July 23 2007 at 08:22AM
The KwaZulu-Natal farming community has been shocked by the brutal murders of a retired Swartberg farming couple at the weekend.
Raymond Fitch, 78, and his wife, Yvonne, 79, were killed just a week after another farmer at nearby Cedarville, David Southey, 79, survived a horrific attack.
The police's Organised Crime Unit was holding two men for the murders of the Fitches and two more in connection with the attack on Southey, on Sunday. They hoped to make further arrests soon.
KZN Agriculture MEC Mtholephi Mthimkhulu commended the police for "sterling detective work" leading to the swift arrests and appealed to people to give the police any information that could lead to more arrests.
'Shocking and dreadful'
He called the murders "heinous" and expressed condolences to the Fitch family and the farming fraternity.
Mthimkhulu promised that the government would work to strengthen farm protection and security initiatives.
The mother of one of the men detained for the Fitches' murders works on their farm.
Investigators did not believe that the attacks were linked.
The Fitches were severely beaten and possibly stabbed, and their farmhouse was ransacked in an apparent search for guns on Friday night. Their telephone, farm radio and alarm system were disconnected, indicating that the attack had been planned and that the assailants knew their way around the farm.
Police said some firearms were among the items stolen along with the couple's old Mercedes-Benz. The car was found abandoned within hours on a gravel road between Matatiele and Mt Fletcher, along with a safe. Two firearms believed to have been stolen from the farm were also recovered.
Southey was dragged bleeding around his home and was eventually left tied up with ropes and barbed wire by three assailants who threatened to pour boiling water over him.
He was robbed of seven firearms, jewellery, cash and his Isuzu bakkie.
Police arrested one man for that attack at Cedarville last Thursday and the second in Pinetown the next day. The latter was wounded during a shootout with police after he and two companions driving in Southey's stolen bakkie rammed into a police van when confronted.
Two of the men escaped.
Superintendent Zandra Hechter said police had found a .303 rifle with a telescope and a 9mm pistol in the bakkie and had recovered two more rifles in Phoenix.
The bodies of the Fitches were found on their farm, Two Springs, on Saturday by their son, Jeff, who lives 5km away on a second family-owned farm.
A friend, Peter Cloete, who was one of several locals who joined a hunt for the killers in his private aircraft, said the brutality of the assault on the elderly couple was "shocking and dreadful".
The Fitch family had lived in Swartberg for more than 30 years.
The President of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union, Robin Barnsley, said the violence and brutality accompanying the most recent attacks on farmers was troubling. He said he and the presidents of other agricultural unions were concerned at the apparent degeneration in moral standards in rural areas and were exploring an initiative to address this issue.
"It is our firm view that the law must take its course and it is our intention, through the Kwanalu security desk, to monitor developments in this and other such cases to ensure that justice prevails within the confines of our legal system," Barnsley said.
He thanked Mthimkhulu for his support of the farming community.
This article was originally published on page 3 of The Mercury on July 23, 2007