Tongaat farmer plays dead and survives

With blood oozing from a deep gash on his forehead, a desperate sugar cane farmer “played dead” after he and his wife were attacked by three armed men at their farmhouse in Esenembe, near OThongathi.

Distraught relatives of a couple who was attacked at their farm arrive on the scene on Thursday. A female farmer was killed during the attack. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA
Distraught relatives of a couple who was attacked at their farm arrive on the scene on Thursday. A female farmer was killed during the attack. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA

It is believed that 72-year-old Steve Govender knew his attackers, so he thought that feigning death on the kitchen floor, where he lay with his hands bound tightly, was the only way he could survive.

Having deceived his attackers, Govender, who had sustained serious injuries, had another hurdle to overcome – the wait for someone to rescue him.

Only he and his wife, Virathapushanam, 70, lived in their three-bedroom house. But she could not help Govender. Her body was later found gagged and with a pillow on her.

Rescuers eventually breached the well-secured house, which had high walls and electrified fencing, seven hours after the attack.

The attack on the Govenders’ home is believed to have happened at about 9pm on Wednesday, soon after they returned from the Verulam Market where they sold fresh produce.

A feeble Govender was found in a pool of blood and rushed to the local Victoria Hospital.

He was in a stable condition when the Sunday Tribune contacted his family on Friday and he was expected to be discharged in time to attend his wife’s funeral yesterday.

Prem Balram of Reaction Unit SA (Rusa) said the alarm about the wellbeing of Govender and his wife had been raised when neighbours realised on Thursday morning that he had not come out of his house at 5am, as he usually did.

Balram said that when neighbours moved closer to the house, they could hear constant cries for help from inside. But the house had been locked and they had to use an axe to break open a door before contacting Rusa.

“Govender cheated death by playing dead because he knew his attackers would finish him off.

“We believe the attackers were people he had employed. With the information we’ve given to police, we expect arrests soon,” he said.

Balram echoed the neighbours’ sentiments that elderly people had become victims of crime because they could not fight back and they usually lived alone.

“Criminals are taking advantage of their situation. It is a high-crime area.

“We have found bodies lying in sugar-cane fields before,” he said.

Govender’s brother, Sagie, said the family was concerned that his brother would not be able to attend his wife’s funeral, but they had been told he had made steady progress and a discharge would be possible.

“We were taken aback by the brutality and force used by the attackers. It shows that they followed a well-orchestrated plan,” Sagie said. More police should be sent to the area to prevent similar attacks, he said.

Among other neighbours who expressed safety concerns after this week’s attack was bus owner Mahadar Chath, 58.

He said his community was gripped with fear and he had improved security at his home by getting six more vicious dogs.

In Chath’s neighbourhood, fully secured farmhouses, some with hi-tech security fencing were a common feature.

The Sunday Tribune Herald has also learned that many residents own firearms. Most use the services of security company for added cover.

“We often see people loitering in our neighbourhood and crime is becoming rife here. We’ve noticed that mainly elderly people have become victims of crime.

“I am always prepared for any kind of situation because one can never know when our family will fall victims to an attack,” he said.

But Chath said he was puzzled at why the Govenders’ dogs were tied up at the time of the attack.

Another victim of crime in the area is farmer Reggie Harichand, 65. He said criminals took advantage of the fact that the houses were far apart and the nearest police station was about 20km away.

Harichand said he had returned from the market when his home was raided by three robbers two years ago. “My wife and I were tied up with cable ties. We were threatened with knives. Jewelry and cash were stolen,” he said. Sunday Tribune

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