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Zetler family birthday celebration turns into living hell




“We spent most of the day cleaning out a flat in Sea Point that my dad had recently bought and renovated,” says his daughter Zara. “My dad loved building, and my parents wanted to get the project started. At about 13:00, he went back to the farm to pay his labourers. My mom stayed in Cape Town, and we were going to meet him for dinner in Stellenbosch to celebrate my mom’s birthday that evening.”

But at about 16:00, they got a call that Jeffrey had been attacked. “My dad had pushed the panic button, and my cousin Bevan found him. At first we weren’t worried, as we assumed he would pull through as he always does – he has survived four similar attacks before. He was even poisoned in a farming accident, but he made it out of that incident alive.”

Yet what greeted them on arrival at the farm was different. Jeffrey had been stabbed multiple times and passed away on the scene. “From what we understand, as my dad was leaving the farm to drive towards his office, three guys were waiting in a car by the gate and they stormed his bakkie and began stabbing him. There were workers at the back of the bakkie, but they did not intervene. The three attackers forced him into his office, and made him empty his safe. At this stage we think they got rattled, so they continued stabbing him, stole some belongings, and left.”

The culprits have not been caught, but the family feels it points to an “inside job” as the murders knew the routine, where the safe was, and Jeffrey was ambushed.

“We thank the community for the outpouring of grief and support, and hope we will work together to continue to fight crime so that justice is served,” say his daughters, Zara and Nicole. As the news of his passing spread, the condolence messages mixed with birthday wishes to their mother on Facebook became difficult to comprehend.

The daughters describe their father as the patriarch of the large Zetler family and its famous Mooiberge strawberry farms, as well as a highly respected leader of the industry and of the Stellenbosch Jewish community. “He was the youngest of the five brothers, but he really ran the show. His grandparents Mendel and Devorah came here from Belarus in 1904, and bought a small farm, and as their son Sam and five grandsons came into the business, it grew more and more. Our dad employed more than 1 000 workers and was well-loved and respected by them, as well as by the extended farming community.”

He was the Chairman of Stellenbosch Shul for 27 years, and in 2014, he ensured that a new, modern hall was built to celebrate chaggim and simchot. He was a source of advice and support for other farmers, and was on many farming advisory boards. In the business, he worked on farming practices, with suppliers, in marketing and everything in between. He took care of his workers, and recently built a church for them on the farm. “This morning, as the working week began, the labourers held a moment’s silence in the packing shed. The farm will go on, but it won’t be the same,” says Nicole.

She describes her father as an extremely hard worker who never complained, and was happiest working on the farm or other projects, so when he did take a vacation, it was precious time that he made an effort to enjoy. Just two weeks ago, the whole family returned from a holiday together in America. Little did they know, it would be the last one they would spend together.

Zara says that her father loved Stellenbosch, and wouldn’t have wanted to live anywhere else. He was always positive about farming and the future, in spite of the family’s fear that he might one day be attacked, and he always believed he could overcome any challenge – most recently, the drought in the Cape. He maintained the Stellenbosch Jewish cemetery, ensuring that it was kept clean and not vandalised, and this is where he was laid to rest on Tuesday, on the land he loved.

Jeffrey was just getting to know his young grandchildren – Zara and Shawn’s son Benji, aged two, and Nicole and Craig’s daughter Mila, 17 months. “The saddest thing for me is that he won’t get to spend time with them,” says Nicole. “His dream was to have grandchildren playing on the farm, like we did.”

Said Rael Kaimowitz, the Chairman of the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies, “The Jewish community is deeply saddened and shocked at the senseless murder of Jeffrey Zetler. Not only was he a prominent strawberry farmer who generated substantial employment in the region, he was also a pillar of strength for the Stellenbosch Jewish community. This is a tragedy for his family, his workers, and the Stellenbosch community at large. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this immensely difficult time. We call for the swift arrest of the perpetrators of this horrific crime and an end to all violent crime in our country.”

On Facebook, tributes from all over the globe spoke of a man who opened his home and heart to others, and who anchored his family in Jewish values, love of the land, and family traditions that are disappearing in the modern world.

Wrote Belinda Radis: “Jeffrey was synonymous with Stellenbosch. He built on his family legacy to create the most incredible farm and community. Bev and Jeff were the centre of the extended families. They welcomed everyone into their home with grace, generosity and hospitality. We cherished the bakkie rides, eating strawberries straight from the land, Jeffrey calling the cattle in at night. Jeffrey so quiet, but caring. Bev, warm and effervescent. Your love for each other was apparent. It’s unimaginable that in one of the most beautiful places on this earth such a senseless tragedy occurred to someone who cared so deeply about the whole community. Jeffrey will be remembered as an icon, and a treasure.”

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  1. Lynne Spanner

    Jun 30, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    ‘Our thoughts and prayers go out today you all at this most difficult time. R.I.P dear Jeffrey and love tonBev you are an amazing and strong family Cherish the memories you have had together Nd the enormous impact your husband and dad has had – never to be forgotten 

    lynne and Mark Spanner 

    gokd Gold Coast 



  2. Hertzel Katz

    Jul 6, 2018 at 1:29 pm

    ‘My heartfelt condolences to all the family. A tragedy indeed.

    I have no words to console you.

    I wish you all " Arichat yamim." and G B.

  3. admire musora

    Aug 27, 2018 at 9:08 am

    ‘my his Saul rest in peace ,i learnt a lot from this man ,a hard working ,i once worked for him in 2007 and 2008 when things in Zimbabwe were difficult ,the south African government ,i blame you ,the government must protect its citizens, i have lost a teacher,

    rest in peace

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