Easter 1994. Evening.
Elderly couple in their late seventies, Tony and Jane Earle, retired farmers living on their farm near Warmbaths, South Africa, together with their friend and guest, Stella Sabatier, were settling down in the lounge after supper for the evening. The ladies were knitting and chatting as they watched TV. The dog, a pointer, lay on the rug before the fire-place, snoozing. Southern Hemisphere April is Autumn, but not cool enough for a fire in the grate.
The French Doors from the lounge to the veranda opened quietly enough, and before they realised it, the elderly trio were faced by four young black men. The eldest was about twenty-five, the youngest in his teens. They all held knives. The eldest, supposedly the leader, demanded “the money!” The elderly pointer was no watchdog…
There was no money, beyond a couple of hundred Rand in the farm moneybox and Stella and Jane’s purses, which they surrendered to the intruders.
They were not satisfied, however, still demanding the money. It finally dawned on Tony that they had been expecting a sum from Jane’s brother, Claude Arkell. It was an annual amount connected to a bequest in their father’s will. “Has the money arrived yet?” would have been a query tossed at Tony from time to time. He did the banking and would be the one to know when the money had been transferred from the UK.
The house maid or a farm labourer could have heard such enquiries from Jane and deliberately or inadvertently passed this snippet on. Try as they would, they were not able to explain that any money they had was safely in the bank. Up to this point, beside a bit of shoving, there had been no violence, then one of them sliced open Jane’s finger.
Trying to divert their attention, she pointed out a trapdoor under a mat in the passage.
“Maybe there is something under there,” she said bravely.
There was something, although she did not know it at the time. In the furthest corner of the, otherwise empty, crawl-space there was a bundle of dismantled firearms belonging to their son who was away working in Zambia, wrapped in cloth. Jane was forced to crawl in and fetch it. Although the gang found them interesting, it was not the money. Except for a revolver, they were not able to assemble the multitude of parts, so abandoned them, but forced Stella to join Jane in the tiny knee deep wine cellar, placing some weighty furniture onto the trapdoor.
Then they turned their attention to Tony. With the others holding him, the leader grasped one of his hands and, bizarrely, started chewing on the web between thumb and forefinger, partially severing the tendons.
When this did not produce any change in Tony’s explanation about the money, they forced him into a clothes cupboard which they turned to face the wall as there was no key to the lock. The gang loaded the television and a few other items into the family half-ton pick-up and drove away.
Tony pushed at the door until eventually the cupboard fell over. He crawled out, found a rag to wrap around his dripping bloody hand and released Jane and Stella. When he was assured they were unharmed, he left them and walked over to the neighbouring farm to ask the Mathews family for help and to call the police.
Loré Mathews fetched the ladies; he and his wife Brenda put Tony and Jane up for a couple of weeks to get over the shock of it all, although they never had any trauma counselling. Their ex-daughter-in-law, Greet Driver, was also a sympathetic help.
The police retrieved some of the household items from the wreck of the pick-up which had crashed on the Long Tom Pass, presumably on its way to be sold in Mozambique.
My father’s hand healed except for some restriction in the movement of his thumb due to the damaged tendons.I was in Lusaka, Zambia, when Greet phoned to tell me about the attack on my parents, but assured me that everything was under control and that there was no need for me to rush back to South Africa.