Chapter Nine – Apartheid’s Watchdog
If Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus had been operating in the early 2000’s, he could have been a television star. In the future years, the reality television show ‘Big Brother’ took the world by storm as cameras followed participants each and every move as they were locked in a house for a lengthy time.
While there was no ‘Big Brother’ in 1987, Pieter was still under the watchful eye of his principals, even when he was seated with Louise and Lindiwe in a one-horse Karoo town like Laingsburg.
“Erasmus is saam met sy floppie en die Amerikaner (Erasmus is with his floppie and the American),” said a voice over the pay phone in Laingsburg.
The term floppie originated during the Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) Bush War based on how the liberation struggle soldiers flopped over to the ground once shot by members of the white government regime.
In South Africa, the term was used in a derogatory fashion by whites in reference to blacks, implying that the dark skins had no spine or were just basically good for nothing.
“Bly agter hom (stay behind him),” said a voice on the other end of the phone.
When a white person was too close to a black person in 1987 it meant that the both individuals were enemies of the state.
“Hoe het Erasmus op Robbeneiland aangekom (how did they arrive on Robben Island)?” asked the office-bound man to the spy in Laingsburg.
“Ek weet nie maar iemand moes vir Erasmus toesteming gegee het (I don’t know but someone must have given Erasmus permission),” answered the spy.
The apartheid regime’s intelligence unit were keeping an eye on Pieter, Louise and Lindiwe, with Pieter, as a cop, being watched like a hawk.
The so-called wise men and women at their secret hiding place in Pretoria thought that they could keep ‘Black and White’ apart forever.
P.W. Botha’s kingpins were on high alert. Any South African Police Services person who was remotely thought to be in touch with the ‘Liberation Struggle’ would be thrown out the door at police headquarters. No trial would be required. There was no time to waste. The statements from two witnesses would be enough to prove a case of treason.
Just like the Intelligence Unit had a list of ‘Dangerous Members of the Armed Struggle’, their list of potential traitors (verraaiers) was even longer.
Any liberal-minded cops got off lightly by just being chucked out into the street. The anti-Apartheid activists were not so lucky.
The list here is endless but high profile persons who ended up in coffins for standing up for their human rights beliefs includes Ruth First, the wife of South African Communist Party strongman Joe Slovo), who was taken out by an Apartheid-sponsored parcel bomb in Mozambique in 1982.
Others like black consciousness leader Steve Biko and white doctor Neil Aggett did not have to wait for a parcel to end their lives. They were arrested and beaten to death while in police detention.
“Is jy seker ek moenie n stop sit aan Erasmus nie (are you sure I mustn’t put a stop to Erasmus)?” asked the spy over the phone.
“Nie nou nie, volg hom net en laat weet my (not now, follow him and let me know),” said the voice in the office.
The spy kept his eyes focused on Pieter and the two girls, as his mind wondered back the question as to how the Lieutenant got security clearance to visit Robben Island. It was not normal protocol for a South African Police Services person to be there, at least not for a meeting when the rank was as low as being Lieutenant.
The spy was a man who was dreaming about greater things. Killing blacks was close to his heart, not snooping on policemen. He wanted a peace of the real action. The spy, in his forties, and dressed in jeans and a green golf shirt, wiped his brow.
What game was Pieter Erasmus playing? Why was he so keen to get to Robben Island and Mandela? What was his connection with the young black girl? Where did the American reporter fit in and how would she react now that she had been stopped from interviewing Mandela even though she had been given a signed letter to do so by the South African government?
These were the sort of questions that the Intelligence Unit had to find answers too on a daily basis.
Judging by the body language of Pieter, the spy was sensing a connection between the Lieutenant and the black girl. While Pieter did not kiss the girl, it was clear for the spy to see that the cop favoured the black girl in terms of conversation, more than the white American woman.
“I think I left my jersey on the chair in the restaurant” said Pieter to Lindiwe.
“Let me go and fetch it.”
The Lieutenant jogged across to the restaurant at the Shell garage and his turn of speed was so sudden that the spy had to run for cover inside the eating area.
Pieter ran at such pace that he never saw the spy hiding his face behind a copy of the Die Burger daily Afrikaans newspaper.
Grasping his grey jersey, Pieter turned and left the restaurant. Would the Lieutenant have recognised the spy? Definitely, they had been in the police force together two years earlier.
The spy watch as the bus, with Lindiwe and Louise aboard, began to make its way out of the Shell garage area, followed by the car, with Pieter at the wheel.
Five minutes later, the spy climbed into a Toyota Corolla and set off, keeping his distance from the convoy so as not to be noticed.
Tick, Tick, Tick! South Africa was sitting on a potential time bomb with the ANC and the Afrikaner right wing both sick and tired of the PW Botha government. The one thing that the apartheid regime was sure about was the Nelson Mandela had to stay alive. Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus would feel differently about it.
The bigwigs in Pretoria were not aware that Jaap Cornelius had been the one who had opened the doors for Pieter to get across to Robben Island, or else the Colonel would have been without a job too.
Special Agent Johan de Witt sat at his desk, with his mind in thought over the Erasmus saga.
“Spesiaal Agent, koffee (Special Agent, coffee)?” asked one of his junior staff members.
Johan, in his mid-thirties, shook his head.
Coffee was least important now. He needed to find out why Pieter was so keen on getting to Mandela and what the link was between the Lieutenant, Lindiwe Buthelezi and the ANC icon.
He stared at an open file on his desk. Intelligence reports indicated that the Liberation Struggle was going up a gear. Back in April of 1987, Joe Slovo had resigned his post as Chief of Staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe to become General Secretary of the South African Communist Party Chris Hani would take over Joe’s old job.
Also, a Release Mandela committee had been put in place by the left wing. Aubrey Mokoena was appointed National Co-Ordinator and Paul David was positioned as Secretary.
1987 was also the year that P.W. Botha’s National Party won the (white) National Elections with 52 percent of the vote.
A roar of happiness broke out down the passage. Johan rushed from his desk to see what the excitement was all about.
“Dikaledi en Make is dood (Dikaledi and Make are dead),” said an excited agent.
Johan grinned as he looked at the telegram sent from Swaziland to Intelligence headquarters.
ANC members David Dikaledi and Diamond Make had been on the apartheid government’s radar for quite some time. Both had now been killed by apartheid gunfire when the taxi that they were in, had been ambushed in Swaziland.
Black life had never been so cheap! Little did Johan know but things would get worse in the 1990s, but this time it would be black on black violence when the Nationalist Party used the last kick of a dying horse to support the pro-Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party against the ANC uprising.
Johan had worked hard to climb the ladder in intelligence circles but his eyes were opening faster than those of his colleagues.
He walked back to his office. Was it good to celebrate the death of two human beings irrespective of their skin colour or political affiliations?
His mind reverted back to the Pieter Erasmus situation but before he could give it much thought, Junior Agent Schalk van Wyk arrived at his office door with sweat shivering down his face.
“Is dit waar dat hulle vir Mandela gaan vrylaat (is it true that they are going to release Mandela)?”
Johan stared at the young man. The senior staffer could see the fear in the eyes of the youngster and this was clearly no different than the anxiety in the eyes of most white youths in South Africa.
“Ek mag niks uitlaat nie (I can’t say anything),” said Johan.
The younger man nodded.
“Wat van Erasmus (what about Erasmus)?” quipped the junior.
Johan was astounded. The Pieter Erasmus situation was meant to be top level intelligence so what did a junior staffer know about it. However, he felt a sense of compassion for the youngster.
“Miskien het ek my mond verby gepraat (maybe I have spoken out of turn),” said the junior.
Piet Engels realised that he had overstepped his area of responsibility.
“Ek is jammer (I am sorry),” he said.
“Luister, alles is n gemors op die oomblik (listen, everything is such a mess at the moment),” said Johan.
“Die ANC en Mandela is n groot probleem en ek weet nie of die regering redig weet hoe om die to hanteer nie (The ANC and Mandela is a big problem and I don’t know if the government knows how to handle them).”
“En Erasmus is n ander perd (and Erasmus is another sort of guy),” went on Johan.
“Hy het baie gesien en gehoer in sy polisiedae, so ons moet sien of hy gaan saamstaan met Mandela of gaan hy probeer vir die ANC man uitwis (He has seen a lot in his police days, so we have to see if he is going to stand by Mandela or kill the ANC man).”
“Ek hoop Erasmus maak vir Mandela vrek (I hope Erasmus kills Mandela),” said Piet with a smile.
“En wat gebeur volgende (and what happens next)?” asked Johan.
“Ons manne skiet vir die swartes Gugulethu styl (our men shoot the blacks Gugulethu style),” said Piet, describing the shooting with his hands in pistol-like positions.
“Engels, die probleem is daar is sowat 45 miljoen swartes en net so 4 miljoen wit mense so ons kanse om te wen is nie goed nie (Engels, the problem is that there are about 45 million blacks and about 4 million whites so our chances are not too good),” explained Johan.
“Ja, maar weet die swartes die een end van die geweer van die ander (yes, but do the blacks know the one end of the gun from the other)?” laughed Piet.
Johan bit on his bottom lip. The words from Piet Engels were typically Afrikaner right wing words. It was not necessarily a case that young Piet was a racist at heart. It was simply parents who influenced their children with that type of thinking.
Johan could understand as he had been through the same earlier in his life. His father refused to even look at a black man and his mother was a firm believer that all blacks were born of the offspring of Satan. “A black person being a Christian? Why, that is simply impossible,” was her view.
One thing that Johan’s mother said did happen.
“Hulle gaan eendag ons land van ons steel (they will oneday steel our country from us),” Johan’s mother had often said.
Johan was bright enough to realise that the black man had been in South Africa before the white settler arrived, although it was the white man who developed infrastructure on the property. However, Johan would never take his parents on about these issues as they were hard headed and racist to the core.
At this point, Johan’s office phone began to ring.
“Swartgevaar, hier, hulle is verby Kroonstad (Black Danger here, they have passed Kroonstad),” said the intelligence man at roadside.
“Hou hom dop, hy kan ons maak of breek (keep an eye on him, he can make or break us),” answered Johan.
“En SwartgevaarSwartgevaar, kyk uit vir daai Buthelezi meisie. Daar is iets daar wat Erasmus weet maar ek weet nie net wat nie. (and Spy, look out for that Buthelezi girl. There is something there that Erasmus knows but I just don’t know what it is yet).”
“Ek sal uitvind (I will find out),” said Spy before ending the call.
Johan de Witt shook his head. Something was not quite right.
What did Erasmus have up his sleeve? He needed to find out before it was too late.
Johan knew Pieter as an aggressive cop, not only against the blacks, but some of his Afrikaner colleagues too. Pieter was a my-way-or-no-way character. There was only one man who the Lieutenant seemed to listen to and that was Colonel Jaap Cornelius but of course Johan was not to know that. Tick, Tick, Tick! Who would complete the complicated South African political jigsaw puzzle first? Would it be Pieter, Johan, Louise, Lindiwe or Pearce?
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