A police chopper hovered above the East London skyline for more than two hours on Thursday in a frantic manhunt for seven heavily armed gang members who robbed a butchery in Berea.
The brazen daytime attack on Continental Meat Products in Chamberlain Road was the 12th East London business to robbed by armed men in 16 days.
The chopper, which police spokesman Captain Nkosikho Mzuku confirmed was in pursuit of the thugs, was spotted above Nahoon, Berea, Vincent, Beacon Bay and the city centre.
Continental Butchery owner Werner Bemetz said the gang forced him and six workers to lie down on the floor while one of them shouted at him to open the safe at gunpoint.
Mzuku said an undisclosed amount of money was taken in the robbery.
Bemetz declined to disclose the amount of money he lost.
He said the robbers pounced on him at 10.30am while he was busy loading a bakkie with an ordered processed meat for a client.
“I was approached by two armed robbers.
“They pointed the gun at me and herded me to the safe and made me open it.
“What can you do when you have a gun pointed in your face? I couldn’t resist,” said Bemetz.
In the 14-year history of the business, Bemetz had never experienced such a “shocking” incident.
Cashier Themba Nyali said two robbers came through the front door, went past him at the front shop counter and told him they were not there for him and he should “shut up”.
They went to find Bemetz at the back entrance.
Nyali said two men had earlier entered the store and pretended to buy burger patties but left saying they were too expensive.
“Another pair got in after the two left but proceeded walking behind the counter.
“When I asked what they wanted, they said they wanted the boss. Three more entered and also said they wanted the boss.”
Nyali said the men pulled out guns and made him and five colleagues lie down on the floor where they were searched and their cellphones were stolen.
The building is owned by Deon Scott, 47, who was at the scene when the Dispatch arrived.
He said the robbery of his tenants was preceded by two break-ins at his Chamberlain Road offices hours earlier.
Scott said the burglars struck at 12.45am and 5.45am on Thursday. “In both break-ins they left empty-handed. I suspect that they got distracted but I don’t know why.”
Scott said an alarm went off at the premises. When he responded, to his shock he saw seven delivery trucks, a grey minibus taxi and a white Corsa bakkie with tinted windows parked across the road.
“These guys park here during the day selling pillows and at night, they sell little packets of things to youths,” he said.
Scott felt his business and that of his tenants were being monitored on a 24-hour basis by a gang.
No one has been arrested in connection with the butchery robbery.
Some businesses which have fallen prey to the armed gangs include two Pep Store branches in the city centre and Cambridge 14 days apart.
The Telkom mobile store in Vincent Park and Incredible Connection in Hemingways mall were hit on the same day.