Thu, 09 Jul 2020

Bonnievale farm murder - a community in mourning

22 May 2019, 22:10 GMT+10

The quiet rural town of Bonnievale is surrounded by fertile farmland where vines and fruit are cultivated. The landscape is one of rolling hills and green nature.

Autumn is winemaking time, and the sweet smell of fermenting grapes drifts on the breeze. The people here are friendly, and even strangers are greeted in the street with a nod or a wave.

It's a close-knit community where neighbours band together to make things work. The embodiment of this community spirit is the Jakes Gerwel Technical School in the Happy Valley township. The school opened its doors about a decade ago after the community decided to take matters into their own hands when many of the farm labourers' children couldn't get a spot in the overcrowded local high school.

Farmers donated land, while architects, builders and workers offered their skills and labour free of charge. Everyone donated what they could and the community soon managed to raise the R25m needed to supplement the Western Cape education department's allocation.

The school is a proud symbol of the community's altruism and can-do spirit. But today, the people of Bonnievale are united in mourning.

On May 13 farmer Tool Wessels (55), owner of the farm Kapteinsdrif, was brutally murdered, and his wife, Liezel (55), was tortured for hours.

It's the second time in five months a farm murder was committed in the valley. In December, Piet and Elmien Steyn from the farm Zandfontein were brutally killed.

Both the Steyns and the Wessels were attacked in their homes. Tool and Liezel's two daughters, Jana (20) and Annelie (23), are students in Cape Town and weren't on the farm when the attack happened.

Everyone in the area is shocked by these evil deeds. "It's so sad. It's really a tragedy," says Theuns Coetzee, the architect who drew the plans for the Jakes Gerwel school.

"We've become a little complacent in town. We often leave our doors and windows open because everyone here knows one other."

At Kapteinsdrif, as elsewhere in the community, the eight labourer families who live here are still deeply in shock.

The details of the attack spread like wildfire. Liezel was home alone at about 18.30 when four intruders attacked. Tool had left minutes before to take labourers back to their homes in town. Upon his return, he was ambushed. Boiling water had been poured over the couple while the intruders demanded cash. Liezel was stabbed in the chest with a sharp object.

She managed to free herself and flee after the attackers dragged Tool from the house. She got in her car and drove off to find help. No one was home at the first farm she stopped, but she found someone at Bonnievale Cellars.

At around 23:00, one of Tool's labourers found his body at a pump station in the vineyard. His hands were still tied behind his back.

The locals are quick to point out the arrested 19-year-old suspect in the Wessels murder and his three fugitive accomplices aren't from the valley - they're all from elsewhere, possibly Lesotho.

"It's going to take time to get over the pain," says Annay Baadjies (40), the Wessels family's housekeeper for 21 years. Her husband, Niklaas (38), is a tractor driver on the farm. They live in a three-bedroom house Tool built for them within walking distance of the main homestead.

"In my mind's eye I can still see him driving past in his bakkie," Annay tells YOU.

She last saw Tool at about 16.45 on the day of his death. The attackers had apparently gained access to the house through a side door.

Ansie Baadjies (53) has lived on the farm for 19 years. "I never saw him [Tool] angry. He was the most patient man...I could never believe people like him still existed," she says sadly.

She speaks for the entire community when she says, "We're going to recover from this. But for now, we're all just comforting one another."

At the Jakes Gerwel school, the symbol of the community's unity and support for each other, we speak to the headmaster, Albert Mocke.

"Bonnievale is an incredibly close-knit community. There's no 'us' and 'them' here. All of us - white, coloured and black - live closely together and we watch out for each other," he says.

"What happened to Tool and Liezel isn't a reflection of our community. We just knew it had to be outsiders. The day after the attack, many of the farm labourers' children stayed home from school. It's incredibly sad for everyone and we still have many questions about it."

But in the same spirit of unity and hope with which the locals built this school with its 1 000 pupils, the people of Bonnievale will overcome this tragedy too. They won't let this senseless deed define or divide them.

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