Woman grateful to be alive after farm attack

2016-06-10 12:00
Irene van Tonder describes how she was pushed down onto the chair, her back pressed up hard against a bicycle which had been placed on the chair, and smothered with a cushion during a robbery in Ashburton.

Irene van Tonder describes how she was pushed down onto the chair, her back pressed up hard against a bicycle which had been placed on the chair, and smothered with a cushion during a robbery in Ashburton. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness )

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Pietermaritzburg - A vicious farm attack in Ashburton on Thursday left an elderly woman bruised, in shock, but grateful to be alive.

With her hands bound tightly by belts, the pressure of the pillow over her face leaving her with no oxygen, and a screwdriver held to her throat, Irene van Tonder (71) thought she had only seconds to live.

“Listen to what I say. If you remember my face, or tell anyone, I will push this screwdriver right into your throat,” said her attacker.

What was supposed to be a pleasant trip to visit her granddaughter and son turned into a nightmare when the Lady­smith resident and a domestic worker were brutally attacked in her son’s Ashburton home yesterday morning.

“It was 7.30 am. I was watching TV from a chair in the dining room while the domestic worker was tidying up the lounge,” said Van Tonder. “I saw two men storm into the lounge from the back of the house and grab her. She turned and looked at me with such fear and I tried to make a run for the door.”

Van Tonder said one of the men grabbed her, hitting her hard across the face, sending her “flying across the room”.

“He pushed me down into the lounge chair, and bound my hands and legs with belts,” she said. “Then he pushed a pillow down over my face. He was suffocating me. He shoved the screwdriver against my throat.”

Van Tonder said the man told her to do everything they said and if she did not, they would kill her.

“I was afraid for my life. I thought this was it. I thought they were going to kill me,” she said.

Van Tonder said the two men started screaming at her, asking were the money and guns were kept.

“The one man stayed with me while the other tied up the domestic worker and made her show him where things were in the house. I told them we didn’t keep any guns and they told me I was lying. They even climbed up into the ceiling to look for firearms.”

She said the man who had threatened her with a screwdriver demanded her cellphone.

“I told him I did not have one, and just then, my cellphone rang.

“I thought that would be the end for me. He shouted that I was a liar and kept on searching the house.”

Van Tonder said the men stole her son’s television, the radio, all his hiking boots, her grandchildren’s bicycles, clothes and the gold chain her late husband had left her.

“They even stole food,” she said.

Van Tonder said although there were only two men in the house, one of the robbers kept going outside to talk to someone.

“I told them that my son had gone to the shops and was coming back soon and I think that scared them.

“Every second felt like an hour. It was the most terrible thing I have ever been through.”

After what seemed like hours but may have only been a few minutes, the men left.

“I heard them leave and counted to 15. I untied myself and then untied the domestic worker who they had left in my son’s room.

“I told her to open the gate for me and I ran down the road screaming for help.”

Two farmers from next door immediately rushed out, calling for police and an ambulance.

“As soon as the ambulance arrived, I went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to Edendale Hospital.”

Van Tonder said she was “so grateful to be alive”, adding she had never prayed so hard as she did during the attack.

“They were very organised. They knew what they were doing and what they were looking for.

“I am just lucky to be alive,” she said.

Van Tonder said the robbers appeared to be between the ages of 19 and 22 and police had taken finger prints from the house.

“I know there will be patrols here for the next few nights by a security company after today [yesterday],” she said.

Head of KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (KwaNalu) security desk Koos Marais said those living in remote areas needed to ensure they took the necessary safety precautions.

“It can happen to anyone and people need to know that anyone is a target.”

Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese said a case of robbery had been opened at Alexandra Road police station.

• chelsea.pieterse@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  farm attack

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