Chapter Twenty-Eight – Learning New Things
Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus was battling to breathe while being held captive in his cell. It was as if there was a shortage of oxygen. Either that or he was close to a nervous breakdown. His biggest concern was not about securing his freedom, but that he had not seen Lindiwe Buthelezi for quite some time.
He knew that black lives did not mean too much to the apartheid government. However, in this instance, there seemed to be an underlying objective as to why the security service men wanted information on Albertina Buthelezi’s whereabouts during her disappearance in Natal all those years ago. If the security men wanted him dead, they could have drowned him early in the plastic bath tub earlier in the day, or for that matter, shot both Lindiwe and him when they were captured near the ‘Looking Glass’ area.
General Jan du Toit made his way to the prison cell door, which had Pieter held captive on the other side of it.
“Erasmus, jou tyd is min, ons geduld raak op (Erasmus, your time is short, our patience is running thing)!” yelled du Toit, in his usual bully-like voice.
“As jy nie vir ons gaan vertel wat jy weet van Albertina Buthelezi af nie, dan sit daar vir ewigheid, maar ons het nog n vraag vir jou (if you don’t want to tell us what you know about Albertina Buthelezi, then sit there for eternity, but we have another question for you,” went on the General.
Pieter listened carefully. From his earlier interactions with the General, he had learnt much. Du Toit had a habit of presuming what Pieter knew. So when speaking, the General gave away many new pieces of information to Pieter, in expecting the Lieutenant’s reply.
“Waar is Lindiwe (where is Lindiwe)?” asked Pieter.
The General laughed sarcastically.
“Moenie worry nie, sy is ok (don’t worry, she is ok),” replied du Toit.
“So, is jy reg vir ons volgended vraag (So, are you ready for our next question)?”
Pieter remained silent. What could the security service men possibly want to know from him, besides the Albertina Buthelezi saga?
“Jy stel baie belang in hierdie Mandela ou, hoekom (you have shown a lot of interest in this Mandela guy, why?” asked the General.
Pieter counted the question with ease.
“Ek het vir jou vertel dat Mandela die volgende President van Suid-Afrika gaan wees, wanneer die regering en die ANC saam sit om n oplossing vir ons land te vind (I told you that Mandela will be the next President of South Africa, after the government and the ANC have sat to find a solution for our country).”
Du Toit scratched his head.
“Erasmus, ek weet nie of jy van jou kop af is of is jy net plein stupid (Erasmus, I don’t know if you are mad or just plain stupid),” replied the General.
“Waar kry jy hierdie gedagtes dat die swartes eendag ons land gaan regeer (where do you get the idea from that one day the blacks will govern this country)?”
From the inside of the cell, Pieter replied: “Dink wat jy wil, Generaal, maar daai tyd kom gouer as wat jy dink (think what you want, General, but that time is coming quicker than what you think).”
“Kom ons stel die vraag so, hoekom was jy heelpad Kaap toe en dan Robbeneiland toe (let’s put the question like this, why did you go all the way to the Cape and then to Robben Island)?”
Pieter remained silent.
“Het jy gedink jy gaan toegelaat word om vir Mandela te ontmoet (did you think that you would be allowed to meet Mandela)?”
“Of, Erasmus, was jy vanplan om almal n guns te doen en vir Mandela to vermoor, maar die vraag is dan wie het vir jou gestuur en hoekom (or, Erasmus, was your plan to do us all a favour and to murder Mandela, but then who sent you and why)?” questioned the General.
Pieter kept his lips tightly shut to make sure that he did not say the wrong thing. Of course, when he was just a normal conservative-minded cop, he thought much the way du Toit did. The Lieutenant had only been converted after all the interacting with Lindiwe.
He could hardly tell the General that his prime objective in visiting Robben Island was to execute Mandela in the hope that the evil act would allow the blacks to realise that taking on the whites was a bad move.
“Jy is skielik stil, Erasmus, het ek miskien te veel van die waarheid gepraat (you are suddenly very quiet, Erasmus, did I perhaps speak too much of the truth)?” asked the General.
Pieter was deep in thought. He was running his mind along the road that he had travelled. He had memory flashbacks to his boss and mentor, Jaap Cornelius, who had given him the gun and cleared his way to Robben Island, in order to eliminate Mandela.
Then he began to think about his trips into the townships and of course, his meetings with Lindwe Buthelezi and Albertina Buthelezi. Unlike his parents, he had come to realise that blacks were civilised human beings. They were not the monsters that many white South Africans made them out to be.
Few white South Africans would understand this as they never interacted with blacks for two reasons. Firstly, the government said that they shouldn’t, and secondly because they did not want too. Thirty years later there would still be white people who did not understand that there were houses in the townships. To many whites, the word ‘township’ meant ‘shack’.
“So, jy wil die res van jou lewe in die sel bly (so, you want to live the rest of your life in this cell)?” asked du Toit rhetorically.
“Ek het nie n probleem daarmee nie. Hierdie plek is so weggesteek, niemand sal jou vind vir jarre nie (I don’t have a problem with that. This place is so well hidden, nobody will find you for years to come).”
Pieter gripped the bars on the small window of the cell door. The iron bars were solid and almost impossible to break without a grinding tool. He watched as his knuckles turned white from the tight grip that he had on the bars.
“Besef jy nie dat Suid-Afrika kan nie vir ewig so voortgaan nie, die wereld is teen ons (don’t you realise that South Africa cannot go on like this forever, the world is against us),” explained Pieter.
“Fok die wereld (fuck the world),” responded du Toit.
“Al wat hulle doen is inmeng en mooilikheid maak. So lank P.W. Botha in beheer is, sal alles ok wees(all they do is get involved and cause trouble. As long as P.W. Botha is in charge, everything will be ok).”
The tragedy was that this was exactly what PW Botha probably also thought. Insiders in Parliament said that President just could not visualise a black man being the No 1 in South Africa.
“Ons sal sien hoe dinge uitwerk, maar vier miljoen wittes kan nie vir ewig vir viertig miljoen swartes regeer nie (we will see what happens, but four million whites cannot rule over forty million blacks forever),” responded Pieter.
Du Toit snapped back agressively.
“Dit is ons land, nie hulle land nie. Hulle is besoekers hier (this is our land not their land, they are visitors here).”
This white mindset would return many years later when the political parties in Parliament would be involved in a hot debate over land distribution without compensation. It basically came down to the view of the firebrand left wing parties, that while blacks had now had the right to vote, political freedom meant nothing without land and a slice of the white-run economy. The blacks believed that they were the first to be on the land, long before the whites, so had a right to it at no cost.
Minority groups like the coloured community, would see things differently as they believed that they were on the land even before the blacks and whites arrived. This shout-out was always muffled by the political parties who represented the big-time role players (the blacks and whites).
Du Toit sniggered.
“Elke van die swartes op Robbeneiland wil net briewe stuur sodat hulle by familie begrafnisse of troue kan kuier (all the blacks on Robben Island do is send letters asking for permission to attend family funerals or weddings),” said the General.
“Las week, een het toestemming gevra om by sy seun se begrafnis to wees. Kan jy dit glo (last week one of them asked permission to be at his son’s funeral. Can you believe it)?”
Pieter stared at the General through the small iron-barred window.
“Het jy kinders, Generaal (have you got children, General)?” asked the Lieutenant.
Du Toit did not acknowledge his lack of emotion but instead further entrenched his bad decision.
“Hierdie is misdaadigers, hulle kan nie in die oopenbaar vrygelaat word nie (these are criminals, they can’t be let loose in the open),” snapped the General.
Pieter shook his head. Clearly many of the security service people were so brainwashed that they could, like their boss P.W. Botha, not envisage the inevitable.
“So, jy wil nie gesels oor Albertina Buthelezi of Mandela nie (so you don’t want to speak about Albertina Buthelezi or Mandela)?” asked the General.
Pieter shook his head.
“Ek het vir jou alles vertel (I have told you everything),” he answered.
The general tapped on the prison cell door with the butt of his pistol.
“Ek dink nie so nie. Smaak my jy will nie vertel vir wie jy werk nie. Hoe het jy op Robbeneilaand in die eerste plek beland. Wie het jou toetstemming gegee (I dont think so. It seems that you don’t want to say who you are working for. How did you end up on Robben Island in the first place. Who gave you permission to access the island)?
Pieter had no intention of selling out his mentor, Colonel Jaap Cornelius. Jaap had been so good to him over the years and had supported his decision to go to the island to eliminate Mandela.
“Miskien moet ek vir jou vertel die inlugting wat Lindiwe Buthelezi vir ons vertel het (maybe I should share with you the information that Lindiwe Buthelezi told us)?” said the General in a stern voice.
Pieter was convinced that the General was bluffing and trying to put him in a corner to speak out.
“Los vir haar uit (leave her alone),” said the Lieutenant.
“Relax, sy is fine, vir nou, maar sy was opgewonde oor julle toer na Swaziland toe (relax, she is fine for now, but she was quite excited about what happened during your trip to Swaziland though).”
Pieter threw his body against the prison door. If he could have broken down the door, then he would have, but the solid iron piece refused to budge.
General du Toit laughed on the other side.
“Ja nee, Erasmus, lyk my jy is verlief op die straatmate (yes, Erasmus, it looks like you are in love with the streetgirl),” taunted the General.
“Jy het nog n uur, en dan is dit weer swem tyd (you have another hour and then it is swim time again).”
The General was referring to the dunking of Pieter’s head into a plastic tub filled with water, as what happened earlier. Usually this made a prisoner give in and reveal information. However, Pieter Erasmus was not your average prisoner. He was as tough as one could get and his bosses – the apartheid system – were battling to break him down.
The General headed off down the passage in deep conversation with one of the prison guards. Pieter heard the guard remark on how tough it was to force the Lieutenant to give in. He also heard du Toit remark that it would only be a matter of time before Pieter’s resistance crumbled.
He also made out General du Toit’s comment that Mandela would never be released and the only way that the ANC man would make it out of Robben Island was by escaping.
This brought about a grin to Pieter’s face. He seemed to learn something new everytime the General opened his mouth. He was convinced that du Toit was having him on about Lindiwe revealing any details on the trip to Swaziland.
If du Toit had known of any intimate details, he would have teased Pieter about the matter. Du Toit was fishing and Pieter was refusing to take the bait. Many others would have given in by now, but Pieter was not like all the others. It was like the Lieutenant’s eyes had been opened before the rest and he could see things about the future of South Africa that the others could not.
Pieter began to think about du Toit’s comment that Mandela’s only way of getting off Robben Island was by escaping.
If so, how would this happen. Swimming from the island to the mainland was out of the question. He wasn’t sure if Mandela could swim, but even if he could, the water was simply too cold and of course he would need to dodge snipers’ bullets too.
The only way that Pieter could see the escape plan working was for a helicopter to land on the island and to airlift Mandela to the mainland and then into exile with the ANC headquarters in Zambia being the likely final destination. Of course, this was all pie in the sky thinking, as getting Mandela out of the clutches of the apartheid government without any resistance from the Nationalists, was easier said than done. What Pieter now needed to do was to play General du Toit and his sidekicks at their own game. He needed to throw the hook and get the General to bite and tell him more about the ‘Looking Glass’ project.
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