Friday, 14 March 2008

Fortress couldn't save couple

March 14 2008 at 09:13AM

By Bonile Ngqiyaza

Elderly farmer John Hart was a stickler for detail, a perfectionist who took his and his wife Sylvia's security seriously.

He always took precautions - with a high electric fence running around his smallholding - Swing-gate Farm near Krugersdorp - and panic buttons at each of the four entrances to the farm as well as inside the house, including the bedroom.

He checked the fencing and the gates each evening and vetted all visitors before they were allowed into the neat smallholding he had owned and spent the past 43 years tending.

He checked the fencing and the gates each evening and vetted all visitors

Sadly, all these precautions didn't save him and his wife from being battered to death in broad daylight by an intruder, or intruders, on their property in November 2005.

This was revealed on Thursday during neighbour and tenant Margaret Churchill's testimony in the Johannesburg High Court.

A former gardener, Calvin Mohale Bopape, is standing trial for the murder of the couple. Other charges against him are robbery with aggravating circumstances, and illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.

A visibly tense Bopape, who sat with his arms crossed tightly across his chest during the entire proceedings on Thursday, has pleaded not guilty. He has indicated that he wants to challenge a statement he made to the police shortly after his arrest, and which the police say led to him pointing out the crime scenes.

Tracing the couple's last hours, Churchill testified that Hart had turned 88 the day before his death on November 17 2005.

'That's what sticks in my craw'

"I saw Mr Hart on the 17th and Mrs Hart on the 18th... We had gone over to visit Mr Hart for his birthday and we had brought presents. It must have been 6.30pm...

"I saw Mrs Hart in the garden (the following) morning. It must have been 7.10am, just before I took my son to school.

"Then I went to a meeting... We came back earlier than usual because I had gone to this meeting … at about 3.45pm. As we came up to the driveway, the one dog was on the side of the driveway between the two houses and he was barking. He was behaving unusually.

"He is (normally) a calm dog. He was barking and acting very disturbed. We talked to him, we spent some time with him and calmed him down. We didn't see anything out of the ordinary," Churchill said.

It was two days later that the murders were discovered, after a contractor looked for the couple on the farm.

The elderly woman was found upstairs in a passage between the bathroom and the bedroom. Her assailants had beaten her to death with one of her husband's golf clubs.

John Hart was found lying outside near the cattle sheds. He had been battered to death with his walking stick.

The couple's killer, or killers, had stolen a .38 Special revolver, two Rolex watches, bank cards, a leather jacket, a driving licence and R3 000 in cash.

The couple's son Paul testified that his parents had come out from Hertfordshire in the UK to South Africa shortly after World War 2.

The couple, who were in their 20s then, started farming with rabbits, asparagus, Jersey cattle, market gardening and dairy.

"My dad had just turned 88 the day before (the murder), and my mom was 84... They weren't involved in farming (anymore). It was a smallholding - in their younger days, they were involved in farming," Paul said.

Describing their health at the time his parents were brutally attacked, he said: "(My father's) mind was still very sharp, but his health was starting to get frail.

"His knees were wobbly to the extent that he was using a walking stick.

"My mother's mind was still sharp, but she had started becoming shaky - whether it was the start of Parkinson's disease, I don't know."

Speaking after the court had adjourned for the day, the Hart siblings, Paul and his sister Lesley Hay, said they had fond memories of the farm on which they had grown up.

"The robbery, I understand. I can understand if people have to feed their family, but the violence I cannot understand. That's what sticks in my craw," Paul said.

This article was originally published on page 6 of The Star on March 14, 2008


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