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A foreign nun, caring for Aids orphans in rural northern KwaZulu-Natal, was bashed to death with a four-pound (1,8kg) hammer and her body thrown over a cliff, allegedly by three men she regularly fed and cared for.

Three suspects, aged 45, 23 and 30, were expected to appear in the Obonjeni Magistrate’s Court on Monday on charges of robbery, kidnapping and murder.

On Friday, almost a week after Reita van Vuljk, 66, had been reported missing, her body was recovered by the Empangeni Search and Rescue Unit and Empangeni K9 Unit. Her body had been thrown 100m down a steep cliff.

Van Vuljk arrived in South Africa from the Netherlands around 2004, with a vision to help children and youth in need.

In 2005, she set up a home and a care centre in Obonjeni, in Jozini, providing nourishing meals and education, mainly to Aids orphans.

According to police, Van Vuljk went missing on Saturday, March 3. Three men allegedly forced their way into her house and demanded cash, which Van Vuljk did not have.

They allegedly ransacked the house and stole a lawnmower, angle grinder and some household items.

The suspects allegedly attempted to suffocate her. They then placed the unconscious woman in her white Toyota Hilux bakkie and drove off.

Less than 10km from her house, the suspects allegedly struck Van Vuljk’s head with a hammer and threw her body over the cliff.

Last Monday, concerned members of the community reported Van Vuljk missing.

Members of the Richards Bay Organised Crime Unit followed several leads and Van Vuljk’s bakkie was found overturned on a gravel road near Hluhluwe, police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said.

It has been alleged the suspects attempted to sell the bakkie in Matubatuba, the same day Van Vuljk was killed, but the deal turned sour.

On Wednesday, a witness managed to identify the suspect who was driving the bakkie when it overturned.

A 23-year-old man was arrested and after a day in custody, provided police with information that led to the recovery of Van Vuljk’s body.

On Friday afternoon, police arrested two more suspects who were found hiding at a traditional healer’s house at Candover, in Mkuze.

They also recovered the hammer.

According to some very emotional community members, who did not want to be named, the suspects were known to Van Vuljk.

They said she gave the suspects odd jobs around her house, taught them to drive and got them to assist in caring for the Aids orphans.

“She loved everyone. She used to feed and care for these men. No one expected them to kill her in such a brutal way. The biggest loss is to the children.

“The mother who loved them, fed them and encouraged them to go to school is no more…”

Department of Social Welfare spokeswoman, Ncumisa Fandesi, said they first came into contact with Van Vuljk in 2005 when she tried to set up a children’s home in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

“She was not a social worker, but a private individual who was interested in helping children in need.

“She did not know the requirements of setting up such a facility and the department intervened and tried to assist her.

“She set up a committee and they were working towards trying to formalise their goal of establishing a childcare and youth development facility.

“It is really sad that she had to die such a terrible death before her dream was achieved.” - Daily News