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.


8 thoughts on “Gertruida’s Journey (# 5)

      1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

        Oh, Gertruida won’t be fazed..shaken and stirred, maybe, not fazed. In the 80’s? I realised how wrong our leaders were… Long story. Maybe one day…

      2. cvheerden

        What you said about the passionate Afrikaaners I had to learn the hard way – do not, ever, never, get on the wrong side in a conversation. It is not pretty. So I am saying this very, very hushed and under correction and not endorsing and signing an indemnity form and all those things. Growing up in East Germany as part of the Christian underground opposition, I was shell shocked coming to South Africa finding the old ATKV-tyoe resorts resembling (just in their feel and style) communistic retreat centers of the worst kind, more intimidating and strange in their concrete-herd design than any communist camp I’ve ever entered. Personal feeling, I know they stand for a lot of good, like language preservation and all that, so don’t stone me. Just a personal feeling of goosebumps of the scary kind.

      3. Amos van der Merwe Post author

        I understand completely. We build our futures on the foundations of our past. It’ll be interesting to have a chat about that: coming out of a communistic or Apartheid past…how do one reconcile that with hoping for a better future? It should be interesting, to say the least. Maybe that’s what Rolbos is all about – amidst the current and past injustices, we must find our way back to kindness and respect.
        I find that these stories attract all kinds of comments from all over the world – especially on Facebook. Had another few condemning remarks from expats today. You know what? I think it’s a good thing. If fiction like this rattles a few cages, makes a few people think and debate, and helps people to get to grips with reality, then I’m satisfied that stories can contribute to healing and understanding. We can’t build a future on nothing. All we have are the events that shaped us and brought us to where we are today. If we are honest about that, we have a chance to improve things for the generations to come. Idealistic? Maybe. But if Rolbos makes one single person look back, smile, shake a head and move on, then the writing of these stories has been worth it.

      4. cvheerden

        I think it’s been much easier to recover from 40 years of enforced communism as a result of the Allied forces splitting up the land and giving a quarter to the Soviets. Underneath all that artificial propaganda was a people who kept their age old sense of culture, poetry and music and just learned to have a private and a public identity. The “frienemy” being in the end Russia and not a fellow German,it was not that difficult. Yes, we had a dedicated group of Stasi informants glued to our every move, but dealing with a homogenous cultural group makes healing much easier as personal rights and wrongs can not be pinned on allegiance to an ethnic or cultural group but is solely your personal responsibility. Facing our neighbors who had worked decades undercover to spy on us was hard after we received our files after the wall came down. But it was not marked by hate, just pity and sadness. South Africa is so much more difficult. Entitlement, blame shifting, and a sometimes deafening silence from those who should lead, makes it hard. East Germans basically lost all their academic titles and pensions and received a lower pay grade for a long time after the wall fell. There was no affirmative action to re-imburse them for what the russians had taken, on the contrary, they had to just suck it up, work hard and start at square one. But well, East Germany is now, in my eyes, the more progressive and more beautiful part of the country with a nature so beautiful because it had been protected from mass tourism for almost half a century … my humble view. And South Africans – if we could just more focus on all we love, all we have in common, instead of hammering the point of diversity … it would help.

      5. Amos van der Merwe Post author

        I agree – completely. Legacies of the past need to be addressed, accepted, and …left in the past. We need to build a future – and we owe it to future generations to have a better life than we did. Kindness, love and respect remain the keys. It’s there for everyone, if only we have the courage to stop living in the past.

      6. cvheerden

        :-)dealing daily with people who let one incident from their childhood ruin their whole life … hard to ask a whole nation to look to the future … just posted some laudatory to the Afrikaans language inspired by Mias comment on Rolbos in my blog. Can’t wait to hear whats happening next in Rolbos. Ciao.

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