2007-11-19: Aid workers tell of church attack

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2007-11-19: Aid workers tell of church attack

Postby Rudi » Mon, 2007-11-19 19:52

Aid workers tell of church attack


November 19 2007 at 11:17AM

By Kamini Padayachee

As terrified children scrambled to get out of an Umlazi church after a man stormed in and started shooting, and with a second man digging a gun into her ribs, foreign charity worker Vashti Downs tried to keep calm.

She thought of her two-year-old son who was in the bakkie that the men had come for.

Martin and Vashti Downs, founders of the Project O Foundation that helps KwaZulu-Natal orphans, and who host life skills programmes in Umlazi and KwaMashu, told The Mercury on Sunday how a life skills session with hundreds of Umlazi children became a nightmare when four armed men attacked them last Thursday.

'I started to panic because my baby, Joseph, was in the car' "We had just finished the session with the children and I was walking out of the Apostolic church when I saw a man stick his head in. He had a gun that I thought was a toy, until he fired a shot. The children, who are all younger than 12, started crying and running for the door," said Vashti.

"Before I could react, another armed man grabbed me and asked for my phone. I told him I didn't have it with me and to take my camera. Then I saw that other men had surrounded our bakkie. I started to panic because my baby, Joseph, was in the car. I told the man there was a baby in the car and to please let my husband take him out."

While Vashti negotiated with her attacker, Martin, who was sitting in the car with Joseph, was confronted by two armed men. He was told to get out of the car.

"I had a problem opening the lock on the car door, so I had to open the window to use the outside handle to get the door open. As soon as the window was down the guns were at my head. I grabbed Joseph and I started to run," Martin said.

One of the men chased after him for his cellphone.

"After 10 metres or so I felt a gun in my back. As the hijacker was shoving me, I fell with Joseph in my arms. Without thinking I grabbed the gun, which caused the hijacker to also fall over. I lost my grip on the gun, which was probably a good thing because then I looked up and saw four hijackers with guns surrounding me."

The couple ran back into the church and out of the back doors and down a grassy bank. The hijackers drove off in their bakkie, which had been packed with items they used in their programmes, including a sound system, toys and sweets and personal items.

The couple, who moved here from the UK two years ago, said they were angry.

"To do that in front of those kids is absolutely crazy. That is what makes us so angry. The men who did this just didn't care about the children. All we want to do is help and we will not give up on those children. We'll just have to get guards now."

Police Captain Khephu Ndlovu confirmed that the hijacking had been reported to the Umlazi police. The vehicle was recovered an hour after it was stolen - it was fitted with a tracker system - but all the goods were gone.


o This article was originally published on page 5 of The Mercury on November 19, 2007
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