A LONE gunman who held 10 people including his 10-year-old niece hostage in Beitbridge, was yesterday shot dead movie-style following a 14 hour stand-off with police.
John Sithole, the gunman, believed to be between 22 and 25 years old, is suspected to hail from Chipinge.
He was also known as Kedha.
Police had been pursuing him for a number of armed robberies in Beitbridge suburbs and along the major highways leading to Harare and Bulawayo. He also committed crimes at the Limpopo River.
He holed up at a house in Beitbridge’s Dulivhadzimu suburb and was eventually killed in a shootout when he tried to dash for freedom.
Kedha allegedly started a diversionary fire in the house and tried to get away using the smokescreen.
Chronicle gathered that he masterminded his operations from Musina in South Africa and would most of the time skip the border via the Limpopo River.
It took a Police Special Tactics Team (PSTT), an arm of the Support Unit, to subdue the heavily armed Kedha.
During the fracas, Kedha allegedly shot and wounded a detective on the arm.
The town was at a standstill for more than eight hours with cars and residents filling the nearby streets to witness the shootout, albeit from a safe distance behind a police cordon.
Literally hundreds of people were held spellbound by the rare hostage situation.
According to neighbours, Kedha had been staying at the house for two weeks.
“I was terrified to hear the sound of heavy gunfire in the middle of the night behind my house. When I went out to investigate I saw police armed to the teeth in my yard and there were already some spent cartridges.
“The police calmed people’s nerves when they told us they were pursuing a dangerous armed robber next door,” said Ms Rumbedzani Ribombo.
The police moved civilians out of the way and tried to engage Kedha who allegedly threatened to shoot his hostages if they tried to storm the house.
National police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said it was unfortunate that someone had died and advised suspects to always avoid shootouts or avoid engaging in life-threatening violence when the police try to arrest them in a civil manner.
“It is sad that the suspect died. We wanted to question him to clear a number of armed robbery cases,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
“Initially the suspect evaded arrest at the Limpopo River and hid at his rented house in Dulivhadzimu where he was found by our detectives.
“Since he was armed, they ordered him to surrender but he turned violent and held 10 people from the house hostage and opened fire at the police. They tried all the civil ways available to make him surrender but he was not relenting and kept firing until reinforcements were called from our special tactics unit.”
He said the PSTT “amicably” freed the 10 hostages including Kedha’s wife and niece, but he remained in combat mode. Asst Comm Nyathi said Kedha set fire on the house and sought refuge in another room at the same time exchanging gunfire with the police.
He said the team managed to kill him later in the afternoon during a heavy exchange of gunfire and the body had been taken to the district hospital’s mortuary.
“As the police, we continue to implore suspects or people to always comply with our officers as we enforce the law.
They must not take advantage of other people by holding them hostage to evade arrest,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
He said further investigations were underway.
According to one of the hostages, Mr Innocent Makuvasine who stays at the house, he was awakened by gunshots.
“When the police arrived, they ordered everyone to put their hands on the back of their heads and get out without switching off the lights.
“That’s when the man (Kedha) started shooting at the police. We failed to get out until the next morning when the police instructed us to cover our faces with wet towels as they were launching smoke canisters,” he said.
Continued Mr Makuvasine: “However, through the night there was constant shooting between the man and the police, until his wife pleaded with him to let her and the child leave the house. Everyone got out leaving him alone in the house. The man is a new tenant. I had never met him.”
A distraught property owner, Mr Godfrey Muzvidziwa, said he was at a loss for words.
“I only saw this guy once, according to his wife, he was based in South Africa where he was employed. This is a great loss. I built this house in 2000 and it will take me a very long time to fix the damage resulting from the shoot out and the tenant burning my house,” he said in a very low voice.
The incident comes a few weeks after the country’s most wanted armed robber, Taj Abdul was arrested in the same town as he planned a hit on a cross border trader with the aid of a serving policeman.