Durban - A farm worker and two others have been arrested for the murder of an elderly couple and their son at their Richmond smallholding at the weekend.
Eckhardt Schutte, who turned 77 on Sunday, was shot with his wife, Elizabeth, 66, and their 33-year-old son Lutz, who had just arrived from Germany to visit his father for his birthday.
A friend of the family said a panga might have also been used in the attack.
The couple’s eldest son, Stefan, found them lying in a pool of blood on Sunday morning after arriving for a birthday lunch that had been planned for his father.
An employee of the Schutte family was arrested on Monday.
He led police to his accomplices, who were nabbed early on Tuesday.
Police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said the suspects were arrested in a joint operation by Richmond police, crime intelligence, the Hawks and Magma Security.
Three firearms and cellphones belonging to the deceased were recovered.
The motive for the murder was robbery, Naicker said.
The suspects had ransacked the farmhouse and escaped in the couple’s vehicle.
A police source indicated that the victims all suffered multiple gunshot wounds and blunt force trauma.
According to friends of the family, the Schuttes had owned a small “bush sawmill” and sold wood shavings to chicken farmers, and wooden pallets to vegetable farmers.
Neighbour Daniel Grover said on Monday that the Richmond community was rallying behind Stefan, who was shattered by the tragedy. His younger brother, Matthias, who lives in London, was expected to arrive in South Africa on Tuesday.
A close friend of the family, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was “terrible” that such violent attacks continued to happen.
“The son arrived there to have a braai with his family for his father’s birthday, but when he got there the house was open,” he said.
“When he stepped in he found blood all over the floor and watched his mother, father and brother lying dead in a pool of blood - it’s a terrible thing to see, you just can’t comprehend something like that happening in this country where we are trying so hard to find common ground and work together.”
The friend said Elizabeth had fetched Lutz from the airport and it appeared that Eckhardt might have been murdered first when he was alone.
There was a fresh loaf of bread next to Lutz which suggested he might have just entered the house with his mother when he was attacked with a panga, the friend said.
He said he did not know why the couple’s Rhodesian ridgeback dogs had not reacted to the assailants.
Provincial police spokes-man, Captain Thulani Zwane, said the house had been ransacked.
“Firearms, household items and an undisclosed amount of cash was stolen,” he said.
“We are concerned about the attacks on farmers and the police are doing patrols on a regular basis. We appeal to the farming community to work closely with the police in the fight against crime.”
Koos Marais, of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union, said the organisation was outraged by the murders. “Farmers are the most vulnerable section of the community. We call on the police to step up visible policing, especially in the more isolated areas where there have been a number of incidents over the past year,” Marais said.
He urged farmers and landowners to step up security and possibly look into neighbourhood watch initiatives, and to report people behaving suspiciously to the police immediately.
The community safety spokesman for AfriForum, Ian Cameron, said the government’s silence on farm attacks was fuelling the problem. He said the organisation would be writing letters to ambassadors around the world so they can warn citizens of their countries about violence in rural areas of South Africa.
“We are appalled by the murders. They were inhumanly brutal, and yet government refuses to speak out. This means that the government is becoming an indirect accomplice,” Cameron said.
AfriForum said it had noted five farm attacks in KwaZulu-Natal over the past 11 days.
The DA’s councillor in Richmond, Goodman Madondo, said elderly farmers were being targeted.
He said the community had been living in fear since a heist in which a policeman and several suspects were killed in a shootout recently.
“It is really shocking, we don’t know who they will attack next,” he said. “We will organise (a meeting of farmers) and see how we can help as politicians.”
Mark Pitout, a farmer and eBlockwatch member, said farmers should improve their security measures by installing electric fencing and the best “slam gates” on the market.
He said farmers must become more vigilant and accept that police could not be there to protect them all the time.
Pitout said he believed the farm attacks might be linked to the “political utterances” of some politicians in relation to policies around land redistribution.