Chapter 35 – Horse Trading in Pretoria
Vincent Khoza left the meeting room to catch up with his boss, Ace Mabuza and Pieter Erasmus hardly had time to gather his thoughts before his next guest arrived.
“Hello, Pieter,” said a tall man in a suit, upon entering the meeting room and closing the door behind him.
The suspended Lieutenant glanced at the man. As Pieter smiled, it felt like his facial muscles would collapse as they had forgotten what happiness was.
Dressed in a black suit, Laurie Armstrong stood opposite Pieter. In his mid-thirties, Armstrong was a highly rated lawyer for police matters. Pieter had known him for over ten years and the legal man had a solid track record of winning cases.
“I hope you are here to bat for me and not against me,” teased Pieter as he shook Laurie’s hand.
“You bet I am, but I must warn you that it won’t be easy,” replied Laurie, as he placed a folder full of papers down on the table.
It did not take a genius to work out what Laurie meant.
“It’s cooked isn’t it?” asked Pieter, in relation to whether the outcome of the hearing had already been decided against him.
“It looks that way, but this is show business, kid,” grinned the lawyer.
“Didn’t you ever see the movie, Chicago where Richard Gere played the role of lawyer Billy Flynn to defend the murderess, Roxie Hart?”
Pieter knew the movie well. It was set in 1924 and Billy Flynn defended Roxie Hart by telling the jury what they needed to hear in a showbiz way to get his client acquitted of the murder charges.
Billy Flynn always believed in his abilities as with his famous quote: “I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but if Jesus Christ lived in Chicago and had come to me and had five thousand dollars, let’s just say things would have turned out differently”.
Laurie Armstrong was that type of character. The word ‘lose’ was not in his vocabulary.
“Can you tap dance like Richard Gere did in the movie?” asked Pieter, with his eyes fixed on the lawyer.
“Pieter, I am going to be doing a lot of tap dancing here if I am to get you out of this mess,” replied Laurie.
“The reopening of the case has been done to clear the names of some people and to pin the Marikana Massacre on you.”
“Let me guess, Minister Muronga and former Police Commissioner Mathibe want their credibility back?” asked Pieter in jest.
“Clever boy, go to the top of the class,” replied Laurie.
“There is a five-person panel in place, but as you can guess, these people have been hand-picked to ensure the anticipated outcome against you. I am sure that you will recognise several of the names of the people who are on the panel.”
“Give it to me straight,” quipped Pieter.
Laurie sat down at the table and opened his folder.
The lawyer looked at the name on the top page of papers in front of him.
“First up, there is former Judge Lerato Tshabalala,” said Laurie.
Pieter took in a mouthful of his coffee which was close to cold by now. He nearly choked on it in hearing the name of the former judge.
“Lerato Tshabalala, you have got to be kidding!” exclaimed Pieter.
Lerato Tshabalala had been dismissed as a judge after being found guilty of receiving bribes in a controversial Information Technology network case.
The Pretoria-based judge was not known as the ‘Totsi from Tshwane’ for no reason. The rogue was clearly on a mission to cash in some more but this time at Pieter’s expense.
Next was the hot Nikiwe Moeng. In her late twenties, the slim built Nikiwe was said to be an expert in security law. Her rise in the legal world was instant with the general belief being that she had slept her way to the top.
Amos Morewa was approaching retirement age. He was known to be a straight-down-the-line type of lawyer whose brains were often picked by politicians when legal advice was required. It was no secret that Amos was good friends with Lerato Tshabalala.’
Fourth on the list was Julius Shongwe, in his early forties and serving on the board of a top law firm in Pretoria. Julius knew his stuff and was probably the only level thinking person in the group. He called things like it was, unlike the bias Lerato Tshabalala and his cronies.
Finally, David Wilkinson added some diversity to the bunch. David, now in his sixties, had been a staunch anti-Apartheid activist during his student days, and had served on several ANC committees over the years on the legal front. Being the only white member on the team, David often feared about losing his post, so he became a yes-man for Lerato Tshabalala.
Laurie Armstrong looked at the pages in front of him. If this were a football match, he could well be on the wrong end of a 4-1 score-line. He needed a plan and a good one.
Laurie had a good working relationship with Nikiwe Moeng and Amos Morewa, but whether it was good enough to swing their votes, only time would tell.
What Laurie could bank on was that the proceedings would start late at best. Nikiwe Moeng was the queen when it came to a lack of punctuality. She worked on the African time system and did not feel much for those who observed the clock. Some even said that Nikiwe enjoyed being the last to arrive so that everyone could notice her.
Laurie checked his wristwatch. It was nearly 11h00. The chances of the hearing starting today were remote. The likelihood of a briefing session was probably the best chance of getting something done.
“Now, Pieter, we need to box clever here,” said Laurie sternly.
“Remember, the game-plan is about telling them what they want to hear. So, throw in lines like you always believed in the South African judicial system and found the Farlam Commission report to be free and fair.”
He always believed in the South African judicial system. Was Laurie on drugs?
Laurie could read Pieter’s mindset.
“Look, I am going to do my best to make sure that you don’t end up on the wrong side of the prison door, but you have to put emotions and former beliefs aside,” said Laurie.
“We are playing a chess game here, but there are no white pieces on the chess board, only black, if you get what I mean?”
“So, you are saying David Wilkinson is a pawn in the real sense of the word?” asked the suspended Lieutenant.
“You bet, Lerato Tshabalala pulls the strings and David dances,” replied Laurie.
“What about Amos Morewa?” asked Pieter.
Amos was an old school type of lawyer. He stuck to the facts. However, with Amos being mates with Lerato Tshabalala the chances of scoring that vote were slim.
Julius Shongwe was a good bet for Laurie. He was a guy who was led by the facts. Laurie was not sure if Julius had ever been approached by Lerato Tshabalala. He The police lawyer liked to think that Julius would refrain from taking the bait but then he also understood that every man has his price.
“So, we are going to do this in Chicago movie style,” said Laurie.
“I will interrupt from where I am sitting if I don’t like the way the questioning is going.”
“What about me?” asked Pieter.
“Well, you are like Roxie Hart in the movie,” replied Laurie.
“I won’t look too good in a dress,” muttered Pieter.
“No, you follow my story-line, and all will be well,” quipped the police lawyer.
Pieter scratched his head as he spent a minute deep in thought.
“Who in the panel has ties to Ace Mabuza?” he asked.
That was an easy question for Laurie to answer.
“Well, Ace will definitely have Lerato Tshabalala in his pocket,” commented Laurie.
“They have worked like this on several court cases and each time both have come out on top.”
Laurie stood up from his chair.
“Let me go and see if the others are ready for the briefing,” said the legal man.
As Laurie opened the door, he found himself face to face with Nikiwe Moeng. Wearing a black skirt and blouse, Nikiwe looked more like a model or television present than a lawyer. Her perfume was enough to make any man’s toes curl with pleasure.
“Good morning, Mr Armstrong, we meet again,” she said with a smile to Laurie.
Laurie stared at his wristwatch and Nikiwe caught the joke.
“I am not always late for court, you know,” she quipped.
“Define ‘always’,” said Laurie with a giggle.
“Yes well, I am a busy woman,” she said.”
“I will see you at the hearing.”
Nikiwe moved across the corridor to join in on a conversation with Julius Shongwe and Lerato Tshabalala. How Laurie would have loved to be a fly on the wall to listen in. Of course, he would have needed a translator as the chat was happening in one of the African languages.
Pieter could make out a few of the things being said between Laurie Armstrong and Nikiwe Moeng and something deep inside of him made him rush over to the door.
He flung it open and saw Nikiwe Moeng standing about fifteen metres away. Again, even though she was talking in her home African language, he could sense something about her speech.
It was almost like Pieter was listening to Lindiwe Buthelezi Jnr. Both women had a soothing sense about the way they spoke. Both seemed quite mature for their age. Both were heading towards their respective destinies. Well, at least that was the case until Lindiwe Jnr disappeared during the gas explosion at the Vosloo Grill.
That seemed like ancient history now to Pieter. His life had moved on and he no had a health bank account. He took pride in himself over the fact that he didn’t tell Laurie Armstrong about the R3.6 million cash in the briefcase in the meeting room. Nor did he mention about the other R2 million that he was due to receive at the end of the day from Ace Mabuza’s henchman. Pieter was hoping and praying that this money issue would not come back to haunt him.
Pieter stook in the doorway with his eyes fixed on the back of Nikiwe Moeng’s head. Even from afar, she reeked of femininity. He could imagine why she was such a hit with the guys in the legal industry.
Had she slept her way to the top as Laurie had mentioned? Well, who knows, but she was certainly going places. How Pieter hoped that Nikiwe would vote for his innocent in the Marikana affair.
He could not help noticing at how uptight Lerato Tshabalala was in his talking with the other members of the panel. Something seemed wrong, very wrong.
Had Ace Mabuza not delivered his deposit to seal Pieter’s fate?
Amos Morewa, too, seemed to be a worried man. Pieter noted how Nikiwe kept looking over her right shoulder while trying to calm the men down.
Pieter held back a laugh. Maybe the money that should have gone to Lerato Tshabalala was inside the briefcase in the meeting room that Ace Mabuza had given to him?
So, you think that you can honestly get away again, Pieter.
There was that voice of Lindiwe Buthelezi Snr playing with his spirit and mind.
“You don’t know what I have been through,” said Pieter loudly.
Oh, I do, Pieter, and it’s all your own doing. Now it’s your time to face the consequences.
“I was only returning the pain that has been placed on my paper,” said the suspended cop.
At that moment, Laurie Armstrong returned to the room and heard Pieter speaking to himself.
“You can get arrested for speaking in a group of one, you know,” joked Laurie.
Pieter shook his head.
“What did you find out at the briefing?” he asked to Laurie.
Laurie puffed out his cheeks.
“As I suspected, the commission was reopened after new evidence came to light that you gave the order for the police to open fire on the striking miners in Marikana,” explained Laurie, as he shuffled some papers on the table where he sat.
Pieter shook his head more out of frustration than anything else.
“Who gave the commission this information?” asked the suspended cop.
“The commissioners have been given sworn affidavits, but they would not say who the papers were signed by,” said Laurie.
“We will have to wait until they give copies of the documents to us later today. Look, Pieter, you and I both know the documents almost surely came from Ace Mabuza who is trying to please Minister Muronga and former Police Commissioner Mathibe, but the question is how do we prove that they are working together against you?”
“More coffee?” said Laurie, as he stood up and headed over to the refreshment stand.
“Please, I think I will need it,” quipped Pieter.
“We both will,” said the lawyer.
Pieter ran his views on the anxiety of the panel outside past Laurie.
The lawyer smiled.
“I also noticed that after Nikiwe Moeng moved from me to chat to the other panel members,” said Laurie.
“Something has happened that they are not too happy about.”
“Do you think that it is about money?” asked Pieter.
Laurie placed a fresh cup of coffee in front of his client and shook his head.
“Whatever has gone wrong is bigger than money, I am sure of it,” replied Laurie.
“Lerato Tshabalala is not a man who airs his money frustrations in public. Something has gone pear-shaped and I will get to the bottom of it as it could be a good weapon for us.”
“I appreciate your efforts, but I just feel like I am spending my whole life waiting for things to happen,” said Pieter, as he took in a sip of coffee.
“Its like the devil is waiting to devour me.”
“Well, if the devil is set to inherit your soul, he will have to wait a bit longer because it won’t be from the outcome of this hearing as long as I am around,” assured Laurie.
“I don’t play to lose, Pieter you know that. Besides, I am starting to compile a list of persons who want to see Lerato Tshabalala and his panellists crash and burn. They are not everybody’s cup of tea and there are quite a few people out there who will help us to bring them down to earth if they play dirty.”
Who do you believe, Laurie or me? You are going down, Pieter, and there is nothing that you can do about it. Relax, jail meals are not as bad as they are made out to be.
“Piss off, Lindiwe,” said Pieter softly to the voice in his head.
“What was that Pieter?” asked Laurie.
“Oh, nothing, I was just clearing my mind,” said the suspended Lieutenant.