A French couple being evicted from a Sutherland farm allegedly shot dead a policeman, wounded another, then chased a third policeman and the farmer’s sons in a bakkie through the bush for four kilometres.
The couple, heavily armed, slender, and believed to be wearing khaki or camouflage, have fled on foot into the hills.
Two helicopters, police trackers and a large police ground crew are searching for them.
Philippe and Agnis Neniere are believed to be survival experts. They are said to belong to the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, a cult started in 1988 in rural Yelm, Washington State in the US.
The couple – he in his 60s and she in her 50s – had lived on the farm Hardie about 35km from Sutherland for 12 years but were being evicted by owner Gerhardus du Plessis because of their bizarre behaviour.
The dramatic confrontation happened on Friday when four policemen, accompanied by the farmer’s sons, Cobus and Jaen du Plessis, went to the farmhouse to find out whether the Nenieres had illegal weapons before evicting them.
Du Plessis said the police went into the house. “When they came out Philippe asked us why we were there and said he was shocked that the police were taking his weapons.
“But it was relaxed, as if we were all standing around at a braai. Philippe then leaned over against my brother’s vehicle and when he straightened up he had a handgun.
“He shot the police officer standing between me and my brother. He then leaned over and shot him again, in the head.”
Student constable Jacob Boleme, 27, died instantly.
The brothers and three other policeman turned to flee, and Warrant Officer Glenwall du Toit, 42, was shot in the back.
Neniere’s wife also allegedly fired shots from the house, said police.
Neniere grabbed his confiscated weapons and shot the tyres of the other vehicles before he and his wife took off in Jaen’s bakkie after the unarmed survivors.
“Luckily we know the farm and managed to call people in town, but we had to trek nearly 18km to a main road before we were picked up.”
The couple shot up Jaen’s bakkie and took off into the hills on foot with guns and ammunition.
He said his father had met Neniere about 12 years ago, when Neniere had been looking for a place to stay. “He told us he was a medical doctor and his wife said she had been in advertising. They had lived in Cape Town for a while but had wanted a quiet life in the Karoo.”
Du Plessis said his father had allowed them to move on to the farm to stay in their grandfather’s house to keep an eye on things when they weren’t there.
“In the beginning we were friends. We’d go and have supper with them and they would come and have supper with us.”
But in the past two years the couple had become reclusive.
“Philippe said they wanted to drop off the grid and study quantum physics. They were involved with the Ramtha School of Enlightenment.”
Du Plessis said the couple had been quite paranoid about the end of the world. “They also believed that they would have to fend for themselves and survive in the bush.”
Du Plessis said that last year communication between their family and the Nenieres had ended.
“They wouldn’t open the door and even closed their windows when we were on the farm. I suggested to my dad it would be best if they left. We were happy to help them out financially.”
In August his father gave the couple verbal notice to leave by December, but they ignored this.
“On Thursday night they became threatening to my father’s wife Margie over the phone. We were concerned they had weapons in the house because they had previously asked if they could use the safe. This is why we asked the police for help.”
He said when he returned to the farmhouse after the shooting, police told him they had found medical supplies, emergency packs, survival field guides and notes on the Ramtha School of Enlightenment.
“Now we just want them to be caught,” he said, referring to the police hunt for the couple.
Police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Hendrik Swart said they were investigating a case of murder, attempted murder, theft of a vehicle and the illegal possession of arms and ammunition.
The couple were still believed to be on the farm or in the vicinity.
The injured officer, Glenwall Du Toit, had been taken to a hospital in Cape Town, where his condition was described as serious.
Jurg Wagener, owner of the Kambrokind Guest House, who runs nightly stargazing sessions, said the shooting was the talk of the town.
“It’s shocking and most unusual for Sutherland.”
He described the French couple as private people. “They kept a very low profile. I can’t ever recall seeing them in town.”
Wagener said Sutherland was the type of place where you could leave your car keys in the ignition when you went into a shop.
According to website reports, the Ramtha cult was started by an American called Judy Knight who claims that Ramtha, a 35 000-year old disembodied entity from an ancient civilisation, “channels” through her.
Knight also claims to be able to link ancient wisdom and the power of consciousness with the latest discoveries in science.
She travels around the world, including to South Africa. A further controversial issue regarding Ramtha’s teachings involves the so-called end times, which are linked to a belief that the Mayan civilization predicted the world would end in 2012. Some of the cult’s students believe that they can obtain powers to raise the dead, freeze a rocket in mid-air, make gold appear out of thin air, and predict the future.
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