Chapter Eighteen – The Race for the Truth
Albertina Buthelezi… Lindiwe Buthelezi … Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus…
Three individuals who did not trust each other with information to the fullest but who needed each other the most!
“Gogo, let me make us some fresh coffee,” said Lindiwe, in a bid to break the awkward silence that had descended on the lounge.
The old lady smiled. She had committed to go down memory lane and hoped that this would be the last time, certainly in her lifetime on earth.
“Miss Buthelezi, I did not mean to upset you, but this information is so crucial,” said Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus.
Albertina nodded and both waited for a good five minutes before Lindiwe returned with three mugs filled with hot coffee.
“Two sugars for you, Ma?” asked Lindiwe, as she began to pack a teaspoon with sugar which was to be put in Albertina’s mug.
“Make it three teaspoons full, my dear, as I think I am going to need it,” replied the old lady.
Pieter grinned. He had been a bit harsh with his tone towards the older lady but it had met with the acquired result.
“Alright, sir,” said Albertina.
“Let’s get on with it.”
Pieter opened his note book and listen with intent to the story, while scribbling down notes.
“A friend of mine worked as a cleaner at the laboratory on the Natal border and she said that the management there were looking to take on another cleaner on to the staff,” said Albertina.
“Basically, I got the job with ease. I mean, in those days, any job was a good job as most forms of employment, even like today, is scarce and unstable.”
“Things were fine for the first few months, and I didn’t suspect much as I was put on duty to clean the scientist’s accommodation area,” went on Albertina.
“It was only when I pulled the odd cleaning shift at the laboratory that I worked out that this was no ordinary setup.”
Pieter sat forward.
“What do you mean by ‘ordinary’?” he asked.
“Look, the staff of scientists was different to the South Africa that we know,” she said.
“What do you mean?” asked the cop.
“Well, the majority of staff members were white but there were a good few black scientists working there too,” explained the old lady.
“That, to me, was strange. Anyway, I didn’t think too much more about it at the time until…”
“Until what?” asked Pieter.
“Until I spoke to one of the black scientists who couldn’t say too much in fear of losing his job due to a confidentiality clause in his employment contract, but he told me enough for me to know that the project was a life-threatening one for those closely involved,” said Albertina.
“Explain the life-threatening part,” requested Pieter.
“Well, I noticed that some of the scientists who used to greet me in the corridors even at the accommodation, seemed to disappear from the project,” explained Albertina.
“Keep explaining,” quipped Pieter.
“I mean some of the people who worked there vanished,” went on Albertina.
“At first I thought that they had left the area for the city, but the pieces were falling into place. Following my chat with the black scientist, it seemed that some of those people had possibly been killed in trying to reach whatever the objective was.”
Pieter puffed out his cheeks and shot a glance at Lindiwe who was listening with as much interest as he was.
“Did the colleague that got you in on the job see any suspicious activity at the laboratory?” asked the Lieutenant.
Albertina shook her head.
“Everyone was just so tight-lipped about what they saw due to the consequences of losing one’s job,” replied Albertina.
“I know what I saw though.”
“What?” said Pieter and Lindiwe almost in tandem, before casting a bashful look at each other.
“I saw people with burn marks on their bodies,” revealed Albertina.
“Again, I couldn’t ask too many questions, but this just confirmed my view that this was no ordinary science laboratory.”
Pieter wet his lips with the top of his tongue.
“Now, let’s get to the juicy part,” he said with a smile.
“Tell me… I mean us, about the incident which made you disappear from the area for a week.”
Again, Albertina sighed.
“Look, sir, one day I was carrying out my cleaning duties at the laboratory when I heard a loud explosion sound at the bottom of the corridor,” began Albertina.
“I heard people screaming as if the world was ending. I thought that maybe the laboratory had been struck by some sort of government attack.”
“I went closer to see if I could help anyone and when I reached the end of the passage and the door of the laboratory room where I thought the explosion happened, I was blinded by a powerful light. That is all I remember. I couldn’t see what was inside that laboratory room; or if I did see anything, I certainly can’t remember what I saw.”
The older woman continued.
“I can’t remember falling or even seeing people running past me to get away from the explosion. It all happened so quickly. The more I think about it, the more confused I am. I ran this story through my mind so many times over the years but I am left with more questions and then answers. In recent times, I have tried to erase the whole episode from my memory, but then Lindiwe came to see me and started asking all of these questions about the incident. I give you my word that until Lindiwe asked me about the incident, I have not discussed it with anyone. It is a secret that I have kept over all these years.”
The older lady decided it was her turn to put a question to the cop.
“Sir, what do you think was the objective of the laboratory?”
Peter breathed in and out heavily.
“Miss Buthelezi, I work for a government that pulls surprises on everyone on a daily basis and I strongly suspect that they were cooking up something that would have a major impact on the future. However, your guess is as good as mine, as far as what exactly they were up too.”
Albertina, a staunch ANC follower albeit in secret, bit her tongue before she said the wrong thing to an apartheid era cop.
Another reason why Albertina was so quite about her political views was because she was a Zulu, and most Zulus through their weight behind the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) which dominated political proceedings among the black community in Natal, in particular.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the IFP leader, held the power among many Zulu voters, and was seen as the official opposition to the banned ANC. Of course, the IFP ran the Bantu homeland in Natal and could control their homeland if they danced to the tune of the apartheid regime.
If the Lieutenant was right, then the laboratory was some sort of place where chemical or other weapons were being formulated to play down the black majority to ensure continuation of white minority rule in South Africa.
“Miss Buthelezi, I am finding it hard to believe that you never saw anything and just passed out due to the bright light,” said Pieter sternly.
Albertina shrugged her shoulders.
“I am telling you what I know and what I remember, sir,” she said.
Then Pieter went for the jugular.
“Then tell me what happened when you awoke from the bright light.”
Lindiwe narrowed her eyes in squint fashion. She really did not want Albertina to tell Pieter all about the night of passion which left her pregnant without a man in her life.
“I really can’t remember,” said Albertina.
“You mean you can’t remember awakening from the blast but yet here you are today?” he said sarcastically.
“Come on, Miss Buthelezi. I was born at night but not last night. You are going to have to do better than that. If you are withholding information on this issue, how do I know that you are not keeping back other information too?”
“Look, sir, what I can say is that when I returned to the laboratory after a week, a lot of people were missing, even some of my cleaning staff colleagues,” offered Albertina.
“It was like the explosion had removed many people off of the face of the earth.”
Albertina was not too keen to explain her out-of-wedlock pregnancy to the cop but had to refer to it.
“I was pregnant at that stage,” she said.
Pieter looked at the older woman. Having children out of wedlock was a sin in the white community but he knew that the African traditions were different. Erasmus, you know they breed like flies!
Presuming that the father of Albertina’s child had passed on in the explosion, Pieter expressed condolences.
Albertina did not initially respond as she had no intention of telling the cop of her experience in the world class hotel room with the man she had never met before. Nor was she planning on telling him about what she saw through the glass window.
Eventually, the old lady spoke.
“I have no knowledge of the whereabouts of the father of my child.”
Pieter noted the answer with interest. Albertina never said that the father of the child was killed in the blast, In fact, she never confirmed that the man had worked at the laboratory. She just said ‘I have no knowledge of the whereabouts of the father of my child’.
“I still think that you know more than you are telling me,” quipped the cop.
Pieter’s tone was becoming more condescending by the minute as his temper began to come to the fore and Albertina was seeing him more as a white cop who cared little about the blacks, but who just wanted information for his own benefit.
The Lieutenant was trying to keep his emotions in check but deep down inside, his anger was seething. After all this, he was still no closer to finding out the whereabouts of Nelson Mandela. Time was ticking and the ANC man needed to be eliminated!
Pieter turned his attention to Lindiwe who had said very little over the past hour and a half. He was adamant that Albertina must have revealed much more to her daughter prior to his arrival at the house. The Lieutenant needed to know what Lindiwe had found out. Lindiwe was a smooth, yet tricky customer to deal with, so he needed to be strategic in how he would get the information out of her.
Sensing that he was unlikely to gain any more information, Pieter gulped down the remainder of his coffee. He could not help but stare at Lindiwe. There was something about this girl, but what was it?
“Well, thank you for the coffee, I need to head back to Pretoria,” said the cop to Albertina.
He turned to Lindiwe.
“I take it you are also going back?” asked the Lieutenant.
Lindiwe smiled and nodded.
“Would you like a lift back with me?” he offered.
This was totally against police protocol as having a civilian who was not under arrest, in the front of a police vehicle, was against the law.
Lindiwe was none the wiser about it and expected the offer. She was sure that it would be a much more comfortable ride than being in a potentially overloaded taxi.
When Pieter saw other black people, he hated them with a passion, but when he was with Lindiwe, things seem quite different.
Once they had bid farewell to Lindiwe, Pieter put the car into gear. However, his mind was in a different gear altogether. He planned on spending the night with Lindiwe, but that certainly could not happen in his flat, at her home in the township or in a hotel in South Africa. He needed a Plan B and it did not take him long to think of one.
Landlocked neighbouring country Swaziland did not abide by apartheid rule. Sure, it was a drive of 322 kilometres from Mamelodi to the Swazi capital, Mbabane, but this would give him extra time to pick Lindiwe’s brains over what Albertina had told her about the explosion at the laboratory. Pieter Erasmus was a sheep in wolves clothing. He would do anything to get the information on Mandela, but there was still that strange feeling in his stomach. There was something about this girl, Lindiwe Buthelezi!
Discuss This Chapter on Twitter
Download Black and White, edition-1, published at 20 May 2020. Download Other Editions