It's not if, it's when: cash-van guards' lives of daily fear
The wounds have healed, but desperate men live under the daily threat of another hail of bullets
Cash-in-transit guard Lucky Nxamase will forever carry the scars of the day an AK47 bullet seared through his body, a single casualty in an escalating cash-heist war.
“I will never forget the corridor of the mall ... there was fire coming out of the barrels as they were shooting at me. Every day when I go to work I think about that,” he said.
Nxamase and his crew had come under fire while delivering money to an ATM hall at KwaMashu’s Bridge City mall in 2013.
In the hail of gunfire another guard was killed, shot in the head by the gang of four gunmen who’d ambushed the cash-in-transit men.
“Winter is the worst for me. When it is cold I can feel where the bullet went,” he said, wincing as he motions to the long-healed wound on his buttocks.“That day, I was the Lima Mike man, the man who carries the rifle. We were walking through the corridor to the ATM in the mall when I noticed a group of men standing together. The next thing they were shooting at me,” he said.
As he returned fire his rifle jammed, and he grappled with one of his attackers before managing to flee.
While his wounds have healed, word of each new raid and bombing bring the memory of the day he almost died to the front of his mind.
Nxamase was among the ranks of hundreds of cash-in-transit guards who marched in Durban on Tuesday, protesting against the recent spate of attacks and bombings.
This year, 159 cash heists and armoured-truck bombings have been recorded, surpassing the number of attacks in 2017 in just six months.
Police have been hard pressed to stem the surge in attacks, the military precision and violence with which they are carried out becoming hallmarks of the new crime wave.
Nxamase, a father of three, had traded one armed conflict for another as he left a career in the military to be closer to his family.The former soldier survived the war-ravaged jungles of the Congo and Burundi, but on his homecoming found himself in the firing line on South African soil.
“My wife wants me to leave this job. She tells me that all the time. But really, what am I supposed to do? Because this is the only job I know and I don’t have a diploma, I have no choice,” he said.
Without overtime and after deductions, Nxamase earns R10,000 a month.
“It is not a lot when you think about the fact that every day you will risk your life,” he added.
The fear, alongside adrenaline, is a constant on their shift.Another cash-in-transit guard, Lucky Phungula, says the threat of coming under fire is their reality.
“We drive around every day just waiting for these attacks to happen. It’s a matter of when and not if.
“You will never know what it’s like until you sit inside one of these vans and get out on the road. We used to have these big armoured vehicles and they even demonstrated their strength by shooting at them and letting off a hand grenade near the van and nothing happened.
“We have new trucks now, which are smaller, and the walls feel thin. You see how easily they blow them up,” Phungula added.
Unions in the sector are also demanding that cash-in-transit workers be given more powerful weapons to defend themselves and match the attackers.
Other points in the guards’ memorandum include back-up in the form of police and armed escorts, a limit on the amount of money transported, and the bolstering of police investigation teams.
Counting the mounting cost of the crime wave, the South African Banking Risk Information Centre reported that in 49 of this year's heists the armoured vehicles were written off owing to the damage from explosions. This amounted to R67-million in damages alone.
Explosives were used during 71 heists this year to access the vaults in the vehicles, a 184% increase from the 25 attacks with explosives last year.