Tragic twist to ordeal
AGrahamstown woman who together with her husband survived a violent robbery at their home last Saturday says she was more angry than frightened at the time.
Heather Tracey was just putting the bread away after breakfast around 8.30am on Saturday 18 March. When she turned to husband Andrew to ask him a question, she was suddenly aware of activity in the room and next thing she had been pushed to the ground, a masked face over her asking for money or cellphones.
“I wasn’t frightened,” Heather said. “I was just furious. I said, “If you get yourself an education you can earn your own money!”
Two men had rushed into their kitchen and knocked the couple, both in their 80s, to the ground, hitting Andrew on the forehead with a metal hammer. The wound bled heavily until it was treated nearly two hours later.
What happened meantime was both terrifying and bizarre – and in the end, heartbreaking.
Both men wore black stockings over their faces and arms.
They allowed the couple to sit on stools, but warned them not to look at their faces as they threatened them with the hammer and a pair of garden shears.
They tied their wrists together tightly with electrical cord and demanded phones and money.
The taller of the two took Andrew’s bank card, demanded the pin code and left to draw money from the ATM while the shorter man stood guard.
What followed was extraordinary.
He asked for alcohol and Andrew told him to help himself to a beer from the fridge.
“He had a Windhoek lager and enjoyed it,” Heather said.
Andrew said, “He calmed down a lot when his partner was not with him.”
And the conversation that ensued was more like a parent with their child than a victim with their attacker.
“I asked him many questions, such as his name, which he said was Siyabonga and that he came from Mthatha.
“But I believe he is from Grahamstown because he reacted strongly when I mentioned some Grahamstown schools and the name of a teacher for whom I teach marimbas,” Andrew said.
The robber told Andrew that he could play marimbas and that he liked them.
Andrew is a world renowned musicologist and musician whose father Hugh Tracey founded the International Library of African Music now based in Grahamstown. Andrew later became its director until he retired.
The robber then told Andrew that his parents had died when he was young and that he needed money for his drug habit.
“I asked him what drugs he used and he said tik, marijuana, cocaine and nyope.
“I told him he had chosen a bad way of life and he should avoid any friends who were into crime. He should be independent, think for himself and make his own decisions.”
When the taller man returned, however, things became tense again, and he demanded to know why he had only been able to draw R3 000.
Andrew explained that was his daily limit, and bizarrely the man returned his card and the ATM slips to him.
The pair eventually left with the cash, a cellphone and An- drew’s laptop – but not before threatening to cut off Heather’s fingers if she didn’t give them her wallet.
Grabbing a large kitchen knife, the men left around 9.50am.
Heather and Andrew immediately took the kitchen scissors which were nearby, cut themselves free and when they were unable to get through to the police, called Hi-Tec Security who responded immediately.
Friends arrived at the same time and friends and members of their church parish were soon rallying with practical support of every kind.
The couple were taken to hospital for treatment and observation but were back home that evening.
The Hi-Tec officers, meanwhile had pursued two men they’d seen en route to the Traceys, whom they thought looked suspicious. They caught one and found on him the cash, the laptop and the cellphone.
The shock and the real tragedy of the situation unfolded when the police removed the man’s mask, however.
It turned out he was a young man whom the couple had supported throughout his post-school education, paying for both fees and accommodation.
Even worse, the couple had been called only a week before and told them the young man had died and that money was needed to bring his body back home.
“He wasn’t dead at all,” Heather said. “And we had paid for his body to come back to Grahamstown. And given his uncle money to arrange the funeral!”
With support from family and friends, the couple have taken several measures to further secure their home.
But it’s hurt and disappointment they feel more than fear.
Spokesperson for the South African Police Service Lieutenant Khaya Thonjeni on Saturday confirmed that two men had entered the home of the couple and attacked them that morning.