Hope and heroes after Sandringham Spar robbery
He wears a Spar puffer jacket, a shy smile, and conducts himself with calm humility. Yet, while he might seem unassuming, in a moment of extreme danger and fear when Sandringham Spar was overrun by 10 gunmen during a robbery this week, Justice Buthelezwe Moyo proved himself a superhero.
“Through all the chaos and danger, our security guard, Moyo, was able to think with clarity, put his own life at risk, and serve the bigger purpose. He managed to sound the fire alarm, resulting in all 10 assailants fleeing,” says Maria Hajiyianni, who along with her husband, Nic, has owned the store for 12 years in the heart of what’s nicknamed “the kosher strip” next to Glenhazel.
“This happened at a crucial point during the robbery as the assailants headed towards the cash office,” she says. The robbery happened at approximately 15:20 on Monday, 5 July. “There were 10 of them, and they were all armed. They were obviously scouting, and had been in the store going up and down. My husband suspected something, and went to check the video footage.”
The robbers then suddenly sprang into action, overpowering the CAP guard standing at a lookout point outside, and the security guards in the store. The rest moved to the cashiers to demand money. The cashiers cannot actually open the tills without a password, and this enraged the robbers, who then started beating two cashiers with a gun and punched another in the face.
“They then ripped the cash drawers out of the tills,” Hajiyianni says. Although she was at home recovering from COVID-19 at the time of the attack, she was told by those present that the gunmen then “started towards the cash office”.
That’s when Moyo managed to press the fire alarm, “and these guys got scared and fled”.
The scene before Moyo stepped in was “absolute chaos”, says Hajiyianni. “Watching the footage, you can see there was just so much fear, and for him to put himself in the front line and think, ‘I just have to do this’, well, people have to know that it’s not all about the bad that happens, we need to look at the good and see who our heroes are.”
Besides Moyo’s bravery, there are many others to whom the Hajiyiannis want to pay tribute. “It’s the outside customers that lent a hand, the guys from Hatzolah, and those from CAP, the community, and its endless messaging and support. We’re so grateful.”
“Amongst all the chaos, from corona to crime, you know what, there’s hope. And that’s enough for us to carry on. At one point, I thought of throwing in the towel, but the day after the robbery, the fact that all my staff showed up [was inspiring]. I was so worried they wouldn’t show up, but they all came. And I thought, if they can do it, I can do it too.”
Hatzolah attended to the three injured cashiers, and while one was concussed and stayed home to rest, the other two, like their colleagues, chose to return to work the next day. Since then, Spar’s head office has also played a role, offering trauma counselling to staff and assisting with the investigation. CAP is working with the police in this regard.
“Let’s try and see if we can bring these guys to book because what happened isn’t right,” Hajiyianni says. “In the 12 years that we’ve been here, we’ve never had an incident. You know, G-d is being good. We are protected, and I think he will continue to protect us, but it shouldn’t have happened,” she says, not just pointing to the robbery, but its brazen and aggressive nature.
The Hajiyiannis, who are Greek, have been profoundly moved by the support shown by the Jewish community. “What I want to come out of this situation is a message of gratitude. This was a hectic experience, but there is another side to this that is about human connection and care.”
Hajiyianni says that when they took over the store, they knew nothing about kashrut, and it has been “a learning curve”. Now, they celebrate, what she says is an “intimate relationship with their customers. Everyone has just banded together showing solidarity, love, and encouragement.”
Along with giving thanks for this support, her desire is to celebrate Moyo’s example of quiet courage. “He’s loyal, dedicated, and passionate about his work. He always knows wrong from right. He’s one of the unsung heroes in our workplace that make all the difference in this very fallen world.”
Moyo was at first hesitant to describe his actions during the drama. As Hajiyianni puts it, “he sees it as just doing his job”.
However, the father of four, aged 40, whose wife, Precedes, works at the deli section of the store and was there during the robbery, says, “I was patrolling inside the shop. When I was going towards the door, the lady that I work with in security showed me with signs that something was happening near her. When I checked, I saw everyone lying down. That’s when I crawled over to press the fire alarm.”
Asked about how he feels about the fact that it was his action that brought the robbery to an end, he says, “I’m happy that there was no one who was badly harmed. It makes me proud of my work.”