Parkmore reeling after ‘special, unique’ teacher’s murder at sports club during community jogging event

03 November 2023 - 11:17
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The George Lea Park in Sandton, where a school teacher was murdered on Sunday morning.
The George Lea Park in Sandton, where a school teacher was murdered on Sunday morning.
Image: Khanyisile Ngcobo

The community of Parkmore has been left reeling after the murder of a “special and unique” school teacher while she was out running at a “safe and secure” sports club in Sandton on Sunday morning.

The body of Kirsten Kluyts, 34, was found dumped at the side of a jogging path in George Lea Park.

Police spokesperson Col Dimakatso Nevhuhulwi said Kluyts was found by a passerby. She said the circumstances surrounding her death were unknown pending further police investigations. She confirmed police are investigating a case of murder. 

Theresa Kalil Michael, who had known Kluyts from a young age, was reeling at the “painful news”.

“She was the most special, kindest, softest young lady I have ever had the honour of meeting. I am beyond devastated.

“Her parents are salt of the earth. My daughter was at school with Kirst. I observed her growing up and it was evident from a young age she was special and unique.

“She had a different maturity to the other girls.

She was the most special, kindest, softest young lady I have ever had the honour of meeting. I am beyond devastated
Theresa Kalil Michael, who knew Kirsten Kluyts from a young age

“As a teacher, she chose to work with children who require extra care. She touched the lives of whoever she met and we are better off having known and loved her.

“She leaves a void in the lives of her family and friends and the children she taught.”

Kluyts worked as a teacher at the Delta Park remedial school, and the institution confirmed her passing in a brief tribute to her on its Facebook page. 

“Rest sweetly Ms Kluyts. Your Delta Park School family will forever keep you in our hearts,” the post said, accompanied by an image of a smiling Kluyts.

The school declined to comment further, saying they were not permitted to speak to the media.

Rest sweetly Ms Kluyts, your Delta Park School family will forever keep you in our hearts✨️💐

Posted by Delta Park High School on Monday, October 30, 2023

The Gauteng department of education said she had taught creative arts, life skills and English since 2020, when she joined the school.

Spokesperson Steve Mabona said a psychosocial support team had been dispatched “to the school to provide the necessary support to all affected by this unfortunate incident”.

Tributes have trickled in on social media from people who knew Kluyts. Few people were willing to open up about her life given the nature of her death. Most declined to speak or did not respond to requests for comment.

TimesLIVE visited the club and George Lea Park on Wednesday and spoke to several staff members, on condition of anonymity, about the incident. Most were reluctant to open up about what happened, saying they were barred from speaking to the media.

They said the club was a generally safe place for runners, given the secure fencing around the perimeter.

One staff member said the only weak spot was a pedestrian gate towards the back of the park, which was apparently open on the day of the attack as runners used it to exit the park along their route. 

Several people said Kluyts' cellphone and her car keys were found near her body. 

Nevhuhulwi declined to comment on the suspected cause of death or provide more information, sticking to the short statement issued by police.

Andre Snyman of eblockwatch shared a video depicting the trail used by runners at the club. The same gate has been cordoned off with police tape in the video. 

He said while there was a lot of speculation around what happened, his assessment of the trail was that it looked like the “kind of place I would run. I wouldn't be scared of it at all. However, one woman, who no longer runs there, said she always had an uneasy feeling running through a section of the run”.

TimesLIVE reached out to several running clubs based at the sports club for their reaction to the news and to ask how this will affect the safety measures they have in place.

Kluyts was a member of MyRun Sandton sports club's running group. Earlier this week the organisation released a brief statement confirming the incident but did not provide more details.

A day later, its national counterpart released a more detailed statement, explaining how Kluyts' absence was flagged.

Roderick Barrett, director at MyFitness and Mobii Systems which operates MyRun, provided more insight into how the system works and their confusion over what happened on the fateful day. He steered clear of elaborating about what happened to Kluyts but spoke generally about their operations.

“We have timing systems. We call them timing pods. It is like a tap-to-time, which basically means a runner can tap to start and tap to finish. When we do that, we know exactly how many runners are on the course.

“With this one, it's hard to understand what the motive was and what the circumstances were. On Sunday, everyone arrived at 7am and we could see everyone tapping in to start and volunteers meeting all the runners, so we tracked the times they started and [could] tell when they were expected to finish. In this situation, one runner  noticed her cellphone and stuff on the path and immediately [followed the] protocol,” he said.

Barrett said the support team managing the timing data nationwide checked the system and were able to pick up that Kluyts hadn't tapped out after finishing her run.

He confirmed the alarm was immediately raised and security, the local community policing forum and paramedics were called in to assist.

“Everybody sprang into action as quickly as they could.

“It is a hard one to understand because it is a venue regularly frequented by runners. Every morning there are people taking part. She was found inside the sports ground. It was really hard to speak to the parents the next day because it's a massive shock to everyone.

“We don't know what else we could do to try to create a safer environment. There have not been any incidents in the area. If there are, the volunteers are always in communication with us to tell us about concerns and none were raised about Sandton,” he said.

Barrett said they were very selective about the venues they use and opted for secure and frequently busy areas. Runs were structured to ensure no runner was ever alone on the trail.

“We have four volunteers who are there every week with the race director. We have medical kits, a complete list of emergency contacts in terms of who to reach should there be any incident and there is 24/7 security at the venues.”

He confirmed they would no longer operate at the club after initially postponing events until further notice. They would also review other venues where they operate and try to tighten security measures.

Nedbank running club central Gauteng chairperson Jose Bates said they were saddened by what happened to a fellow runner.

“We can also understand the trauma that goes with it, especially for people who were on the route with her. It is utterly shocking that a person leaves their home to go and enjoy leisure time away from the stresses of life today and ends up losing their life. It's unthinkable,” he said.

Bates said they are based in Parkmore, at the sports club, and in Modderfontein at the Flamingo shopping centre, which has previously had issues around security, especially during the lockdown period. 

This resulted in tighter security measures at the venue but not at Parkmore, given the safety of the club in general.

“Generally speaking, we found Parkmore to be very safe in comparison to other areas. There wasn't any specific requirement for us to implement drastic measures around safety. We've always maintained a position as a club because of incidents that have happened with other runners from different clubs in the area. We try to encourage runners to always run in groups,” he said.

Bates said their club was also looking for an alternative venue and said this plan had been in motion before the murder.

The new venue would allow the club to partner with a local security firm and the community policing forum to enhance the safety of runners.


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