Chapter 36 – The Roast of Ace
Two weeks later and all roads led to the CSIR Conference Centre. As television and other media crew jostled to get as close to the main gate of the venue as possible, riot police held their line as they stared at a group of angry protestors.
The group had tripled in size from the last time and so to have the cardboard signs that were being held amid the singing and toyi-toying. ‘Go to hell, Erasmus’, appeared in red blood-like paint on one of them. Another read ‘Reduce crime, shoot a white’.
Laurie Armstrong’s BMW had a full police escort to make it safely into the main parking area of the venue. Seated in the passenger seat of the car next to Armstrong, was Pieter Erasmus.
He was a man of little patience on a good day and the two weeks of waiting to find out about his future, had nearly pushed him off the deep end.
Only comforting phone calls and visits from Laurie and his mentor, Colonel Jaap Cornelius, had kept him sane.
Dressed in a light blue shirt with a navy tie, Pieter held his suit jacket tightly as he climbed from the lawyer’s BMW vehicle.
The protestors’ signing and chanting became even louder when they saw Pieter and some of the media tried to shout questions to him, but the noise was simply too much, not that Pieter had any plan on answering.
Once inside the main building, Pieter and Laurie headed for the main conference venue. It had never looked this good. The place was splendidly set up for a meeting of royalty, it seemed. Was this how excited certain people were to see Pieter take the fall?
Pieter noted the A5 size complimentary writing pad and pen on the table at each seat in the VIP front row area. These were accompanied by jugs of water with glasses and the traditional peppermint refreshments.
He looked to his right and saw the area where the hearing panel would be seated.
Pieter and Laurie took their seats in the front row. They had rehearsed their part a good few times and Pieter was ready for any question that would be thrown his way.
Ah, there he was! Advocate Dali Mhlaba’s eyes lit up as he saw Pieter, upon entering the room. Dali looked excited. He seemed to be like a cat who had just been given a huge bowl of milk. Last time at the Marikana Commission, Dali had managed to get Pieter stripped of his police rank and suspended from the cops. What would happen this time?
The room filled up to its capacity of three hundred including a handful of privileged media persons. Then it was the turn of the panel to make their way to their seats.
Nikiwe Moeng, wearing a tight black suit, walked into the conference room, in the company of Lerato Tshabalala. Only a blind man would have not seen the chemistry between them. Pieter could not help but wonder the goings-on between the pair. Perhaps it was more than just legal work.
They were followed in by Julius Shongwe with Amos Morewa close behind him. Then there was the ‘white sheep’ of the team, David Wilkinson, who sat down and promptly pushed a complimentary peppermint into his mouth.
Pieter looked at Laurie Armstrong seated to his right. The lawyer looked unperturbed, but why? Was he now so sure of himself that he could save Pieter from jailtime?
Finally, retired Judge Ian Farlam, who had chaired the Marikana Commission, made his way to his seat. Heading towards his 72nd birthday, the grey-haired legal man, took his seat at a side table.
Unbeknown to Laurie Armstrong, Farlam would not be chairing the hearing. Why should he as he had already completed his task team had drafted their report following the original commission?
So, who was chairing the hearing?
Dikgang Marawa walked into the room and towards the No 1 seat. Laurie Armstrong’s face turned whiter than usual as he watched the fat man position himself at the main table.
Why had Farlam not told him about this, wondered Laurie. This was certainly not good news for Pieter. Laurie and Dikgang had an uneasy relationship from past court cases.
Simply put, Dikgang didn’t like Laurie and Laurie didn’t like Dikgang.
It was no secret that Dikgang was heavily connected within the ANC, quite possibly right through to the President.
His huge belly left one assured that he had knocked back many free lunches over the years. It was common knowledge that if you make it to the top levels of the ruling party, you will never go hungry in more ways than one.
Laurie sat deep in thought. Now he not only had the panel against him but the chairperson too.
Moments later, the hearing started and Dikgang Marawa read out the introductory notes as to why the session was taking place. His talking went on for a good twenty minutes. Laurie listened intently. There it was. Ace Mabuza had signed off affidavits to call for the Marikana Commission report to be revisited as more information had come to the surface about the killings of the striking miners by the South African Police Services and other law enforcers. The question was who gave the order for live ammunition to be fired on the protestors?
As Ace had tabled the affidavits, he was the first person to be called to the witness stand. This was like a court case except that, being a conference centre, there was not a pathway to the underground where the guilty would be beheld before being transported to prison.
As Patrick ‘Ace’ Mabuza made his way to the stand, he shot a glance towards Pieter. The suspended Lieutenant was not sure if the glance meant ‘don’t worry’ or if it was a case of ‘you will take the fall, but I have given you enough money to rebuild your life when you exit prison’.
Pieter looked across at Nikiwe Moeng, who was whispering int Lerato Tshabalala’s left ear. The two looked more cosey as the minutes ticked away. While Nikiwe was hot property, Lerato was nothing to look at. A scar below his left eye socket made him look more like a gangster than a legal man.
Ace Mabuza was sworn in under oath and after reading out his affidavits, the chairperson invited Laurie Armstrong to put questions to the tender king.
Pieter had not seen the affidavits and had he been privileged to read the documents he would have lost his cool as Ace’s version claimed that it was Vincent Khoza who had alerted his boss to the fact that it was Pieter who gave the order for live ammunition to be used on the striking miners.
Get ready for a trip to hell, Pieter. Hell is like putting your hand on a hot stove plate in the kitchen but not being able to remove it. The pain will be with you forever.
Pieter shook his head. You go to hell, Lindiwe, he thought.
“So, Mr Mabuza,” began Laurie Armstrong.
“Were you present in the room at the Loxton Mine in Marikana when Lieutenant Erasmus is said to have given the order for the police to use live ammunition on the striking miners?”
Ace cleared his throat.
“No, I wasn’t, sir,” he said.
“So how do you know that Lieutenant Erasmus did indeed give the order for live ammunition to be used on the miners?” questioned Laurie.
“One of my colleagues immediately informed me of the decision that had been taken by Lieutenant Erasmus, sir,” explained Ace.
“Is the person who informed you present here today?” asked the lawyer.
“Yes, he is sir,” replied Ace, as he moved his backside in the chair from one side to the other.
“Kindly identify the person, Mr Mabuza,” said Laurie.
“Mr Vincent Khoza, seated next to where I am sitting in the gallery, informed me that Lieutenant Erasmus had given the command to use live ammunition on the striking miners, sir,” answered Ace.
Vincent Khoza sat motionless staring at the floor. If Pieter could have climbed across a few rows of people to throttle Vince, he would have.
“Mr Mabuza, I am sure that you are aware that a decision for the police to use live ammunition in a situation such as the one that took place in Marikana, can only be made by a high-ranking police officer,” continued Laurie.
“Yes, sir,” quipped Ace.
“While Pieter Erasmus was a Lieutenant in the South African Police Services at the time, he was certainly not high ranked enough to take that decision, would you agree?” questioned Laurie.
“Yes, sir,” answered Ace.
“Then if it was Lieutenant Erasmus who did make the decision to use live ammunition on the miners, how did he end up in that important decision-making situation?” asked Laurie.
“Well, Minister T.K. Muronga and Police Commissioner Lawrence Mathibe were summoned to the Union Buildings by the President to discuss the goings-on in Marikana, and the Police Commissioner placed Lieutenant Erasmus in a position to make the decision on the use of live ammunition on the strikers if it came to that,” summarised Ace.
“Mr Mabuza, you are presumably aware that Pieter Erasmus was not present at the Loxton Mine in the capacity of a police Lieutenant but that he was requested to guide the security arrangements on-site there?” pressed Laurie.
“Yes, sir,” answered Ace, with a sweat starting to break out on his face.
“Who put Mr Erasmus’ name forward to head up the security arrangements at the mine?” asked Laurie.
“I did, sir,” replied Ace in a soft voice.
“I’m sorry, Mr Mabuza, you will need to speak up a bit,” said Laurie in a stern tone.
“Who put Mr Erasmus’ name forward for the security job at the Loxton Mine?”
“I did, sir,” said Ace, in a more confident tone.
“Thank you, Mr Mabuza, now logic will tell you that with Mr Erasmus being there in a capacity other than that of a Lieutenant for the South African Police Services, therefore the Police Commissioner Mathibe should have abdicated his role to a high-ranking on-site police officer, should the need for a decision on the firing of live ammunition on the strikers have been required?” asked Laurie, who was getting more confident by the minute.
“Yes, sir,” answered Ace.
“Then why did that not happen?” asked Laurie.
“My understanding is that the Police Commissioner felt that Lieutenant Erasmus’ police background and his knowledge of the Loxton Mine, would make him the best person to make such a call,” quipped Ace, but not with much confidence, as a large gasping sound went across the room.
“Mr Mabuza, is it not a case of a fall-guy was needed should things go wrong as they did, and Mr Erasmus was the perfect choice?” asked Laurie in an aggressive tone.
Advocate Dali Mahlaba put down his pen which he was writing notes with and stood up.
“Objection, Honourable Chair, the defence is battering the witness!” said Dali.
“Please withdraw the question,” said Dikgang Marawa from the main chair.
“Withdrawn, Honourable Chair,” said Laurie, who felt that he had made his point.
The panel looked stone-faced. It was if Lerato Tshabalala had seen a ghost and Nikiwe Moeng stared down at her red polished nails as she sat deep in thought.
Julius Shongwe sat with his hands folded as he stared at Ace and Amos Marewa scribbled down some notes. David Wilkinson took in a sip of water and then popped two more complimentary peppermints into his mouth.
After another hour of listening to Ace Mabuza being roasted by David Wilkinson, Dikgang Marawa called a tea break.
Once alone in the smaller meeting room, Pieter let out his frustration.
“Fuck, Vince Khoza, I am going to cut off his dick and stick it up his…”
“Don’t worry about Khoza, we are on the front-foot now and they will struggle to pin us back, but I am looking forward to the afternoon session when they call former Police Commissioner Mathibe to the stand,” said the lawyer.
“Are you going to call Vince Khoza to the stand sometime?” asked Pieter.
“I want to see him get braaied. That two-faced bastard deserves it.”
Laurie mentioned that the roasting of Vincent Khoza would happen later. Right now, he needed to place all his focus on Lawrence Mathibe.
“I believe that Mathibe wanted to get the Loxton Mine security contract for his own consortium,” quipped Pieter.
“So, I am not quite sure how he ties in with Mabuza.”
Laurie thought about it for a moment.
“Unless Mabuza has his hand in both pies,” muttered the lawyer.
“What do you mean?” asked Pieter.
“Well, I would put nothing past Ace to back his own consortium and throw some weight to Mathibe’s group as well,” explained Laurie.
“This way, with Lucas Sithole dead, Ace could only win.”
Pieter ran his hands over his face.
“That still doesn’t give us anything concrete as to who shot Sithole,” said the suspended cop.
“No, it doesn’t but we will get there,” nodded Laurie.
“Some of these people will sing like canaries before I am finished with them. Let us go get a toasted sandwich and we can chat about our next move.”
“Regarding former Police Commissioner Mathibe, he will come at us hard, are you ready for him?” asked Pieter as they headed out the meeting room door.
“Pieter, I was born ready,” exclaimed Laurie.
Then Pieter remembered something of great importance. He headed back to the small meeting room and checked for the briefcase filled with the R3.6 million that Ace had given to him. Fortunately, he had the meeting room door key and kept it always locked.
He returned to find Laurie in the foyer of the convention centre.
“Oh, Laurie there is something that I must tell you,” he began, before the lawyer’s mobile phone rang.
“Excuse me for a moment, Pieter, I must take this call from another client,” said Laurie, as he walked away towards the bathroom.
Pieter had been quite surprise that Ace Mabuza had not mentioned the fact that he had paid the money for the security job over to the suspended cop.
Why had Ace held back? Unless there was a bigger scheme in motion. For a moment, Pieter felt glad that he had not accepted any further payments from Ace. When he had been at the venue two weeks back, he was supposed to collect another R2 million from Ace’s henchman upon departure. There had been no sign of Ace or his musclemen when he left on his last visit to the conference centre.
He realised that he needed to tell Laurie about it as a matter of urgency.
I bet you are sleeping with one eye open, aren’t you Pieter?
“Fuck off, Lindiwe,” he said loudly to the voice that was running through his mind.