Chapter Thirty-One – Pieter on the Trail
Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus needed a way out! He did not have a clue where he was being held captive, but he needed to see with his own eyes, that Lindiwe Buthelezi was safe and sound. He had much more confidence from his chat with Professor J.G. Strijdom that he did with General du Toit. Regarding the Professor, Pieter would agree with the phrase that Nelson Mandela would one day make famous; “this is a man that you can do business with”.
While standing at his cell door with his right fist clamped the small barred window, Pieter began to hear footsteps coming his way.
Was the Professor back to try and have another go at getting information out of him, or was the General and his men going to have another crack at the physical route by dunking his head under water?
Pieter realised that for him to emerge victorious out of this psychological contest, he would need to make the first move. He would need to convince those holding him captive of the important role that Lindiwe played, and how key it was for him to get to Mandela before the wrong people did. The Professor would understand this, but not so much the General, thought Pieter.
Soon a familiar voice was heard at Pieter’s prison cell door.
“Lieutenant, look we have to bring this little competition to an end,” remarked Professor J.G. Strijdom.
“I am prepared to do this the peaceful way, although, as you probably know, General du Toit might try a different approach.”
The mere fact that the Professor referred to the Lieutenant by his rank, created some sort of respect in Pieter’s mind. To the General, Pieter was just a traitor and nothing more than a man locked up in a prison cell. To the Professor, Pieter was a person with whom dialogue needed to be entered into.
“Professor, if you decide not to free me, then I understand and I can live with that, but you need to set Lindiwe Buthelezi free, as she is the one who can see the future more clearly,” explained Pieter.
Professor J.G. Strijdom thought for a moment.
“You know full well that the security service guys will trail her wherever she goes, if indeed our principals do decide to release her?” said the Professor.
“I am fully aware of that,” replied the Lieutenant.
“Professor, if the wrong one gets to Mandela before Lindiwe does, this, this country could plummet into a state of civil war. It could be the end of the road for us all.”
The Professor cleared his throat.
“You know as well as I do how stubborn our bosses are and that they are unlikely to understand what you are telling me,” said Strijdom.
“No, Professor, it is not a case of that they are unlikely to understand, but rather more a situation of stubbornness,” snapped back Pieter.
“Do you remember the Rubicon statement that President Botha was supposed to have read in 1985, which would have unbanned the ANC and their affiliates? Well, if he did that then instead of opting out on the announcement, then things would be far different now. Time waits for no man. Our clock is ticking and every moment wasted is more blood being spilt between black and white.”
“I understand, but General du Toit, for one, won’t so, this is what is going to happen,” explained the Professor.
“I happened to notice on the work roster in the office that the General is off duty tomorrow. So, tomorrow is the day, that Lindiwe Buthelezi will be released. Of course, there will be questions asked, but I will take the fall for that. I agree with you that this has to happen.”
Pieter’s mind was racing. He did not want the Professor to lose his job for doing something good, but he also knew that J.G. Strijdom could turn out to be the saviour in the bigger picture, rather than the villain.
Next, if the Professor was going to take the heat, he may as well let Pieter go at the same time. Pieter put this thought to the Professor.
“You are starting to think like me, as that was my plan,” smiled the Professor.
“Lieutenant, just promise me that Lindiwe Buthelezi and yourself will get to Mandela before things go pear-shaped. Just watch your backs out there. Sometimes your colleagues can be more dangerous than the enemy.”
The Professor went on.
“I will try and keep the hounds away from you for as long as I can, but I am only a Professor, I am not a part of the security services branch,” he said.
“I appreciate what you are doing, and believe me, in years to come, your fellow countrymen and women will also appreciate your acts which will effectively change the course of history,” said Pieter in a stern voice.
“Do you now have enough belief in me to share what Albertina Buthelezi told you that she saw when she entered the future all those years ago?” asked the Professor with a smile.
Pieter was cautious. Was this whole team-building stuff from the Professor, nothing more than a Public Relations stunt?
The Lieutenant decided to play things safe.
“The Springbok rugby team will win the Rugby World Cup on home soil in 1995, Bafana Bafana will win the African Nations Cup in 1996, and the 2010 FIFA World Cup will take place in South Africa,” said Pieter.
“Lieutenant, stop speaking in riddles,” said the Professor.
“What is a ‘Bafana Bafana’?”
“You will find out in time, it is a bunch of guys who were able to reach their goals,” grinned the Lieutenant.
“I really don’t know what you are on about, but I will wait in anticipation,” said the Professor with a smile.
“So, from here, I will brief the security to let Lindiwe Buthelezi and yourself free at 08h00 tomorrow morning, and that they should not resist your attempts to get away from this area. They will follow you, but think of it as a safety precaution for yourselves rather than a spy campaign against you.”
Pieter tossed his head from side to side.
“That is easier said than done, Professor, but I understand what you are saying,” he commented.
“Let me go and wait for the General to head off and then I will brief the security service men,” quipped the Professor, as he turned away.
The sun seemed to rise a bit earlier the next morning, not that Pieter, who was locked up in a dark, damp prison cell, would have know any different.
At the time that he normally received his breakfast from the prison guards, a pleasing sound was heard at his prison cell door. It was the sound of a key turning the lock.
Moments later, the door opened and the Professor, flanked by two prison guards, stood in the opening beaming at him.
“Where is Lindiwe?” asked Pieter.
“A ‘good morning, Professor’, would have been more welcoming,” said J.G Strijdom.
“Good morning, Professor, now where is Lindiwe?” asked Pieter in a huff.
“Pieter, I have to be honest with you, I wasn’t trying to mislead you in any way, but when I got back to the main office after chatting to you yesterday, I found out that Lindiwe had already been released,” explained the Professor.
“It certainly was not part of the plan that I was made aware of, but clearly things have been happening at a higher level.”
Pieter’s eyes turned red with anger.
“You mean the General released Lindiwe?” he fumed.
“When and why?”
“Look, nothing was recorded in the prison logbook, but from what I can tell, Lindiwe was released two to three days ago,” said the Professor.
“As for the ‘why’ part of your question, I am not sure, but I would have heard a few cheers among the security service guys here if something bad had happened to her. You know how our brothers operate.”
“I have to get to Lindiwe, Professor,” said a determined Pieter.
“Where are we at the moment?”
“We are about fifty kilometres south of the laboratory on the Natal border where you were captured,” confirmed J.G. Strijdom.
A security guard tossed on to a chair a bag containing Pieter personal items that had been with him when he had been captured.
“What about Mandela?” asked Pieter.
“I take it he is still in good hands?”
The Professor nodded.
“Like you said, he is the key between South Africa going towards a peaceful outcome or not, so the government are looking after him,” explained J.G. Strijdom.
Pieter stared at the Professor.
“Professor Strijdom, I have trusted you this far and until now, I have believed you to be a man of honesty and integrity,” said the Lieutenant.
“I just hope that my trust is not being taken advantage of and you are sending me into the proverbial lion’s den?”
The Professor nodded.
“I can totally understand why you would think that way,” he quipped, as he shot a side glance at the prison guards standing on either side of him.
“I want the best outcome out of this, as I said before, what our colleagues feel or do, I can’t be held accountable for.”
Pieter nodded. He knew how two-faced some of his colleagues could be. They were born workers, not thinkers. They carried out orders without giving the slightest thought to what the consequences would be. The whole country was a testimony to this.
Pieter was led from his prison cell to a flight of stairs which he navigated. Finally, as he reached ground level, he was reintroduced to sunlight. His eyes battled to adjust at first.
He was marched out of a building towards an unmarked police vehicle.
“May God be with you, Lieutenant,” said the Professor.
“Good luck, I fancy you may need it.”
Pieter looked at the dashboard of the Toyota Carolla. He had been given a full tank of petrol to set him on his way. He was pretty confident that Lindiwe would not have wasted any time in going back to Pretoria. She was a clever girl and would have plotted her way first to Mamelodi to check on Albertina Buthelezi, and then to Cape Town, be it by bus or whatever transport possible.
The game of life was no longer a competition. It was a race. Only a handful of people knew how the end result would pan out. There were many Afrikaners out there who believed like Pieter initially did, that the elimination of Mandela would send shivers down the spines of the blacks, who would then surrender to white authority for eternity.
The Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus behind the steering wheel in the white Toyota Carolla was now much wiser than the Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus who had embarked on a trip to Cape Town a few weeks earlier on a police bus. Back then, his only ambition was to murder Mandela. Now his only goal was to ensure that Mandela remained unharmed.
If he was left with a choice of saving Lindiwe Buthelezi and saving Nelson Mandela, which would Pieter choose?
It was one of those difficult choices in life. It was like falling out of an airborne plane with a parachute and having to grab your son and daughter, who were falling into the open air without any parachute.
Whichever option he chose, he knew he would live to regret not saving the other one. It was something that wound hound him for the rest of his days. How Pieter hoped that God would not put him in the position of having to make that choice.
As he steered the Toyota Carolla, Pieter’s mind was filled with emotions. Why were so many white people brain-washed into believing that white minority rule would last forever? He couldn’t doubt the apartheid machine. Whether one liked it or hated it, it deserved credit for reaching its objectives to entrench the Nationalists.
His mind shifted to the ‘Looking Glass’. All this time most government officials had thought that the project had perished with many during the explosion at the Natal border. Yet, the sneaky South African government had a top secret team working the ‘Looking Glass’ to the maximum at a different spot, irrespective of the loss of life.
Pieter tried to imagine P.W. Botha and Nelson Mandela standing on the famous political steps of Tuynhuis in Cape Town, shaking hands.
He could not get the picture into his mind. Wait a minute, his brain flashed a picture of peace from Tuynhuys. He could not make out the faces of the two people on the steps of the building. One was a white man and the other was black. The white man certainly did not appear to be built like President Botha. It was difficult to know who the black man was as well, as the publishing of news or photographs of Mandela and the ANC, was banned by the South African government. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him, thought Pieter. History would later tell the story that it was indeed Mandela standing on the steps of Tuynhuis, but the white man shaking hands with the ANC stalwart would not be President Botha.
Discuss This Chapter on Twitter
Download Black and White, edition-1, published at 20 May 2020. Download Other Editions