The looting of Mams Mall may not have only been the work of residents but also that of organised gangs in Mamelodi.
These were the sentiments of Police Minister Bheki Cele, who visited the gutted mall on Wednesday.
Cele was commenting on running gun battles between looters, the police, and private security at the mall in recent days.
Several police officers deployed to the mall, and other eyewitnesses confirmed to News24 looters were armed and had been firing live ammunition.
Spent bullet casings were also found in the parking lot of the mall.
“Surely, there is nothing like hungry people looting and getting something to eat. Yes, there were those people who are genuinely hungry, but when you hear here, people are coming with guns and [there is an] exchange of firepower with security here,” Cele said.
“And when the walls that are surrounding this mall are fixed and the same night is broken in, that sounds to me more like organised gangsterism and organised gangs that might be beyond what we see people looting for food.
“We know around here in Mamelodi there are individuals, some of them are arrested, that are [part of] organised gangs. Things call Boko Haram and all of that. So, they might be hiding behind genuine hunger, genuine social problems in the community here.”
He added the police would have to look beyond what was happening as just looting by individual residents and there was a clear element of organised criminality in the gutting of Mams Mall.
Mamelodi-based police officers previously echoed similar sentiments, asserting a lot of the looting was done by organised gangs in the area.
Looting spills over into Mamelodi
On Tuesday, News24 reported the widespread looting and destruction of property that had been witnessed in KwaZulu-Natal, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni, spilt over into Tshwane.
Thousands of looters descended on Mams Mall on Monday night, outnumbering and overpowering the police and private security. The mall was gutted during the evening.
By Tuesday morning, it resembled a wasteland as shop owners and employees tried to make sense of what happened.
Liquor bottles, clothing and rubber bullets were strewn across the parking lot.
News24 observed that multiple shops were looted, including liquor, clothing, cellular and tech stores. Banks and ATMs were also broken into.
Several security guards stationed at the mall told News24 that thousands of people looted the centre.
One security guard, who asked to remain anonymous, said the mall was entirely overrun, and that police and private security were overpowered.
“Police were even running away. There was nothing we could do,” he added.
Looting attempts continue
On Tuesday morning, the mall was guarded by security guards while a small contingent of police and metro officers patrolled the area.
Law enforcement also used rubber bullets to disperse small groups of people attempting to loot the mall.
By Tuesday evening, the situation around it had intensified, with the police and Tshwane metro officers constantly engaging with looters who were making their way to it.
The police constantly dispersed would-be looters using rubber bullets, while live rounds would also ring off occasionally.
Cele said no one had been killed in the skirmishes around the mall but that 116 people had already been arrested.