Chapter Twenty-Six – Lockdown
A huge Afrikaner hand pushed Pieter back to a seated position on his chair. The Lieutenant tried to shake water from his eyes but still the darkness of the room made everything around him hazy. One of the henchmen untied Pieter’s legs from their chair.
“Staan op (stand up)!” ordered the other sidekick.
“Waar vat julle vir my (where are you taking me)?” asked Pieter.
Neither of the uniformed men in the room answered him.
He was pushed forward and match out into the corridor.
Erasmus, is this how it is going to end?
His police colleagues had told him of stories of how opponents to the government had disappeared off the face of the earth or had been killed, but with cover-ups ensuring that nobody knew who the murderer in the name of apartheid was.
Pieter knew that very few white people were killed by the apartheid forces.
In fact Doctor Neil Aggett, who worked in black hospitals in Umtata, Tembisa and Durban, and who was detained by the police along with his partner, Doctor Elizabeth Floyd, became the 51st person to die in police detention, in 1982. The 28-year-old doctor was the first white person to die in detention in South Africa since 1963.
The apartheid Police testified that Aggett had committed suicide in his prison cell at John Vorster Square in Pretoria. However, future Presidential Director-General, Reverend Frank Chikane, later revealed how he had seen Aggett been dragged to his cell after several beatings by the cops.
Aggett was a common enemy of the police in the 1970s and early 1980s, having been involved in the Transvaal Food and Canning Workers’ Union, and the black rights-focused Transvaal Solidarity Committee.
Fourteen hours before his death, Aggett wrote an affadivit that he was blindfolded and subjected to assault and electric shocks.
In 1997, the New South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee found nobody in the police guilty of the death of Aggett. However, further court proceedings would see the case reopened in 2020.
Was Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus about to become the next Doctor Neil Aggett?
The continent marched a good one hundred metres and then turned left down a corridor. Eventually, he was ushered into another interrogation room. His eyes immediately caught sight of a hammer on a table in the corner of the room. Surely he was not going to go through the Zimbabwe style of torture of having a nail hammered through his penis?
It was as if General Jan du Toit was able to read Pieter’s mind.
“Moenie worry nie, sit (don’t worry, sit),” said the General, who seemed to be in a much calmer mood than he was when he had instructed his hoods to dunk Pieter’s head into the water. Perhaps it was because some of the General’s superiors were in the room.
Pieter sat down on a chair at a long table.
Another man in a security uniform began to speak.
“Erasmus, all we want to know is what where Albertina Buthelezi went too and what she saw while she was away from the laboratory after the explosion,” said the security man, with the name ‘de Villiers’ on his shirt.
“Tell what Albertina Buthelezi told you and then you and the girl can walk away free.”
Yeah right, Erasmus. If you believe that you then you will believe anything. Nobody, but nobody, irrespective of race or creed, would walk away from this situation alive.
“So what is your plan here, do you want to turn me into the next Neil Aggett or Steve Biko?” said Pieter.
The point did not seem to go down that well with his ‘oppressors’.
From that moment onwards, de Villiers spoke in a much more aggressive tone and refused to look the Lieutenant in the eye.
“Erasmus, you know as well as we do, that Aggett and Biko committed suicide,” said de Villiers.
“They just could not live with the comic sketch that they preached that all South Africans are born equal and should be treated as such.”
De Villiers shot a glance to General du Toit and then continued.
“Now I hear that you are in on the act too,” he said.
Pieter shrugged his shoulders.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I heard that you told General du Toit that Nelson Mandela will one day become the first black President of South Africa,” explained de Villiers.
“That ‘ one day’ is a day that will happen sooner than you think,” replied the Lieutenant.
The security men in the back of the room laughed and de Villiers shot a side glance at them as if to tell them to quieten down.
“Yes, Erasmus, I can see that you are a man who believes in fairy tales,” uttered de Villiers.
The room in which Erasmus was now being held, was a bit brighter than the first room. He could see the greying hair of de Villiers. He noted the difference in attitude between General du Toit and de Villiers. The General was a coward-like bully. He played a good game when his sidekicks with guns were present.
De Villiers was more the psychologist type. He looked harmless. He even sounded harmless when he raised his voice. His job was simply to play a game of Chess with the ‘çaptive’ and get as much information out of the person as possible.
“So, Erasmus, Albertina Buthelezi worked as a cleaner at the laboratory on the Natal border,” said de Villiers.
“She spent most of her shifts cleaning in the accommodation section of the building, but now and then she cleaned at the laboratory area as well. One day while cleaning at the laboratory area, she heard a loud explosion and was blinded by a bright light. The explosion forced her from her feet and she fell to the ground in an unconscious state.”
Pieter gulped. It was almost as if the security detectives had spoken to Albertina Buthelezi just like Lindiwe and he did.
“Then, according to your version, Albertina Buthelezi cannot remember anything further,” went on de Villiers.
“Now, Erasmus, you and I have a lot in common,” said de Villiers.
“We both work for the government, we both know how to interrogate captives, and we both know that you are not telling the truth.”
Pieter stared at de Villiers. He knew better than to look away or stare at the ground as that would confirm to de Villiers that the previous statement was correct.
“I am not sure why you are withholding information from us,” remarked de Villiers.
Pieter returned his glance to the security man in front of him.
“I have told you all that I know,” he replied.
“Erasmus, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. It is up to you. Oh, I get it, you are worried that we will hurt your black girlfriend. I give you my word that she will be untouched. Just tell me where Albertina Buthelezi went after the explosion, and what she saw.”
Pieter wanted to giggle.
Erasmus, did you hear write? Did de Villiers say ‘I give you my word’?
Had de Villiers forgotten the golden rule? Never bullshit a bullshitter!
Both South African cops and security force men were trained to get as much information out of the captive before sending the person off to their final resting place.
“What is wrong, are you feeling uncomfortable about doing to a white Lieutenant what you would do to a black protestor?” asked Pieter.
That remark seemed to hit the bullseye as far as de Villiers was concerned.
“Erasmus, I have tried to be diplomatic, in fact much more than I am supposed to be, but now you are getting personal,” said the security man.
“You can walk out of here a free man in the next thirty minutes if you will just tell me what I want to know.”
“I don’t know any more than I have told you,” said the Lieutenant.
De Villiers signalled to two of his henchmen to take Pieter from the room.
“Vat hom sel toe (take him to the cell),” ordered the security man.
Once out of the room, de Villiers turned to General du Toit.
“Jy is reg, hy is a taai donner (you are right, he is a tough bastard),” said de Villiers.
“Janee, op n manier is hy nogsteeds een van ons (yes, in a way, he is still one of us),” replied the General.
Pieter was marched to a cell and shoved inside it. He could hear the familiar sound of the doorlock clicking behind him. He had turned the key many times when locking blacks inside cell, but this was all new to him.
It would be another five hours before any sign or sound of life would be seen or heard. The old Pieter began to come back to the fore. He had reached a crossroads in life and the question was should he live his life according to the way his parents wnated him too, or should he go the New South Africa route?
The answer was a simple one but after the morning’s interrogation, he began to wonder if he had made the right call.
His mind was playing games with him. He was locked away by his own people. The people that paid his salary were now basically accusing him of treason. Trust was out the window.
The Lieutenant began to slam his fists against the cell wall and yelled out in frustration. If this was the way forward to a new life in a New South Africa then why was everything being so difficult?
Soon, footsteps were heard. “Wat is die probleem, Erasmus (what is the problem, Erasmus)?” said an on-duty security guard, armed with a rifle.
“Jy gaan die dag spyt wees dat jy by hulle aangesluit het (you will be sorry that you joined them).”
The ‘them’ that the guard referred to was of course the blacks, or more specifically, the liberation struggle.
“Waar is jou Mandela wat vir jou sal kom red (where is your Mandela who is to come and save you)?” teased the guard.
If Pieter had been able to exit his cell, he would have torn the guard’s head from his shoulders. The Lieutenant did not enjoy being teased or being belittled by anyone.
“Jou dag sal nog kom (your day will still come)?” replied Pieter in a frustrated tone.
The guard snapped back.
“So jy will seker maak dat jour suster en dogters verkrag gaan wees as die swartes ooit in beheer van die land is want dit is wat gaan gebeur (so you want your sisters and daughters to be raped because that is what will happen if the blacks ever govern this country)?” said the guard.
Pieter punched the cell door.
“Dit sal nie so gebeur nie (it won’t happen like that)!” yelled the Lieutenant.
“Nee, wel ek is seker een van die swartes het klaar n betaalmiddel on die kruise te maak sodat hulle elke witte kan vaspen en vermoer (No, I am sure one of the blacks already has a tender to make the crosses so that every white can be pinned and murdered),” remarked the guard.
“Dis hoekom dit belangrik is om mense soos hulle en jy agter trallies to hou (that is why it is important to keep people like them and you behind bars).”
“Jou gat, man, kan jy nie sien dat die wereld dink dat Apartheid verkeerd is nie (your arse, man, can’t you see that the world thinks that apartheid is wrong)?” fumed Pieter.
“Ja, maar die wereld hoef nie hier saam met hulle te woon nie (yes, but the world doesn’t have to live here with them),” retorted the conservative-minded guard.
“As hulle vir jou vertel dat hulle skiet jou vir eete, hulle bedoel letterlik dat hulle skiet jou vir eete (if they say that they having you for supper, they literally mean that they having you for supper).”
“Waar is jy vyf jaar van nou af (where are you five years from now)?” asked Pieter.
“Hooplik, staan ek by jou graf (hopefully I am standing by your grave),” snapped the guard.
“Dit is nie die swartes wat die probleem is nie, dis ons mense wat nie verby hulle neuse kan sien nie (it is not the blacks who are the problem, is is our own people who can’t see beyond their own noses),” said the Lieutenant.
Pieter bashed both of his hands against the cell door until his knuckles turned white from the aggressive onslaught.
“Min dae (few days)!”screamed Pieter.
‘Min dae’ was a popular Afrikaans expression used by military men doing conscription national service, forced on all white South African males. Following the completion of schooling or unversity studies, all white males in the country received a letter assigning them for national service in either the army, navy, airforce or medics. ‘Min dae’ was expressed when their one or two years of national service was almost complete.
“Wat bedoel jy (what do you mean)?” asked the guard.
“Die wit man se tyd in beheer van Suid-Afrika is amper verby (the white man’s time in charge of South Africa is nearly over),” explained an exhausted Pieter.
“Jy is seker op drugs (you are on drugs),” teased the guard.
“Shame, ek voel jammer vir jou, Erasmus. Roep as jy van werlikheid wil gesels. (shame, I feel sorry for you, Erasmus. Call me if you want to talk about reality).”
The guard headed off and Pieter was left to ponder over his next move.
In an office down the passage from the prison cells, General du Toit and de Villiers were both beaming as the former held the telephone receiver and updated his principals in Pretoria.
“Ons het ons man, alles is onder beheer (we have got our man, all is under control),” smiled de Villiers. If only they knew what was to come!
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