Chapter 27 – Eyes in the Back of Your Head
The assassination of Lucas Sithole had left Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus with the firm view that he could be next to be eliminated. He did not trust his new business mates, especially the Police Commissioner, Lawrence Mathibe. His gut feels seldom let him down and this time it was telling him that trouble was just around the corner.
He was able to drive his vehicle into the Loxton Mine property, with the security guards not even checking his car’s boot which was filled with weapons and ammunition.
Time was ticking. He needed to brief the fifty security men at his disposal before giving a final report back to the Police Commissioner and Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs. Pieter felt like he was in a situation where he had a choice of which devil to back.
As he walked down the corridor of the main administration offices, he could hear black voices in the distance. He followed the sound until he found the meeting hall where the sound came from. Judging by their attire, he worked out very quickly that these men were security officers, who were set to put their lives on the line in a few hours’ time.
As was the case when a white man was present, the room went silent as soon as he walked in.
Without even being asked, the men politely took their seats and stared at the white man, who began to unroll his map of Loxton Mine, which had been stored in his black leather file.
To the blacks in the hall, Pieter was just another racist Afrikaner. They had not got to know him yet, but it was the typical mindset of a black African at that stage to jump to this conclusion. The reason was because few Afrikaners had treated them with respect in the past. If a security guard died in the line of duty, so what? The deceased’s family would get a pay-out and life went on. If the value of the lives of the miners was cheap to the Loxton Mine bosses, the value of life of the security guards was not worth much more.
They were all disposable commodities in the minds of the rich. South Africa’s unemployment rate was so high that if a miner or security guard were killed, a new person could replace them tomorrow. It was almost like nobody cared.
Wrong, miners and security men! Pieter Erasmus did care! He cared about pulling off his most daring of plans to satisfy the racist blood that ran in his veins.
If Pieter had his way, tomorrow would be a black bloodbath like no other. He was on a mission to make Marikana into the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons.
Unlike the security plan that Pieter had explained to Vincent Khoza, the Lieutenant made some amendments when explaining the strategy to the security men.
He divided his resources into two groups of 25 each. The first batch would stand behind the police’s barbed wire near the main gate while the second lot would guard the buildings.
Pieter knew that he did not have enough manpower to make sure that all went off as smoothly as possible, but then again, that was never his plan.
The mood in the hall was one of distrust. It was clear for Pieter to work out that they trusted him little and the South African Police Services even less. The reason for this was because two security guards had been hacked to death by the striking miners a week earlier. The security men felt that the cops could have done more to save their colleagues.
It was almost like there were four forces at play here. Loxton Mine paid the bills, the miners did not like the bills, the cops were on hand to keep the peace but in fact did very little of that at all. The final group was the security men. The contract of their previous black security bosses had been terminated. Now a complete white stranger had been brought in to tell them how to do their jobs. How could they put their lives on the line for someone whom they had only just met?
Once Pieter had laid down his plan, the majority seemed to be in favour of it. Other muttered. Pieter always knew that in life there would be optimists and pessimists.
Of course, the security plan that he presented was not the official one. The true version was in his head and he would change things at the last moment so that the South African Police Services could not sabotage his efforts.
All through the briefing process, Pieter’s eyes caught on the No 03 and 04 mine shafts. Vincent Khoza had assured him that there were no miners living in that area. However, Pieter saw it as a possible decoy. Everyone would be faced towards the main gate. The townships could easily be blocked off, but he had a feeling that the mineshafts could hold a few surprises.
Yes, most of the miners would gather in the town in the hope that their noise would attract more people to support their cause. Yet, Pieter was streetwise enough to expect the unexpected.
Pieter’s well-trained cop eyes caught on to the faces of the security men in front of him. He could usually tell when a person was honest or not through how their cheeks moved when he spoke. If the cheek muscles moved up and down, he suspected that the person may not be totally in on the mission.
At least that is how it worked with most white people.
This was new territory for Pieter as the skin of many of the black security men was so dark that he battled to see if the cheek muscles moved as he spoke to them.
Then a tall security guard stood up and said the words that Pieter was grateful to hear – “We will help you”.
Nobody challenged the man. It was as if this was their leader and his word was final.
“There comes a time in life when one has to trust and I think that we have reached that point,” explained the security man.
“Over the years, the mines have put bread on our table and paid the school fees for many of us to be educated,” went on the man.
“Irrespective of what happens tomorrow, I think we owe some gratitude to the mine bosses.”
This was something that the miners did not understand. No, this was something that they did understand but refused to accept. Earning minimum wages around the R4500 a month mark, the miners felt that they were being taken advantage of by their rich bosses.
They unearthed the minerals and the company’s share prices continued to sky-rocket, but the miners’ salaries remained out of proportion to the bigger picture.
If Pieter had been on a different mission, his heart would have pumped custard for this man who was basically placing his heart on his sleeve.
The security men were prepared to die for the cause to teach the miners a lesson. The dying part pleased Pieter as it fitted well into his bigger plan.
“If we don’t come back, let the record state that we gave it our best shot and we know that as with the miners’ families, the Loxton Mine bosses will look after our loved ones,” continued the security leader.
His words were met with applause. Then it was Pieter’s turn to sell some proverbial ice to eskimos.
“You will all come back tomorrow, and the miners will have learnt that wage issues need to be finalised around a negotiating table and not by taking the law into their own hands,” exclaimed Pieter.
The problem was that the miners had lost faith in their trade union representatives. They now felt that the only way for the mine bosses to fully understand their plight was for some damage to be done to the mine property. Perhaps then, the Loxton Mine bosses would understand just how serious the situation really was.
Pieter advised that call time for the operation would be 02h00. It would be at this point that the security men would be provided with their weapons and ammunition. However, he warned them to only open fire on two accounts.
Firstly, if their lives were being threatened and secondly if the command was given by Police Commissioner Lawrence Mathibe. The second part did not go down well with the guards, as they had no respect left for the South African Police Services.
Once all the security men had left the room, Pieter opened up a conversation with the tall security man who had spoken on behalf of the group.
“I am Pieter Erasmus,” said the Lieutenant as he shook the man’s hand.
“I am Chris Chuene,” said the guard, of slender build.
He explained to Pieter that he has been in the security industry over fifteen years of which ten of those years had been spent in protecting the Loxton Mine.
Pieter let his gut feel lead the way and immediately got a sense that Chris Chuene was a man who could be trusted. By his words, Pieter got to understand that the man knew the security industry inside and out.
More importantly, he knew the Loxton Mine precinct inside and out.
That would come in handy for Pieter.
He unveiled his master plan to Chris.
“We will use the twenty to fifty metres from the barbed wire to the main gate as a code blue zone,” began Pieter.
“Then the area from the gate to the buildings will be a code green zone. Then the area from the buildings to the back towards the shafts will be the code red zone.”
“So, we will have three sets of commands,” went on Pieter.
“Code blue is for the water cannons and rubber bullets, code green is for teargas, and code red is the call for live ammunition.”
“I can sense that you trust the cops as little as we do,” uttered the security man.
Pieter looked up from the map.
“Why do you say that?” he asked.
“I suspect you gave a different plan to the men earlier because you suspect that some may leak your colour code information to the cops,” answered Chris.
Pieter was impressed. Chris Chuene was spot on with his thinking.
Like Chris, Pieter was sure that there were a few moles inside the security group who were paid to pass on information to the South African Police Services. How could Pieter know this? He was a cop and had used similar strategies on previous cases to gain information.
“Pieter, I can’t blame you,” said Chris with a sense of sadness in his voice.
“I believe that our two colleagues who were killed here last week, would be alive today if some of our own people had not passed key information on to the miners. Now if they would sell out their own brothers by giving information to the mining opposition, they would surely do the same with the cops.”
Pieter nodded. Out in the open it was dog eats dog, especially if a few hundred Rands were offered to poorly paid security men.
“Look, you can trust me, I am on your side,” said Chris.
Pieter was curious to test Chris on what he knew about Lucas Sithole.
“I suspect the Police Commissioner was set for a nice juicy kickback if his friends got the security contract for the Loxton Mine, but instead, some mine decision-maker wanted the Lucas Sithole group to get the deal,” explained Chris.
“As for Lucas Sithole, I believe that he had found out some things which put his life at risk. I haven’t seen him around the mine offices for a while.”
“You won’t see him around again,” said the Lieutenant.
“He was on his way here for a meeting this evening when someone put three bullets into his brain.”
Chris’s face turned grey from shock.
“Chris, you got to tell me what you think Lucas knew that put his life on the line,” ordered Pieter in an aggressive tone.
Chris thought for a moment.
“From what I understand, Ace Mabuza and Police Commissioner Lawrence Mathibe are half-brothers,” began the security man.
“However, there is some seriously bad blood between them. So much so that Mathibe was backing another group to get the contract ahead of his brother. Lucas Sithole has stumbled on the Mabuza and Mathibe family relationship. Even more so, Sithole had got his hands on some papers that implicated Mathibe’s chosen security firm in some fraudulent activities. It is for this reason why I suspect Sithole had to be taken care of.”
This was all making sense to Pieter. He had a horrible feeling about the Police Commissioner ever since the earlier meeting had ended. Pieter had felt like he was in the way and now he knew why.
“What are the chances that some of the Police Commissioner’s goons could take a pot shot at me?” asked Pieter.
Chris’ face tensed up.
“Very good, Pieter, there are no angels in this security game, especially in Marikana,” quipped the security man.
Pieter thought for a moment.
“Chris, I am trusting you,” he said.
“We have our plan, but we will not present it as such to the cops. We will present another one.”
Chris shook his head.
“The cops are bastards, Pieter. You are making the right decision.”
This was the que for Pieter to say that he was in fact one of those bastards, but he did not want to blow his cover.
“Let’s go and tell Mathibe what he wants to hear,” said Pieter.
“Then we call our guys one hour early so 01h00 and brief them on the new plan.”
Pieter and Chris headed down the corridor and found the main meeting table packed with so-called decision-makers.
Police Commissioner Lawrence Mathibe welcomed Pieter with the fakest of smiles but ignored Chris Chuene.
Once seated, Pieter wrote a note which he passed to Chris.
What is up with LM and you?
Chris wrote back.
LM had an issue with the truth.
He had found his partner in crime, who would later become his fall guy. As Chris had said, there are no angels in the security game. The industry has a way of serving the heads of its best men on a plate, in true John the Baptist style.
Chris unfolded his map of the Loxton Mine precinct.
“Please update us, Mr Erasmus,” said the Police Commissioner.
Pieter grinned. Mathibe had still not worked out that Pieter was a cop. Now it was Pieter’s turn to fool some of the country’s top security men with a fake plan and he knew that pulling the wool over their eyes would not be difficult.