Frantic cries for help from Allen and Isla Still alerted their landlord, Koos de Klerk, who ran to their aid, helping to drive off three armed men who broke into the couple’s home on Monday night.
The Stills were eating dinner at 8 pm when the robbers — one wearing a balaclava, one in a mask and a third whose face was uncovered — kicked down the door.
They attacked Allen, hitting him repeatedly with clubs, leaving him with a broken hand, head lacerations and bruises.
The brutal assault was interrupted when De Klerk started banging on the window of the cottage and shouting.
The intruders fled, taking the couple’s car keys and some cash, but ended up leaving the Stills’ vehicle behind.
“I think they were looking for guns, but we don’t have any,” Allen said.
Within minutes members of the Giant’s Security Cluster, Nsele Emergency Services and the SAPS arrived at the Yellow Star Stud, which is roughly 12 km outside Mooi River.
When the paramedics got inside they discovered Isla had already done some first aid on Allen. After making sure he was stable, they rushed the couple to the Life Hilton Hospital.
Chris Pappas, DA spokesperson on agriculture and rural development in KwaZulu-Natal, visited them on Monday night.
He said Allen’s face was covered in blood when he saw him being wheeled off for scans. “He was conscious and did smile at me when I greeted him. Isla was visibly shaken and in shock,” he added.
De Klerk’s wife, Lorraine, said she was still feeling shaken by the attack on the couple, whose cottage is in the garden of their property.
“It’s dreadful, absolutely dreadful, just too terrible for words, but the community support was incredible,” she added.
Speaking to The Witness after he and his wife made statements to the Mooi River police, Allen said that while he “wasn’t feeling great”, things could have been a lot worse.
“At least I am out of hospital and walking around,” he said.
Allen, who works as a vet, will be unable to operate on any patients for the next six weeks, but says he is determined to return to light duties at the Mooi River Veterinary Clinic as soon as possible.
Asked how he and his wife, who works as vet in Greytown four days a week, were feeling after their ordeal, Allen admitted to being concerned about whether or not they would be able to feel safe in the house again.
“When things like this happen in your home, you can’t avoid thinking about it.
“It’s important that you should be able to relax in your home,” he added.
The attack on the Stills is the third on properties on the D161 road.
In September last year, international children’s book illustrators Burgen and Chantelle Thorne were attacked with knives and sticks on their smallholding, leaving Burgen wheelchair-bound.
Then, in December, 64-year-old Rodger Huntley, who manages a herd of Bonsmara cattle and a timber plantation for owner Stan Trollip, was held at knifepoint by two intruders at Linton Farm.
They demanded firearms and money, while beating him over the head, locked him in a cupboard and left with his wallet and Toyota Hilux bakkie.
After freeing himself, Huntley, who limps as a result of a stroke, staggered for nearly an hour to get help from his neighbour, Paul Brand.
Trollip said the latest incident had left everyone in the close-knit community feeling unsafe.
“These guys are either out on bail or they’ve been released and they’re on the streets laughing at us.
“The police investigate as best they can, but it seems that when things get to court, they fall apart,” he added.
Huntley agrees and believes it’s high time that government supports farmers with a show of force.
“It’s getting ridiculous the way they are hitting the farming community.
“Without us they would not have food. Something should have been done about these attacks years ago,” he said.
In the meantime, the Giant’s Security Cluster, a group of local farmers, are trying their best to protect their own. They have installed security cameras, which cover about 80% of the area, and members do regular patrols day and night.
Pappas said: “But they shouldn’t have to. The state should be protecting people ... This area definitely seems to be a hotspot, but silence is all we get from the government.”
The IFP, meanwhile, has called for increased police visibility to curb farm attacks, which they believe could exacerbate unemployment and instability in an economy struggling from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Blessed Gwala, spokesperson on community safety and liaison, said: “The government does not seem to be willing to fulfil its constitutional obligation of creating conducive and safe environment where the private investors and businesses can invest and operate businesses safely in this country.
“This is a cause for concern ... Effective law enforcement is of immediate importance to stop farm attacks and murders urgently.”
Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese said there had been no arrests.
Police sources have confirmed that members of the Organised Crime Units are no longer allowed to investigate farm attacks.
A source in Pietermaritzburg described the situation as “madness”.
He said Organised Crime Unit members have more time and expertise to investigate these types of crimes than officers based at individual police stations where their case load is extremely high.
“When we handled farm attacks we had around a 90% or higher conviction rate,” he said.
He said members are frustrated continually by the “politics” at play within the police force and said even if experienced officers in the Organised Crime Unit get information or have time on their hands to assist with investigations into attacks on farms they are instructed to “drop it”.
“We are categorically told it is not our mandate and so no matter what we cannot investigate even when the crimes go unsolved,” the source said.