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Murder in 6th KZN farm attack

20 Apr 2018
The Mercury
Bheki Mbanjwa

THE issue of farm murders has reignited with the suffocation of a 70-year-old woman by three armed ambushers, and the severe beating of her farmer husband near oThongathi.

Police have launched a dragnet for the killers of Virathapushanam (Vee) Govender who was attacked with her husband, Steve Govender, 71, at their home at about 9.30pm on Wednesday.

The murder happened after six other farm attacks were recorded nationally earlier in the week, according to DA MP and spokesperson on safety and security, Dianne Kohler Barnard. She described the attack on the Govenders as horrific.

Expressing alarm at the recent incidents, Kohler Barnard said farm attacks had increased once again.

“The attacks are carefully planned and, without exception, include violence, and frequently torture of the most horrific kinds,” she said.

Kohler Barnard said according to figures received from AfriForum, there had been 153 farm attacks and 19 farm murders nationally since the beginning of the year.

“Unfortunately, the SAPS does not provide the stats, (although) I have been requesting them to do so for farm attacks… The only reliable figures we can get are from AfriForum,” she said, adding that the figures include people of all races.

The KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) said five farm attacks – excluding this incident – had been recorded in KZN since the beginning of the year.

Kwanalu CEO Sandy la Marque said according to records there did not seem to be any increase in farm attacks, but she added that the union was closely monitoring the situation.

In the Wednesday incident, Steve, a vegetable farmer, lay in the kitchen bleeding for several hours, unaware that his wife had been killed in one of the bedrooms in his house.

He had been stabbed in the forehead and hit on the head with a blunt object, his nephew, Clyde Pillay, said last night. It is not clear how long the ordeal lasted.

“He is still heavily sedated in hospital and we did not want to ask him anything,” Pillay said.

He was discovered by neighbours in the early morning yesterday when they heard his screams. “He kept on calling for his wife… around 4 or 5 o’clock (the neighbours) managed to hear him,” Pillay said.

The neighbours had to break down the door as the robbers had locked the couple inside and made off with their house and car keys.

By the time the neighbours entered the house, they found Steve in the kitchen, bleeding profusely, with his hands and legs tied with a telephone cable. He was unable to move.

His wife, who also had her hands and legs tied, was later discovered in one of the bedrooms with a pillow on top of her head. She had been suffocated, police said.

The Govenders’ two children were in shock yesterday.

“They can’t believe it because their mom was everything to them. She was such a small person as well. She would have never been able to put up a fight. She probably weighed about 45kg and posed no danger to the attackers,” Pillay added.

The family was also puzzled as to why Govender’s two Rottweilers were locked in their enclosure at the time of the incident.

“He has got two huge Rottweilers and that is the thing that baffles all of us because if these dogs were not locked in, no one would come into the yard,” Pillay said. The robbers made off with jewelry and a firearm, leaving the cars behind. The house had been ransacked, a clear sign that the robbers had enough time to go through each room.

It is believed that the intruders had gained entry as the Govenders drove on to their property. “We believe that they got in before the electric gate could close,” Pillay said.

Johan Burger, a consulting researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, said farm murders are normally accompanied by excessive violence.

One possible explanation for this, he said, was because unlike in an urban setting, robbers knew they had less chance of being caught in the act on farms and smallholdings.

“Farms and smallholdings are far more isolated and therefore the chances are very slim that neighbours would see or notice that something is wrong.

“Meanwhile, in an urban area they run the risk of the neighbours noticing and alerting the police. With farm attacks, they have more time (so) they keep torturing the victims until they give them the code to the safe and valuables,” Burger explained.

He said perpetrators of farm attacks were always cautious of farm watches, hence they attacked the victims by surprise, and prevented victims from raising the alarm with farm watch groups.

While there has been a belief that farm attacks were motivated by race, a recent study by Kwanalu found these were motivated by socio-economic circumstances that led to opportunistic crimes.