Murdered Stellenbosch farmer 'was a good man'

2018-06-26 05:35
Jeffrey Zetler (Supplied)

Jeffrey Zetler (Supplied)

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It feels like she has lost her father, Sophia Engelbrecht says from behind the counter of the iconic Mooiberge Farmstall in Stellenbosch.

Because while well-known farmer Jeffrey Zetler was her employer, she has known him since she was a little girl and her mother worked as a fruit and vegetable packer and lived on one of his farms.

"You hear lots of bad stories (about how farmers treat their employees) but that was not the case with Mr Zetler. He was a good man," Engelbrecht insists.

His devastated staff had a hard time getting back to work on Monday, after hearing that the man some of them have worked for for decades had been murdered in what is believed to be a botched robbery.

Engelbrecht shakes her head in disbelief. She had been working in the store when one of the tractor drivers rushed into the shop on Saturday afternoon and told her what had happened at Zetler's office less than a kilometre away. She then told Zetler's brother, Dennis, who rushed to the scene.

According to police sources, Zetler had been leaving Brakelsdal farm with a group of staff members on the back of his bakkie shortly after 16:00 when a Quantum taxi blocked his exit at the gate.

Watch, cash stolen

Three or four suspects emerged from the trucks parked on the grounds and forced Zetler and his staff back to the office.

The robbers forced the farmer to open the office but the alarm was triggered. The assailants apparently panicked and stabbed Zetler six times before fleeing the scene.

The workers ran to a nearby house where they phoned for help.

  
Sharon Engelbrecht, who grew up on Jeffrey Zetler’s farm and has worked for him for 25 years, with Dennis Zetler, Jeffrey’s brother, outside the Mooiberge farm stall. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Zetler's assailants made off with a watch and cash from his wallet.

On Monday afternoon, the police's forensics team was still on the scene and crime scene tape fluttered at the door to the office where Zetler was stabbed.

"There were plenty of tears. It still hasn't sunk in. I am devastated," Engelbrecht says.

She has lived on Zetler's farm her entire life, and started working for him in 1993 after completing high school.

She cleaned the floors and toilets of the iconic market on the R44, but 25 years later is the shop supervisor.

Invested in employees

"He was like a father to me. He treated his workers well. He built and improved our homes and borrowed money to those who needed it. His hands were never closed. If you found yourself in any difficulty, you could go to him."

Her father invested in his employees and did all he could to empower them, his daughter Zara Rudnick, 37, said.

She had been at the scene when paramedics attempted to resuscitate her father.

While his work ethic and commitment to his farms made him one of the most well-known farmers in Stellenbosch, to Rudnick and her sister, Zetler was simply "dad".

"There is nothing he wouldn't do for his family. He was a quiet kind of guy and very hard working, but he always had time for us. He put us first; he held our family together."

Her father took great pride in his work, Rudnick said, and did all he could to see his employees thrive.

He had taken some of his staff overseas with him to learn about international practice in terms of farming and also recently built a church on one of the farms so that his staff could worship closer to home, she said proudly.

A people's person

Described as a "nice, harmless, good-hearted guy" who always remembered important dates in his loved ones' lives, Zetler was killed on his wife Beverly's birthday.

The family has been inundated with messages of support since Zetler's murder, his long-time friend Mark Kaufman said.

He had the grim task of identifying the 62-year-old farmer and businessman's body.


On Monday, the police’s forensics team was still at the scene. The offices are on the right, behind the truck. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

 

Kaufman, a former police officer, said he had seen a lot in his career on the force, but confirming that the deceased was indeed his friend was "difficult".

"People always say nice things about someone when they die, but he really was a good guy with a good heart," Kaufman, a spokesperson for the Zetler family, said.

"He was a people's person."

Zetler had survived four previous robberies. Eleven years ago, he was tied up and left in a walk-in safe after robbers fled with R15 000 cash.

"A big voice" in the Stellenbosch community has been lost, the town's Mayor Gesie van Deventer said.

"Mr Zetler made a huge contribution to our community and provided work to hundreds of residents. I am very shocked and sad about the incident. The prayers and condolences of our entire community are sent to Mr Zetler's family and friends."

Police 'failing to protect farmers'

Western Cape police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andrè Traut on Monday confirmed that no arrests had been made yet.

Agri Western Cape CEO Carl Opperman said the organisation would request an urgent meeting with Police Minister Bheki Cele who is currently in the province following a spate of taxi violence incidents believed to have led to the deaths of at least 13 people at ranks in Cape Town.

Opperman said he wanted to hear why the police's rural safety plan was "still failing to protect farmers and residents of rural areas".

"A Stellenbosch producer (Zetler) was one of three farmers murdered in the country over the weekend. [We want] Minister Cele to urgently make more resources available to the Western Cape to implement the SAPS' (South African Police Service) rural safety plan properly, and to take the same strong position on farm murders as he did over taxi violence related murders over the weekend."

Zetler will be buried at the Stellenbosch Jewish Cemetery on Tuesday. He had been a long-standing chairperson of the town's synagogue.

"Not only was he a prominent strawberry farmer who generated substantial employment in the region, but he was also a pillar of strength to the Stellenbosch Jewish community. This is a tragedy for his family, his workers and the Stellenbosch community at large," said chairperson of the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies Rael Kaimowitz.

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