JOHANNESBURG - Gunmen killed six people in an attack on a police station in a small South African town on Wednesday, stealing quantities of weapons and a vehicle in what police were treating as a robbery.
Five police officers and an off-duty soldier were killed in the attack in Nqcobo, about 800 km (480 miles) southeast of Johannesburg, police spokesman Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said.
"This incident happened in the early hours of the morning when armed robbers, or what we suspect is armed robbers, entered the station, randomly opened fire on the police officers on duty," Naidoo told eNCA news channel.
The gunmen also shot a bystander who turned out to be a off-duty soldier as they fled in a stolen police vehicle, Naidoo said.
South Africa's police minister, Fikile Mbalula, called the attack a national tragedy.
"The killing of our law enforcement officers robs us of dedicated servants of our people whose only sin was to serve and protect," Mbalula said on Twitter.
South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world.