A Kokstad family who meant to have a week’s holiday at the Hluleka Nature Reserve in the Eastern Cape, where Underberg teacher Karen Turner was stabbed to death, has cut their stay short after their spare wheels were stolen.
The family of 28 had booked to stay at the reserve from September 21 to 27.
After a suspected attempted burglary in one of the chalets they had booked, and theft from their vehicles, they were left with no other choice but to abandon the resort.
On Tuesday, the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA) confirmed the theft of two spare wheels from tourists.
“The ECPTA, throughout all its reserves, has put measures in place, stepped up security and has its rangers patrolling around the clock for maximum efficacy,” said its CEO Vuyani Dayimani.
Karen, 31, and her husband Matthew, 33, were staying in chalet number one at the reserve ahead of a friend’s wedding, when they were attacked in the early hours of last Tuesday morning. Karen was stabbed to death and Matthew ended up in ICU at a Pietermaritzburg hospital.
Belinda Bennett, who was with her sisters and brothers, told News24 on Tuesday that her family had booked their holiday long before the attack.
After the gruesome news made headlines, they contacted the resort to ask if guests were safe, and were assured that there were sufficient security measures in place.
However, as various reports made waves about the safety at the resort, including an office gate being tampered with, the family made contact with the reservations office again.
They were allegedly promised 24-hour patrols around the accommodation area, and the family proceeded with its plans and arrived on Saturday, said Bennett.
“We put arrangements in place because we would not have access to chalet one and our group needed [it] and we needed it. They gave us mattresses and we made other arrangements,” Bennett said.
She said everything was “normal” and they had a braai on Saturday evening, even though they remained concerned that there was not sufficient lighting outside. Someone patrolled in a Land Cruiser and drove past about three times.
At around 23.30pm, the family started turning in for the night. As the night progressed, some of them reported hearing sounds outside their chalets.
Bennett said they tried to work out whether there was reason to worry.
“Because we are on such high alert [we asked] are we being paranoid or was there really people walking around?
“My sister, who was in [chalet] number seven, heard her door handle rattle and my brothers in number five and six heard people and actually came out to check. But it is so dark that someone can stand 10 metres away from you and you wouldn’t see it,” she said.
The next morning, her husband realised that their trailer’s spare wheel was missing. The rest of the family then checked and discovered a spare wheel from one of their vehicles was also missing.
She added that some windows in the chalets had broken handles and others were not able to close properly, which added to their fears about safety.
Bennett said they were concerned because management at the resort allegedly gave them the option of leaving and being refunded if they were not feeling safe.
“We packed up everything without anybody coming to ask [us] anything,” she said.
Eastern Cape police said the theft was reported at the Ngqeleni police station. Police spokesperson Dineo Koena confirmed that an investigation was under way.
Dayimani said ECPTA was “working tirelessly” with various tourism, safety and security stakeholders to safeguard the province’s tourism destinations, including Hluleka Nature Reserve.
“ECPTA, along with the private sector, has also ensured that SAPS have increased patrols into the near future,” he said.
“While this increase in security is being metered [sic] out, everything is being done to bring the perpetrators of the Hluleka incident to book as the ECPTA and the family members of the victims work closely with law enforcement, and appeal to everyone including ECPTA staff to support the investigation that is under way.”