Gert Smit waited for the helicopter to land. The swirling dust made it impossible to see who got off the aircraft, but as soon as the rotors stopped turning, visibility returned to normal. By then, the elders had gathered around an imposing man, immaculately dressed in a smart uniform (with a red beret). This man, Smit realised, was his target.
He breathed in, breathed out, and settled the stock of the rifle against his shoulder. Breathe in, breathe out. Eye to the scope. Scan the crowd, look for the red beret.
One last breath.
The crosshairs moved down from the beret to the face. One shot. Between the eyes. No wind. 500 yards.
Finger curling on the trigger, slowly, squeeze ever so gently…
And then the features of the face suddenly jumped into focus. This wasn’t just some headman or chief…or even some minor officer in the enemy’s employ… This was a well-known face in South Africa; an ally in the fight against terrorism and communism! No, It can’t be…but it is!
The face belonged to Jonas Savimbi…
“One must pause here,” Gertruida says, “to consider the complicated political scene in Angola at the time. Savimbi, the son of a stationmaster in southern Angola, was no fool. In fact, after being educated in Portugal, he not only managed to get China to train him in guerilla warfare, but he also had the support of Moscow…and the CIA! When it suited him, he was an outspoken Communist. However, when the situation demanded it, he was a vehement anti-Communist. He got arms and money from America, China, Russia, Cuba…and South Africa.
“Savimbi wanted to rule Angola and was determined to use his UNITA forces to oust the stronger faction, the MPLA. The only way to do this, was by civil war.
“A hugely charismatic man by all accounts, he played international leaders like a maestro handling a Stradivarius. This was both brilliant…and dangerous. Although Pretoria was aware of this, they continued supporting him and his UNITA-movement against the communist-run MPLA – the movement that also supported SWAPO an MK. It was a case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend.
“However, more and more doubts began to emerge as the total cost of Savimbi’s increasing demands for money and arms became too much for Pretoria to handle. It was at that stage that some generals felt that it would serve South Africa better to go it alone, and not depend on Savimbi to keep the MPLA at bay. With Savimbi out of the way, more funds would be channelled to the South African troops, which would go a long way to making their war efforts more sustainable.
“And that’s why, on that sunny day, Gert Smit recognised the face in his scope to be that of Jonas Savimbi. And once he had done so, he had to decide whether to follow his orders.”
Gert Smit may have been naive, but he wasn’t stupid. So far, his military training taught him many things: discipline, tactics, camouflage, strategic thinking…and then, with his finger curled around the trigger, it suddenly all came together in one sentence: all action is bound to result in counteraction, unless the enemy is completely destroyed,
Sure, he’ll destroy his target. And then…?
If he killed Savimbi, the repercussions would be huge. This wasn’t a village headman or some minor political figure. The search for the killer won’t be a half-hearted pursuit by untrained villagers. They’ll throw in everything – helicopters, troops, dogs, Bushmen trackers. There was no way he’d escape. And there was no way that they’d let him live, either.
And…yes, of course! He had no ID on him. No orders, no papers, no dog tags. UNITA might approach the South Africans, but would they own up? No! They’d say they knew nothing about this man. Nope, he isn’t one of ours. Maybe a maverick doing his own thing. Or somebody set up by the CIA? And no, we don’t use Steyr rifles. Not our issue. This one doesn’t even have a number, either. See where it’s been filed off? Could be the Russians, don’t you think?
But supposing he did survive, and made it back to Fort Doppies…? Would the commanding officer run the risk of exposing the plan, the assassination? No! South Africa was already in such a precarious position, they’d never allow Gert Smit to live to tell his story. In a flash he realised that his life was over the moment he had accepted the mission. If the Angolans didn’t get him, the South Africans would.
Oh, and of course! They already covered their tracks by listing him as missing, probably AWOL! How convenient. No, they’ll say, he disappeared from camp. You know, that Gert Smit has always been a rebel. Maybe he decided he’d had enough? Maybe a lion got him? Or maybe he shacked up in Windhoek or Katima Molilo with a floozy? You know how young men are… That’s what they’ll say. And nobody would know what really happened, because Savimbi would be dead and just another young soldier would be missing, probably KIA...
Even worse: he had not been able to write home for the past two weeks. He was in training, they said – secret training – so no communication with the outside world. Nobody knew where he was or what he was doing there. Only the officers at Fort Doppies – and they weren’t going to be telling anybody…
“Who knows what went through that young man’s mind at that moment?” Gertruida winks at Boggel to get a new beer. She says that one should always play a little game with your listeners when you’re telling a story. Give them time to digest the dilemma and make them imagine a thousand different outcomes to a certain scenario. People, being what they are, will always either hope for some divine intervention to bring about a happy ending, or be pessimistic and imagine the hero being tortured to death. But, Gertruida says, real life often is much worse that this: it often combines the best in human nature with the worst of reality. Or the other way around. But somehow, she says, we never manage to get it quite right.
“So, while Savimbi was addressing the elders, Gert Smit found his finger slowly – ever so slowly – releasing the pressure on the trigger. He couldn’t shoot the man. He couldn’t go back. He couldn’t stay where he was.”
“So what happened, Gertruida? What did he do?” It’s Vetfaan who can’t stand this long drawn-out tale any longer. He wants to know. Now!
“That’s why it was important to start the story right, Vetfaan, otherwise you’d never understand why he did what he did. You remember Farini and the Dorsland Trek in the Kalahari? The Boers fighting for their independence? The Rebellion of 1914? The fact that Gert Smit came from a long line of honest, hard-working, obstinate men?”
“Ja, Gertruida, Get on with it.”
“Well, then you’ll understand that he got up from his hiding place, took the magazine from the rifle, and walked down to the village. He had to sort out the mess…his way.”