Susanna and Melvin Lawson were murdered in their home in Oribi Village, Pietermaritzburg.

Durban - The murder of an elderly couple in Pietermaritzburg’s Oribi Village early on Thursday – in an incident allegedly related to “house grabs” - has caused panic and fear among residents.

Susanna Lawson’s body had also been burnt. She and her husband, Melvin, who were both 71, were well-known in the gated community where they lived for more than 30 years.

Most of the residents who had lived there were poor.

The community was convinced the murders were related to “house grabs”.

Councillor Philani Ngidi said there were more than 500 houses in the village.

All were owned by the Department of Human Settlements and were in the process of being transferred to the municipality.

“There are people who want the houses. They come and chase out the occupants and take ownership. They are also breaking into the houses so that the residents would be scared and move out. They intimidate and threaten people.”

He said the couple had recently been threatened. A few weeks ago their house had been broken into.

Ngidi said the alleged culprits smoked whoonga.

Other residents concurred, saying housebreaking and intimidation were common. So was crime in general.

“We report these things to the police and nothing gets done,” said a resident.

Heinie van Niekerk, a relative of the Lawsons, said about 1am, he heard a loud explosion coming from the couple’s house, which was attached to his.

“I jumped out of bed and went to see what was going on. I saw smoke coming out of the house. I knocked on the door and there was no reply. I got suspicious and opened the door.”

He was surprised it was not locked. Van Niekerk saw smoke and called for help.

“I did not want to go inside because there was a lot of smoke.”

Another neighbour went inside and returned saying the woman was dead in the bedroom. Her body was on fire. He found her husband in another room. He had stab wounds to his neck.

“He was found near a phone. Perhaps he had tried to call for help.”

There was no evidence of a fire. from outside the house.

Caryn Lehmkuhl, from the village’s community centre, said the Lawsons were wonderful people. They were always involved in helping the community.

Holding back tears, she said Susanna was supposed to celebrate her birthday on March 9.

Police spokesman Jay Naicker said a television set had been stolen from the house. No arrests had been made and an appeal was being made to anyone with information on the whereabouts of the suspects to contact any local police station or Crime Stop at 086 001 0111.

Of the house grabbing allegations, Naicker said his office was unaware of any cases registered, or of intimidation.

Netcare 911’s Chris Botha said when paramedics arrived they found firemen battling a blaze.

After the fire was extinguished they found two elderly people had died.

The Mercury