid to stop himself from bleeding to death.Erlank said he learnt that Viljoen, who was killed when he was caught in an ambush set up by the gunmen's accomplices, was dead while he was in hospital.He said the gunmen were everywhere.
"Some were outside the centre, others were inside and even more had hidden in the parking lot," he said. Describing how she heard over the radio that her husband was shot and then the unrelenting shooting, Erlank's wife, Margaret, said she had gone lame."I could not move. My legs were like lead. I freaked out when I heard his calls for help, then his friends yelling hysterically and then the shooting. It sounded like a battle in Iraq," she said.
Police last night confirmed that two more suspects had been arrested. Wierdabrug police station commissioner, Senior Superintendent Neels Kleynhans, said the men were arrested in the area. The arrests bring the number held to four.
Two men were caught less than 2km from the Spar in possession of R4 000 in cash and an unlicensed handgun believed to have been used in the attack. While Kleynhans declined to comment on where the latest suspects were arrested, it is believed they were caught near Olievenhoutbosch.
He confirmed that more arrests were imminent.
Viljoen is to be buried on Friday in Centurion.