Friends, family and neighbours have rallied to support elderly Grahamstown residents Vernon Marais and Jacobus “Koekoe” Jonker who were robbed at their Belmont Valley home yesterday 3 January. Jonker was so brutally beaten that he lost consciousness and is recovering in hospital. Marais is partly paralysed as the result of a stroke and can’t speak. He wasn’t injured but friends say it’s clear that he’s traumatised by the terrifying ordeal.
The men live on a smallholding at the town end of Belmont Valley. On the strip between the disused railway line and the Bloukrans River, they have created a garden paradise and built from scratch a home that has been their haven for 44 years.
Marais cultivated heritage and ancient roses – a labour of love that Jonker has taken on after his stroke. Jonker himself is a skilled woodworker specialising in miniature doll’s furniture pieces which are usually replicas of actual antique pieces.
Lively and lucid despite his ordeal, Jonker told Grocott’s Mail he had gone outside yesterday to feed the pigeons and, seeing a young man near the house, told him to leave.
After that, he remembers nothing. “I blacked out.”
Jonker, also known by friends as “Shorty” because of his diminutive stature, was found outside the house bleeding and unconscious, his battered face covered with a sack, his body pinned down by a huge rock. He will turn 75 in two weeks.
A spokesperson for the family said he was likely to need surgery.
Marais, 77, is unable to speak, or to move independently and was inside the house at the time of the robbery. He would have been helpless to do anything as the robbers entered and ransacked the home.
The robbery was in progress when Hi-Tec Security responded to a panic alarm, according to police spokesperson Captain Mali Govender. When the Hi-Tec armed response team entered the house, they found two suspects between the ages of 18 and 26 inside. Hi-Tec had meanwhile called SAPS for backup and the men were arrested, Govender said.
A high-powered SAPS investigation team was at the scene within an hour and remained there scouring the area for evidence well into the night. This morning, Hi-Tec officers were guarding the house.
Friends and neighbours have meanwhile rallied round to help, making plans to further secure the property, look after pets and arrange care for both men. Marais has been an active member of the Grahamstown Horticultural Society for many years and following his stroke, members of the society have regularly gone out to tend the roses in their famous garden.
“At this stage it is not known what was taken and how many suspects were involved,” Govender said last night in a statement. “Several bags with items packed into them were found at the scene.”
Today, Govender confirmed that there have been no further arrests.
Govender asked for any person with information that could assist the SAPS in their investigations to contact their nearest police station or the Crime Stop number on 0860 10111. “All information is strictly confidential and the caller has a choice to remain anonymous,” Govender said.