Two weeks ago in one of the places I volunteer there was an armed robbery. What do you say to people who have had a gun pulled on them? ‘Are you ok?’ you refrain from asking what happened as you don’t want to be seen as just wanting the details, but they tell you anyway, you offer sympathy and life moves on.
Last week there was another armed robbery, I didn’t see the gun men but I was on the premises, having opted to stay in another part of the building to finish a task rather than join the staff for lunch.
One by one the clients returned to the area I was in and I started to realise something was wrong. I didn’t rush down to the offices, I stayed with those who’s home had been invaded for the 2nd time and I listened to their fears.
I was holding back tears, panic and fear. I wanted to leave. I’m not South African, I haven’t spent my life preparing to face an armed robber.
About an hour later I ventured down to the office, I was asked if I was OK and where I’d been when it happened. The police were still there, taking statements. I listened to individuals recount their versions, I made tea, that’s what we British do in a crisis, what else could I possibly do.
Everyone was thanked and praised for their handling of the situation by the senior staff, everyone had done as they were instructed by the armed robbers and everyone remembered to do as they’d been advised.
· Don’t make eye contact
· Do as you’re told, hand over phones, keys
· Don’t attempt to take control
· Don’t argue
No one was hurt, the whole incident took between 5-6 minutes, everyone remained calm and the armed robbers left. The police were called, statements were made, debriefing took place and then everyone carried on with their jobs.
Me? I went home, in tears, had to stop at a mall for a coffee to calm down, spent the rest of the day with a friend until my husband returned from work and spent 2 days ‘what if?’ ‘if only’ ‘I want to return to the UK’ ‘I don’t feel safe’
I’ve gone into lock down mode, just like when we first arrived. Carry only what I need, phone and keys in my pocket, a small purse, no handbag. This happened in a place I volunteer, it’s a charity, these people are disabled, they have nothing, why hold a gun to their heads?
The fear of being involved in an armed robbery is now a reality, one I don't want to have to face or live in fear of actually happening.
I'm ready to leave now.