Monthly Archives: May 2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says…(only in Africa)

Signs in Africa are precious!

Zambia ekspedisie 181

On a slow-moving ferry in Zambia..Trip 2012 339

People have the right of way…!

Trip 2012 343

“Yes, Seh, da tree house is near reception”

Trip 2012 344

Dry ablutions? Don’t worry…

Trip 2012 347

Dish-washing area at Ngepi (What you didn’t bring here, you won’t have until you’re home)

Trip 2012 335

My all-time favourite. This is a fenced area in the Zambezi – a type of safe swimming pool – to  keep the crocs out…

Gertruida’s Journey (# 12)

The Opera: Aida

The Opera: Aida

The last time Gertruida spoke to Ferdinand – on that final evening before he left – will haunt her for the rest of her life. They went to the State Thaetre, saw Aida, drank some wine in a little bar, and danced in the rain. It was such a sweet, tender evening, filled with promises of hope…and then they called him away and he left…forever.

Now, after Paul’s visit, those memories refuse to remain hidden under the heavy blanket of self-control she uses to avoid thinking of them. She read somewhere (Miroslav Volf’s excellent book) that we choose to remember certain details of the past, because they bring pleasure. And the ones causing pain – well, we suppress those and hope they’ll go away.

But they never do, do they? They remain all too well preserved in the salted wrappings of heartache. Oh, how can she possibly forget their tender moments? The soft words, the exquisite exploring touch of fingertip to fingertip? The sharp intake of breath when ecstasy becomes too much to bear? The sighs of satisfaction afterwards? There is no way the human mind can obliterate those, simply because they hold the very essence of hope and happiness.

homo

Homo Erectus

Ferdinand was a strange man in many respects. Weird, even. Her previous boyfriends made no secret of their motives:  physical intimacy was high on their agendas. Young men tend to surf the wave of testosterone and follow deep-rooted instincts – just like the cavemen did when Homo Erectus lived up to their name. (Little Homo, much Erectus…) She used to smile at the apt irony contained in the name, and became quite an expert at handling men in the throes of their – for lack of a better word – phallomania. (This, like so many of Gertruida’s words, is one of her own contributions to the English language.)

There were several ways of handling these besotted youths, of course: her father was on his way; she would love to, but she hasn’t finished her medication for her condition yet; or even, in extreme cases: didn’t he realise she had a girlfriend? Exit potential lover, enter a blissful evening of reading Chaucer or Shakespeare.

But Ferdinand, the quiet, serious man with the soft eyes and the slow smile…she wanted him to seduce her. There was an honesty in his adoration, a simplicity in his friendship, a tenderness in his words and his touch. He was the Albert to her Victoria; and as with the famous English Queen, his leaving created a void that refused to be filled with just another frivolous affair. She was a one-man woman, and nothing would change that.

Oh, she tried everything in her power to trace him afterwards; she had, after all, the secret service eating out of her hand by then. The only man who knew exactly where Ferdinand was sent, was The Boss…and now he’s dead; riddled with bullets  and then blown up to cover up his death. Back in those days, The Boss was unapproachable. Ask the wrong question,  and you get fired (if you’re lucky). Some agents disappeared on missions, others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Death came quickly and in a variety of ways during the Struggle Years, and could always be blamed on the other side. And those deaths, Gertruida knew all too well, was not something you dared ask a question about.

Whenever she tried finding out more, she ended up in the cul de sac of blank stares and shaking heads. No, they don’t know. It’s in the file behind the heavy safe’s door in The Boss’ office.

She had hoped to get the opportunity to talk to The Boss if he came looking for Paul, but now…

And then it struck her. The laptop! It’s filled with the old files, so maybe…? And…Boggel has that computer hidden away somewhere…

***

While Beauty enjoys her extended visit to her family and Jacob Ngobeni just loves the way the president flinches whenever they meet; Paul Harrison arranged his flight to Syria, where his services are now required. The farm near Beaufort West was raided, where the police recovered the explosives they had cleverly planted in Mr Kotze’s office.  All in all, it is business back to normal in the stumbling process of survival in the New South Africa.

But not in Rolbos.

Gertruida stares at the screen of the laptop. Paul did remove the password-protection on the huge file with it’s many sub-folders, making it possible for her to browse the data. It took her two hours o find a file that contained information about Ferdinand Fourie…

It was a time of unrest and much uncertainty. Mobs lynched men and women suspected of collaborating with the Nationalist government. At Vlakplaas, the Nationalists interrogated and tortured anybody they thought could supply information that’d help the government survive. Both sides planted bombs and killed innocent men and women who’s only desire was that the nightmare would end.

While this was going on, the various political parties and organisations were involved in the complicated process that would lead to a so-called free and fair election. Free it would be, for everybody could vote. Fair it wasn’t, because the numbers ensured a predictable outcome. It was a simple matter of Black against White. In the Black community, differences in language and culture were set aside to combine forces – and while it worked well at the polls, the later history witnessed the folly. South Africa has many minorities: the Venda, the Coloureds, the San people and many other smaller tribes and communities now suffer under a similar type of Apartheid the ANC fought so hard against.

The Boss foresaw this situation and wanted Ferdinand to gather information about the smaller communities and cultural groups. Was there any way the Nationalists can convince these people to oppose the ANC? Were they really prepared to sacrifice their histories and cultures, and be unified under a Xhosa or Zulu ruler? What if, as was considered inevitable, the Zulus and Xhosas found out their old tribal differences started to have a negative effect on governance?

Ferdinand thought it was a no-brainer – a desperate attempt of the old government to keep their hopes of survival alive – and said so. Nevertheless, he followed orders and set off to interview various chiefs and headmen. This is where he first heard the rumours…

Did he not know about the secret deals, he was asked? The senior officials in the old government would receive indemnity, a generous pension and some of them will even be taken up in the new government. Ferdinand’s report is damning: in the end peace was brokered on the principal of personal gain, and not for the good of all the people in the country. Oh, the negotiations were conducted with everybody saying the right thing at the right time…but behind the scenes a lot of horse-trading occurred that had nothing to do with the high ideals of a free and fair democratic society.

Ferdinand reported this to The Boss. The Boss thanked him for his diligence. And then The Boss – himself  somebody who stood much to gain from these ‘unofficial agreements’ – ordered Ferdinand’s removal. He could not afford having such a loose canon in his department.

Battle Abbey Independent School - Sussex. Ferdinand Fourie worked here as a librarian

Battle Abbey Independent School – Sussex. Ferdinand Fourie worked here as a librarian

The Boss knew about Ferdinand and Gertruida all along, but allowed their activities to continue. Keep your friends close – but keep your enemies closer. Now, with Ferdinand knowing too much, he had to make a plan to get rid of the man. And so, with veiled threats about Gertruida’s safety, Ferdinand had to leave the country to start a new life in Sussex. The Boss might have been a deluded man, but there was no mistaking his intentions: break off all contact with Gertruida or something horrible will happen to her. Get out, stay out – and live. Or else you and Gertruida will regret it…

Gertruida sits back, wiping a tear from her cheek. So that’s why he never made contact again?  At the end of the report, she notices a reference number. She types it into the Search box, and waits for another document to open.

…An unidentified man collapsed and died in front of the State Theatre yesterday. He carried nothing to help find out who he was. An old ticket for the opera Aida was the only paper he had with him. The morgue ran his fingerprints, but of course they didn’t match anybody’s at the Department of Home Affairs. However, in our own records, they match those of one Ferdinand Fourie, a double agent during the struggle years. Autopsy proved the presence of terminal Hodgkin’s Disease.

***

Gertruida will tell you (much later, when the pain subsided) that Life is a mosaic of many journeys. We make friends, enter into relationships, have high hopes for joy and laughter that must (surely it must) be waiting just around the corner. But, she’ll add, all journeys come to an end. Somewhere in every optimistic and excited hallo, a goodbye is waiting with the sorrow it’ll  bring. All journeys reach a destination where the road peters out and the wilderness of loneliness awaits. This, she maintains, is the inevitability that makes Love such a mysterious, wonderful and painful torture.

That’s why she sits alone near the window in Boggel’s Place tonight. Her journey with Ferdinand is over. And when Boggel shuffles over with a stiff Cactus Jack, she’ll flash him a sad smile and thank him.

He’ll think it’s for the drink – but it is for more than that: it’s because he is a friend. At least, she thinks, they can journey together in their loneliness.

An so we come to the end of this bit of the journey with Rolbos. Will the little town settle into obscurity? Not on your life! Who knows who will push open the door to Boggel’s Place next? Whoever it might be, you can be sure he won’t just be there to enjoy a cold beer…

Gertruida’s Journey (# 11)

The president sits down heavily. Last night was one of those nights.  First there was a meeting with the Minister of Finance, who told him in no uncertain terms that the economy simply cannot tolerate these strikes. Yes, the minister agreed, their political power rests on the uneducated masses, and yes, they have to be kept happy. But, the minister said, the president must realise their reserves have dwindled into the red – the social grants, the handouts, the corruption…there isn’t any money to keep the navy afloat or the airforce in the air. And then there is the expense of keeping the army in the DRC and Sudan…not to mention the amounts needed to build houses for some people…

“My President, we are virtually bankrupt.” Those were his exact words.

Then he had to entertain the American ambassador. Something to do with fallen heroes. Now why would he, the president of South Africa, care about fallen American soldiers? Still, such events go with the territory, so he read the prepared speech, shook hands and made the right noises.

And then, when at last he got home, he had to find out that his wives have been quarrelling again. As if he needed that! So he laid down the law and had a restless night in one of the spare rooms, where he woke up to the sound of jack hammers pounding away at the site of the new swimming pool. That was one of the things the wives had an argument about: the one wanted an oval pool, the other a long, narrow pool to swim lengths in. And he, the president of a country, doesn’t care, They can have two pools, if it keeps them off his back. He doesn’t even swim, and they expect him to settle such matters? How stupid can they be? He’s running a country, dammit!

He’ll have to fire that Ngobeni. The man is getting too big for his boots. Thinks he can throw his weight about, does he? In the mood the president is in, it’ll be a pleasure to shout at somebody today. He presses the button on his desk to summons his aide. 

“Get me Ngobeni. Immediately. And where’s my coffee?”

***

Beauty Mahlangu dresses with care. She wants to make an impression on the man she’s about to meet – a junior clerk of the American embassy, according to her handler in Washington. She’s sure it’s about the video she sent yesterday, and equally sure the meeting is about an appropriate reward for her sacrifice.

She meets the clerk in one of the coffee shops in Adderley street – a dark and dingy place with few customers. He’s not at all what she expected: his yellow teeth and pointed nose is already bad enough, but the receding chin makes it impossible not to describe him as ‘ratty’ or ‘rodent-like’. Middle-aged, balding and sinewy, his other awkward feature is his eyes: they’re unusually large, and seem to find it difficult to move in unison. 

“Washington wants to thank you for your efforts, Miss Mahlangu.” Raft-face doesn’t waste time. “So they’ll pull a few strings to get you promoted in your job.”

“What? What?” She gasps her indignation. “You get me to deliver such a big fish on a silver platter, and the best the mighty US of A can do, is to get me promoted in my job? In a few month’s time? You must be completely daft!” 

“Now Miss….”

“Listen, you idiot! I had to degrade myself for this. I feel filthy! I work hard enough to earn my own promotion, thank you! Now go tell your bosses in Washington to try harder, otherwise I’ll never do anything for you again.”

“Miss Mahalangu, I don’t think you understand.” Rat-face manages to twist his face in a smile, exposing the yellowed teeth while his left eye wanders off south. “You see, there are two people in that video. Oh, sure, we’re interested in the man, and will put that video to good use. But may I remind you that your little sighs and moans are also there. And your rather shapely body. Then, when you walk towards the camera, the sheet so suggestively wrapped around your beautiful body, your face is quite clear. If that should happen to appear on Youtube, I’m sure your relatives and friends would want to see it.

“But there’s something else: do you really think you’ll survive a single day in the office once we’ve spoken to Jacob Ngobeni? He’ll want revenge, not so? So I’ve prepared a medical certificate for you. You’ll hand it in at the office as soon as you’re back. I regret to inform you that – according to one of the country’s foremost medical experts – you have a rare blood disorder. This requires a long and complicated treatment, and the doctor is not sure how long you’ll need to recover. So you’re on sick leave for an indefinite period of time.

“In the meantime, we sort old Jacob out. He’ll arrange a transfer for you to another department. Somewhere where we can put your prodigious talents to use again. 

“I trust we understand each other?”

Beauty sits there for a long time after the man left. Yesterday she felt dirty. Today she knows: there isn’t enough soap in the world to clean her up. Ever again. Never.

***

“The laptop?”

The president holds out his hand.

Ngobeni looks desperately tired, but manages a grin.

“My President, I’ve had a hard night. The least you can do, is to welcome me to your office with a handshake and offer me coffee.” He watches the older man’s eyes bulge as the veins in his neck swell. “Now, now, President, don’t get upset. It’s really bad for your blood pressure.” He sits down with a flourish, keeping the laptop on his lap. 

“Give. Me. The. Bloody. Computer!” The president is fuming, his words spat out in anger.

“Oh sit down, will you?” Ngobeni is enjoying himself. “Sure you can have the laptop.” He places it on the desk next to the president, “But…I’m afraid it is rather empty. Not much there. A few family photographs and e-mails to friends. Nothing incriminating.”

“But that computer was supposed to have the files we were looking for.” Despite his anger, his disappointment is obvious.

“Oh, they were there, alright. Quite extensive, they were too. I spent the whole night getting into them; they were protected by a password, you see. It took me hours and hours to figure out how to get into the file. You know what the password was? I’ll tell you: Voortrekker. How naïve! Once I tapped that in, I suddenly had access to the most amazing intelligence I had seen. You won’t believe how thorough that man was!”

By now the president takes short, sharp breaths as he holds up a hand. “Tell me you’re lying, you bastard.”  He barely manages a whisper.

“Oh no, my President. This is no joke. I’m in charge of National Intelligence, and I plan to stay right where I am. Those files will cause an international outcry – despite our new laws prohibiting the publication of sensitive material. They might, for instance, fetch a tidy sum if I wanted to sell it to somebody, don’t you think? The Washington Post, maybe?

” Now, my President, my comrade, my brother, my friend…how about some coffee…?

***

Back in Rolbos, the townsfolk wave as the lorry of Kalahari Vervoer rumbles out of town.

“We’ll miss him,” Gertruida says as the cloud of dust obscures the vehicle. “Paul is nice man. He certainly livened up or lives.”

Boggel puts an arm around her waist. “I hope you’ll forgive me for saying that I am glad he’s gone. Too much excitement is bad for Rolbos. We tend to drink too much when they start shooting secret agents around here. No, I’d like it if we can have a few quiet days for a change – just like in the old days.”

When everybody lines up at the bar, Boggel fetches the Cactus Jack from the store room. He’s careful to leave a neat row of bottles in front of the laptop Paul has asked him to hide. Maybe, he thinks, everybody will forget about the little computer. Best if it stays right where it is for now. Sleeping dogs and all that…

Gertruida’s Journey (# 10)

General Ngobeni watches Beauty Mahlangu over the rim of the crystal glass. The champagne was served at exactly the right temperature and its effect on Beauty is exactly what he hoped for. He’s had an eye on this new secretary for some time now – she’s quite a modern little miss. He guesses her age to be in the middle of her twenties; she’s smart; and she lives up to her first name with her perfect skin and doe-like eyes. As for the rest…he closes his eyes and imagines undressing her…slowly.

“And what, my General, are you thinking about?” There’s no mistaking the playful tone of the question.

“The road ahead, Beauty, the road ahead. A general’s job is to plan strategy, analyse weaknesses and strengths, organise logistics,  make sure any advance is safe and secure.” He leans back, catches the eye of the discreetly hovering waiter, and orders another bottle. “Being a general is hard work, Beauty. Very important work. One can never relax and just have lunch like this. Hardly ever, I mean. To sip champagne in the presence of a beautiful young lady – and intelligent, educated and extremely pretty one at that – is such a privilege.”

“You’re an important man, general.” It’s a flat statement, not aimed to please, but to state a fact.

“I suppose I am.” He just loves it when these young girls appreciate that he, Jacob Ngobeni, has risen from herding cattle for his father to being the highest ranking general in the Republic. “But with important jobs comes important responsibilities, Beauty. And a man such as I…well, we need a bit of time off, every now and then.  More champagne?”

“I was hoping for more, General…but not only champagne.” She drops her voice an octave and lets out a soft giggle as her hand travels up the crease of his neatly pressed pants. “Young girls have to let off steam too, you know?” Now she watches for his reaction. Was her timing right?

It was. Ngobeni suggests they’d be more comfortable in a room. She lights up, clapping her hands together.

“You’re too high-profile, General,” she says coyly, “I’ll quickly go and arrange it.” Putting a soft finger on his lips, she skips from the room to talk to reception. This has to be organised just right. A lot depends on it..

“I ordered a Don Pedro for you,” he tells her when she’s back. She rewards him with a brilliant smile.

Twenty minutes later they’re in the suite on the top floor, where Beauty lets her hands wander over the once-trim body of General Ngobeni. Why is it, she wonders, that older men stop worrying about their bodies? Look at the general, for instance: no woman can think this tub of lard is desirable, surely? Sighing softly, she loosens the clasp of his belt.

All in the line of duty, she reminds herself, that’s what they told her. At least try to look excited. Never shirk your responsibilities…

***

From the hilltop,  Paul watches as one of the men in the Land Rover gets out. He seems to be shouting and gesticulating toward the big man at the door. He can just make out The Boss, who’s remained seated inside the vehicle. Two more men alight, and now they’re all obviously involved in a shouting match.

He’s not sure who starts the fight – he’s too far away and the incident happens too fast. All of a sudden the men are rolling in the dust, trading blows and kicks, as the occupants of the Hummer storm in to join the fray. The action is fast and furious…and then suddenly they all seem to freeze. Paul doesn’t understand until the distinct crack of a pistol shot reaches him. The glint of sun of metal makes him guess it was one of The Boss’ men for a second, but then he sees more guns in more hands. More cracks…a lot of them….and then silence.

The large man that got out of the Hummer initially, now walks around the Land Rover, opens the door, and takes out a square, black object.

The laptop!

He kneels down next to each of the bodies on the ground, searching pockets. Paul guesses he’s removing evidence? ID’s?

Then he limps back to the Hummer to make a U-turn and drive off slowly.

***

“Dead? They’re all dead?”

“Yes, I checked. They had one helluva shoot-out and got the laptop. Three government agents, The Boss, and his three men…” he snaps his fingers, “gone! They were almost on top of each other when the shooting started, and when it did, it was fast and furious. It’s a miracle that the one guy survived.”

Boggel is serving Cactus Jack again. They all need it. Vetfaan arrived just before Paul got back and Gertruida has just explained how lucky they had been.

“Boggel’s plan was simply to take them by a circular route back to Grootdrink. If The Boss couldn’t find Rolbos, he wouldn’t find Paul. But with sheer luck – let’s call it a miracle – the secret service guys rock up, they meet The Boss out there in the veld, and the rest is history. The government has the precious laptop, and The Boss is dead. Hopefully they’ll leave us alone now.”

“But that still leaves Paul here. Won’t they come looking for him?”

 ***

The general flops back on the bed, sweat streaming down his body. Damn! This Beauty is good! She made him do things he never imagined to be possible. Wow!

The shrill beeping of the phone in the pocket of his tunic interrupts his blissful reverie. It’s that phone. The emergency one. The untraceable, direct line between the top officials in government, only used under the worst of circumstances. Throwing the sheets to one side, he fishes out the instrument and presses the green button. Then, while he listens, he feels blood draining from his face.

“Yes, my President, I’ll be over. Right away, sir. Give me ten minutes.”

Jacob Ngobeni is not a man who panics. Never. But now as he runs from the room, still dressing as he goes, he doesn’t even say goodbye to Beauty Mahlangu. She’s not sure what scared the general like this, but at least it got rid of the detestable man. She wraps the sheet around her perfect body, walks over to the flower arrangement on the little table, and switches off the camera.

Then, after a long and very hot shower, she takes out her own very special phone to call her handler in Washington.  Won’t they be absolutely overjoyed with her news? Another corrupt general in the pocket of the CIA! Surely her reward won’t be small…

***

“The helicopters have gone,” Servaas says unnecessarily.  For a while it was almost impossible to hear each other in Boggel’s Place while the engines droned overhead.

“They’ve cleaned up the scene.” Paul, with his long association with international intelligence services knows this was routine after such incidents. “The bodies will have been removed and the Land Rover will end up in a scrap yard. If we go there now, you’ll find nothing. No tracks, no bloodstains, no spent cartridges. There won’t be anything on the news, either. This never happened.”

 ***

“It was supposed to be a simple operation, General.” The president ‘s usual, well-articulated voice is strained as he addresses the slightly dishevelled general in his office. What has the man been doing? “And now we’re faced with seven dead men and a lot of explaining to do. How, General, are you going to fix this.”

“I-I’m not sure, my President. I gave orders to clean up the scene. That’s easy. And we got the laptop – it’s on its way here now. By tomorrow the IT people will have it…”

“Have you lost you mind?” Ngobeni flinches as the venom in the president’s voice hits its mark “That laptop comes here! Straight away! I do not want so young man with thick glasses poring over those files! Is. That. Clear?”

“Certainly, sir.” Ngobeni takes a deep breath. “A-and we have to sort out the Afrikaner Freedom Front, sir. Three of their members, including their leader, are dead. There are sure to be repercussions.”

The president has had enough.  Taking giant steps (surprisingly agile for his age and weight) he storms around his desk to deliver a resounding slap on the cheek of the flabbergasted Ngobeni. “You will sort it out. Today! Now get out, you miserable creature, before you end up like those men did.”

***

Paul was wrong about the radio. It’s on the six o’ clock news…

…Police spokesman, Caspir Koevoet, told reporters on the scene that crime doesn’t pay. He was speaking after the four men, apparently  from the Afrikaner Freedom Front, were killed while they were trying to blow up an ATM at a remote garage near Kimberley. He stated that they are following up clues and that the AFF will be investigated.

The names of the deceased criminals have not been released, and Koevoet expressed his concern about identifying the remains of the men, who were severely mutilated by the massive explosion. Anybody with information, must call…

“See,” Paul tells the group huddled around the radio in Boggel’s Place, “it never happened.”

Far away in Washington, another general watches the surprising gymnastics of Jacob Ngobeni in a series of rather explicit positions. We’ll wait a while. Let him clean up the mess he’s in. Then, when he least expects it, he’ll get a visitor. A visitor with a gift. Not the original, though, just a copy.

Whistling happily, he leaves his office. It never ceases to amaze him how easy it is to influence global affairs. He likes the tune. It’s an old favourite…

Creative Writing Challenge: Metamorphosis

duiker!Tung, she who died recently near the Valley of the Buried Wagon, will be remembered for many things. She knew the veld and its plants. She had a wonderful grasp on human psychology, and she understood the way and nature of the many animals that live in the Kalahari.

She could, for instance, foretell when the herd of springbuck would arrive, or steer her family away from the den of the ageing lion which started preying on sick and injured animals…and humans. She was quite uncanny in this – and could never explain how she knew – just knew – when the rains would come and where it’d fall.

But now, as !Ka follows the spoor of a duiker, he is acutely aware of her. !Ka, like all Bushmen,  appreciates the relationship between nature and man. He respects the fine balance needed to ensure survival of both. Now, with his family starving and hunger gnawing away at his own stomach, it is time to hunt. The tubers and other plants have withered in the drought; he needs to take home meat. It’s easier these days without !Tung. In the past, there were eight mouths to feed…

The duiker knows he is there. Its a female; a timid and shy creature by nature, yet surviving through the aeons of time because they are nimble, skittish and extremely careful. She is fleeing, quietly, her little hooves seeking out the harder ground and rocks, to escape her hunter. She’s very clever about this. She’s had a lifetime of experience.

!Ka, on the other hand, follows her with the determination of a man driven by need. She’s the only animal – the only source of nourishment – he’s found in the last two days. If he doesn’t kill her, his family is doomed.

Duikers don’t run. Oh, they do, occasionally; but mostly they jump. That’s where their name comes from. Diver. The bound. They hop. They jump. And now, with the hunter almost too near, she picks up speed. A last desperate dash to get away.

And suddenly, almost (but not quite) unexpectantly, she runs into a small herd of springbuck.

Later, she hides behind a clump of rocks, waiting for !Ka to say his words over the old ram he’s slaughtered. And then, bounding away with joy; beauty in every happy jump; !Tung follows the scent of the rain. It’ll come, it’s on its way. She can smell it.

And !Ka, knowing the desert, its animals and old !Tung, buries a bit of hide and liver at the spot where he shot the antelope while thanking !Tung for her guidance.

Such is the way of the Kalahari.

Westerners scoff.

!Ka knows better.

He knows how to count to seven. He doesn’t need more numbers than that. It’s the number of his extended family…that is, without !Tung these days. She looks after herself, now.

 

Gertruida’s Journey (# 9)

landyShare a problem, talk about it…and be amazed at the difference it makes to actually hear you put words to the cause of anxiety. The old axiom that a problem shared is a problem halved, is so true. Ever since Gertruida had the courage to tell the patrons in Boggel’s Place about her past, the burden of her secret simply vanished. To think she carried that load for so long – and for what? There’s no shame in believing in a just cause, is there? The way her friends reacted, contributed in no small way to the feeling of relief she now experiences.

“Boggel,” she says as she sits down at the bar, “you must keep this laptop in a safe place. This little computer holds the files that all this mess is about. Keeping it in my house isn’t clever – it’s the first place somebody might want to look for it. And yes, I’ll have a Greenie, thank you.”

“I heard you say something about Paul going to help the other chaps?”

“That’s what he said, but he left with his binoculars…I’m not sure why.”

“Well, they should all be back here soon…except for Vetfaan, of course. He knows there are two vehicles on their way.” When Gertruida doesn’t understand, Boggel explains about the phone call he had. “This makes it a bit more complicated, but it might just be a huge bonus. If Vetfaan gets his timing right, we can expect quite a show.”

“I just hope this is over soon, Boggel. We used to have such a quiet life – I miss it. Why must life be so complicated?”

“You know how it is. The most dangerous thing in the whole wide world, is a comfort zone. Sometimes Life has to shake us up a little to make us cherish our dreams again.” Boggel pauses while he polishes a glass, deep in thought. “People stop dreaming; did you know that, Gertruida? That’s what a comfort zone is all about. Take away stress and worry, and we simply sink away into a comfortable cushion of complacency. That’s when dreams die.”

“Oh my!” Mevrou waltzes in, carrying a tray of scones. “Aren’t you the philosopher today, Boggel?” She pats him on the cheek, like one would a student who mastered a skill – like spelling acanaceous correctly, and knowing what it means. “Still, we’re stuck with a prickly problem, and that always makes me hungry…”

She’s interrupted by the returning men, who gather around the tray with pleading eyes. 

“There’s enough for everybody,” Mevrou beams, “but first tell me you managed everything?”

“Ja, we did.” Kleinpiet helps himself to a scone. “It’s up to Vetfaan now.”

“But where’s Paul?” There’s no mistaking the worried note in Gertruida’s voice.

“”He’s on his way to Bokkop. He wants to check out the action…”

***

Nothing upsets The Boss more than being a passenger in a vehicle driven by an overconfident driver. Abel Kotze, the man responsible for getting the Afrikaner Freedom Front up and going, drives like a man possessed, despite the bad condition of the road. The Landrover slews and skids through the loose sand – and yet Kotze is grinning like a schoolboy on a new date. 

“You should slow down,” The Boss snarls, “these roads are treacherous.”

“Ag, come on, Boss. This is fun! And anyway, the sooner we get there, the sooner we can wrap this whole thing up. There’s a lot of work to be done on the farm. We’re getting new recruits every day, and their training takes time.”

“You just concentrate on your driving, Kotze. You never know what these roads are like around the next bend.”

Suddenly, Kotze brakes hard, curses, and brings the vehicle to a sliding stop. 

detour“Oh, this is all we need!” He points at the sign. “Now we have to take a detour. Damn!”

“Wait, there’s a man over there. Call him and ask what this is all about.”

Vetfaan ambles over to the Land Rover, chewing thoughtfully on a stalk of grass. 

“Morning, gentlemen?”

When they ask, he explains. “There’s a bridge a mile ahead. You know? One of those bridges the government got one of their BEE companies to build. Well, it’s six months now, and the thing collapsed. Just like that.” He snaps his fingers. “Where are you chaps heading to?”

“Is this the only road to Rolbos?” Kotze is impatient – this is so uncalled for!

“Yes, the only road. The bridge collapsed yesterday night and we haven’t yet managed to scrape a path through the bush there to get around it. Now the only option is to take this track” He points at the faint two-track path leading off to the left. “After about ten kilometres, you’ll find the road splitting. Go right there – if you take the left fork, you’ll end up in the desert. You’ll notice a hill towards your right-hand side, That’s Bokkop. Well, just stick to the track, and you’ll end up in Rolbos.”

Kotze grunts his thanks and charges off into the veld. Vetfaan smiles happily as he watches the Land Rover disappear in a cloud of dust. Then, hurrying as fast as he can, he takes the sign and jogs the half-a-kilometre to where another track joins the road – this time from the right.

***

“Why is the road closed?” The Boss has to climb out of the Hummer to talk to the dozing man  under the tree. This is so typical of these farmers! Sitting around all day, doing nothing…

Vetfaan lifts the brim of his hat, seems surprised to have company, and tells the grey-haired man the sad tale of modern-day construction in South Africa. 

“You see this track? To get to town you must just stick to it. It curves around to slowly to your left, and you’ll see a hill on that side. Anyway, eventually you’ll get to Rolbos. Good luck!”

***

Paul watches the two vehicles from the top of Bokkop. Two trails of dust on the old roads no longer in frequent use. Vetfaan explained the situation quite clearly.

In the time when the quarry next to Bokkop was the source of Sillimanite, various paths and tracks criss-crossed the veld. Over the years, most of these were reclaimed by Mother Nature, but the circular route around Rolbos is still drivable. Along this almost-forgotten road, several of the miners had small-holdings, where they kept livestock to supply the needs of the community. These days it serves as a route for hunters: it’s far enough from town and the open veld allows for easy game spotting. Occasionally, when the townsfolk run low on biltong, this circular road offers an easy access to the infrequent herds of Springbuck  on their endless search for new grass.

The driver of the Land Rover is in a great hurry. Paul can see how the vehicle bounces along at speed; while the Hummer crawls along at a snail’s pace, obviously driven by a much more cautious driver. He’s watched as the vehicles seemed to be on divergent routes, but now they are slowly approaching each other.

Paul polishes the lenses of the binoculars and settles down on a rock. This could be very interesting…

***

The Boss clings to his seat as Kotze barrels though the veld, cursing under his breath. Sure, the man may know what he’s doing; but at this speed, the slightest miscalculation can be fatal.

They bounce around a curve in the road, throwing up sand and rocks as the wheels tear into the rutted track. Then, just as the vehicle settles in the path again, they see a Hummer crawling towards them. The Hummer stops, but Kotze has to fight the steering and brakes to get control over his careening vehicle. When at last the wheels stop turning, they are barely ten yards from the Hummer.

A huge black man gets out of the Hummer and saunters over to the Landy.

Leaning casually against the door with his one hand, he smiles at the occupants.

“And you are the man they call The Boss, I presume?” His tone is gentle, but his other hand is on the butt of the revolver in his pocket.

Gertruida’s Journey (# 8)

am“This better be good, Boggel.” Vetfaan rubs the sleep from his eyes as he marches into Boggel’s Place. To his utter surprise, he finds Kleinpiet, Servaas and Sersant Dreyer already there, each with a steaming mug of Boggel’s special coffee. After last night’s excesses, even Boggel has that hung-over expression: drooping chin, eyes deeper in their sockets, and a pained expression that is so typical when the drums inside the brain are thumping away with gusto.

cremeBoggel shrugs as he serves a round of special Creme Sodas.

cane“Drink your coffee and that Green Ambulance, Vetfaan, before you realise how smart you were last night.” The cooldrink contains a liberal tot of cane spirits. Boggel’s sure cure for hangovers is sweet, strong coffee laced with Amarula; followed by a Green Ambulance – the combination of fluid, caffeine, sugar and a touch of alcohol remains a winner.

“Right.” He surveys the bleary eyes, smiles, and tells them to concentrate. “Vetfaan was right. We must make the town disappear. That’ll solve the problem.”

“Okay.” Kleinpiet cups his face in his hands. “I’ll go borrow a bulldozer in Upington. Should be back in a week’s time, so I’ll be off right away. But first give me another Greenie, Boggel.”

“No need to be sarcastic, Kleinpiet. There’s a much easier way. Let me explain…”

They listen. They say he’s a genius. And then they scamper off to find boards and paint.

***

“Mister Boggel? You asked me to keep a lookout, remember? You said there’d be an old man passing through Grootdrink, and I must let you know? That’s why I’m phoning you now.”

“Yes. That’s all I know: an old man, heading for Rolbos.”

“Well Mister Boggel, such a man stopped here at the cafe just now. You know what? Three other men came in a Land Rover – a very dirty one, if I may say so. And those men, they weren’t so clean either. They seemed scruffy, Mister Boggel. Well, the old man got in the Landie with the other three. He took a small case and a laptop. Then they drove off on the Rolbos road.”

“Thanks, Platnees, that’s a great help. We’re almost ready.”

“There’s more, Mister Boggel. Just after the men left, another car came. One of those big, ugly things. Sounds like hammer…”

“A Hummer?”

“Yes, Mister Boggel. They stopped at the cafe, too. Bough cool drinks. And then they also took the Rolbos road. They just left, maybe five minutes ago.  I had to wait for them to leave before I could ask to use the phone.”

Boggel replaces the receiver with a worried frown. Gee, he had hoped to have more time to prepare. His only customer right now, is Precilla, and he tells her to go to the men immediately.

“We’ve got two sets of people on their way to us. Platnees says they’ve just left Grootdrink. Tell the men to hurry, will you? We’re running out of time. Hurry, Precilla.”

***

General Ngobeni stares out of the window of his office. Today is one of those crystal clear days in the Cape. His  men have just informed him that The Boss and three accomplishes have just passed through Grootdrink – a stroke of unexpected good luck. He had guessed that Gertruida may have been the magnet that drew Paul Harrison and The Boss, and dispatched one of his best teams to find out what is happening in the little town with the funny name.

He feels rather proud that he connected the dots so well. Paul Harrison – worked for the ANC, manufactured false reports, turned international spy – tasked by the CIA to get his hands on The Boss’ files. Gertruida – double agent, erstwhile accomplice of Harrison. The Boss, apparently hunting Harrison – why? Did Harrison somehow managed to get the secret files? Yet, why else would The Boss sell Mister Taxi for an address in some godforsaken corner of the Northern Cape?  No, there can only be one explanation: The Boss knows that Harrison will seek refuge with that Gertruida woman – and that puts the three of them together in one place.

Now, one of two things will happen: either The Boss and his team will eliminate Harrison and anybody else with knowledge of those secret files – or they will team with up Harrison, to blackmail everybody who has something to hide.

Both these situations pose a problem, however. Whether The Boss works alone or in a team, it is clear that those secret files will cause a lot of damage if they get released – to the public, or the CIA or anybody else, for that matter. Such information – especially when loaded with this type of political dynamite – may have serious international repercussions.

Oh, they can always afford to lose a few minor officials or even one or two of the less important politicians; that won’t cause too much damage. Just like the recent Gupta-incident, the newspapers will have a field day before moving on to a next scandal. The general admires the President for his resilience in this kind of scenario – keeping quiet and letting his spokesmen handle the heat has served him well.

But this time, the fire is too hot. If the world knew the details of the Arms Deal and how it tied in with some people who have contributed so generously to the President’s lavish lifestyle, no silence would be sufficient to hide the corruption that has wormed it’s way into the highest offices in the country.

No, there is only one way to handle this: get rid of the evidence…and silence all who may have any proof of The Boss’s files.

That little town – Rolbos – is so small, so isolated, that few people have ever heard about it. His team will make a proper decision, he is sure of it. There are so many possibilities! Afterwards, they can blame it on a gas cylinder that exploded. Or a freak tornado. Or simply the Afrikaner Freedom Front, thereby giving the government ample reason to eliminate that irksome organisation.

His face lights up when a thought strikes him: why not (after the dust have settled) arrange a land claim on both Rolbos as well as that farm near Beaufort West? Just think how good it’ll sound to the voters in next year’s election? The generous and kind ANC government once again proves their commitment to the previously disadvantaged communities. The best part of this plan is that he, himself, may just possibly become the proud owner of that farm.

Well, he’s done what he can. The President himself sanctioned this operation, so if anything goes wrong, nobody will be able to point a finger at General Ngobeni. This is the way all operations should function… Smiling happily he walks to the front desk, where Beauty Mahlangu is typing reports.

“Hey, Beauty… How about an early lunch? We’ve been working so hard lately – we deserve a break, don’t you think?”

mount“You’re in an exceptionally good mood today, General?” Beauty is used to the stern faced man who so rarely smiles. Look at him now…

“Oh yes, Beauty. I just love it when a plan comes together. Come, let’s go celebrate. I’ll book it as an official meeting, so we’ll go and relax in the private dining room in the Mount Nelson. They have an exceptional variety of champagnes. Come, come now – don’t keep you boss waiting.”

***

Precilla stops the pickup in front of Boggel’s Place and remains seated for a while. The men are almost finished; they’ll be here shortly. Please, she prays, please let it work out?

She looks up to find Gertruida next to the vehicle.

“Where’s Paul, Gertruida?”

“He went off to help the men. He asked me to look after this.” She holds up a laptop.

With nothing else to do but wait, they march into Boggel’s Place, where the little bent man fixes two strong Greenies before pouring his own – even stronger – drink. They don’t talk. The time for words is past. Only action can save them now.

Or…maybe…a miracle.

Gertruida’s Journey (# 7)

townBy one o’ clock the group in the bar calls it quits. They’ve talked, discussed and argued about what they should do, and finally decided to meet again in the morning. Besides, they’ve finished the supply of Cactus Jack, which didn’t really contribute to the logic of their arguments.

Vetfaan suggested they take refuge on Bokkop, where they can hold a week-ling picnic.

“Look,” he said, “this is the most successful strategy in South Africa today. You ignore the threat, divert the attention elsewhere, and then the problem goes away. It works wonders for our president – he can’t be wrong, can he? And slowly every one of his problems simply fade to the background and he carries on marrying maidens to relieve the stress. It worked with the Arms Scandal, Nkandla, Guptagate, – and he’s proven that he says it best when he says nothing at all.

“So if Rolbos disappeared for a week, they won’t come looking for Paul anymore. No town, no Paul…it’s simple, really. The Boss will go somewhere else, like Prieska or Pofadder, and we’ll be safe.”

“You can’t make the town disappear, Vetfaan!” Servaas held out his glass for a refill after slurping up the last drop. “We can go somewhere, but the town will remain. How are you going to move the church, huh?”

And so the discusiion went on and on, until Mevrou started teetering about, complaining of a mild attack of dizziness. Boggel, who knows about her low alcohol-threshold, suggested reconvening the meeting in the morning. Paul nodded thankfully – the stress of the recent events have taken their toll.

It’s an uneasy night in Rolbos as the people toss and turn. If both the henchmen of the government as well as The Boss and his team are out to get Paul, their chances of escaping scot-free are rather limited.

It’ll take someone with a deep understanding of human nature to provide and answer.

Someone like Boggel, the humble barman,  with his years of listening to troubled customers spilling their hearts out late at night. He’s heard it all. And he’s seen what happens if problems aren’t addressed properly and speedily. At three o’clock he gives up trying to sleep, picks up the phone, and calls Vetfaan.

***

The Boss is tired. He’s been driving for hours  and even the strong coffee in the flask can’t fool his ageing body any more. He’ll have to pull over somewhere and nap a while. His heavy eyelids just won’t stay open much longer.

He’ll lose an hour or two, but that doesn’t matter too much. The three men he called on to help, has to come from the farm near Beaufort West – the safe haven for men and women who prefer not to appear in public. It is here they are building the Afrikaner Freedom Front, a far-right grouping of fundamentalist Afrikaners who plan to take over the government of the country – preferably by force. Surprisingly, they’ve had contact with Washington, had a secret meeting with an agent from the CIA, and were promised limited support. Of course, there’s no record of this meeting – they’re not that stupid – and what exactly was meant by support, is still unclear.

The Boss had studied the detailed map when he refuelled in Kimberley. He told the men he’d meet them in Grootdrink by midday the next day. He’ll brief them about Paul, and set into motion the plan to get rid of the irksome ex-agent. As far as he can see, there’s only one road to Rolbos – and it ends at the little town. That makes escape impossible. No, with a few (stolen) AK 47’s, they can make his problem go away and even blame it on a mass farm murder.  The thought made him smile: it’s always such a thrill to create evidence to blame someone else.

Deception – that’s the name of the game.

***

“He wanted what?” General Ngobeni leans forward on the polished surface of his desk.

“Er, sir, he wanted an address of a woman in some godforsaken little town. Useless information. And we have just nabbed Mister Taxi. I think I made a good swap.” Sipho Kekana smiles happily. Surely the General will propose a promotion?

“Why?”

Sipho frowns. He doesn’t know. The Boss asked for an address, so what? It isn’t like that woman was important or anything like that. Sure, she used to work in intelligence circles, but that was years ago. National Intelligence stopped worrying about her when they realised she had fled to avoid embarrassing not only the old regime, but also to protect several officials in the current government. She knew she knew too much, and sent a signal: I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone. Infrequent reports from the branch in Upington confirmed the fact that she was leading a quiet life, so surveillance was stopped.

“I-I son’t know, sir. The Boss didn’t say. I think it is a personal matter. And we got Mister Taxi…”

“You are more stupid than even I have guessed,” the General hisses. “:The man must have a good reason for exchanging Mister Taxi for a street address!” He sits back, steepling his fingers under his chin. Sipho withers under the disapproving gaze of his superior.

“Now, let me think. We know The Boss has some damning reports hidden away. A few days ago it came to my attention a certain Paul Harrison is back in the country.” When he sees Sipho’s puzzled look, he sighs. These new recruits can be so ignorant! “He’s got one of the passports we keep track of, you dummy. You won’t know it, but he is an agent with an international reputation.”

Sipho still doesn’t get it.

The general throws up his hands in disgust. “Listen, you blockhead! This Harrison chap used to be associated with the woman The Boss is so interested in! My hunch is that the three of them are up to no good. I suggest you follow up on this story and report back to me within the next two hours. I want to know what The Boss is up to, and I want to know it by yesterday already! Do. You. Understand?”

Sioho scampers from the room and has to turn back when the general shouts at him to close the door.

The general picks up the phone with the secure line. It takes fifteen minutes to get the President on the line.

“My President, I think we have a problem…”

Gertruida’s Journey (# 6)

In the world of spies, information is the ultimate currency; with it you can buy anything from anybody – even your enemies. Taking that into consideration, The Boss must be one of the wealthiest men in South Africa. His files contain sensitive details of all past and most present prominent men and women in the country; the details of who is indebted to who – and why. Well-hidden sexual affairs, corrupt business deals, bribes paid to astute politicians and and officials – they are all there. He can tell you the details of the Helderberg disaster as easily as he can unravel the association of the Guptas with the President. He knows what happened to Winnie’s Soccer Club and what Stompie did wrong. The list is endless.

During the last two decades, he converted these documents and proof into electronic form. Many hours of scanning and copying and pasting resulted in the Endgame Chronicles – a large file in the laptop resting on the seat beside him. The information is there, at the touch of a button, at his disposal.

That’s what he’s just done. Touched a button, got the details on a shady character called Mister Taxi. National Intelligence has been looking for him for a long time, believing him to be the instigator of many of the strikes that has burdened the economy for so long. Mister Taxi, it seems, controls some of the Labour Union’s bosses by helping them to syphon off – and launder – sums of money the members pay to belong to the unions. This is the big fish he had to trade to get Gertruida’s address in the little town in the Northern Cape.

It had been a humiliating experience. The new generation of spies know that The Boss is almost a spent force. Yes he has information, and yes, that makes him untouchable. But a lot of his bargaining power has  drained away due to his age, coupled by the fact that more and more of the people he controlled over the years are either dead or slipping quietly into extremes of old age, The Boss is now tolerated rather than feared by the intelligence community of today. He just doesn’t have the influence he had thirty years ago.

And that’s why they laughed at him when he started looking for Gertruida. Sure, they know where the woman is – what can he offer in exchange? The horse-trading was one-sided and complicated. In the end he offered one of his best pieces of intelligence in exchange for the address of a woman.

The Boss fumes when he thinks of it. In the old days he would have sorted out the problem with a variety of underhand methods (mostly lethal) – but now he has to play the game with a new set of rules. Well, as soon as he’s sorted out Paul Harrison, he’ll just have to get back to tonight’s situation. These young whipper-snappers must be taught a lesson.

He’ll reach Rolbos tomorrow, assess the situation, and get his men to take care of Harrison. He takes another sip from the flask he clamps between his legs. It’s going to be a long night of hard driving…

***

Gertruida looks up as the tall man enters Boggel’s Place. She recognises him immediately.

“Paul!”

The group in the bar turns as one to face the newcomer. Middle-aged and greying at the temples, there can be no doubt he’s the most handsome man in the room. His piercing blue eyes linger for a second on every face, taking in the details and storing it for future reference. His white teeth are visible between the slightly parted lips of his uncertain smile, contrasting sharply with the deep tan.

“Hello Gerty.” Two words; yet they convey kindness, a long friendship and deep respect.

Gertruida introduces everybody, giving a snippet of information about each one. Paul’s handshake is firm and his response to each individual is the same: pleased to meet you… Later they’ll all agree that they felt uncomfortable – his penetrating gaze seemed to penetrate their minds, fathoming the inner being of each of them (as Oudoom managed to put their feeling into words).

Introductions over, Paul accepts the beer Boggel pushes over the counter.

“You’ve been telling them about me,” Paul says as he turns his attention to Gertruida. “And us. That might have been a mistake.”

“No, Paul. This town is different. Your coming here poses a danger to all of us and I thought it only fair they should know what is going on. From what you said, I gathered it was necessary. The need-to-know situation here is not something you’d be accustomed to – or even understand. But maybe…maybe you should tell them what you told me on the telephone. Then you can decide for yourself.”

Paul lets his head sink into his cupped hands.  “Gerty, are you sure?”

“Yes. Ask them.”

Vetfaan is the one to speak for all of them when he says: “Listen Paul, Rolbos is a small town. That doesn’t make us insignificant or stupid. Gertruida has told us about your past. We accept that. But if your coming here is somehow a danger to her, it’s a danger to all of us. And don’t you for one moment think we’d turn our backs on her. Never! So relax, have another beer, and tell us what this is all about.”

For a brief second, Pauls uncertain smile is replaced with a look of relief. This is unusual…but then again, he has always trusted Gertruida.

“Okay. I’ll give you an outline. No details, just a sketch.” He draws a deep breath before continuing. “Gertruida and I parted ways soon after the final negotiations to hand over power to the ANC succeeded. She had to leave Pretoria in a hurry. Her role as a double agent had become known and both the ANC and the Right Wing would have loved to talk to her. Both sides felt cheated and wanted her to appear on the Truth and Reconciliation  Commission. But over and above the lies we sold to both sides, we also had damning evidence about atrocities on both side – even implicating the people who were intimately involved in the Commission.

“So we talked about it. She came here. I went overseas – because I had many contacts there.”

Paul takes a long sip from his glass, his eyes once again scanning his audience before coming to a conclusion.

“I’ll trust you, but you must trust me. I worked for Oxfam. That was my cover. I supplied information to the CIA in America, to the French and to Britain. I worked in Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt, Syria. Name a war zone, and I was there.

“But then the request came to find out more about somebody known as The Boss. Of course I know the man – he was our greatest problem in the 80’s. What I didn’t know was that he had held on to sensitive information about people who, over the years, climbed their own ambitious little ladders. He has information that’ll topple the government of South Africa, Over the past few years, the ANC  has been working on a law to suppress sensitive information; a law that’ll make it a crime to publish information that might harm the government, specifically. The reason: The Boss. He knows too much, and they don’t know what he plans to do with his knowledge.  How many copies of his data exist? Where? Will it be released in the event of an untimely death? In New York? Beijing? Moscow? So they let him live but wanted to kill his information.”

Paul now accepts the Cactus Boggel has poured.

“But there are some people in Washington that are worried. They’ve got the knack to get international affairs botched up. Think of Korea, Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm, Saddam Hussien’s weapons of mass destruction, Egypt…and now Syria. So they started looking at the strategic value of South Africa – and the alarm bells went off. The labour unrests, strikes, Marikana, Fochville, farm murders…they see the Mandela dream slowly but surely disappearing into the murky mists of bad governance. They needed The Boss’ files, and they needed it urgently.

“That was my job.

“And when I got my hands on it, I realised I had to hide. Your government is as keen to erase those files as the international players are to get them. And because I hacked into his computer, I became the hunted one…and somebody with an extremely uncertain future.

“There was only one person I could think of to help me. That’s why I came here…”

By now, Boggel has several bottles of Cactus Jack open. They’re in for a long night…

Gertruida’s Journey (# 5)

14Gertruida squares her shoulders. This story must be told and she’s the one to do it. She empties her glass before going on.

“I didn’t know what to do… I played the part of courier for the ANC and Paul, but at the same time National Intelligence was using me as a source of information. They wanted me to tell them everything I knew about Paul Harrison, who his handler was, what he knew – and whether he could be turned into a double agent, as well. They knew about him being gay and wanted to use it against him. In those days, being homosexual was still considered to be a source of shame – especially in South Africa, where churches controlled the way people lived and thought. “

Gertruida accepts the beer Boggel offers: talking about her past is not easy…

The old Capitol Thetre, Pretoria

The old Capitol Theatre, Pretoria

“I was young and unsure. When Paul delivered the next batch of documents, I slipped him a note, asking him to meet me the next day at the Capitol Theatre. I’d be in the back row, I said. By then I was pretty sure my flat was bugged and my telephone tapped.”

Kleinpiet remembers how one of his liberal friends simply disappeared in the 80’s. He had been extremely critical about the way the secret police detained and tortured people, and had been rather vocal about it. Rumour had it that he was detained, but nobody knew anything. Or rather: if anybody knew what happened, he or she was too scared to say anything. Society had been bludgeoned into quiet acceptance: either you agreed with the government , or you faced the often brutal consequences. The country was riddled with spies and informers; you could trust nobody.

“I remember it was one of Stallone’s Rocky movies. Paul sneaked in to sit next to me, and I told him about Ferdinand. What must I do, I asked? Should I leave the country? Follow him to London?

“He said that it  would be stupid to abandon my studies in my final year. No, he said, this was a golden opportunity. He could feed the Nationalist government anything he wanted – especially if it was untrue. Fight disinformation with more disinformation, he said.

“And that’s how I became the middleman in one of the most ridiculous situations one can imagine. The ANC fed lies to the Nationalists, who fed lies back to the ANC.  Everything got inflated: South Africa’s oil reserves, the size of the army, the ease of circumventing all the boycotts and embargoes.  The ANC, in turn, bragged about the massive and unlimited support they received form Russia.

“And then Ferdinand changed tactics. By that time we got…involved…with each other. It was almost a type of Stockholm Syndrome – I felt sorry that somebody with such a keen mind, should be slaving under such brutal masters. Oh, I was young and naïve, a young student caught up in a game even the seasoned politicians and diplomats managed to botch up in the end. Anyway, Ferdinand said the disinformation I fed to Paul, would be even more believable if I worked for National Intelligence. With my degree in Political Science, my job would be a legitimate appointment, with the rest of my activities a complete secret.

“Paul welcomed the move. You see, I never lied to Paul. I had told him everything. He argued that the more the Nationalists were inflating their capabilities, the better. Feed the lies to the government in exile in London, he said, and let them spread it amongst the other international intelligence organisations – who’d inform their governments, of course. That way, the UK, USA and other countries will understand that the ANC needs more support against the overwhelming power of Pretoria. At the same time, it’ll encourage the world to condemn Apartheid and force the South African government to consider a more diplomatic approach.

“Although I gleaned some intelligence through my association with Ferdinand –  and during the course of my work – I mostly  used a lot of creative license to manufacture the information Paul carried back to London. Paul and I actually had a lot of fun thinking up false reports on how good things are going in London and Pretoria. Let’s play them off against each other, Paul said, and make them realise they must stop the war. He said it was like the situation between Russia and America: the more the one believed the other to be untouchable, the less sense it made to fight.

“It was a game of bluff and counter-bluff. P W Botha knew how the war on the border sapped the already weakening economy of the country – and took note of the inflated reports Ferdinand delivered. If Russia and China pledged unlimited support for the ANC, Botha knew he was fighting a losing battle.

“And so, my role as double agent had at least one positive aspect to it: it helped sway the Nationalists to rethink their aggressive attitude.”

***

The Boss flips through the file on his desk. Paul Harrison –  the man who hoodwinked them all. Throughout his career, The Boss had always been careful to verify the information that was channelled to him, and Ferdinand Fourie used to be one of his most trusted agents. Now, with the hindsight only time can bring, The Boss has to admit: Harrison had played him for a fool. When he advised FW de Klerk to negotiate peace with the terrorists of the  ANC, the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapsing. Even the ANC was in serious financial trouble.

The opposing sides in the struggle were like two tired boxers in the final round. If one of them could have landed a telling blow – one single, solid punch – the war would have ended right then and there. South Africa had the troops, the fighting power and the ability….

No matter that the Nationalists could not afford to continue the fight – the other side was even worse off! If he knew then what he knows now, he’d have told FW to escalate their efforts – and they would have won the war. But…Paul Harrison! One man managed to derail the whole situation. FW convinced his cabinet that the ANC was stronger than ever, based solely on the lies Harrison made them believe.

If it weren’t for Harrison, South Africa would still the happy place it had been before the Nationalist government had to hand over power to the deceiving and dishonest ANC. The Boss clenches his fist. Well, he can’t change history – but he can take revenge!

oxfamThat’s why The Boss spent twenty years looking for Paul. Twenty years! And Harrison knew he was a hunted man and managed to evade The Boss’ clutches for two decades. Harrison, it seemed, drifted into Oxfam, and has travelled extensively to render help to less fortunate communities. The Boss had to wait patiently; but finally got lucky when Paul returned to South Africa to attend the funeral of an uncle.

The tow ex-agents traced Paul to a flat in Sunnyside, planning to abduct him the following morning. After that they’d deliver the man to his house on the outskirts of Pretoria. Here, he’d humiliate the ANC’s liar, and take his time in starving and torturing the man to death.

Oh, he’d been so excited…the exquisite pleasure of seeing a victim squirm and beg for mercy! How many times didn’t he do that in the old days; prolonging the agony of death in his well-rehearsed repertoire of primitive torture. Yes, he’ll start with the nails – it always the nails – perfect to get the victim in the right frame of mind.

And now the man has escaped!

The Boss flips through the file. Ferdinand Fourie is dead. Paul Harrison is on the run. Now…who was that woman who acted as a go-between? She must be somewhere? She might have a lot to answer for, as well…

***

“This is Rolbos?” Paul Harrison takes in the few buildings and the small church. “You sure?”

The lorry driver laughs, showing the bare guns that once held teeth.

“Yep, sure is. If you’re looking for somebody, you’d better wander over there. See the sign? Boggel’s Place? They’ll all be there, I bet you!”

Paul hesitates before pushing the door open. A woman is speaking inside. Yes…he recognises that voice.