Chapter Fourteen – Doing it for Verwoerd
6 September 1966 is a day that all South Africans will remember. Many whites mourned and many blacks celebrated.
One of the architects of Apartheid, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd was stabbed in the neck and chest four times by parliamentary messenger, Dimitri Tsafendes inside Parliament in Cape Town.
Tsafendes, born in Lourenco Marques (now known as Maputo, Mozambique), the man of a Greek father and mixed-race Mozambican mother, became an instant freedom fighter hero through Africa, although after the ANC came to power in 1994, he never got heralded as such locally.
To many, Tsafendes was a mad man. The liberal-minded individual, who had been a member of the South African Communist Party from 1936 to 1942, hated Verwoerd and his Apartheid policies. To Tsafendes it was about equality for all people. To Verwoerd it was about superiority for the whites, most notably the Afrikaner. However, the law must run its courser and Tsafendes spent the rest of his life in detention until his death in 1999.
Like Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus, Tsafendes had believed that he could carry out his evil deed without being apprehended. His plan was to shoot Verwoerd, but when he could not get hold of a gun, he changed his strategy to assassination by knife wounds. He never got as far as making a getaway to seek refuge in Communist Cuba.
Of course, Tsafendes was not the first to attempt to eliminate Verwoerd.
The Prime Minister took a bullet to the right cheek and ear from close range from the pistol of English farmers and businessman David Pratt on 9 April 1960, while opening the Union Exposition in Milpark, Johannesburg.
Like Tsafendes a few years later, Pratt was described as a mad man rather than a liberal. Anyone who threatened the government was being mentally unstable.
The ultra-liberal-minded Pratt would never return to his farm in Magaliesberg, but instead would spend much time locked up in a mental institution in Bloemfontein.
Pratt, who stated that he wanted to ‘injure rather than kill’ the Prime Minister, committed suicide on 1 October 1961, shortly before his parole. That is the official government story anyway. Like freedom fighter Steve Biko and many others who dared take on the Apartheid regime, there remains strong speculation that the Apartheid police beat and tortured Pratt to death.
Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus knew the Verwoerd story well. His parents went into mourning after the ‘great man’ Verwoerd was murdered.
Like D.F. Malan before him and John Vorster, years later, these were men with the interest of the South African people at heart, at least the white people anyway. One had to remember that back in those days, the white population knew very little about the ANC, as the press was censored in terms of reporting on anti-government organisations.
Even in the 1980s, when the ‘Free Mandela’ campaign gained internati0onal recognition, the South African whites were brainwashed by their government, into believing that the ANC was a Communist movement looking to take over the country. President P.W. Botha had said that unless Mandela and the ANC renounced violence against the Republic of South Africa, then Madiba and his sidekicks would be locked up on Robben Island for many more years to come.
“Los hom op die eiland en gooi die sleutel weg (leave him on the island and throw away the key),” Pieter’s father had once remarked, about Madiba’s incarceration on the land-piece off the coast of Cape Town.
The right wing had no time for black terrorists. No, the right wing had no time for blacks.
Pieter’s mother had always been a racist, but her marriage had taken her to the next level.
She would not even employ a black domestic worker, but rather coloured maids were paid a daily wage to clean the house of whites. The blacks simply could not be trusted. What if the black domestic worker was employed by a white household and then put poison in the food of the children? No, the risk was simply too great. Blacks and whites needed to be kept apart. Verwoerd, what a good man he was, thought Mrs Erasmus.
Pieter’s mother had once told him that his ancestors came from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She told him how honoured he must feel in being of the bloodline from the same Dutch city in which Verwoerd was born.
So how could this son of conservative-minded parents end up serving in a police force in the New South Africa.
Having finished matric in Pretoria, young Pieter did not have the cash to go to university nor did he want too. So, he followed some of his friends into the Apartheid police. There he became a much-respect member. It was the kind of respect that he never had from his classmates during his school days. Yes, Pieter was a sharpshooter deluxe. Few could hit a target with pistol, rifle, or shotgun, with the consistency as Pieter could. At last, he had found his calling. Now he could go out into the townships and make his parents proud. Bang… Bang… Bang!
As Pieter crouched down at the furniture on the balcony of the apartment on the fifth-floor block overlooking Lilian Ngoyi Square, formerly known as Strijdom Square, in Pretoria, he felt something jab him in his midriff.
He dropped his left hand to the left side pocket of his pants but was too late from stopping his wallet from falling to the floor. As it fell, a paper dislodged itself from one of the compartments and landed face up on the dusty ground.
Pieter stared at the piece of paper, which was a photograph. He slowly bent down to retrieve the photograph and his bottom lip began to quiver.
He stared at Lindiwe Buthelezi Snr’s face which seemingly had a smile that could light up a universe. Things could have been so different if Lindiwe Snr had returned from a successful childbirth, but it was not to be. Why, the Lord only knows, thought Pieter.
The rain was setting in more and more as Pieter checked out his potential target areas. The pavement nearby was the easiest shot as that was just thirty metres away and by the time that Pieter went into shooting mode, the area was likely to be filled with people rushing to work. If he did not shoot a white person just wide of his target, all would be good. He certainly would not be able to live with himself if one of his bullets struck a white person. If that happened, he would be just as bad as the ANC had been in the Liberation Struggle days.
He took his pistol from his holster and took aim, making some gun-shot noises with his mouth as he demonstrated what was to come.
Yes, all was going to be just fine. He was looking forward to watching his targets drop like flies. Some would not even have known that there was an assassin nearby. Some would hardly even feel any pain, as they would die instantly.
An evening soap opera had started on the television screen, Pieter noticed a black man kissing a white woman.
No man, siss, what would the girl’s parents have to say about it? Not for a moment did he think of the reverse situation of what people might have thought or said when he was with Lindiwe Snr or Lindiwe Jnr. Pieter shook his head. His involvement with the Buthelezi mother and daughter was a thing of the past. He needed to move forward. He had a job to do!
“My colour isn’t an obstacle to you, is it?” the black man on the soap opera on the television said to the white girl as he embraced her. Pieter could not help but notice that the man was quite a bit older than the girl too.
Black cradle snatcher, he thought.
“No, not at all,” replied the girl, as she swept her long blond hair away from her face.
Pieter noticed that the soap opera was set in the US. Maybe black and white relationships would work out there, but certainly they were a challenge in South Africa.
He watched as the black man picked the girl up and took her into a bedroom, before starting to undress her. Pieter’s face tensed. This was nothing short of rape, he analysed.
His mind flashed back to his romantic time with Lindiwe Buthelezi Snr. He could even remember the night that he had impregnated her. Those were very special moments, but they seemed like a lifetime ago. Then there had been Lindiwe Buthelezi Jnr who was almost a carbon copy of her mother, except for attitude.
The mother was far more aggressive and to the point, while the daughter had a likeable personality that made her at home in most situations or conversations.
“Fok dit, Lindiwe Snr en Jnr, julle gaan my nie stop om hierdie taak klaartemaak nie (fuck it, Lindiwe Snr and Jnr, you won’t stop me from finishing this task),” muttered Pieter, as he broke out into a sweat.
“Julle weet nie waardeer my lewe is nie en dis alles julle skuld (you don’t know what you have put me through in life and it’s all your fault).”
He turned his focus back to the television screen where the black man and white woman were naked in bed together.
Pieter gulped. Was he receiving a message from above? Nee, man, Erasmus, dis nou nie tyd om sag te wees nie.
While Christians believe that when a person dies, the spirit immediately leaves the body, and only the physical remains of the person are left in the coffin for burial or cremation. This is the reason why many don’t visit graveyards after the funeral, as it is a pointless exercise talking to a gravestone.
On the other side, many African people were of the belief that their ancestors can hear them, when they visit the gravesites. Taking it further, there was also the believe that the ancestors can spiritually have an impact on the outcome of situations on earth.
Pieter was adamant that even though he did not believe in talking to his ancestors, they would want him to pull the trigger. What he about to do today, would be dedicated to his former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd. Yes, Verwoerd would surely be smiling from the heavens at the outcome.
Not that Verwoerd was a blood thirsty individual. His view was that if only the blacks would behave themselves and stay in their designated black-only areas like townships, then all would be well.
Some lightening broke out over the Lilian Ngoyi Square outside. Was it another sign from God? He looked out and saw many black people running for cover to get away from the inclement weather. Would Pieter postpone his shooting? Certainly not. He had postponed once before and had regretted it deeply. He would wait a bit for the weather to improve so that more black people would descend on to the pavement below.
Hi mind went into political mode. How would South Africa have turned out if Verwoerd had not been assassinated? Everything has seemingly been hunky dory at that point, well, in the eyes of the whites at least.
The Apartheid system was a well-oiled machine in all forms of society. It eliminated any threat to white superiority. White was right and black was bad, it was that simple!
Many Democratic Party members expected South Africa’s Apartheid system to last at least ten years longer than it did and were taken by surprise with F.W. de Klerk’s liberal moves to release Mandela and to call for a referendum in 1992 on whether Apartheid should be scrapped or not.
The result, based on white, coloured, and Indian votes, was a resounding ‘yes’ vote in favour of scrapping Apartheid.
De Klerk’s moves made him an enemy to many who had previously supported him. On a lighter note, even comedian Leon Schuster made an Afrikaans song of ‘Platwiel De Klerk het ons uitverkoop (flat wheel de Klerk sold us out)’.
That summed up the mood of many whites, mainly Afrikaners in the 1990s. Nothing much had changed over the years. The feeling was that de Klerk had sold out the white minority while securing himself a Vice Presidential post in the new Government of National Unity. As stated, the Nationalists would later withdraw from this uncomfortable governing relationship with the ANC.
Pieter stared at his shotgun then changed his focus to glare at the pistol in his hip holster.
Something needed to happen and if the ANC could not control crime, the economy and other sectors of society, they needed to be sent a message that the Afrikaner’s say should not be ignored. Let the Afrikaner contribute at all levels, as was Mandela’s vision.
Right now, the Afrikaner was being excluded based on the past and their skin colour. To Pieter and many others, this was simply a case of reverse-Apartheid. The whites hated the ANC’s Black Economic Empowerment policy because it gave opportunities to blacks ahead of whites. The ruling party said that the policy was in place to address the inadequacies of the past.
Many whites would see it differently. To them it would be a way of blocking employment for white people, who in their minds, were often more skilled and equipped for the jobs.
The clever whites would realise that the only future for their children was to encourage them to go the entrepreneurial route, rather than waiting on government to provide much-promised jobs ‘for all’.
Pieter saw the evidence as overwhelming for the cause of the Old South Africa. He needed to be something that he really was, rather than something that he thought he could be.
He glanced at the photograph of Lindiwe Snr.
“Sorry, Lindiwe, but what will be, will be,” he muttered.
He was not God and it was up to him to change destiny.
His parents had always told him to follow his gut feeling. His stomach was telling him to open fire with live ammunition on any black person that he saw. He did not want to leave this world with any form of regret in his heart.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man!