Stilfontein minister’s alleged murder-suicide: ‘None of us knew what his personal struggles were’

2018-06-14 16:24
Minister Francois van Heerden at Dutch Reformed Church’s Stilfontein Central (PHOTO: Supplied)

Minister Francois van Heerden at Dutch Reformed Church’s Stilfontein Central (PHOTO: Supplied)

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Just a few days before a Stilfontein church minister allegedly shot first his son and then himself he’d been “his usual self”.

So says Magriet Otto, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church’s Stilfontein Central congregation, adding that nothing in the behaviour of her beloved minister of the past eight years gave any clues as to the personal issues he’d been wrestling with.

Ds Francois van Heerden (63) served communion to Magriet and her husband, Willie, at their home on the Sunday morning before his death.

Magriet hadn’t been able to go to church that morning because she’d recently had an operation.

“He knew everyone’s secrets and problems but none of us know what his personal struggles were,” she says.

Magriet and Willie were probably among the last people to see Van Heerden alive before he allegedly shot and killed his son, Rupert (31), and then himself.

The incident happened this past Sunday, 10 June. Van Heerdens’ wife, Herzola, was in their bedroom in the manse when she heard shots fired and rushed to the study, where she found the bodies of her son and husband. She called emergency services but both father and son were declared dead on the scene.

“The motive is unknown,” police spokesperson Colonel Adéle Myburgh says. “We’re still investigating the incident and can’t divulge details of the case at this time.”

Many questions remain unanswered after the shooting and people who knew Van Heerden well say he’d never have shot his son on purpose.

Magriet tells YOU she’d organised for Francois to serve communion at their home on Sunday because they’d been unable to go to church.

“He arrived at about 10.30am and stayed for 20 minutes. It was special that we could take communion together as a family. He spoke beautifully and read from the Bible,” she says. 

The family had been preparing mutton stew for lunch. “Ds Francois said it smelled delicious and we agreed we’d plan for him and Herzola to come over for dinner soon,” she says.

Magriet says when she heard the news later that day that Van Heerden had died she couldn’t stop crying. “He’d always been so reserved. He’d really been a leader to all of us and I simply couldn’t process Sunday’s news.”

Van Heerden visited her in hospital to pray for her, she adds. “He was always so devoted. It’s like losing a father.

“It gnaws at me that that day in our home was the last time he’d opened his Bible, the last time he’d prayed. I have so many questions but I accept it was his time to go,” she says.

The members of the Stilfontein congregation can only speculate on what happened that day in Van Heerden’s study. “We have to wait until we have all the facts,” Magriet says.

Read more on:    johannesburg

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