Gertruida’s Journey (# 4)

apJust this morning, Servaas told Oudoom why there are so many churches in Upington. Look, he said, there are two important characteristics in the Afrikaner people.

“It has to do with passion,” he said while sipping his coffee from the saucer, much to Mevrou’s dismay. “We Afriakners can’t be onlookers. If the Sprinboks play rugby, we eat our biltong and drink our beers and are willing to lynch a referee for daring to say we knocked the ball on. Why, the other day Prieska’s team played against some English team from Richard’s Bay. Our chap had to convert a try to win the match. You know what happened? Kruppelfrik de Jager tried to kick at the ball, missed completely and felt ashamed that he let his people down. The referee was much more enlightened. He knew he wouldn’t make it to his car if he didn’t allow Kruppelfrik another go. Eventually he succeeded with attempt number nine.

“That’s us, Dominee. If we support something, we go all the way…but there’s a catch.

“You get three Afrikaners in a room and ask them about the two forbidden subjects: religion and politics. It’s sure to start an argument. 

“We’re terribly inventive when it comes to practical things. Our forefathers moved ox-wagons across mountains and manufactured their own ammunition, built houses in the wilderness and fixed any broken thing with a piece of leather and a prayer. But once we start talking about theoretical things like ideology and religion, everyone has his own opinion – and he won’t budge.

“No, Dominee, I think Rolbos is the only town in the country with only one church. Maybe we are abnormal. You should think of inviting some opposition to open a branch here.”

Of course he said it as a joke, but now while Gertruida is telling them about her involvement with the Anti-Apartheid Movement, he sits, nodding sagely. Yes, the country was divided on many fronts in those days, just like the churches in Upington.

Why, didn’t he, Servaas, also come from an Ossewabrandwag family? It was unthinkable to say anything good about Jan Smuts who betrayed them and became an Imperialist. Some even said he had dined with the Royal Family. How low can you get? 

When the Nationalists took over, it was by the barest of margins; but the leaders were well-educated men and soon everybody was passionate about their new government. In a country where a university degree automatically ensured respect for the bearer,  Malan had a PhD in Religious studies which combined church and politics and made it easier for people to see him as a sort-of Messiah. Then came Strydom, the advocate. After him, another theologian, Verwoerd. 

The honeymoon period of blind passion and national pride couldn’t last, however. The Black population – like their brothers and sisters in the rest of Imperial and colonial Africa (where England, Portugal, Germany and Belgium ruled with equal harsh laws) – didn’t take kindly to forced removals, carrying passes and being subjected to blatant discrimination. So there, already, the majority of people in the country started their own organisations to protest against the injustices the Nationalists inherited (and admittedly aggravated) from the days the British ruled the country. Way back in the 1850’s, Blacks were being stripped of the rights the average citizen should enjoy. Then, a 100 years later, the fuse that would ignite the fireworks that would blow the Nationalists theories to bits, was fizzling along in silent fury.

Amongst the Whites the motto of In Unity is Strength, served to remind people of how things were in the past. The South African Party was no longer the only opposition, as various groupings to the left and the right politicised their movements. Secret organisations sprung up to support the spectrum of ideologies that emerged. Servaas is right: Afrikaners are notoriously reluctant to agree about such things. However, to be seen as opposing the government was dangerous, so a lot of activity was kept hidden from neighbours, friends and most of all, the dreaded secret police.

“So there I was,” Gertruida says, “helping to undermine the government. At first I was so afraid: I was risking my future – and in a way I’m still paying the price for that. My life could have been so different…” She pauses a moment, shaking her head. 

“There were spies everywhere in those days. Everywhere. The Bureau of State Security was an enigmatic and extremely powerful tool in the hands of the man who took over after Verwoerd’s murder. Oh, and many a rumour existed about that little incident in parliament when the unimportant aide stabbed the most important protagonist of Apartheid to death. Some even whispered it had been an inside job.

“But Vorster – now there was a man with a different vision. He was interned during the war for being a member of the Ossewabrandwag. While he was in jail, he met several men who he’d use in later years to protect him and his ideology. One such man set up the Bureau of State Security, or BOSS, as it was called. And they knew everything.

“So I suppose I wasn’t too surprised to receive a visit from one of their men, late one evening. He said they knew all along and that my days of being a student was over. In fact, he said, treason carried the death penalty and I shouldn’t make any long-term plans…I remember how he let that hang in the air before adding…unless I cooperated with them.

“And that, Boggel, was how I met Ferdinand Fourie. To my eternal shame, I became a double agent.”

***

The old man replaces the receiver. He likes being called ‘Boss’; it reminds him of the old days when a mere nod or a wink sealed some poor idiot’s fate. Oh, he was powerful, then! Vorster trusted his judgement completely, which allowed him to gather information on thousands of people – also people in government. This enabled him to manipulate history in later years by  having a massive influence on the future presidents of the country. PW Botha was stubborn, but no match for The Boss. And FW de Klerk…well, he came in when the game was all but over. 

Still, even today the remnants of his power – and the immensely revealing secret files he kept – made him untouchable. Much like his hero,  J Edgar Hoover,  his files kept a lot of people in line.

He grimaces as he gets up; his arthritis is getting worse and making moving about more and more of a problem. The pain in the joints are bad – but the pain of knowing Paul Harrison has once again escaped, is even worse.  

“That man knows too much,” he mutters under his breath, “and now he’s got the tools to bring this country crashing down on all of us. I should never have trusted him, damn it!”

A lifetime of sacrifice for his country – and now one man has the power to upset the balance he had been so careful to preserve… Like in the old days, there can be only one solution to the problem: Paul Harrison must be eliminated. He, and everybody who might have had insight into the damning evidence contained in those files.

***

The lorry from Kalahari Vervoer slows down when the driver spots the pedestrian next to the road, carrying a holdall. A hitch-hiker on his way to Rolbos? Now that is strange…

“You need a lift?” He shouts down from the drivers window.

“Oh, yes, please.” The man flashes a grateful smile. “Are you going to Rolbos?”

“The road ends there, my friend.”

Yes, the man with the slightly effeminate manner thinks, how true. The road ends there… 

4 thoughts on “Gertruida’s Journey (# 4)

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