A heroic cash-in-transit driver who earned viral fame for keeping his cool when his armoured truck came under attack in South Africa has been placed under protective guard after receiving death threats.
Leo Prinsloo, 48, a former police sniper and 12-year veteran of the elite South African Police Service Special Task Force, earned worldwide fame after footage of the failed heist was published online.
But Deon Coetzee, managing director of Mr Prinsloo’s employer Fortis Pro Active Defence Solutions, told News24 the former cop had received death threats following the media attention.
He said the company had assigned a protective security detail to Mr Prinsloo and his family.
“Because of whoever is behind the organised crime, (Mr Prinsloo) has received death threats on his life, so we are just taking it seriously,” Mr Coetzee said on Wednesday.
Mr Prinsloo and his partner Lloyd Mtombeni came under a hail of gunfire from two cars of robbers on a busy Pretoria road on April 22.
A two-and-a-half minute video recorded inside the truck cabin showed Mr Prinsloo immediately taking evasive action, appearing to ram into one of the vehicles before speeding off.
After a high-speed chase and another hail of bullets hitting the truck, the video ended with Mr Prinsloo grabbing a rifle and exiting the vehicle to confront the attackers.
The heavily armoured Toyota Land Cruiser was escorting millions of rand – one million rand is around $90,000 – worth of mobile phones.
Mr Prinsloo and Mr Mtombeni spoke to news channel eNCA earlier this week about the incident.
“You start off with a day like that, you sort of need to expect things like that to happen because it prepares your mind for what you need to do,” Mr Prinsloo said.
“There’s nothing that really can prepare you 100 per cent for a situation like that. The first time I knew they were there was when the gunshots went off. Instinct kicks in – when we train people we usually tell them to pre-visualise what they’re going to do. It’s a mindset, and that’s pretty much what happened. I pre-visualised what I was going to do, and to the best of my ability I did what my mind told me to do and it worked out for me on that day.”
Mr Mtombeni had previous experience as an armed response guard but was only on his fourth day on the job at the company.
“It was my first time getting shot at sitting in a vehicle,” he told the news channel. “I learned a lot, how to react in situations like that.”
Speaking to eNCA, Mr Prinsloo also hit out at “armchair critics” who evaluated his performance online.
“Come work a day with the guys on the road – climb in the car, catch the bullets, see if it’s fun out there,” he said.
“It’s very easy in hindsight to criticise what should have been done, what could have been done. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In that moment you’ve got a very short period of time to make critical decisions. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you don’t have a chance to execute your plans because of the severity of the attack. Armchair critics must keep their opinions to themselves.”
In an earlier interview with The Daily Mail, Mr Prinsloo said “there was no way” he was going to let the robbers take the vehicle.
“I cannot say much as an investigation is underway but I and my fellow guard did what was expected of us,” he told the publication.
“They needed to take us out so they could take out the cargo vehicle. But there was no way I was going to let that happen and unfortunately I did not have a chance to return fire.”
A friend of Mr Prinsloo told The Daily Mail he was unsurprised by the way the security guard had reacted.
“He had enough of being a sitting duck and decided to take the fight to the armed robbers and was not going to go down without a fight,” the friend said.
“He is an expert shot and wanted to give a little bit back. When they saw Leo get out with his automatic rifle in a bullet proof vest and kneeling down to take aim they decided they had had enough and gave it up and the two cars made their escape. You can see from the dashcam that from start to finish he hardly bats an eyelid but is constantly aware of where they are and doesn’t flinch when they open fire on him and does his job perfectly.”
The friend said Mr Prinsloo got “bored” of being attacked, describing him as a “hero”.
“You see this sort of Chuck Norris stuff all the time in the movies but this was for real and Leo took the fight to them,” he said.
Mr Prinsloo runs a shooting academy called The Edge, where he trains police officers, military and security companies in shooting and unarmed combat.
The friend said he had never seen Mr Prinsloo show any fear and added he “never misses” with a gun.
South African Police spokesman Brig Vish Naidoo on Saturday confirmed that the incident happened on the N4 in Pretoria on April 22.
“The suspects fired several shots at the CIT vehicle in an attempt to stop it during a high-speed chase,” he said.
“The driver of the CIT vehicle managed to evade the robbers for a while but later stopped in wait for the robbers. The robbers fled without taking any money. No arrests have yet been made.”
The viral footage drew a spotlight on the warlike conditions faced by cash-in-transit drivers in the crime-ridden country.
South Africa has seen an alarming increase in cash-in-transit heists over recent years, described by investigative journalist Anneliese Burgess in her 2018 book Heist as “an out-of-control crime epidemic for which there seems to be no cure”.
The highly co-ordinated attacks often involve the use of stolen luxury cars, high-powered automatic weapons and explosives.
“Trying to get an accurate picture of South Africa’s crime statistics is a slippery exercise at the best of times,” Burgess wrote.
But she noted that a leaked document from the South African Banking Risk Information Centre put the number of cash-in-transit heists between April 2016 and March 2017 at 409.
In many cases, the attacks are inside jobs carried out with the help of police or the guards themselves.
This week, three security guards and a former employee from Fidelity Security Group were arrested in connection with a heist near Harding in the country’s southeast last Friday.
Last year, the country’s three largest cash-in-transit companies – Fidelity, G4S and SBV – formed a new association to co-ordinate efforts to counter the “unacceptably high” levels of violent attacks.
– with Natalie Wolfe