'Why do bad things happen to good people?' Amanzimtoti community in anguish after death of popular pastor

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Dutch Reformed minister Liezel de Jager was murdered after a jogging session on 13 October. (PHOTO: Facebook)
Dutch Reformed minister Liezel de Jager was murdered after a jogging session on 13 October. (PHOTO: Facebook)

The small, unimposing church in Amanzimtoti is just 400 metres from the rectory, where Liezel de Jager lived with her husband and two young daughters.

It was as this church where Liezel’s memorial service was held – the same place where, just days before she died, she said in her sermon, “I’m really looking forward to going to heaven on day. I can’t wait.”

In the first church service following her shocking death, a sombre atmosphere reigned as her colleague, Reverend Marius Schoombie, tried to comfort the congregation.

But even he couldn’t help asking what to many were wondering. “Why does something so terrible happen to someone as beautiful as Liezel?” he said. “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Liezel’s husband, Werner, called the local security firm to say he’d found her body next to the driveway. (PHOTO: Facebook)

The murder of the popular 38-year-old Dutch Reformed minister after a jogging session on 13 October has stunned the community.

Her husband, Werner, called the local security firm to say he’d found her body below a staircase next to the driveway. She had apparently been strangled and her throat cut while her two daughters played inside the house.

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A metal toy spade – the alleged murder weapon – was found next to her head. Nothing had been stolen.

A few days later, Werner’s car was broken into – a rare occurrence in this usually “very safe” neighbourhood, a member of the community says. Then another twist: Werner simply disappears.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbele told The Witness he was last seen by his father-in-law on October 23 at 10 am.

“We haven’t made any arrests,” he says. “A murder investigation has been opened and we’re still waiting for the results of the autopsy to determine cause of death.”

On the morning of her death, Liezel met two friends at around 4.45 am.

Liezel was 27 when she became a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. (PHOTO: Facebook)

“She was the usual jovial Liezel,” says Alan Payne, chair of the Amanzimtoti Athletics Club.

He says Liezel and two friends went jogging on their own that morning.

“They were gone for about 40 minutes. When she got back, we had a quick chat, then she got in her car and left. The other joggers left in their own cars.”

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Liezel got in her car at around 5.40 am, an eyewitness says. She drove the five minutes back to the rectory and parked in the driveway.

The property is surrounded by a low garden wall and there are no neighbours on three sides – just lush tropical vegetation.

A source close to the investigation confirms that the home’s panic button was activated at 6.02 am. The source adds that Werner sounded completely calm in his exchange with the security company.

“He gave the correct code to cancel the alarm.”

The same source says a call was received just after 7 am. It was from Werner, who was hysterical. “My wife has been attacked in our yard,” he reportedly said. “She looks dead.”

Security guards found Liezel at the bottom of the stairs near the garage. “Her throat had been cut and there was blood around her neck, presumably caused by the children’s spade when it broke while she was being choked with it,” the source says.

“The spade lay next to her head. Her handbag was still hooked over her shoulder, and her keys and cellphone were lying on either side of her.”

Werner was last seen by his father-in-law on Saturday morning. (PHOTO: Facebook)

Local residents are unwilling to say too much but people are more forthcoming in Upington, where Liezel was a minister and the De Jagers previously lived for eight years.

Liezel was only 27 when she became a minister in the Kanoneiland Dutch Reformed Church.

“She served the congregation with her whole heart. Even in dark times, she was able to handle situations with empathy,” one congregant tells YOU.

Liezel’s friends in Upington talk of her infectious laughter and describe her as “not your typical Dutch Reformed minister”.

“She had so much wisdom and inner strength,” says Marquette Stander, a former member of the Kanoneiland congregation.

“She was finely attuned to people. Now our hands are tied. We can’t help her – it’s too late.”

Liezel had to witness the troubles of someone close to her too, a close acquaintance from the Northern Cape says.

The person – whose identity is being withheld on legal advice – once allegedly drove off a road and claimed a taxi had forced them to do so. Another time they claimed they’d been attacked by two men with razor blades.

“Later they confessed in church they’d lied about the incident,” the source says.

Another Upington couple say they once found this person trying to commit suicide in a bus belonging to the church. “It was terribly traumatic.”

A third congregant from Kanoneiland confirms this suicide attempt as well as others.

“The bus was covered in blood.”

YOU has also seen messages from Kanoneiland congregants about how the same person went missing for a day in 2018. This person was apparently later found in the Augrabies Falls National Park, where they’d allegedly once more tried to commit suicide.

And yet despite all of this, Liezel still managed to serve her congregation with a smile. She was also a great mom to her girls, says her friend Therese van Straaten.

“Just recently, Liezel went to so much trouble for one of her daughters’ birthday parties,” she says.

The little girls are being cared for by relatives. And at the rectory in Amazimtoti, all is quiet now, the house deserted, bird song and the hum of insects the only sign of life.

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