Chapter Eight – Great Discoveries
One of the great characteristics of Louise Burrell and Lindiwe Buthelezi is that they never give up. In wanting to learn more about South Africa and the black upbringing, Louise accompanied Lindiwe on the bus trip back to Pretoria. Of course, the American could have paid for Lindiwe’s air ticket but… a black woman on a plane in 1987, no, not in South Africa!
Louise was already not very popular back in Atlanta having travelled all the way to South Africa for the Mandela story and having ended up with nothing to report on.
The story of Mandela’s ‘death’ had not yet been made public by the apartheid government, so Louise was none the wiser of the conspiracy that was happening.
Another reason why Louise agreed to the bus trip was because she wanted to do things the ‘Lindiwe way’. Louise wanted to see how black people lived in South Africa and how they were treated by white people. Then she would be able to make an informed decision on how impactful apartheid really was.
It didn’t take long for Louise to get a full dose of reality. She eventually got used to the side-on glances that she was receiving from white people on the bus. She could read their minds -“a white woman sitting next to a black woman? Surely not” This was South Africa 1987.
Eventually, the bus stopped, ironically at the same Shell garage where the South African policemen had stocked up on cheeseburgers on their way to Cape Town to see off the uprising in Gugulethu.
The same two middle-aged coloured women, who had been belittled by the police, greeted the people from the bus with friendly smiles.
The bus driver had announced that they would take a forty five minute break before departing, so Louise and Lindiwe found themselves seats in a small restaurant area, where they waited for their refreshments.
“So where do you stay in Pretoria?” asked Louise.
“I stay in Mamelodi East, about a half an hour’s drive by taxi from the city,” replied Lindiwe.
“That seems silly,” replied Louise.
“You study at the University of Pretoria, so that is quite a bit of travelling each day. Why don’t you find a cheap apartment near the university?”
Lindiwe looked sad.
“The Group Areas Act prohibits that,” explained the law student.
“There are some areas in the cities where only white people may live and Pretoria is the cornerstone of apartheid. The rules are probably stricter here than in any other part of the country.”
Louise nearly choked on a mouthful of her hamburger which had just arrived. Of course, she had been stupid to ask the question. She had forgotten about the racial segregation in terms of where people of certain skin colours can live. It was not like that in America, well not officially anyway.
Louise has reported on several black uprisings or protest marches in the US over the years but the South African situation was totally different. Any protest by blacks or people of skin colour other than white would be met with the full force of the policeman’s rifle – rubber bullets.
Did many of the white American police have a racist attitude towards the blacks who lived there? For sure, but the anti-black laws were not cast in stone like in South Africa.
“So tell me more about your early life, Lindiwe, I never hear you speak much about your family,” commented Louise.
Lindiwe sighed. Her life had been a tough one to date. Her family upbringing was complicated indeed. Her mother had passed away while giving birth to her and her father, a white man, had much influence on her early life. Here we go again. A white man in love with a black woman in the apartheid era. That was bordering on treason.
Lindiwe was having mixed feelings as she told her life story. She felt the impact of being two Lindiwe persons, with one from the future and one of the current. She was battling to find a balance between 2010 and 1987 as far as her life was concerned. Her mind was filled with mixed emotions. She really felt like she was two persons trapped in one body. It was like she didn’t know if she was to speak as Lindiwe Senior her mother, or Lindiwe Junior. She found herself making up stories and Louise believed every word.
Lindiwe explained to Louise about how she had been raised by her grandmother and had become so used to the apartheid way of life in South Africa.
“There are times when I think that life as it is will never change,” quipped Lindiwe.
“I have to wonder why God does not intervene. Millions of black people believe in God but if He loves us so much as the Bible says, then why are we being subjected to the oppression that we face every day of our lives?”
“Well, it won’t last forever, I am sure,” said the CNN reporter.
“Remember how the Israelites suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, before Moses led them to the promise land, Canaan?”
This time it was the turn of Lindiwe to nod.
Louise’s Biblical reference made her realise just how these sort of situations work out but at the expense of the leader.
“The more I think about it, Mandela is the Moses that we need, but I hope he gets to enjoy the benefits,” grinned Lindiwe.
Moses, the leader of the Israelites, led his people to Canaan, but did not set foot in the land himself. Here was Nelson Mandela, locked away by the oppressor, but the question was would he be able to see the day when he would experience freedom along with his people, or would history gobble him up too?
This was the likely scenario, thought Lindiwe, as she remembered how her mother had stopped someone from executing the great ANC man. If only someone could give her the name of the person who had wanted to carry out the evil deed!
It was almost 11am and how strange that Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus would walk into the same restaurant in Laingsburg to get some coffee.
He instantly spotted Louise and Lindiwe, although they did not see him as they had their backs to the doorway.
“Tafel vir een (table for one)?” asked the coloured waitress.
“Asseblief (please),” he replied.
There were only two open tables left in the eating place and he followed the waitress to one of the openings which happened to be three tables away from Louise and Lindiwe.
Pieter ordered a cheeseburger and a soft drink and looked around the restaurant. He didn’t recognise anyone else as having been on the island.
While both Louise and Lindiwe were quite pleasant to look at, there was something about the black girl that kept attracting his attention. He had seen her before but where?
Being a cop, Pieter took pride in his memory. However, he was struggling to work out where he had seen the black girl before the Robben Island adventure.
Dink, Erasmus (think, Erasmus), he told himself. As he stretched his brain to find the answer, he tried his best to hear what the ladies were talking about. If he stretched any further towards them he would have fallen off his chair.
Then he caught on to two words that Lindiwe mentioned. Vosloo Grill.
Of course! The Vosloo Grill! The black girl was a waitress there. That is where he had met her. Pieter grinned. Perhaps the girl looked a bit different without a drinks tray in her hands.
Again, he tried to listen in to what they were talking about. By hearing Lindiwe speak, he worked out that she was far from the American CNN Media Assistant that she portrayed to be on Robben Island.
She was a black South African with a good command of the English language. The main question in Pieter’s mind was why this girl and her white American friend had made the trip all the way to Cape Town. Why would an American journalist befriend a black South African youth and go to Robben Island? If there was one place in South Africa where blacks did not want to be it was that island.
Well, thought Pieter, there is only way to find out. As the waitress placed his soft drink in front of him, he picked it up and raised himself from his chair.
The ladies had their backs to him so they were none the wiser that he was approaching them.
Pieter did not always enjoy speaking in English but this was one of those moments in life when you had to do things that weren’t top of your list.
The cop was no fool. He had already devised the perfect strategy. He needed to pretend that he had a liking to the white woman while secretly being on a mission to get any form of information out of the black one.
Executing the plan was not going to be difficult. However, there was something about the black girl that was appealing to him. Stop it, Erasmus, this is 1987. Die enigste goeie swarte is n dooie een (the only good black is a dead one).
“Hello,” he said with a smile, as he greeted the two women.
“I know this will sound like a pick-up line but I think that we have met somewhere before.”
Lindiwe rolled her eyes and stared at Pieter. There was something about the man that made her think of her white father. It was almost like this man was a younger version of her dad. No man, Lindiwe, get back to reality, she told herself.
“Come on now, you are going to have to do a lot better than that,” Louise said, which caused Lindiwe to giggle.
Pieter grinned. He had only been in two serious relationships of a romantic kind in his life and was not good and never rated himself as a champion when it came to picking up women in restaurants or bars.
“Alright, you got me, I saw you getting chucked off Robben Island,” he said.
Louise gasped and Lindiwe let out a sound like a boxer who just had the last of his energy punched out of his stomach.
“I didn’t see you on the island,” said Louise.
“Me neither,” remarked Lindiwe.
“Are you a cop or something?”
“Bingo, you girls are smart,” he said.
“Look I am not here to arrest you for anything. I am just interested to know why you were so keen to get to Nelson Mandela.”
Lindiwe narrowed her eyes and gave Louise a ‘be cautious type of look’.
“Well, why don’t you pull up a chair and explain to us why you are so keen to know about our passion to interview the ANC man,” said the CNN reporter.
Pieter took up the offer and joined the ladies at the table.
“Look, this country can’t stay the way it is and something has got to give, but the government has kept this Mandela guy well tucked away from the world,” commented Pieter.
“The question is why?”
“Why do you think?” Louise returned the question to him.
While Louise and Pieter spoke, Lindiwe was having flashbacks. Was this guy the one who was the man out to kill Mandela, as her father had told her? No, Lindiwe, this guy said he was a cop, surely not!
The next few seconds were as if Lindiwe had gone mad.
“A winner is a dreamer who never gives up,” said the law student.
“It always seems impossible until it is done,” she went on.
“I never lose. I either win or learn,” she concluded.
Lindiwe, what is going on, she thought. Where are these quotes coming from? Then she realised that they were Nelson Mandela quotes from the post-1994 period that she had read.
Pieter and Louise looked at each other and the American shrugged her shoulders as if to say she was not sure what Lindiwe’s comments meant.
“Are you alright, Lindiwe?” asked Louise.
The young girl smiled.
“I am fine, I am just trying to understand why Mandela spent so many years in jail and refused the government’s offers of freedom,” she said.
This prompted the conniving Pieter to do his best to sell the idea to Louise and Lindiwe that Mandela was the key to negotiating a democratic South Africa and he needed to be protected at all costs. The cop had to hide a smile. “Erasmus, jou ster. (Erasmus you legend)”. Pieter spoke with such passion and confidence that he even believed himself for a moment.
Of course, Pieter’s plan was anything but sincere. He just wanted Louise and Lindiwe to lead the way to Mandela, then… Bang!
Being a cop, Pieter knew how to interrogate criminals and he used the same, hidden strategy to bring out answers from Louise and Lindiwe.
He learnt that Louise was a political reporter for CNN and had been sent to South Africa to land the Mandela interview as the cable television network believed that the ANC hero was about to be released from prison.
Pieter had no intention of letting on that the official line from Robben Island was that Mandela has passed on from pneumonia. He certainly did not believe a word of what Vorster had told him on the island. Vorster was nothing more than a yes-man to his bosses and did what he was told.
The cop was adamant that Mandela was alive and well and being tucked away by the apartheid leaders in a bid to find a peaceful solution as far as the future of the country was concerned – the kind of future where South Africa has a one-man-one-vote system and a black president? No, Mandela had to take the bullet, thought Pieter.
When Lindiwe spoke, Pieter listened with even greater intent. He had several questions that he would have loved to put to her, but it would have spoilt the mood. What was her affiliation to the liberation movement? Which political party did she belong too? What was her real reason in befriending Louise and getting to the island? Did she plan on eliminating Mandela because he was too open to negotiations with the Botha regime?
At this point, nobody could be trusted. Not P.W. Botha and his hierarchy, not any member of the army or police. Of course the left and right wing were problems too and there were always the chances of other crackpots in their individual capacity, stealing the headlines.
Pieter had no real issue if someone potted Mandela before he did. He just wanted the ANC and its Communist alliance to get the message that the Blacks will never rule South Africa.
His first conclusion was that while Louise was very clued up on politics as a CNN political reporter should be, Lindiwe was just the opposite. She seemed naive on the political knowledge front. No, thought the cop. She was not the one to put a bullet into Mandela. She was just too sweet for that. “Erasmus, sit jou hart binne jou sak. Fokus op die taak (Erasmus, put your heart in your bag. Focus on the task)”, he thought.
During the discussions, Pieter noticed Lindiwe looking at him in a charming sort of way. He didn’t have time to play the hard-to-get game. Perhaps she found him to be just as approachable.
This was new territory for both of them. They had never been this close to a person of another colour. This made Pieter check over his shoulder to see if he was being watched. A cop having lunch with a black woman… This could only lead to trouble back at South African Police headquarters!
Pieter was adamant that Louise was telling the truth about her CNN brief regarding an interview with Mandela, but he needed to find out the real reason behind Lindiwe’s trip to Robben Island before it came back to haunt him.
Pieter offered the two ladies transport back to Pretoria. He was driving on his own in a police vehicle, but having civilians aboard would certainly be against regulations. Even if he allowed it, the black lady would have to go in the back cage compartment where criminals were transported, while the white woman would travel in front next to the driver.
Fortunately both women rejected the lift and decided to return to Pretoria in the bus.
“Let’s meet at the Vosloo Grill at 11h00 tomorrow,” whispered Lindiwe to Louise, in an effort to exclude Pieter from the meeting.
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