The two men are held in the little storage room behind the small police station. Well, it used to be a storage area, but nowadays – with nothing to store – it simply is a windowless room with empty shelves. When Sersant Dreyer opens the door, the men cower against the back wall. They know what they’ve done in the past and expect the worst.
Kleinpiet forces his way to the front, tries to remain calm and swallows hard before asking: “Why?”
A single word. It’ll take a lifetime to answer. It’s Gertruida who pushes him back and sits down in front of the two frightened men.
“My name is Gertruida. Listen – we don’t want to punish you; the law will do that. But; I understand that you two have done a few horrible things. I also understand you are now on your way to Upington, where they’ll compare your fingerprints with previous crime scenes. Then I also understand that justice will take its course and that the court will decide on your fate.” She allows the words to sink in. “We’re not here to convict you or force you to say anything – but we understand the evidence against the two of you is piling up.
“Whatever you’ve done in the past, is not for us to judge. We simply want you to tell us why you broke into Kleinpiet’s house…”
“The door was open…,” the bigger one interrupts, but Gertruida holds up a hand.
“Listen, we’re not that backward. We’re worried about our safety. About 10% of all white farmers in our country have been killed since 1994. That’s more than 3000! You had a gun.” This time it’s Vetfaan’s turn to interrupt. “If you guys are starting to target the isolated farms in the Kalahari, we want to know all about it. So that’s why we have to know what you were doing in Kleinpiet’s house.”
“We’re not talking.” The smaller one tries to sound defiant. “We have rights.”
“Yes you do.” They all turn around to stare in surprise at Judge. Is he defending them? “But you still have to get to Upington. Quite a lot can happen along the way. Accidents on these roads are not uncommon. Snakes can find their way into small, dark rooms. A puncture can cause unforeseen stops.”
For the sake of brevity, it can be stated that the snakes did it. When at last the men realised they were in no danger as long as they stuck to the truth, their story began to unfold.
Slowly at first, but later with progressive confidence, the men tell their story. It’s almost as if they’re glad to have an audience that is willing to listen. Gertruida’s placatory tone, coupled with her expert prompting, guide them through their confession. Sersant Dreyer tells them this discussion will have no bearing on their court case, no notes are kept and that (officially) nobody said nothing. The men smile at this – it’s the language of the underworld, and they understand it well.
Precilla brings coffee as they talk about the unbearable poverty in Zimbabwe that caused them to flee their home country. They talk about hijacking, trafficking, climbing the crime ladder as their reputations grew. Eventually they meet the men-behind-the-scenes and get recruited to be a hit squad that targets farms.
“But why?” Kleinpiet still struggles to get to terms with what he’s hearing. “Why chase farmers from their land? They’re providing food, housing, work … and you murder them?”
No, they don’t know. They talk about land distribution, blaming it all on Apartheid. “It’s a legacy of the past,” the bigger one says.
“And what is the legacy we leave for the future? Mismanaged politics, empty farms, famine? People losing jobs, families deprived of loved ones? You think that’s the answer for something that disappeared 20 years ago?”
The smaller one breaks down at this point, saying they’re only doing what they were told to do. “We’re just surviving, that’s all. Maybe my son will have a better life…”
“You have a son?” This is the first time he mentioned it.
Yes, he tells them. A two-month old boy, in Upington. The mother used to work at the same Wimpy where he found work for a few months while they gathered information about farms in the area.. “We would have married, but I didn’t have the lobola. I thought – if I could get enough money…” By this time the man choked up and was unable to continue.
“Oudoom was right – you feel better if you forgive the bastards.” Kleinpiet sits down at the counter as Sersant Dreyer’s police van leaves a trail of dust on the road towards Grootdrink.
“At least they said they’re sorry. That makes a difference, as well.” Vetfaan orders a round of drinks. “And we only lost a bottle of peach brandy. Can you imagine what those guys are carrying with them? A lifetime of crime – taking what isn’t yours. And then the knowledge you killed innocent men, women and children. Lord knows, the law is going to come down on them with a thump.”
“It won’t help,” Servaas says in a sad voice. “They’re not the only criminals involved. There are bigger fish behind their actions – and those guys will never be caught or punished. These guys are only the foot soldiers; the generals use them as disposable instruments.”
A little later, Precilla sits down next to Kleinpiet. “Bru gave me this number. This is where his baby stays – with the grandmother. He asked that I must phone.” Small-girl voice again, pleading the unasked question.
Kleinpiet sits back to look at Precilla as the fragments of conversations over the weekend falls into place. I can’t have children… If we get married, we’ll adopt, won’t we?… Are you sure it’s all right Kleinpiet – I mean, I can’t… I love you so much, Kleinpiet. So much…
Suddenly, clear as a bell, he hears the real question, sees the desire in her eyes.
Well, won’t that be quite something to shake up the community!
“No! You’re not going to phone.” He watches her lips begin to tremble, before taking her into his arms. “We will.”