Sunday Tribune

No help for dy­ing

An­swers are be­ing de­manded over the mur­der of a young Amanz­im­toti man. Vi­vian Attwood re­ports

- Crime · Incidents · Volkswagen Beetle · Fiesta · United Arab Emirates · Umkomaas · Jacques Nel

THE tele­phones were all in work­ing or­der at Amanz­im­toti Po­lice Sta­tion on the day Stephen Coet­zee was shot, said SAPS spokesman Cap­tain Thu­lani Zwane.

He said claims of be­ing un­able to get through were be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the po­lice sta­tion man­age­ment.

The Tri­bune tested the main emer­gency num­bers be­tween 5pm and 5.30pm this week. Here’s the re­sult:

The 10111 num­ber rang just twice be­fore a recorded voice kicked in, say­ing op­er­a­tors were busy and urg­ing the caller to hold on.

Thirty sec­onds later, an op­er­a­tor came on the line and of­fered cour­te­ous as­sis­tance.

The num­ber 911 was di­alled from an MTN cell­phone and a voice prompt came up say­ing it was an of­fence to abuse the num­ber in a none­mer­gency and would re­sult in the ter­mi­na­tion of MTN ser­vices and a fine.

Af­ter an­other prompt, the re­porter pressed 1 for an emer­gency.

The call was an­swered in sec­onds, but cut off twice in suc­ces­sion. On a third try, it was an­swered by a call cen­tre con­sul­tant based in Joburg who said the line some­times gave prob­lems.

She con­nected the caller to a Dur­ban am­bu­lance ser­vice within sec­onds. The am­bu­lance staff said they got 2 000 calls a day. Some were prank calls.

On the Vo­da­com 911 emer­gency num­ber, it took two min­utes and 45 sec­onds be­fore the call was an­swered.

Af­ter a re­quest for a trans­fer to the cen­tral po­lice sta­tion, the call was an­swered on the fourth ring.

The next call was to 031 913 1300. Voice prompts asked the caller to press 1 for an emer­gency, 2 for the de­tec­tive depart­ment, 3 for the chem­istry depart­ment, 4 for foren­sics, 5 for ad­min.

Af­ter 1 was pressed, the call was an­swered within just two rings.

FAM­ILY and friends of Stephen Coet­zee, 22, who died af­ter be­ing shot in the face at point-blank range dur­ing a botched car theft on May 11, have said liv­ing in Amanz­im­toti is like liv­ing in a war zone.

His bereft fa­ther, also Stephen, said res­i­dents felt they were at the mercy of criminals and could not count on the po­lice to pro­tect them.

Coet­zee se­nior and oth­ers close to the vic­tim tried re­peat­edly to get help from the SAPS of­fice in Amanz­im­toti, and by dialling po­lice emer­gency num­bers – with­out suc­cess. The vic­tim was fi­nally driven to hospi­tal in a pri­vate car, where he died two hours later.

At a “war against crime” meet­ing in Amanz­im­toti ear­lier this week, Stephen Coet­zee spoke of his agony as his son’s life slipped away, and po­lice failed to an­swer their phones.

“When my boys were small and any­thing bad hap­pened, I would say to them: ‘ Toe maar, Pappa sal alles reg­maak’ (Never mind, Daddy will make things right). But I couldn’t. I could not keep him safe, and the po­lice, whom I trusted to pro­tect my fam­ily, failed us. What hope is there for this coun­try?”

Stephen jnr and his best friend, Jac­ques Nel, both engineers, were pas­sion­ate about cars, and spent ev­ery free week­end restor­ing a VW Bee­tle. They were tin­ker­ing in the garage of the Coet­zee home, in Um­doni Grove, StWinifred­s, watched by Coet­zee snr, at about 5.15pm on a Fri­day when an armed man ap­peared at the top of the drive, and aimed his gun at the older man. Two more men climbed into the fam­ily’s new Ford Fi­esta, which was parked in the drive with the boot open.

“I picked up a torque wrench to throw at the guy with the gun,” said Coet­zee.

“‘ Pa! Los dit, Pa!’ (Leave it, Dad) Stephen shouted. But then I saw two more men go­ing into the house where my part­ner and her eight-year-old child, and my 15-year-old son, were watch­ing TV. I knew I had to pro­tect them, so I threw the wrench at the gun­man.”

With that, the armed man ran and climbed into the open boot of the car, which started re­vers­ing down the nar­row drive­way. Part of the way down the driver crashed into a wall and burst a tyre. Coet­zee man­aged to ram one of the hi­jack­ers with an open door. Stephen tried to join his fa­ther, but was held back by Jac­ques.

“My son screamed, ‘ Hulle gaan my Pa vanaand doo­d­skiet’ (They are go­ing to shoot my fa­ther dead tonight) and Jac­ques let go. As Stephen ran to help me, the man in the back shot him in the head,” wept Coet­zee. “I saw the ve­loc­ity of the bul­let buckle his face, and I grabbed him be­fore his body could hit the ground.”

The five men fled in a wait- ing car and Coet­zee, Nel and fran­tic neigh­bours and friends be­gan dialling all the emer­gency and po­lice num­bers they knew. Nel’s mother, Zelda, got a hys­ter­i­cal call from her son at 5.30pm. “They shot Steve. He is bleed­ing here at my feet. Please, please get help,” he screamed.

Zelda mo­bilised mem­bers of her fam­ily to dial emer­gency num­bers, but the num­bers rang unan­swered or were di­verted to call cen­tres that gave end­less dialling op­tions.

“Like Stephen’s fa­ther, we called the Amanz­im­toti SAPS of­fice, as well as 10111 and 031 913 1300,” said Zelda. “Then I called 031 9111 on my MTN cell­phone, only to get a long recorded lec­ture on the penal­ties for abus­ing emer­gency num­bers. I was scream­ing while forced to lis­ten to recorded mu­sic on the phone.”

At the end of her wits, she called her daugh­ter, Anouk, who was vis­it­ing friends in Umko­maas who had a para­medic neigh­bour. He, too, tried to get help and got none.

Anouk di­alled 10111 re­peat­edly. “It would ring and cut out, ring and cut out,” she said. “When a woman an­swered af­ter al­most 20 min­utes, she put me through to Joburg. I just started cry­ing.”

Later, she was put through to a Dur­ban am­bu­lance ser­vice, where an op­er­a­tor promised to send help. The am­bu­lance never ar­rived. Stephen died at Kingsway hospi­tal.

But the fam­ily’s agony was not yet over. At the fu­neral days later, they were hor­ri­fied to find mu­nic­i­pal work­ers had not en­sured the grave was deep enough for the cof­fin.

As work­ers yelled blame at one an­other, Coet­zee, Nel and other mourn­ers took off their shoes, rolled up their trousers and be­gan the grim task of ex­ca­vat­ing the hole.

“It was a chain re­ac­tion of dis­re­spect. Stephen was failed in life, by the law, and in death too,” said Zelda.

The Nel fam­ily has put their home on the mar­ket and plan to em­i­grate to the United Arab Emi­rates, where Anouk has lived for six years.

“You might not have many rights there, but you have free­dom,” she said. “Here we have rights, but we are not safe in our own homes and can’t walk the streets.”

Coet­zee said he had no faith left in jus­tice. “The po­lice have no hope of catch­ing his killers. They did not even test for fin­ger­prints. I am never go­ing to see jus­tice.”

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