BY ERIN WALLS
Marzelle van der Merwe and her boyfriend, Alex Ham and their dog had a violent experience at Coetzenburg on Tuesday evening. They were confronted by five men armed with an electric cattle prod.
Van der Merwe, a postgraduate student in marketing from Stellenbosch University (SU) and an avid sportswomen, says that “she spends hours training at Coetzenburg.”
“We parked near the Maties gym and rode down to the soccer fields, where there is a deep sandy track. Once we had gotten to the top and arrived at the T-Junction, we turned right towards where the cows are.”
“Parallel to the single track which runs alongside the jeep track, we saw two men come onto the single track and three were already standing on the jeep track.”
“One of the men on the single track threw an electrical cattle prod to one of the men on the jeep track, which at the time, we thought was a stick.”
Van der Merwe says at the time she did not suspect anything, until they began crossing the road.
“They had no reason to be there, as there was a sharp slope, so they were very much approaching us,” Van der Merwe said. Ham had nearly gotten past them, but then turned around and saw that one of the men took a big step towards Van der Merwe, looking as though he had the intention to hit her with the cattle prod. Ham then slammed on his brakes, resulting in both their bicycles colliding. Whilst this was all happening their dog, Benji, was trapped.
“My boyfriend suddenly started getting loud and screamed, which must have put them off, as there were so many people around Coetzenburg at that time of day. Three of the men backed off but started approaching our dog,” Van der Merwe said.
“Two of the other men began fighting with Alex. You could hear he was pushing back the cattle prod, and you could hear the electricity pulsing through it.”
“I am unsure if they backed off because the situation was getting out of hand for them, or because there were so many people around the area.”
Van der Merwe ran down the road to find help, where she saw a couple with dogs and then collapsed to the ground. Van der Merwe’s bike was damaged in the crash and she could not ride away.
According to Ham, Campus Security assured them that they would send patrols to Coetzenburg but did not ask for a detailed description of the perpetrators or the location of the incident.
“Campus Security have been extremely helpful in determining why the incident was not handled properly,” Ham added.
“We also called the Stellenbosch police station about five times, with no answer.”According to Martin Viljoen, SU spokesperson, the incident “is very unfortunate as there were a number of years now in which there were a very limited number of attacks on people hiking or cycling in the area”.
“The Stellenbosch Campus, including the mountain area of which a large part is SU property, is not exempt from criminal activities – in the same way as are experienced in the rest of the country.
The fact that we are an open campus – and the mere fact that a huge part of the mountain is SU property – pose unique security challenges. For this reason, extensive safety and security systems are in place and continuously upgraded and improved. Unfortunately patrols and security measures cannot guarantee the absolute safety of all hikers and cyclists in a large mountainous area such as the Stellenbosch Mountain,” Viljoen said.