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South African government minister and bodyguards robbed at gunpoint on major highway

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African police are on a manhunt for suspects who robbed a government minister at gunpoint and disarmed her two bodyguards of their pistols on a busy Johannesburg highway, police said Tuesday.

The robbery took place while Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga’s bodyguards were changing a punctured tire in the early hours of Monday morning.

Three gunmen allegedly appeared from bushes, ordered the bodyguards to lie on the ground before taking their firearms, and then pointed a gun at Chikunga and robbed her of some personal items.

“A manhunt has since been launched following this unprecedented incident," police spokeswoman Athlenda Mathe said.

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The minister told lawmakers during a parliamentary briefing Tuesday that the ordeal had traumatized her.

“The whole experience was very traumatizing, devastating, it was bad," Chikunga said, adding that she tried to make a call when she realized something was amiss. "But just before I could do anything they opened the door and pointed the gun at my head, and ordered me to come out.”

Chikunga and her bodyguards appear to have fallen victim to a known criminal strategy on some of the country’s major roads: Robbers place spikes on the road to puncture a car tire, and then ambush occupants of the vehicle when they emerge to fix the tire.

Police said the bodyguards were receiving the necessary support and counselling.