For the past four years, the influential Patel family of Polokwane in Limpopo have limped from tragedy to cemetery to court.
In the ironically named Nirvana suburb, the house where Fatima Patel, 28, was brutally murdered in 2015 now stands deserted.
Her husband, Rameez, 30, will soon be put on trial for her murder and that of his 51-year-old mother, Mahejeen Patel, who died in 2017.
The death of the family patriarch, Feroz Patel, in a hail of bullets in 2016, remains unsolved.
The deaths have compounded the fear and terror that have now led other family members to flee South Africa.
The latest to leave was Rameez’s younger brother, Razeen, 24, who was shot four times last Sunday – hours before he was to testify against his brother.
Razeen left South Africa soon after being discharged from hospital.
And central to it all seems to be the business empire that has kept the family comfortable financially.
There had been fears among the family that an inheritance might slip away.
Family friends say Fatima’s murder was the catalyst to the family’s woes.
Her body was discovered lying in a pool of blood in the townhouse she and her husband rented.
She had been hit with a baseball bat and choked so hard that her hyoid bone (tongue bone) was crushed. Then she was shot at close range.
Limpopo police spokesman Colonel Moatshe Ngoepe confirmed that a suspect had been arrested in connection with Razeen’s shooting.
Ngoepe said it was still too early to say whether that shooting was linked to the shooting of the other family members.
“The matter is very sensitive at this stage,” he said.
However, friends said Razeen and members of the extended family feared for their lives and had fled the country this week.
Ngoepe said the suspect in the shooting, Ali Salmaan, was denied bail this week and would appear in court again on Thursday.
With the family unit dissipating, so too is its business empire. The family’s chains of grocery stores and spare-parts shops spread out around the province have been sold and renamed.
The murders, according to a number of people, have struck fear in the small Indian community in Polokwane. Community members who spoke to the Sunday Times asked to remain anonymous, citing safety concerns.
A local Muslim spiritual leader said it was widely speculated that the killings in the family had to do with money.
He said Rameez “was to inherit a lot of wealth from his family”.
“When his father and mother died, he was to get all the shops and wealth that the father has worked hard for. If he could walk out of jail, he was going to get all the businesses. Relatives now had to sell the shops.”
He confirmed that Razeen had left South Africa.
“He was moved out of the country for his safety after the shooting incident. He’ll be with his relatives,” he said.
Another person close to the family said Patel senior had been “king of the throne” in the business world in Limpopo.
“He worked hard for his family and his sons. The sons ran a shop in town and the father ran a number of other businesses here in Polokwane, Giyani and Thohoyandou,” he said.
One person, who knew the father, said Rameez was “isolated” by his family after he was arrested for his wife’s murder.
“That was an embarrassment to the family and his father tried to talk some sense into him,” the person said.
“I understand that he later lost a number of privileges and he was on the verge of losing his share in the family business as well.”
A police officer, who is not allowed to speak to the media, told the Sunday Times that Razeen had been staying in the Nirvana house when he was shot.
“No one from the family wants to take ownership or occupation of the house and everyone is leaving the country for fear of being next to be shot and killed,”
Ngoepe said the police were still investigating whether the father’s death could be linked to the other two murders.
Mashudu Malabi-Dzhangi, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said Rameez would again appear in the High Court in Polokwane on September 8. He has been charged with the murder of his wife and the trial is set to start on October 8.
A date has still to be decided on when Rameez will appear on a charge of murdering his mother.
Rameez and Fatima’s three minor children have been placed in the legal custody of a family member in Gauteng.