Chapter 37 – The Great Puppet Show
Former Police Commissioner Lawrence Mathibe sat uneasily in the hotseat inside the CSIR Conference Centre venue. He had every reason to feel uncertain after having witnessed the way in which Laurie Armstrong had grilled poor Ace Mabuza.
Dali Mhalaba kept running his tongue over his top lip. At least he would be up first and could install a sense of confidence into the ex-head cop before Laurie let loose.
“Good afternoon, former Police Commissioner Mathibe,” began Dali, dressed in a grey suit, with a navy tie.
“So, as we learnt again, you were not present when the order to use live ammunition on the striking miners in Marikana was made.”
“That is correct, Advocate Mhlaba,” said Lawrence.
“Did you at any time abdicate your responsibilities as head of the operation in Marikana on the day of the tragedy?” asked the Advocate.
“No, sir, I did not,” answered Lawrence.
“Former Police Commissioner Mathibe, did you give the command for live ammunition to be used on the strikers?” asked Dali.
“No, sir,” replied Lawrence.
“Then who gave the command to open fire and when?” questioned the Advocate.
Lawrence looked forward to answering this question.
“I was informed by one of my deputies on-site, that in my absence, Mr Pieter Erasmus had given the instruction to the police and security personnel to open fire with live ammunition on the striking miners if the lives of the law enforcement officers were in danger.”
Pieter’s face showed no emotion. Afterall, it was he who gave the command to fire live rounds of ammunition at the striking miners. He loved nothing more than seeing black blood being spilled. Now he needed a way to avoid jailtime.
Dali Mhlaba interrogate the former Police Commissioner for another half an hour before Laurie Armstrong got his turn.
“Former Police Commissioner Mathibe is it common practice for a top ranked police person such as yourself, to pass on your decision-making responsibilities to another in the South African Police Services or even worse, to a non-South African Police Services person?” began Laurie.
Lawrence paused for a moment, glanced at the chairperson Dikgang Marawa, and then replied to the question of the lawyer.
“So why did this situation occur?” asked Laurie.
“It was a unique moment in a high-pressure situation, but in hindsight it shouldn’t have happened,” said the former Police Commissioner, as Ace Mabuza’s face in the gallery turned red with panic.
Was the ex-top cop surrendering to Pieter Erasmus’ client?
“So why did the police leader that you left in charge in your absence, except Mr Erasmus’ command to use live ammunition on the striking miners?” pressed Laurie.
Lawrence cleared his throat and seemed not to know whether to fold his hands over each other on the desktop or not.
“Mr Armstrong, everything happened so quickly, and I can only believe that the command was accepted as the lives of the law enforcers were endangered by the approaching miners,” replied the former Police Commissioner.
Laurie paced up the area between the gallery and the witness stand where Lawrence was seated.
“Would you have made the same decision if your colleagues’ lives were in danger from the striking miners?” asked the lawyer.
“Objection, chairman!” yelled Advocate Dali Mhlaba.
“This is not a court room, Advocate Mhlaba, this is a hearing, and the question needs to be answered,” replied chairperson Dikgang Marawa, who glanced at Lawrence Mathibe, to advise him to continue.
“Sir, if the lives of my police officers were in danger, I would have had to command them to take the necessary action to defend themselves,” said Lawrence.
“So then live ammunition would have been needed to be used in an extremely dangerous situation as in the case we are analysing?” went on Laurie.
“Yes, sir,” said Lawrence.
Ace Mabuza stared at the desk in front of him. It seemed like his tender career was going down the drain. He was certain that the only way to get the former Police Commissioner’s job back was to pin the Marikana affair on someone and that someone was surely Pieter.
Be that as it may, Pieter still sat as the man who had given the order for the cops to fire live ammunition on the miners.
He needed a fairy godmother to save him. Alas, he never got sent a fairy godmother, but a fairy godfather.
“Please state your name,” said chairperson Dikgang Marawa to the new man in the witness stand.
“Christopher Mandla Chuene,” said the man.
Pieter looked up from the desk that he had been staring at.
They’re sat Chris Chuene, the security man who had been of so much assistance to him in Markiana.
Advocate Dali Mhlaba needed to take a different route and he did not care who it hurt.
“Mr Chuene, do you believe that Mr Erasmus is a racist or not?”
“Objection, chair!” shouted Laurie Armstrong.
“Mr Armstrong, now I have to remind you that we are not in a court room,” said Dikgang Marawa in a scolding tone of voice.
“Yes, but the question has no relevance, in fact it is an attack based on the skin colour of my client,” quipped Laurie.
“Advocate Mhlaba, I will allow the question, but I hope it is leading to somewhere,” said Dikgang.
“It is chair, if I can just get a chance to speak it through,” said Dali.
“Please proceed, Advocate Mhlaba,” ordered Dikgang.
“Mr Chuene, let me repeat the question, do you consider Mr Erasmus to be in anyway a racist, who would take pleasure in ordering the law enforcers to use live ammunition on group of innocent black striking miners?” asked the Advocate.
“No, sir, I don’t believe that Mr Erasmus is a racist, nor would he have ordered the use of live ammunition to kill off black people,” answered Chris.
Over at the panel, Lerato Tshabalala seemed stressed, as he popped a complimentary peppermint into his mouth.
Nikiwe Moeng too, did not seem to be enjoying the answers of the past hour or so. Some bad blood had seemed to have been developed between Lerato Tshabalala and Ace Mabuza. Everything Ace looked at Lerato, the panelist looked away.
Outside the conference centre, the crowd was not buying into the news that their own black brother, Chris Chuene and even to a lesser extent, former Police Commissioner Lawrence Mathibe, had not gone for the jugular and pinned Pieter Erasmus to the wall for ordering the shooting of the striking miners.
The war cry of ‘One settler, one bullet’, had changed to ‘one settler, two bullets’, since some of the black protestors believed that the Afrikaners were so thick-skinned and two-faced that they needed to be shot twice to make sure that they were dead.
As the day’s proceedings ended, Pieter heard a familiar voice inside of his head.
You are a lucky sun of a bitch, Pieter Erasmus.
“Lindiwe, are you alive, dead or underground?” muttered the suspended Lieutenant.
You killed some of my black brothers and are about to get away scot-free. There is nothing fair in this world. Do not worry, one day when you meet your maker, you will account for your evil deeds. I will be watching over you for the rest of your days. You cannot be lucky every time.
“Lindiwe, when will you realise that black and white can never live peacefully together?” whispered Pieter under his breath as he walked out of the venue with Laurie Armstrong.
“We are different, can’t you see that? What we had was special for a moment, but in hindsight, it could never have lasted forever. We are just too far apart.”
My time on earth is over and yours is fast running out too.
“What do you mean?” asked Pieter, as quietly as he could.
This time there was no response in his mind from Lindiwe Snr.
Pieter Erasmus had not seen or heard from Lindiwe Buthelezi Snr since he had left her on a potential deathbed at the hospital in Brits. He felt no form of remorse for accidentally shooting her. She was a black and deserved the bullet, he thought.
He had hoped that he would never see her or Lindiwe Buthelezi Jnr again. His life had moved on and his greatest wish was to get Lindiwe Snr’s teasing voice out of his mind.
Little did he know but Lindiwe Snr had made a remarkable recovery from the bullet wound and had been returning to a relatively normal life. That normality took a turn for the worst while Pieter was busy with the Marikana Commission hearing in Pretoria.
Complications from the bullet wound had forced Lindiwe Snr to return to a state hospital in Pretoria. The doctors diagnosed her pain as something that could be overcome based on daily medication. The doctors were wrong. That evening, Lindiwe Buthelezi Snr passed away.
It was 5 December 2013, the same day that South Africans mourned the passing of the country’s first-democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela.
The news got to Pieter and he had a big decision to make. Would he attend his former lover’s funeral or not? He knew that he would be as popular at the paying of last respects as a pork chop was in a synagogue.
As he drove towards the Mamelodi Cemetery in 608-Jr, Mamelodi East, he secretly hoped that nobody would recognise him. His mind wondered as he thought of the good times that he and Lindiwe Snr had endured. The birth of Lindiwe Jnr had been the ultimate highlight. Now both Lindiwe Snr and Jnr were gone. He did not think that he would have a heavy heart over this after all that he had been through.
However, he knew that there was one constant in life that all human beings were assured of and that was death.
As he arrived at the cemetery gate, a security guard greeted him.
“Sir, you are Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus, aren’t you?” asked the guard, armed with a clipboard, pen and two-way radio clipped to his belt.
“Yes, I am,” replied Pieter through his open driver’s window.
“Sir, I have been given instructions by the Buthelezi family that you are not welcome at the graveside,” explained the security guard.
“Look, I want to be at graveside to pay my last respects to the deceased,” quipped Pieter.
“I understand that, sir, I am only informing you of what the family told me to tell you,” said the security official, in his late twenties.
Before Pieter could further motivate his cause, three youths, armed with clubs and stones headed his way.
“Fuck you, Erasmus, you are not welcome here, why don’t you go back to Marikana and see if you can shoot some more of our people!” screamed the shortest of the youngsters.
“You better start praying to your ancestors that they can save your soul from hell. Fuck off, you racist scum!”
Pieter could see the anger in the eyes of the youngsters. It seemed that compared to him in their eyes, the late right wing extremist leader Eugene Terreblanche was an angel.
Pieter noted some more angry mourners starting to make their way down the street towards the main gate of the cemetery. One of the three youths at the gate hurdled a stone towards Pieter’s car and it left a chip on the windscreen of the vehicle.
“I think you had better go, sir,” said the security guard to Pieter, and the suspended cop put his car’s gear-lever into reverse gear, before lowering the handbrake and putting his foot on the accelerator.
“Fucking uncivilised blacks,” muttered Pieter, which the black security guard may or may not have heard as the car went backwards.
The three youths at the gate made no effort to chase after Pieter. They had completed their task.
On the way back to Pretoria, Pieter’s mind became even more like that of his racist old man.
Die swartes het nie breins nie. Hulle weet net hoe om te steel en om alles te vernietig. Hulle moet bly by grassny vir die wit baas (the blacks have not got any brains. They know how to steal and destroy. They must stick to mowing the lawn for the white boss).
According to Pieter, what was needed was for the Afrikaners to stand together against the swartgevaar (black danger). However, that was not happening as particularly since the arrest and later death of AWB leader Eugene Terreblanche, the Afrikaner unity had splintered.
Some like Freedom Front Plus Leader General Constant Viljoen, believed that the Afrikaner military could have overthrown the De Klerk government in a day, but then what?
On 17 March 1992, a referendum was held in South Africa where white South Africans had to vote ‘Yes’ to close the book on Apartheid or ‘No’ to continue with racial segregation.
In the end 68.73% of the 85.08% turnout, voted ‘Yes’. The only province to vote ‘No’ was the now-Limpopo province with 56.98% of the people voting for Apartheid to remain.
Pieter’s mind wondered as to how right those people from Polokwane (formerly known as Pietersburg) were. If only more people could have understood that black people are followers, not leaders, he thought.
Then another thought struck him. How dead was Lindiwe Buthelezi Snr? He hadn’t seen the body in the coffin, and she had after-all died once before when giving birth to Lindiwe Jnr.
Pieter knew that a cat was said to have nine lives, but how many lives did Lindiwe Buthelezi Snr have?
He still could not fathom out how she had made a remarkable return to earth. He had been at her first funeral which was held a few days after she had given birth to Lindiwe Jnr. Admittedly, he had not seen the corpse, but he had seen the coffin descending underground at the same cemetery where he had just been chased from.
That time, Pieter had been welcomed by the family, but since then so much had changed. Did the family not realise that they had buried one of their own twice now?
Was Pieter losing his mind? Had the Marikana Commission hearing taken away his sanity?
He really felt like the Lone Ranger from the television series and children’s book. He was a one-man show. The families of the deceased miners from Marikana despised him, as did the Buthelezi family. He did not care about that too much as he was convinced that his parents were right in saying that the only good black was a dead one.
While the world clapped in support of the ANC, Pieter had seen South Africa slip its way down a road to nowhere since the ending of Apartheid. Even some of his black police colleagues had said that the township hospitals and schools were better run under Apartheid. It was like the blacks in power did not care about the blacks on the ground. Dare a black say that and they would be accused of being disrespectful and not being grateful for the democracy that Nelson Mandela’s ANC fought for!
Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) seemed to work for the minority of blacks as South Africa transformed on various fronts. However, for the majority, apart from having the vote, life went on as normal.
To Pieter and many other closed-minded whites, they believed that BEE was nothing more than reverse Apartheid and robbing white people of the chance of finding employment. The job would always go to the black person in a bid to diversify the terrain.
‘The brain drain’ was in full flow as many South Africans left their country of birth for fear of a potential civil war erupting or being part of a country that oozed of corruption, non-service delivery and more.