It’s the biggest manhunt this small Karoo Hoogland town has seen, with more than 50 police officers from around the country converging on the area - but the French couple wanted for murder are still on the run.
But police believe Philippe, 60, and Agnis Neniere, 58, members of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment cult, are in hiding in the koppies and kloofs of the hilly Karoo Hoogland veld.
Between them they have a .22 hunting rifle, a 9mm pistol, a semi-automatic rifle, two revolvers (a 765 Magnum and a .38 Special) and a pump action shotgun.
The couple fled the farm, where they had lived rent-free for nearly 12 years, after allegedly shooting dead student police officer Jacob Boleme, 27, and seriously wounding warrant officer Glenwall du Toit, 42.
Police believe they cannot have gone far as they are on foot. And the couple are extremely fit, have jogged and walked the area for over a decade, and “know every bossie” on Hardie farm, about 22km outside Sutherland.
Police suspect the couple have holed up and are watching the hunt for them from their hide-out. “They’re probably watching every move we make,” one said.
Police focused the search by fanning out from the bakkie allegedly stolen and abandoned by the French couple after the shootings on Friday. Their tracks were visible at the bakkie, but because the ground is hard and stony, the tracks disappear. Police adopted the “360 approach”: they dropped highly trained trackers at different sections, working systematically around the vehicle.
“We’re looking for tracks and also things like broken twigs or anything that shows they went that way,” said one officer, who did not want to be named. Police do not know what supplies the couple have with them. They found two full rucksacks with medical supplies lying next to the abandoned bakkie, and a 20-litre container of water.
Police say it is possible the couple may have stashed supplies somewhere in the veld. With the recent good rains there is plenty of water in the veld. Most farm dams are full, and there are full water tanks at windpumps in the area.
When police entered the house where the couple were living, they found boxes and boxes of food, some with an expiry date of 2006, and stacks of firelighters. They apparently spoke often of “end of world” scenarios and had at one stage wanted to build a bunker on the farm with a stash of survival goods.
The shootings happened on Friday afternoon, when four police officers accompanied farm owner Gerhardus du Plessis’s sons, Jaen and Cobus, to the farm. The family apparently wanted the French couple to leave, as the family needed the old farmhouse themselves.
“I believe they’re still on the farm, and they will be caught tomorrow,” said Jaen, who had been standing next to police officer Boleme when the Frenchman allegedly shot him dead.
Yesterday Jaen, dusty after spending the day with police in the manhunt, spoke about the incident. He said he and Cobus had taken the police officers with them to show them where the property was. He said only the trainee officer, Boleme, had had a firearm. The family suspected that the French couple had unlicensed firearms in the farmhouse safe, Jaen said.
“All the vehicles were parked in front of the house where they were staying on our farm.
“We were worried about the weapons in Philippe’s house, because they were not licensed. We found the weapons in the safe and the police confiscated them.”
He said Philippe had said his wife was away in the veld.
“Everything was fine, and we were about to leave, then Philippe said ‘I don’t feel good’, and leaned over.’
He said the shooting had taken place shortly after this.
He said Boleme was standing between himself and his brother when he was shot
He and his brother and the other police officers fled.
The French couple jumped into Du Plessis’s bakkie and are alleged to have chased the fleeing men, shooting as they went.
It is alleged that Neniere shot Du Toit in the back. He survived and is in hospital.
The three men escaped and were able to raise the alarm when they got into cellphone range.
Police taking part in the manhunt include the Hawks, National Intervention Unit and tracking units from Pretoria and Cape Town. Between 50 and 60 officers are involved, as well as police dogs. - Cape Times