Getruida – in the way only she can – tells them of the strange episode in the State President’s office in 1988. She remembers how agitated the president was when he issued the instructions to develop the cave.
“I shall soon be a very unpopular President.” Flicking his tongue over his lower lip, he held his index finger high. “I have signed an agreement with Gorbachev and Reagan at the end of May in Moscow. This will see the withdrawal of Cubans and Russians from Angola – but we have to remove our presence in South-West Africa. I cannot begin to explain to you what level of pressure they applied to make me sign that paper.”
He’s getting old, Gertruida thought at the time, the war is strangling our economy, the world is united against us, and there are bombs going off almost every day. No man can tolerate this forever.
“The 22nd of December will see us signing a final agreement with the United Nations, but I shall stand firm: we shall not allow any outside interference in our internal affairs. They can have Namibia as long as they leave us alone.
“Now listen to this: giving in the the UN demands will not stop the terrorists we have inside our country. They will see this agreement as a victory for their cause. The White electorate will want to crucify me. I’m afraid my days in this office will come to an end soon. There are forces at play here; forces with the power to do anything they like…anything!
“So. My administration has done a lot to fight for the cause of everybody in this country. We’ve built up the country, we’ve defended it. And in doing so, we had to do … things … which the outside world will never understand. We’ve built aeroplanes, missiles, weapons. We’ve developed the ability to wipe out entire communities with gas and certain biological agents. We have the atom bomb…”
“I do not want the information on these actions to fall in the wrong hands. It’ll be your job to develop a storage facility to keep thee documents safe.
“Do you understand?”
“The meeting was held on the 20th December, 1988. The president suffered a stroke on the 18th of January. To this day, there is speculation whether the stroke was…induced…in some or other way.” Gertruida shrugs. “We’ll never know…”
“Dawid van Vuuren was tasked to lead a small team to investigate various possibilities. To build a facility to house these archives, would have been stupid – too obvious and certainly too visible. The idea to hide it in some natural structure appealed to the task team. They considered some old mines and Sudwala Caves, but then the team heard about Cango IV.
“You see, when they discovered a third set of chambers in the Cango Caves in the middle 70’s, they thought they had come to the end of the caves. Then, at the end of ’88, a geologist – Stoffel Steenkamp, a nephew of Dawid van Vuuren – discovered a cave in the rugged outback of the Swartberg Mountains. Upon exploring the cave, he found an underground river. Realising the water was flowing towards the general location of the Cango Caves, he added a dye to the river, rushed over to the Cango Caves – and confirmed that the two complexes were linked.
“To cut a long story short: he had found the most distant part of the Cango Caves. He told Dawid. Dawid swore him to secrecy and did a personal inspection of the new complex of chambers.
“And that, my friends, is where the documentation of the Apartheid Government’s secrets are kept.”
“But what is the connection with Rusty? I know her father had something to do with that project, but why is she worried?”
“Rusty kept the maps Dawid van Vuuren entrusted to her before his death. I don’t know the details yet, but something has happened to those maps and she’s worried. Like her father had advised her, she contacted me…”
Rusty van Vuuren does justice to her name. Red-haired, freckled, brown-eyed and beautiful in an off-hand-reddish kind of way, People who know her, are also aware of the fiery temper and the command of an extensive vocabulary which you won’t find in most dictionaries. All the same, she can be funny, lovable and extremely considerate when she puts her mind to it. Not surprisingly, she loves to dress in shades of yellow and red (sometimes, when she feels frivolous, adding a touch of blue).
She gets out of the ancient Volkswagen (which creaks contently as the overworked engine cools down) to stand uncertainly next to the pothole in Voortrekker Weg. The little crowd on the veranda in front of Boggel’s Place stare back with an equal amount of doubt. Gertruida has told them to expect a visitor, but Rusty is more – so much more – than they expected.
“Nobody wears Cat-in -a-Hat socks any more,” Precilla whispers, staring at the well-formed calves.
“That red dress is a short shirt,” Vetfaan says with great admiration – just before he receives Fanny’s elbow in his ribs.
“Definitely a weird one,” Servaas can’t stop looking at those legs.
Boggel sighs. “She’s bee-autiful…” He’s maybe the only man who looked at her face.
“I’m looking for Aunty G…er…Gertruida?” Rusty has singled out Gertruida, but she’s still not sure. Mevrou seems to be too stern, but you never know. It’s been, she reckons, twenty-odd years…
“Come on in, child, you’ll cause a veld fire in you remain outside.” Gertruida steps down to guide her inside.
“Now – there’s a woman! Wow! They didn’t make them like this in the old days.” Servaas watches as she hops up the stairs, the skirt flaring this way and that as she walks. “I’ll have to double my blood pressure pills…”
“Close your eyes, Servaas, or you’ll surely die.” Oudoom scowls at his head elder as he mutters: “Sins of the flesh…”
And so, as they gather around the counter to hear her story, they could never have guessed what the result of her visit would be. Or what effect it would have on the country. No – the men only had eyes for her, while every woman in the room felt the stirrings of jealousy.