Chapter Six – Township Times
Just like Lindiwe Buthelezi, Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus was not enjoying the long, boring trip through from Pretoria to Cape Town. It felt like the South African Police buses transporting the one hundred men in uniform, were moving at snail’s pace. While most of the policemen were thinking about their strategy to squash the much-expected large black uprising in the Gugulethu Township, the Lieutenant had something completely different on his mind.
When Pieter closed his eyes, he could see the frightened face of Nelson Mandela, who was about to have a bullet neatly positioned between his eyes. This was a sense of motivation to the cop. He was about to do something that would save white minority rule in South Africa, or so he thought.
As long as the white army and police were in power, and a white government was calling the shots, the blacks had no chance. He remembered what his father had told him about how the blacks had taken charge of the countries in Africa which had been under colonial rule. Not one of them had turned out to be a success. All were run by cruel military dictators and not as democracies.
This was the typical view of an elderly white Afrikaner who had little understanding of the black man or quite possibly had never been in a township, other than to end a black protest by force.
Pieter noticed the rain on the bus window but it didn’t matter much to him. He had pulled enough police shifts in the wet during his time as a cop. He relished the task in Gugulethu.
With the Western Cape cops, the police had about two hundred men ready for duty. Two hundred heavily armed white men against a few hundred unarmed blacks!
The police convoy of buses and patrol vehicles stopped at the Karoo town of Laingsburg situated about 270 kilometres north of Cape Town.
The small town had become famous on 25 January 1981, when a flash-flood saw the waters burst the bank of the local river, rising about ten metres higher than normal. The flooding saw 104 killed and to this day, another 72 people have never been found. The local old age home suffered the most in this regard.
Even the pride of the Afrikaner, the Great Trek Monument, got washed away, with only 21 houses in the town, surviving the massive surge of water.
The police convoy pulled in at a Shell garage in the town and the men, now wearing their police rain-jackets over their blue uniforms, formed a line at the local cafe to order coffee and hamburgers.
Two middle-aged coloured ladies behind the counter in the shop had the tough task of facing up to two hundred predominantly racist Afrikaner cops.
“Luister, Hotnot se kind, ons soek twee honderd koppies koffie en twee honderd kaasburgers, verstaan (listen Hottentot’s child, we want two hundred cups of coffee and two hundred cheese burgers, understand)?” asked Captain Louis Marais.
The term ‘Hottentot’ was slang and a derogatory word used in reference to the early generations of coloured people who lived in the Cape, many of whom served as slaves to the whites.
The women behind the counter did not like the tone that the Captain used on them, but what could they do? This was South Africa 1987 where the whites ruled and those of colour had to toe the line or else. This was a society where whites were classified as human beings and any other person of skin colour was seen as being inferior in terms of brains and ability to do almost anything.
The cops chatted among themselves as they waited for their refreshments. Due to the small size of the shop, only half of the queue of policeman could fit inside the building, while the rest stood in the rain outside.
Fifteen minutes passed and the coffees and burgers were still being prepared. Some of the cops began to get restless.
“Die mate agter die toonbank beter vinnige bewig (the mate behind the counter better move faster)!” shouted a Constable near the back of the queue outside the building, which brought an outburst of laughter from his colleagues.
The term ‘mate’ in Afrikaans was another derogatory word used against a coloured woman.
The cops began to get their coffees and cheeseburgers, but not without a few quips towards the shop staff.”
“Nie net leelik maar stupid en stadig ook (not just ugly but stupid and slow too),” said one cop to the coloured woman who served him.
“Bly by vloerwas (stick to washing floors).”
This was an age where politics did not allow the person of colour to respond in any way. The oppressor held all the cards and any form of reaction by the belittled person of colour could lead to an arrest of the victim.
Some of the cops were a little more courteous and even said thank you to the shop staff. Not all of the policemen came from right wing Afrikaner homes. Some of their parents had taught them to treat people as people irrespective of which government was running South Africa.
The men in blue consumed their refreshments amid chit-chat over how they looked forward to finishing off a few hundred uncivilised blacks in the Gugulethu Township.
The strategy was similar to the manner in which they dealt with the blacks in other townships. The cops would work out an imaginary line across a street. They would take their positions and tell the crowd not to advance. Should refuse to listen and charge across the imaginary line, this gave the cops the right to open fire. The police would use rubber bullets, but even this form of ammunition could have a devastating impact on the human body, or something a deadly result.
Well, if they listened and didn’t cross the imaginary line, then no harm would have been done, would be the typical response of the cops at the end of the day.
Only in dire situations, would the police resort to using live ammunition. Many of the police always hoped that such a situation would arise as using real bullets on unarmed blacks was a pleasing thought to many of the whites cops.
Once back in the buses, the police convoy began the last part of the journey down to Cape Town. The sky was still dark at 05h00 and even if the sun was up, the picturesque drive through the De Doorns valley towards Worcester, would have been far from the minds of the cops.
While many of the police may have heard the name Mandela before, few knew anything about the power of the ANC or that a document such as the Freedom Charter even existed.
No, man, we are P.W. Botha’s men and no group of blacks will ever take our country away from us. This is a country that our ancestors fought for. No darkie is going to tell us that it is theirs now.
It took a good four hours before the police convoy stopped again on the N1 outside of Cape Town. Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus noticed the large number of shacks on the left-hand side of the road. That was a township known as Khayelitsha, but that was not where the trouble was.
Due to the shortage of jobs in the black homelands, many Africans headed to the major cities in search of employment. Of course this created an accommodation problem too and so the development of townships and the structuring of shacks happened.
When the anger of oppressed blacks rose to new levels, protests became the order of the day.
Queuing up was a part of a cop’s life. This time thought it wasn’t for hamburgers and coffee. Each policeman was being handed a rifle and a load of rubber bullets. The rain had now stopped but the area next to the tarred road was very muddy.
The cops climbed aboard Casspir mine-ambush resistant police vehicles provided by the Western Cape branch of the South African Police.
Soon, the twenty Casspirs, painted yellow with a blue stripe around, were heading towards the anticipated trouble in Gugulethu.
As the vehicles approached the area where the protest was set to be held, liberation chants could be heard. Amandla (power)!
The hatred between blacks and whites had grown to new levels. We will not allow apartheid to go on forever, thought the blacks. Well, at least another one hundred or two hundred years will be just fine, anticipated or dreamed many whites.
Life was great if your skin colour was white. For the blacks in the shacks, life was almost not worth living.
The sound of the stamping of feet and a cloud of dust were some of the first signals that the group of protestors was large.
With the Casspirs parked and the cops in position to fire, it was show time!
The noise made by the protestors was literally enough to wake the dead!
A well-built black man in a white t-shirt was at the front of the protestors.
Closer and closer to the imaginary line…
The police took aim with their rifles. It was only rubber bullets after all, many thought. It wasn’t the real stuff.
As the first feet of the protestors crossed the imaginary line, the opening round of gunfire could be heard for miles.
The man in the white t-shirt was the first to drop as the bullet hit the target just above his right knee. He started prancing around like a wounded animal.
“Kyk vir daai bobbejaan (look at that baboon),” said one of the cops with pride.
Many of the protestors were armed with sticks, clubs and simply anything that they could use against the white oppressor.
The next few blacks to cross the imaginary line met the same fate as the first lot.
The chanting of the mass of people had now become irrelevant. The noise had changed to sobbing and cries of pain.
Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus took aim at a young man in his early twenties. He could see the hatred in the eyes of his target. It was tit for tat as Pieter felt the same for the protestor. Had the protestor been white, would Pieter have felt any different? Probably, yes.
The Lieutenant pulled back the trigger of the weapon and released it. The rubber bullet unleashed a zipping sound as it left the gun before striking the man above the heart. The youngster fell to the ground and was eventually carried away by two of his colleague.
Pieter did notice how quick the wounded were removed from the scene by their comrades. The Lieutenant grinned. Ons vir jou, Suid-Afrika (us for you, South Africa).
The dust in the air had settled as the group of blacks retreated, but not before some hurled some stones, rocks and anything that they could lay their hands on at the cops.
About twenty of the protestors refused to leave the scene and bellowed insults at the police.
To prove a point, the cops went into the final stage mode, as some of the Constables ran forward with German Shephard dogs on leashes. Some riflemen stood back at the ready just in case of more trouble.
There are two elements in life that many black people do not enjoy – swimming pools and dogs.
The latter did the job as the remainder of the protestors fled at the sight of well-groomed, hungry dogs charging towards them.
A short man in torn jeans and a blue t-shirt tried to throw a rock towards the nearest German Shephard. This forced it’s handler to release the canine who effortlessly caught the target, knocking the man to the ground.
Soon, the individual’s blue t-shirt had red blood stains on it and the cop handler had to call the dog off from its prey. The protestor was on his feet with speed, holding his injured right arm, and ran away faster than an Olympic sprinter.
The cop handler grinned. Another day, another stupid black!
The police regrouped to pack up their operation and had a few good laughs over the morning’s happenings.
One cop even summed up the situation in English.
“A protest, they said, they can’t organise a piss up in a brewery and then they want to run this country.”
Pieter Erasmus returned his weapon to the man in charge. He noticed a colleague from the Western Cape branch tossing his head from side to side to grab his attention.
“Erasmus?” said the man, who had a nametag stating ‘Van der Merwe’ pinned above his shirt’s left breast pocket.
“Kom saam met my, ek vat vir jou Kaap toe sodat jy eiland toe kan gaan (come with me, I will take you to the Cape so you can get to the island),” the cop said.
Clearly this was one of Colonel Jaap Cornelius’s connections, as Jaap was the only other person who knew of Pieter’s plan to eliminate Nelson Mandela.
Pieter climbed into a cop vehicle alongside the Van der Merwe who was in the driver’s seat.
He was very cautious of what he said to the Western Cape-based policeman. The trip to the Cape Town harbour took less than twenty minutes.
At the jetty, Pieter climbed aboard a ferry. The rain clouds had lifted slightly and he had a clear view of Robben Island.
Pieter was a man who did not smile much, but his face lit up when he saw the landmass that allegedly was the home of Nelson Mandela since his court sentencing and incarceration.
Cape Town was notorious for the strong northern wind which brought the rain. The cold wind made the ferry struggle on the sea, but Pieter’s mind was far from worrying about the choppy waters.
He put his hand on his left hip to make sure that the pistol that Jaap had organised for him was there. In fact he checked his hip holster quite a few times on the trip to the island. The last thing he needed was to arrive on Robben Island without a weapon.
The world remembered parliamentary messenger Dimitri Tsafendas as the man who stabbed apartheid architect to death during a parliamentary session on 6 September 1966. Now it was the turn of Pieter Hendrik Erasmus to be globally acclaimed as the man who murdered the world’s greatest communist, and threat to a peaceful South Africa – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela!
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