Chapter Thirty-Five – On the Trail of a Killer
Once well inside the main gate of the Robben Island prison, Lindiwe Buthelezi lengthened her stride and broke out into a jog in her quest to follow the person she thought she had just seen in the corridor area. As she turned right at the end of the corridor, she could see up to fifty metres ahead of her, and there no sign of any person. She checked to see if there were any alleyways where the person could have escaped too, but no luck. It was almost as if this person had disappeared off the face of the earth. Either that or Lindiwe was losing her mind.
“Lindiwe, just breathe deeply and calm down,” said Pieter Erasmus to the girl.
“Pieter, I know what I saw, it was him,” remarked Lindiwe, before the conversation was broken by a passing warden.
“Do you have permission to be here,” asked the guard.
Pieter flashed his police accreditation, and the low ranking prison employee didn’t know any better and accepted it as fact.
“What about the girl, as a policeman you should know that blacks aren’t allowed here unless they are locked up in a prison cell,” said the warden, in his early twenties.
“We are waiting to meet with the prisons boss, who is in another meeting at the moment,” quipped Lindiwe.
The warden kept his eyes firmly on Pieter. He wasn’t used to speaking to black people. His President has told the nation that the blacks were the enemy and on a mission to take over the state at the expense of the whites.
“Well, please move back to the front and wait outside the administration office for Chief Vorster,” said the warden.
Pieter nodded in agreement. He wasn’t going to lose everything because of an arrogant warden who knew little about the past, present or the future.
The pair waited near Vorster’s office door until the warden had headed off, and then moved on to a safer area away from the door. It is a pity that they could not hear the conversation that was happening inside the chief’s office.
If Vorster’s eyes were daggers, Pearce Ellison would have been dead a long time ago. Like the young warden who had found Pieter and Lindiwe in the corridor, Vorster was not used to engaging with black people in a civilised manner.
A black man sitting in his office engaging with him? No, man, what would be next, a black man in government? Vorster was not at all comfortable with the meeting, even though his boss, Acting Commissioner Mark van Pletzen, was.
“How safe do you think Mr Mandela is on the island?” asked Pearce.
Vorster’s blood pressure went to a new high level. To Vorster, this African-American was questioning his ability to do his job. Why? Did he think that he could do better?
“Listen here, Mandela has been on this island since 1962, and only recently was moved to the mainland prison,” answered Vorster abruptly.
“Yes, he was moved to the mainland prison, because the government wanted to engage in talks with him,” said Pearce, with his eyes fixed on the island’s prison chief.
“Pearson, look…” began Vorster.
“It is actually Ellison, Pearce Ellison,” interrupted Vorster, with Mark van Pletzen hiding his laughter.
“Right, now you must understand that this country is in good hands as it is right now and my President does not engage with terrorists,” said Vorster in an aggressive tone.
Now it was the turn of Pearce’s blood pressure to reach new heights.
“Look, sir, it is only a matter of time before negotiations between the ANC and the government take place,” said Pearce sternly.
“There is no reason why whites and blacks cannot live peacefully together in this beautiful country, but then all need to have equal rights, so oppression needs to be removed.”
Vorster’s knuckles on his right hand were turning white as he gripped his desk with such strength. The nerve of this Ellison guy to come to our country and to try and tell us how things should be done!
Acting Commissioner Mark van Pletzen entered the conversation.
“Look, I believe that Mr Ellison makes some good points here as this country cannot continue watching over the shoulder forever,” said Mark.
“A peaceful solution for all is possible if people put emotions and past history aside. President Botha has already made an offer to Mr Mandela, but this has been rejected.”
“Oh, you mean about the retirement deal for Mandela to go off to pasture in the Transkei?” asked Vorster.
The Acting Commissioner nodded. He wasn’t aware that the government’s offer to the ANC man had been made public knowledge.
Pearce chipped in.
“Only a spineless individual would accept such an offer.”
“Are you saying that my President offers sub-grade offers?” said the prison chief to the African-American seated opposite him.
“Well, if you were black and in a struggle for the rights of your people, and had spent so many years behind bars on an island, would you have accepted the offer?” questioned Pearce.
“Look, I would have respected authority and not transgressed on the laws of the country in the first place!” said Vorster in an aggressive manner.
“Then I wouldn’t have ended up in prison.”
Again, Mark van Pletzen felt the need to intervene.
“Vorster, I am here today with Mr Ellison to request for him to meet with Mr Mandela for a few minutes,” said the Acting Commissioner.
“Acting Commissioner van Pletzen, I respect you as my superior, but you are asking me to do something that I am not authorised to do,” said the island prison boss.
“You know the terms and conditions under which Mandela and his political prisoner colleagues are jailed. I will carry out whatever order you give me, as long as you are prepared to be accountable for whatever the outcome is.”
“Vorster, I would like to keep this as confidential, but I am prepared to carry the consequences,” said Mark.
“With respect, Acting Commissioner, are you sure that you understand the risk of what you are asking me to do?” questioned Vorster.
“I do, but I believe that this really needs to happen,” said the Acting Commissioner.
“Acting Commissioner, I will carry out the order.”
Vorster gave a sidewards glance at Pearce, who was trying to hide his grin. The last thing that would have pleased Vorster was a black man grinning at him and having won the dialogue battle.
“I will arrange for you to meet with Mandela for ten minutes, but if the press get a hold of this, none of us on the island will have jobs anymore,” remarked Vorster, glaring at Pearce.
“I understand, sir, no press will be involved or told about the interaction with Mr Mandela,” commented Pearce, as he thought of the promise that he had made to CNN television reporter Louise Burrell.
Meanwhile outside of the office, Pieter Erasmus and Lindiwe Buthelezi were still busy ducking and diving out of sights of the wardens. At one stage they had to run forty metres to escape being spotted. For the first time while on the island, the girl heard the sound of black African voices. She couldn’t see who the speakers were but the sound of whips, led her to believe that these were prisoners being manhandled by the prison wardens.
“Jou dom donner, vandag gaan jy rots slaan (you dumb idiot, today you are going to hit rocks),” said one warden to a prisoner.
The prisoners were standing out in a courtyard being prepared to be marched to the lime quarry where they chip away on rock for a good few hours.
Those who went on a go-slow or simply refused to work, suffered the wrath of the brutal wardens.
The worst of it was the limedust which flew through the air as the prisoners chipped away with hammers. The limedust certainly had an impact on the prisoner’s eyes, with most the high profile prisoners including Mandela, ending up using thick glasses for reading later in life.
“Glo jy in God (do you believe in God)?” a warden asked to one prisoner who was being disobedient.
“Seker nie want julle behoort ann die duiwel (probably not because you belong to the devil).”
The warden was stuck in the conservative Afrikaner mindset that all blacks worshipped ancestors, not God.
The prisoner did not respond to the warden. Most of the prisoners who had been on the island for some time could understand Afrikaans and even speak it, but they did not want to give the oppressor the satisfaction of answering in their home language.
Nor would they look the wardens in the eye. If the prisoners were being treated like sub-humans, then they would definitely not try and act like equals, even though they knew they were.
Somehow word had slipped out about P.W. Botha’s offer to Mandela.
Two wardens standing near the door to the courtyard were discussing it just loud enough for Lindiwe and Pieter to hear.
“So P.W. Botha gesels met die ANC om Mandela vrytelaat as hy beireid is om in die Transkei te gaan aftree end die mooilikheid te stop (so P.W. Botha is talking to the ANC about releasing Mandela if he is prepared to retire to the Transkei and if he can stop all the fighting),” the one warden said.
Of course the warden did not know that the President was not talking to the ANC, but to Mandela in an individual capacity.
Botha would not speak to the enemy based in Lusaka, Zambia, not would he allow any of his Cabinet to engage with them. Later he would find out how several Cabinet members flew to Lusaka without his knowledge and this led him to lose his cool and eventually lose control of his Cabinet and resign as President.
For now Botha was the man and few inside his Cabinet would confront him on the Mandela issue. Most were too afraid and did as they were told. It was the ‘ja, baas (yes, boss)” philosophy.
“How lank kan die Nasionaliste uithou (how long can the Nationalists last)?” replied the other warden.
“Of die regte vleuel gaan oorneem van Botha af, of the swartes kan ons almal trap (either the right wing will take over from Botha, or else the blacks will stamp us into the ground).”
The warden was speaking sense. Few countries were open to trading with South Africa due to the country’s apartheid policies. The ‘Free Mandela’ campaign, which ran in London, worked off the back of the sanctions.
White sport still went on as if nothing was wrong. The white sports people had the best coaches and facilities. Despite being at this disadvantage, the black South African Council of Sport (SACOS) stuck to their ‘no normal sport in an abnormal society’ philosophy, taking it so far as any SACOS person caught watching white sport on television was severely dealt with.
Lindiwe was actually oblivious as to just how the rest of the world was against South Africa. Her fight was not to push for the New South Africa, at least not yet. Her mission was to make sure that Mandela was not eliminated.
“Lindiwe, are you sure you saw a person going down that corridor, if so who was it?” said Pieter to the girl, whose mind was dazed after hearing the conversation between the wardens.
“Pieter, we have to get to Mandela’s cell before it is too late,” she responded.
“Who was it, Lindiwe?” asked Pieter again.
The girl ran her hands over her face.
“What I saw happened very quickly, but if I am not wrong, it was one of the Security Service guys that captured us at the old laboratory site on the Natal border,” she explained.
Pieter’s eyes widened. If this was true, the security service men must have let him go by car, and flown ahead themselves in order to get to the island before him, but why?
Did they not release him to get to Mandela to save the day? What type of game was being played here? Clearly this was a football match. The pity was that Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus was being used as the ball.
The truth of the matter was that there was a security service man who was hell-bent on eliminating Mandela but did not want to take the fall for it. Pieter was about to find out that he was being eyed as the fall-guy. Pieter would not be the one to fire the killing shot, but all leads would point to him as having been the assassin, if the real hitman did his job properly.
The Security Service men were used to underhanded tactics. Afterall, they worked with this every day in order to keep the white minority in power and the blacks at bay.
Pieter scrutinised the terrain with his eyes. He had not seen anyone in a Security Services uniform, but he had to believe that Lindiwe was not imagining things.
Whether the Security Services hit-man was acting with or without the President’s mandate was immaterial right now. One bullet could change the destiny of South Africa. It could change from potential prosperity to civil war in the space of seconds.
Pieter patted his right hip. He was one of the non-Correctional Services people who was armed on the island. Of course, there could be another man too. The illusive assassin who needed to be stopped before it was too late!
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