Mystery shrouds Stellenbosch farm attack
Cape Town - The fatal shooting of wine farmer Stefan Smit is no longer being regarded by police as a farm murder and investigations are now focused on suspects personally linked to the victim.
This has been confirmed by several informed sources who say the June 2 murder on the Stellenbosch wine estate, Louiesenhof, does not bear the hallmarks of a “typical” farm attack or home invasion.
According to initial police reports, Smit, 62, was having supper with his wife Zurenah, 53, and a family friend, former wine estate owner Emilia Allemann, 71, a Swiss national, around 7pm when four men, allegedly wearing balaclavas, “entered through an unlocked door and shot and killed him”.
Both women survived the shooting, said police spokesperson Lieutenant- Colonel Andrè Traut. Only two cellphones and a handbag were said to have been stolen during the incident.
The women remain the only witnesses to the murder and one is said to be a crucial witness in the cops’ new line of investigation.
Police suspicions that Smit’s murder was not a home invasion were also raised when a close inspection of the home and perimeter fencing found no signs of forced entry.
Close examination of CCTV footage also revealed no attackers leaving or entering the home.
Investigators have been told that the invaders gained entry through an open door. But they have found no evidence of this and, given Smit’s known obsession with security, are treating that version with suspicion.
Furthermore, there was no evidence that the home was ransacked for valuables, nor did the invaders torture their victims for the whereabouts of a safe or firearms, which is typical of farm murders. After shooting Smit in the head and chest, the alleged perpetrators fled without even searching him for a wallet, leaving cash and the safe keys in his pocket.
Police also smelt a rat when they learnt that Smit recently changed his will after finding about R200000 stolen from his safe, and that he suspected it was an inside job. He did not lay any charges after the cash disappeared.
Reliable sources also say that another piece in the puzzle is that certain beneficiaries now stand to inherit less from Smit’s new will.
Police were also perplexed to learn that Smit’s bodyguard, Brad van Eyslend, was in his nearby room at the time of the attack. He told cops that although he was only metres from where Smit’s body was found, he had heard nothing amiss and was alerted to the shooting by one of the witnesses.
Smit hired the 47-year-old former police captain after death threats followed a 2018 land invasion by Kayamandi backyarders of an adjacent farm he owned. Although he obtained an eviction order, Smit declined to execute it and subsequently sold the 60hectares to the municipality for nearly R46million.
he latest turn in the police investigation comes in the wake of widespread acceptance of the farm murder narrative - while the jury is still out.
Calling the slaying “an attack on the economy of the Western Cape”, the local government jumped, boots and all, into the media frenzy and called for the establishment of a rural safety unit and safety summit.
In a statement, wine industry representative body Vinpro said: “We strongly condemn any form of violence, crime or murder of persons working and living in farming communities. These individuals are the cornerstone of our industry and the country’s economy, and have the right to safety and security.”
At Smit’s funeral on Friday, attended by his wife flanked by several bodyguards, a friend said Smit “had been stolen from the industry and had become the seventh person he personally knew who had died violently in this ‘evil’ country”.
“In South Africa, it’s not the will of God. It was the will of the murderer that resulted in his death coming,” he added, noting not even Smit’s strict security measures could keep his murderers at bay.
Police are tight-lipped about their new line of inquiry. “The case you are referring to is still under investigation. Our detectives are following up on all leads,” said spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk yesterday.
A police source noted wryly: “These guys with balaclavas get blamed for a lot of crime. Maybe these are the same guys who killed Henri van Breda’s family.”