Servaas looks up at the stars. It’s a crystal-clear night with a halfmoon slowly making it’s way to the horizon. Next to him, Vrede snores softly, dreaming doggy-dreams about chasing rabbits. He still finds it difficult to digest everything Gertruida has told them. Bianca…involved in all that?
“There has always been an insatiable demand for ivory and rhino horn in the East.” Gertruida, using her lecture-voice, addressed the patrons in Boggel’s Place that afternoon after Bianca left so suddenly. “Back in the Eighties, these commodities were untraceable once they reached the buyer. Where did it come from? How? It didn’t matter.”
She’s just read up on the actions of the poaching done by the previous government, and telling their story isn’t so easy. She falters, but goes on…
“The fact of the matter is: South Africa needed money and arms to continue the fight against communism. Due to Apartheid, the international community had clamped down on trade, sport and culture, isolating us in an effort to force the government to accept majority rule. The generals had to find the means to raise the capital to keep the soldiers in the field – or give up and allow the divided society of South Africa to destroy itself.
“That’s when they created the South West African Import and Export Company, based in, amongst other places, Walvis Bay. This was a company set up by the army, but run by civilians unconnected to any state department – much like the CIA uses private companies as a front worldwide.
“The plan was diabolically simple. In the south of Angola, Jonas Savimbi ordered his troops to start killing every elephant, every rhino they could find. Later, the operation was extended to Zambia and Mozambique. The contraband was delivered to the front company, who then transported it by various means to the East. To do this without being caught out, the drivers of lorries were issued with official documentation that stated the load as ‘secret’ and prevented the searching of the cargo at roadblocks. The ivory and horn was then taken on board the fishing vessels of various Eastern countries, while Pretoria got paid in cash and arms.
“Large-scale poaching decimated the elephant and rhino population in Angola, Mozambique and Zambia, where South Africa supported resistance groups in order to destabilise the enemies of the National government. They did the poaching, Pretoria – through the front company – exported the products of the bloody harvest, and huge amounts of money exchanged hands. In turn, these resistance groups – like RENAMO and UNITA – received arms, training and other equipment via the South African Defence Force.”
The import and export company in Walvis Bay played a pivotal role. But, Gertruida said, that wasn’t all they did.
“The men running the organisation, were above the law. They could transport anything, sell anything, with impunity. Soon, they were harvesting pristine forests. Diamonds and Mandrax formed part of their trade. Operations expanded to Botswana and Zimbabwe. The whole of Southern Africa became part of a massive Mafia-type operation, carefully run and manipulated from Pretoria. The directors of the South West Africa Import and Export Company , being less than honest to the core, became fabulously rich by adding their own contraband to these cargoes.”
Gertruida paused here to allow her words to sink in. The scale of the crime is almost too large to imagine.
“Now…this is important: today we get upset about the rhino situation. We complain about poachers and point fingers at the Eastern countries. The country is riddled with illegal drugs….but who, do I ask you, is to blame for these markets? Who created the wealthy empires that control this trade? Who opened up the channels to the underworld?
“We, my friends, are looking at a situation that was created by a corrupt government. We may well tell the world that the current ANC government is run by a bunch of crooks – but sadly, they only took over the reins left by the previous regime.”
And this, Gertruida said, is why she was so worried about Bianca being there. “This woman must have been deeply involved with this company. And let me tell you: she’s on the run. If you’re running away from something so large and so evil, you can be sure they’ll hunt you down. That’s why she chose Rolbos; hoping we are so far away from everything that they won’t find her here…but they will.” She signalled for another beer and rested her chin on her upturned palm. “Who’s going to get caught in the cross-fire? Us. We’re going to pay a price for her being here.”
Bianca sobs quietly, pushing her face into the new pillow on the bed. She’s read the note over and over again – not that it’s necessary, it’s just one single sentence – and now she knows she’s reached the end of the line.
You can run, but you can’t hide… One simple statement on the piece of paper she found on the floor this morning. They had been there during the night, traced her to this quiet little hovel where she thought she’d be safe for a while.
Tiny’s words when they first met. You can run, but you can’t hide.Tiny, who at that stage worked for a boss. Who…who was the boss then? Is he still alive?
They can’t afford to let her get away, that’s true. She knows too much. If she told her story, and if the world believed her, many heads would roll. Two big ifs... But the organisation wouldn’t take such a risk – they’d rather get rid of her. Eliminate…the word they like so much.
Servaas looks down at Vrede when the dog suddenly lifts his head, ears cocked, to stare at the dark end of Voortrekker Weg. Getting up slowly, the old man moves back into the shadows of the veranda. If Bianca is in danger, it’s up to him to protect her.
According to Gertruida, Bianca is involved with some heinous crimes. Or, to be more accurate, might be involved. Well, he doesn’t care. She’s a beautiful woman, young (in comparison!) and he feels he’s got a connection with her.Why? He’s not sure – but something sparked between the two of them when he first laid eyes on her. And…she makes him feel like a man again.
Vrede lets out a soft growl. The hair on his neck bristles when he detects that scent again – the same deodorant he picked up last night. But there’s something more – en new smell. Old sweat. Oily. No…oil – like men use on guns. That’s it! Now…wait…yes, there are two of them. Two men. And a gun.
Vrede nudges Servaas with his nose. Stay here, Servaas, I’m going to have a look.
Then, padding softly and moving with surprising speed, Vrede is gone. Servaas tightens his grip on the gun, suddenly forgetting his age. He’s young again, a soldier, fighting for justice and peace.