Nun’s murder shocks the world
Durban - Nuns at the Sacred Heart Home in Ixopo, where 86-year old Gertrud Tiefenbacher was murdered and possibly gang-raped at the weekend, said they would continue serving God and their community.
Sister Gerald Frye told the Daily News on Wednesday that it was the first time in the convent’s 92-year history that it had experienced such a breach in security.
The killers gained access to the property by cutting a hole in the outer fence and entering through a side door that one of the nuns had forgotten to lock.
They ransacked the pantry, taking fruit, groceries, and even a vacuum cleaner, as well as €2 000 (R26 000) in cash belonging to Tiefenbacher.
Sister Stefani, as she was known, was murdered in her room early on Sunday.
She was found dead on the floor next to her bed. Police initially said the elderly nun had been strangled with the cord of an electric typewriter, but later established that her hands had been bound with it and that she had been suffocated with a wet towel.
Police spokesman, Major Thulani Zwane, said they believed she might have been gang-raped, but could not confirm this until forensic and post-mortem examinations have been concluded.
He said police would continue to scour the KZN interior for the suspects.
“No arrests have been made, but police are following every lead.”
Tiefenbacher leaves a younger sister and brother in Austria.
According to the diocese of St Pölten in Austria, Tiefenbacher would have celebrated 65 years since taking her vows on May 31.
In a statement to the Daily News, the diocese said it had been “deeply shaken” by her brutal murder.
It confirmed that Tiefenbacher belonged to the congregation of the “Precious Blood” which she had joined in 1947 in the Austrian state of Carinthia. In 1952 she had left for South Africa.
The mission manager of the diocese, Father Benno Maier, described Tiefenbacher as “open, sunny and affable”.
Maier had planned a trip to Ixopo in October to visit Tiefenbacher.
“She possessed the goodness and philanthropy of God in her heart,” he said, adding that she had been active in her duties as a servant of God until her last breath.
A memorial service for Tiefenbacher will be held in Pielach, Austria, where she was raised, on May 2.
Tiefenbacher’s death has sparked international shock and outrage.
People from South Africa and around the world have taken to social media to express their anger, with many slamming the government, crime rate and the prevalence of attacks on women and the elderly.
Elwynn Dietrich of Germany tweeted: “Elderly Austrian nun latest victim of South Africa’s white genocide. Despicable country.”
Social Development MEC Weziwe Thusi added her voice to the call for justice following the nun’s murder. “This represents the worst form of the decline of spiritual and moral standards in the society. We are facing serious challenges in this country,” she said.
“It is urgent to bring morals and respect at the centre of our families and the society. What has happened to the nun and many other elderly women in the recent past is the worst thing a woman can experience and we all have to confront and defeat it by isolating those who do it and also educate society about morals and values.”
The MEC added: “The fact that we defeated racial oppression, that had been institutionalised for years in this country, means that we can also deal with this physical and psychological terror against our women.”
Tiefenbacher was part of an educational outreach programme funded by the department.
Thusi pleaded with the Ixopo community to provide police with any information that could lead to the arrest of the perpetrators.
Anyone with information should contact officer Thembelihle Hlangu at 076 828 9582, Warrant Officer Zindela Madondo at 076 919 0372; or Crime Stop at 086 001 0111.
Tiefenbacher will be buried on Monday and about 1 000 people are expected at the funeral mass, according to Sister Clair Wade of Sacred Heart.
“She touched so many lives and worked with many people who would love to come and bid her goodbye.”
She said the mission was renting out houses (former teachers’ quarters in previous years) and Tiefenbacher was the one who collected rent.
“We suspect that whoever broke into her room knew this and specifically targeted her for that reason; she was the only one in the home with money.”