for Sunday Tribune (South Africa) on March 19, 2010
A sophisticated, well coordinated gang of robbers, posing as police officers from the elite crime fighting unit, the Hawks, unleashed a reign of terror on a well known Durban family, at their plush Umhlanga Rocks home on Sunday afternoon.
The HL Maharaj family, who are owners of the popular Housewives Market (a fruit and vegetable outlet), yesterday refused to talk about their ordeal which started at about 3pm on Sunday.
However, according to a well informed source, Shalendra Maharaj, who is believed to be about 32 years old, was returning home from their Flower Road, Clairwood, business, when attempts were made by a group of men travelling in two luxury vehicles to pull him over.
The source said the robbers first tried to stop Shalendra near the Edwin Swales on-ramp as he attempted to take the N2 towards Umhlanga.
However, their efforts were unsuccessful and they only managed to stop him a few meters before Spaghetti Junction.
Said the source: "About nine suspects, dressed in jeans and T-shirts but wearing authentic police reflector jackets, alighted from their vehicles and confronted Shalendra. They brandished high calibre firearms, including rifles and pistols, which they pointed at him before ordering him out of the vehicle. All the suspects were also wearing bulletproof vests." The source said the suspects told Shalendra they were from the Hawks and were investigating him for fraud. He said they also told Shalendra they needed to search his house in Umhlanga.
The source said they then handcuffed him (Shalendra), put him into one of their vehicles and drove directly to his house. One of the suspects followed in Shalendra's car.
"They knew exactly where he lived and did not ask for any directions. At the house, a third luxury vehicle was waiting outside the gates with flashing blue lights. The suspects ordered Shalendra into the house where his mother, sister and her three week baby were. They demanded cash, jewelery and firearms."
The source said the family was traumatized as the robbers ransacked the house, looking for valuables.
He said during the robbery, which lasted about half an hour, one of the robbers threatened to place a plastic packet over the baby's head and suffocate him/her, if the family did not co-operate with them.
"However, divine intervention saved the life of the family. When the suspects walked into the prayer room they saw various pictures and deities of Lord Krishna. The family are devout Hare Krishna followers. One of the robbers seemed to know about the work of the Hare Krishna Movement and told his accomplices not to harm the child or anyone else because they were good people. He said they (the family) helped to feed 'their' people in the townships."
The source said that a few minutes before the robbers could flee, Shalendra's father arrived home from work.
"He too was pushed into the house. The robbers then stole an undisclosed amount of cash from his car before making their getaway." The source described the gang as well orchestrated and professional.
"They had obviously been observing this family for some time. They knew their every move, exactly where they lived and operated their businesses from. They made no slip-ups and conducted the robbery in a sophisticated and well organized manner."
Police spokesperson Jay Naicker confirmed the incident and said investigations were continuing.