Chapter Thirty-Four – The Race to Robben Island
An exhausted Pieter Erasmus and an excited Lindiwe Buthelezi made their way to the jetty area at the Cape Town harbour. A large crowd seemed to be present at the waters edge pillars. What was going on? Were they all keen to go to Robben Island and to meet Nelson Mandela? Hang on a minute. There were all white people and most of them did not even know who the ANC man was due to the way that the press was controlled by the South African government. The ones who did know the ANC icon’s name, thought he was just a guy who had thrown some stones at the cops and got arrested for his sins. Keep him behind bars on the island, most white people thought. If he can’t respect law and order then keep him there!
Of course the white people at the jetty were not going to Robben Island. Firstly, they weren’t allowed there and secondly, they just wanted a nice boat ride around the harbour.
It took quite a bit of pushing and shoving before Pieter got to the front of the queue where he flashed his police accreditation that was in his wallet.
“You don’t look like a cop,” muttered an elderly man, who was in control of the ferries at the jetty.
At first, Pieter did not understand what the man meant, then he caught on. The Lieutenant was dressed in civilian clothing and had not had a shave in at least four days. He hardly looked like the Afrikaner cop that one expected to see.
It was a good thirty minutes before the ferry arrived and another five minutes before Pieter and Lindiwe were able to hop onboard. They knew the drill well having been to the island before, although last time, they had not met yet.
An African-American man with sunglasses on sat opposite them on the ferry. Pearce Ellison had made it. Correctional Services Acting Commissioner Mark van Pletzen had kept his word and had brought Pearce to the harbour in order to get him across to the island for a possible chit-chat with Nelson Mandela.
Mark sat to the human rights lawyer’s right. Pieter eyed the Acting Commissioner’s uniform carefully. The last thing that the Lieutenant wanted was on-duty men to get in the way of his mission to get to Mandela.
Pieter remained silent. He did not want to get into conversation with anyone on the boat for fear of being asked why he is on his way to the island.
It seemed to take an eternity for the ferry to leave the Cape Town harbour. When the boat did eventually leave, the sea was rough, and the ferry seemed to almost go one metre forwards and two metres back. It seemed like the boat was going nowhere fast!
Lindiwe tried to settle her mind. So who was the white assassin who was on a mission to eliminate Mandela? The girl’s gut feel left her to believe that she would have the answer to this sooner rather than later.
She looked at Pieter, who sat with his head in his hands. It seemed that he was sleeping, but as tired as the Lieutenant was, sleep was well beyond him.
Please, God, please don’t let me find out that the assassin is Pieter Erasmus, thought Lindiwe, as a tear fell from her left eye. She wasn’t sure if she could continue living if she had to carry the burden of Pieter being the assassin of the ANC icon, for the rest of her days on earth.
No, thought Lindiwe, it simply can’t be.
As if reading her mind, Pieter says: “Who do you think the potential killer is, Lindiwe?”
She looked at him.
“Pieter, I hope and pray that it is not you and you are not just using me to get to Mandela?” said Lindiwe, in a tearful tone.
This was Pieter’s last chance. He must either defend the old South Africa or go with the New South Africa. However, his decision made a while back. He is a transformed man and is committed to the second option.
It felt like the boat was taking twice as long to get to Robben Island, than it did on her previous trip there. The sun was high up in the skies over Cape Town by now and Lindiwe placed her right hand below her eyebrows to shield her eyes from the brightness.
Once at the jetty at the island, Pieter signalled to Lindiwe to wait until last to climb from the boat. The Lieutenant was checking out the visitors carefully.
Who would the hitman be, thought Pieter.
Surely not the smooth-looking African American. He looked too slick to be a hitman, but then again crooks came in all sorts of images.
He watched Pearce Ellison climb ashored and was pretty convinced that the foreigner wasn’t their man.
Next to step foot on mother earth was Acting Commissioner Mark van Pletzen. Pieter did not know him at all, but again, his gut feel told him that the prison boss was not the assassin.
Four other Afrikaner women, two with kids, also made it on to dry land. Pieter was sure that they were wives and kids of prison wardens on the island. There seemed to be no threat there.
“We need to move,” said Lindiwe to Pieter, and the pair made their way from the boat to the upper area above the jetty.
They watched on as the African-American man and the Acting Commissioner engaged in conversation with the local prison chief Vorster. Yes, the same Vorster, who wouldn’t give anyone the time of day last time Lindiwe was on the island. Mention the word ‘Mandela’, recalled the girl, and an ice shield seemed to go down. It was like the word ‘Mandela’ was a swear word carrying a jailable offence. Now, here was the same local prisons boss talking to his superior and an African-American visitor. Something didn’t make sense in Lindiwe’s mind. Pieter too, had a suspicious look on his face.
“Hey, Lindiwe!”shouted a familiar voice nearby.
Lindiwe Buthelezi turned around to see CNN reporter Louise Burrell heading towards her.
Lindiwe hugged the media lady.
“Louise, I thought the government had chucked you out of the country for alleged irregular visa paperwork?” asked Lindiwe with a smile.
The American answered.
“They just read me the riot act about the way that I was reporting on the Mandela story,” explained Louise.
“Some government officials had issues with the way in which I was handling the story. The local press is censored but they can’t bar the foreign media from airing their views.”
“Did they mention anything about Pieter or me?” she asked.
“There were plenty of questions about why I am hanging out with the two of you,” she answered.
“I told them I am a foreigner in this country and getting information from a cop seemed like a good idea. As for you, Lindiwe, I said that I had only recently met you, which is the truth.”
Both Pieter and Lindiwe nodded in agreement.
“Now, by hook or by crook, I will get my Mandela interview today and…” said the reporter breaking off in mid-sentence as something caught her attention.
She recognised Pearce Ellison standing in the distance in conversation with the prison leaders.
“What is it, Louise?” asked Lindiwe.
“That African-American man standing over there talking to the prison people is human rights lawyer, Pearce Ellison,” explained Louise.
“I have done an interview with him before. I think he may just be the key to get me that Mandela interview.”
As luck would have it, Pearce was summoned to the side by a short man that he clearly knew and he excused himself and stepped away from the prison bosses to enter into dialogue.
“I think that you may have left your handkerchief on the ferry,” said the ferry captain, a white man in his forties.
Pearce smiled and thanked the ferry boss.
When he had completed the conversation, Louise went for broke.
“Oh, Pearce,” she said, charging towards him with a smile on her face.
Lindiwe and Pieter giggled as they saw the fake smile produced by Pearce. Here he was, in an important dialogue with the prison bosses and the last thing that he needed right now was a CNN reporter running up to him.
“Hey, there, Louise, long time no see,” said Pearce.
“What brings you to the island?”
“The same reason that you are here,” she replied.
“Are you sure that Mr Mandela is on the island?” asked Pearce, as he tried to shake off the attentions of the reporter.
“Oh come on, Pearce, you can give me a little more credit than than,” replied Louise.
“Come on now, we are both Americans. Let’s work together here. My airtime could make you very famous globally.”
Pearce was trying to be as polite as he could be.
“Louise, I will help you where I can, but I really need to get back into that conversation over there with the prison officials,” remarked Pearce, as he gestured to the prison men with his eyes.
“Alright, I will let you off the hook for now, but please can we work together on this one?” asked Louise.
“Alright,” said Pearce, as he passed his business card to the reporter.
“Text me on the number that is on the card. Remember that all is confidential for now. I will tell you when the time is right to pop my face on to television.”
Louise winked at the reporter, and turned to go back to where Pieter and Louise stood.
“You certainly took your time, Louise, did you ask him out on a date?” teased Lindiwe.
“Not, quite, he won’t tell me directly if Mandela is on the island or not but I am sure he wouldn’t be here just for a historic site visit,” replied Louise.
“He said that he would give me a call as soon as the time is right, but us Americans always stick together, so I know that he will do it.
Pieter asked to see the business card that Pearce has put into Louise’s hand. She showed it to him, and Pieter’s eyes caught on the words ‘Human Rights Lawyer’. He passed the card back to Louise.
“So what is the plan?” asked Louise.
“How are we going to do this?”
“Who is ‘we’, if I may ask?” questioned the Lieutenant.
“Oh come on now, do you trust me that little?” asked Louise, as she gripped her broadcast microphone with her right hand.
“I hope that microphone that you are holding is switched off?” teased Louise.
“Look, if I can get close to Mandela with Pearce Ellison’s influence, it could help you to get close to him too,” said Louise.
Neither Pieter nor Lindiwe had any intention of telling Louise that today might just be the day that Mandela gets eliminated. They certainly didn’t want to carry extra baggage, in the form of a CNN reporter, as they attempted to save thousands of South Africans from bloodshed.
Louise took a chocolate bar from her jacket pocket and offered to break it into three pieces to share with her friends.
“So now you are trying to bribe your way in to work with us,” quipped Pieter.
“I don’t call it a bribe, I think of it more as incentivising.”
Following the competition of the conversation with the prison bosses, Pearce turned around to wink at Louise, but the reporter was too busy unwrapping the chocolate bar to notice.
Pieter understood why Pearce had turned around. It was a sign that Mandela was definitely on the island.
The Lieutenant knew the importance of being able to follow Pearce, the Acting Commissioner and local prison boss Vorster, but the two wardens left behind at the entrance to the administration area was going to be a challenge.
Even with Pieter’s police accreditation, it would only get him into certain places, and certainly not into a prison of the sort of Robben Island. He needed to find a decoy that could attract the attention of the two guards. Louise!
“Louise, here is the deal, I will work on getting you your Mandela interview but you got to help keep those two wardens at the gate occupied, so Lindiwe and I can slip inside,” explained Pieter.
“I can do that,” smiled the television reporter.
“When do you want to go for it?”
“Right now,” exclaimed Lindiwe in a harsh tone, having caught sight of a further movement inside the administration area.
While Pearce and his contingent had gone into an office to discuss matters further, Lindiwe had spotted another man, waiting around the corner, before making a dash for it. She thought that she knew the identity of the man, but wanted a second glance. This could well be it! This could be the man who was seconds away from assassinating Nelson Mandela!
“Louise, do it now,” ordered Lindiwe.
Charm was one of the television broadcaster’s qualities as were her gorgeous looks. Prison wardens on Robben Island did not see hot girls often.
“Could you gentlemen please help me to bring some camera equipment from the ferry?” asked Louise, with a wink towards the nearest warden.
“De Villiers, help vir haar, ek sal wag staan (De Villiers, help her, I will stand guard),” said the taller of the guards to his colleague.
Louise didn’t understand Afrikaans, but worked out what was happening.
“Actually, the equipment is quiet heavy and we may need two people to carry it up here,” said the broadcaster.
Warden Lotter thought twice about it. Yes like it, if their superiors found out that both men had left their post….
“Alright, but quickly,” said Warden Lotter, in a heavy Afrikaans accent.
With the wardens on their way to the jetty, Pieter and Lindiwe took their chance.
“Pieter, we have to get to the Mandela cell,” cautioned Lindiwe.
“Did you see the assassin?” asked the Lieutenant.
Lindiwe did not response but kept walking as fast as she could to avoid suspicions. “If it is who I think it is then we have trouble on our hands,” quipped Lindiwe.
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