A PRIEST at one of the oldest boys’ colleges in the Eastern Cape, Mariazelle Christian Boarding School, was strangled at his mission house at the weekend. The Austrian priest, Father Ernest Ploechl (73), was found dead with his legs and hands bound with a rope around his neck.
The Sunday morning sermon was cancelled when Ploechl did not turn up at 7 am.
Bishop Wilfred Egler said pupils and parishioners were shocked at the news. “When he did not turn up for the service we sent someone to look for him. He was found dead with a rope around his neck. It was devastating; parishioners and the boys had to be sent home”.
A visiting couple from Ixopo told The Witness about the devastation among the congregants when the news was broken.
“We were waiting in the church and then we were told that the priest had been killed and the service would be cancelled.
“We were overwhelmed with shock and sadness.”
The police said Ploechl was attacked on Saturday evening when he came back to his house from an evening meeting. SAPS spokesman Captain Motsekuou Moliko said the priest’s killers are people who are familiar with his daily routine.
“They knew he would be alone at the time and they ambushed him as he entered the house.”
It is believed that the motive for the killing was robbery. “It was a month-end, and he was supposed to pay salaries for the staff.”
Moliko said the attackers might have been angered when they discovered that the priest had already paid the salaries and strangled him.
Egler said Ploechl had excused himself from a meeting on Saturday. “He left the recreation meeting at about 6.30 pm to prepare the sermon for the Sunday service.
“We can only guess that when he opened his door the killers confronted him and forced him inside.”
Mariazelle Christian Bording School is a historic school that has produced prominent figures. Ploechl had been a boarding master at the school since 1968.
“We came to South Africa together … in the same year. He was deployed at the school and has kept an excellent record in his work with the youth,” Egler said.
Cope president Patrick Mosiou Lekota is one of the prominent leaders who went to the school and learnt under the leadership of Ploechl.
KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union security officer Koos Marais has reiterated his call on government to increase security in rural areas, noting that “criminals kill people in rural areas without fear of the police”,