July 13 2009 at 10:08AM
'Pappie, hang in there." These were the words of a woman calling out to her shot husband by his pet name, pleading with him not to die.
But Piet van den Berg, who turned 64 two days before the attack, died after being shot in the chest.
Minutes later the robbers left his wife, Madeleine, 59, tied up in a closet while they set fire to the Cullinan couple's farm house.
"It was a miracle. Grace and guts saved our mother," the couple's two daughters, Ilze Theologo and Teresa Stander, said on Sunday.
'Dad lived for mom. She was first on his mind'
Their mother was traumatised, having survived the attack with only scorched hair and pyjamas. Everything else in the house was destroyed in the blaze.
Theologo said her father went to an outside room at about 10.15am on Saturday. Madeleine was in her pyjamas in the bathroom. Three men, armed with knives and firearms, overpowered the elderly man, forcing him into the house.
"Mom heard voices. As she looked out of the bathroom window, she saw someone holding up our dad with a knife to his throat," Theologo said.
Van den Berg shouted at her to lock the bathroom door, which she did, but the robbers threatened to shoot if she did not open it.
"Dad lived for mom. She was first on his mind."
Madeleine obeyed and was forced into the bedroom. The attackers wanted the keys to the safe.
"The next moment, dad was shot. In cold blood. They returned to the bedroom, telling mom that dad didn't want to co-operate. They then hit and cut her with a knife, tying her hands with her gown's belt," Theologo said.
As they pulled her to the passage to find the safe's key, Madeleine saw her bleeding husband lying in the passage. The attackers threatened to rape her if she did not co-operate, refusing her pleas to attend to him.
"She told him, 'Pappie, just hang in there,' so that he shouldn't die," the daughter said.
One of the men put on Van den Berg's suit and one shoe. He said he wanted the other shoe. Madeleine went to look in the closet.
"They pushed her inside the closet, locking the door. They asked her if she had a last wish. Mom just replied that she wanted to go to heaven".
Then the woman heard the clicking sound of lighters, and realised that they were going to set the house on fire, leaving her to burn to death.
"Mom managed to bite the belt off her wrists, then she shouldered the door open. The bed was burning. She tried to stop the flames. In the passage she saw the spare room was engulfed in flames. She realised that dad was dead," Theologo said.
Stander added: "She still tried to pull his body outside, but he was too heavy, so she grabbed the bakkie's keys and drove to the neighbours, barefoot in her pyjamas."
Hearing her screaming and hooting, neighbour Theo van Rensburg and his workers rushed to the farm.
"One man, Roelof, stormed inside, dragging dad's body outside. The neighbours tried to save furniture, while farmers in the area tried to douse the flames with their water trucks," Theologo said.
But the house, built by the Theologos' grandfather, was destroyed.
"Our parents have bought a house in town. They would have moved in a month's time," Stander said.
The daughters recalled Van den Berg as an "angel", a peacemaker. They had never seen him angry.
"Last Sunday we had a party for dad's birthday on the farm. A week later he is dead and mom devastated," the daughters said.
Forensic experts were conducting investigations on Sunday.
Police spokesperson Johannes Jafta said the robbers made off with cellphones, a firearm, cash and other loot. Police are investigating charges of murder, attempted murder, arson and robbery with aggravating circumstances.
This article was originally published on page 1 of Pretoria News on July 13, 2009