Tag Archives: BOSS

The Man with the Grudge

Credit: johnnyafrica.com

Credit: johnnyafrica.com

(follows on the previous posts)

Right then, just when Reverend Joseph stops talking, a woman appears in the doorway. Diksarel follows Joseph’s eyes to stare at her. Straight-backed, she stops to take a long, hard look at the two men at the front of the little church.

Gertruida says one shouldn’t feed a grudge. It keeps on growing, she says, until it devours the person filling the feeding trough. No matter how honourable or righteous the cause, the grudge will end up in a bigger catastrophe than the original wrong.

Diksarel experiences something like this when he recognises the face of the woman. She’s older – much older – of course. The lines on the face have multiplied and her hair is now speckled with grey – but her eyes remained the same. Sharp, penetrating eyes, unwavering in their stare, unashamed of who they belong to.

“You….?” Diksarel doesn’t know how to continue – the many words he wants to say seem to rush through his mind at the same time. This is, he realises, Miriam; the woman who led his father astray. Oh, everybody knew about her back then. Younger, more shapely, white teeth and the full lips. The one who didn’t dare come to town…afterwards…

“Careful what you say, White Man. You might regret it…” Joseph’s quiet words are lost on Diksarel.

The dam bursts. “Regret? Regret? You bring Miriam here, this…damn woman who crushed my life as if it were nothing? Who took away my mother and killed my father? Who…sucked the very life out of my youth to make me an outcast? What the hell will I regret?”

Reverend Joseph holds up a hand. “Slow down, will you?” When Diksarel opens his mouth to say more, Joseph tells him to shut up. “Stop it! How dare you condemn this woman? I’ve known her for years, and the only thing she talks about, is that…incident…back in Upington. Now the good Lord has delivered you here in this godforsaken township – and He’s done it with a purpose. And, oh yes! I know her story by heart by now. Word for word I can repeat it. But you? You know nothing. You think you now, but you don’t. Now shut up and listen.”

The rebuke leaves Diksarel speechless for a while, allowing Miriam to approach him.

“You dear boy.” Three words. Diksarel gapes at her. Dear boy…? “I need to speak to you…”

***

They all knew about Meneer Labuschagne, the white man who visited Pastor Plaatjies so often. At first it was assumed that this was one of those rare friendships between men of different colour (back then it didn’t happen so often), but soon the idea took hold: this man was a spy for one of the Apartheid organisations.  Plaatjies wasn’t a man to shy away from issues: his fiery sermons attest to that fact. So he confronted Meneer Labuschagne and everything came out.

“You see, ” her face crinkles in a smile, “your father wasn’t stupid. He knew the Nationalists were wrong. He understood the plight of my people. But he worked for an organisation which dictated his way of thinking – and although he didn’t like it, he couldn’t afford to disappoint his employers. Back then, you fitted in or were labelled as a traitor. And believe me: once you’ve gone against the government, your life was over.” She hesitates for a second. “Just like today, I suppose.”

“Well, he and Plaatjies talked and talked. About the past. About the present. About the future. About how Meneer Labuschagne couldn’t see a future in the policies of the day. About the bloodshed that was sure to follow. About so many things – and most of them were stone walls that stood n the way of a peaceful solution to the country’s tomorrows.”

By now, Miriam is seated next to Diksarel, who has fallen quiet.

“In the end, it was your father who supplied information to Pastor Plaatjies. He said he felt he had no choice. If he wanted to help the country, he couldn’t keep on destroying the little chance for success that still existed.”

“But the Natinalists had people everywhere. Even in the locations. And they learnt about your father’s actions and they made a plan.”

If ever there were people who ‘could make a plan’, then the agents of BOSS would be in the top ten of all times. From being instrumental in building South Africa’s atom bombs, to eliminating ‘undesired elements’, they had ways and means to manage a variety of problems.

Meneer Labuschagne was an embarrassment. That was the bottom line. When they recruited him, he seemed like an agent with a bright future. But, over time, he supplied less and less information – some of it obviously false. Add to that the secretly recorded telephone conversation in which Meneer Labuschagne warned Pastor Plaatjies about a police raid on the township, and the case against the white traitor was sealed. He had to go. They had several choices: get rid of him permanently…or simply destroy his career and his future.

“Killing him would have been merciful – and that is one thing those men didn’t do. Mercy wasn’t big in their thinking back then. So, what did they do? They conjured up an affair with Pastor Plaatjies’ daughter – me. Clever, hey? Meneer Labuschagne and a black political activist destroyed by one bit of misinformation. Bang! Just like that. All that was necessary, was to spread the gossip around a bit. A word here in a bar, there in a shebeen. And the next thing you know – everybody talks about it.”

Diksarel’s father didn’t deny it. In fact, he said nothing. To protest would have been useless, anyway. And, since he couldn’t admit to his double role – something that was even worse than having an affair – he remained silent. Plaatjies, too, couldn’t say much. Who’d listen to him, come to think about it? Knowing his telephone was tapped and the location crawled with informants, he tried – for a while – to continue being a pastor in his church.

“But it couldn’t work. As much as the news of the affair broke up your family, so it did for us. My father had to move to Soekmekaar, where he was employed as a social worker. His career in the church was over. He was powerless against the might of BOSS, you see? One more wrong move…and who knows what would have happened?” Miriam Plaatjies sighs. “They might as well have killed us too. Maybe they did…”

“So, my father…and you…? Didn’t do it? Have an affair?”

The laugh-crinkles around her eyes deepen. “No, White Man, we didn’t. Your father was check-mated into silence, forced to endure the gossip, even to the point of wrecking his marriage and your life. Pretty much the same happened to me. I could have denied it, of course. I even tried to, once or twice. But in those days the scent of the scandal was just too strong, too juicy, and the white community lapped it up. The power of BOSS…” She lets the unfinished sentence hang in the air.

“But my father told my mother about you…”

“Your mother. Hermiena Labuschagne. Née Botha. Daugther of the minister. Staunch supporter of the government of the day. Left Upington to stay in Cape Town. Met a man there, a government man, and settled in Mowbray. She said he had admitted it. I won’t ever know if that wasn’t just another lie. You won’t either, now both of them are dead.”

“How…how do you know all these things?”

Again the smile – more sympathetic now. “I did some research. You see, after 1994 I started writing a book. It wasn’t very good, but one of my father’s friends read it. He’s in government now, that friend. Economics and things like that. He said it was a story that needed to be told, but I had to tell both sides. I knew he had a point, of course, but I never wanted to see Upington again. Never! So I settled here and tried to help the community wherever I can. I met Reverend Joseph, here.” She leans over to give the clergyman a hug. “And now you’re here…”

Diksarel finds it difficult to swallow. After all these years… Suddenly, after all these years of feeding that animal inside him, he feels…free.

“About that grudge…?”

Diksarel acknowledges Joseph’s prompt with a nod. Then he shakes his head. Not now. He can’t speak now…

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The Man in a Church

Credit: nj.com

Credit: nj.com

(Follows on the five previous posts)

Churches, Gerttruida is fond of saying, are often misunderstood. People go there to hear their sins are forgiven, and so often that is the only message they want to hear. And the pastors and reverends and priests have to keep an eye on the donations, so they have to get their flocks to keep on returning to hear the good news. That, Gertruida maintains, is the biggest blessing and the biggest curse of the modern-day church. If you don’t preach what your congregation wants to hear, you will have to return your brand-new BMW to the dealership. It’s become a game of numbers: a full church is a successful business.

Gertruida says that’s okay, and not a problem in itself. The issue is the message. Salvation is freely available, provided it is preceded by honest repentance and sorrow. It is in these few words many churches fail. Salvation isn’t a freeby the pastor hands out – it follows on a change of heart. People don’t want to hear that. They want to continue just the way they are, and get forgiveness every Sunday…

Admittedly, these thoughts doesn’t occupy Diksarel’s mind as he sits down in a front pew.  In fact, he’s a very worried man. Added to his previous woes, he now finds himself in a completely foreign environment.

Mama Sarah unsettled Diksarel with her questions. She wanted to know everything about him, his family, his work…and his problem. Then she left and he sat there, contemplating his impossible situation, until a dapper young man opened the door and asked (ordered) him to accompany him. Diksarel didn’t know whether to laugh or to pray when he asked, and the man told him they’re going to church.

It was a short walk through the township. The tin shacks, dilapidated wooden structures and cardboard homes flanked the dirty street where several mongrel dogs sniffed at him suspiciously. The people didn’t seem to pay attention, but Diksarel imagined a thousand eyes peering at him from hidden doorways and windows. Listless chickens squawked at him as he followed his guide, while a black cat scampered across the road, right in front of him. He tried to ignore the cat..

The ‘church’ was another surprise. Somehow Diksarel imagined a building with arched doorways and tinted windows. Instead, he was taken to a shed-like structure, no bigger than a lean-to, something you could park two small cars in. The front pew is a regulation church seat, but the rest of the space is occupied by a variety of chairs, boxes and crates which do duty as pews. In front – on a little platform – is a grandish, red chair and a small table. Diksarel can see some stars through the holes in the corrugated iron roof while his feet rest on the bare ground that serve as a floor.

Why did they bring him here? For some macabre ceremony, where they sacrificed sinners? If Diksarel wasn’t so scared, he would have cried… He ended up praying softly.

“Tell me again what you told Sister Sarah.” The booming voice stops Diksarel’s reverie. Surprised, Diksarel turns around to see who it belongs to.

The man is about his height, but twice his size. Like Mama Sarah, his face is round, making his nose and eyes appear too small and insignificant in the flat landscape between hairline and chin. The black coat barely makes it around the ample stomach, something the white shirt has given up on.

“W-w-who are you?”

“I’m the Right Reverend Joseph Mogatshe. Call me Joe. I’m the local preacher.” Apparently Reverend Joseph finds this funny as he punctuates his introduction with a guffaw. The coat holds up, despite the strain on its seams. “And you can talk to me, I’m harmless. Not like that young  man who brought you here. Not at all. I’d be very careful around him.” More laughter. “So tell me?” His eyes are suddenly steely-cold as he sits down heavily on the chair on the platform.

In for a penny…. Diksarel recounts the whole episode involving his fraud and Kneehigh’s involvement.

“No, not that part. The part about your father.” The folded fingers across the prominent middle drum out an impatient beat.

Ashamed, Diksarel has to tell it all again.

“So, your father was Philippus Johannes Labuschagne?”

The question catches Diksarel completely off-guard. At no point did anybody ask him his surname, and how the dickens did this man know his father’s names?

“I’m sorry.” For a second the steely eyes almost seem apologetic. “We went through your luggage. Found your ID in there, but not your passport – which I see you have in your top pocket. Of course, when I heard the story, I couldn’t believe it. But now…”

“I-I don’t understand?”

“Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. That is almost of no consequence.” The tiny eyes peer at Diksarel through the slits between the round cheeks and smooth forehead. “But, you know, the Bible tells us a lot about the sins of the fathers. And your father, my friend, was a very active man on that front. He went to a lot of trouble to make life difficult for a lot of people.”

“B-but that’s not my fault?” By now Diksarel is convinced something horrible is about to happen. His father was an agent for the Bureau of State Security…and heaven knows: those men and women have a lot to answer for. Perhaps – in the era gone by – their actions could be justified as ways to secure a stable society; but in hindsight much of what they did was indefensible. “I mean, I was a small boy back then. Society punished us – the whole family – for what my father did. And to this day, I’m still suffering the results of his infidelity. I’m so ashamed…” He’s almost pleading now.

“HAH! You white folk with your strange ideas! You talk about your suffering as if it happened to you alone! Have you any inkling, just the vaguest impression, of what we had to go through? And your father, the uptight, upright upholder of Apartheid, he was part of it! And now you plead your shame? What about us?”

Diksarel can only shake his head How do you answer to this?

“I’m sorry…” It sounds lame.

“So am I. So are a lot of people. Well, so be it. It’s time for you to meet somebody. Somebody who has a very specific reason to come to terms with the past.” The smile on Joseph’s face is humourless. “Let the past meet the present…”

Gertruida is right (again). Salvation isn’t automatic. It requires a lot of soul-searching and even more honesty. Diksarel is about to discover both…

 

The Curse of the Bogenfels (# 4)

Bogenfels shore line

Bogenfels shore line

“The Radical Action United Taskforce…” Gertruida has a puzzled frown. “Now why does that ring a bell?”

“I though you’d know, Gertruida?” Boggel holds a glass up to the light after shining it. “It sounds so much like the old government.”

“I’ll have to think back, Boggel. It’s been a long time.”

***

“And that’s all that I found in the archives.” Elsie pushes back her glass, nodding for a refill. “The Minister of Finances set up an expedition to go to Bogenfels to get something – what? Why? It was done in secret – why? My father was killed – why? And then I added the Nationalists mad scramble for money, got snippets on the Smit murders and the nebulous Radical Action United Taskforce.

“What was it with Bogenfels? It’s in one of the most inhospitable places in Southern Africa. While reading up on it, I found that a Spanish galleon sank there hundreds of years ago. The City of Baroda was torpedoed near it. I couldn’t see why it was so important?” Elsie took a small sip of her drink, waiting to see if a penny dropped amongst the listeners.

“But it is in the middle of the Sperrgebiet. Diamonds…?”  Gertruida, of course.

“Yes!” Elsie smiles as she watches the reaction of her audience. “At first I thought so, too. Bogenfels is in the middle of one of the richest diamond deposits on this earth, so naturally…” She pauses dramatically. “Then, neatly filed under ‘Sperrgebiet, Miscellaneous, , 1975-1980’, I found an item they labelled ‘Book, Sperrgebiet, 1978’. I wouldn’t have picked it up if the word Sperrgebiet and the date didn’t feature.”

 ***

I suppose this will be the last entry. We have no water left. Food finished three days ago. Captain Parker left us this evening. Wandered off. Only two of us left now. Mission failed.

If found, please tell Margie I loved her. Bitterly cold. No fire. I wanted to go home…

“The sad thing is: the front page and a lot of the rest had been destroyed by wind and sun and weather. They didn’t know who wrote these words, nor who ‘Margie’ was. In fact, when I asked about the ‘diary’, the archivist looked at me blankly and said he didn’t have a clue. Then he looked it up in his computer – and told me it came to the archives from the office of General van den Bergh.”

Gertruida gasps. “ The boss of BOSS? The Bureau of State Security?”

“Exactly. In the post-Apartheid era, many of the former government’s offices had to be cleared out to make room for the new dispensation. Apparently the archives received masses of papers, documents, books and letters they had to sort and archive somehow. This book came from the BOSS offices, was neatly placed in its plastic envelope, labelled as best as they could…and left to rot on the shelf. And, because it only contained one or two pages of legible writing, it was left to be forgotten.”

“But it tells us a lot, Elsie.” Gertruida just loves a mystery. “On that page you have confirmation of an expedition, men dying of hunger and thirst, and it was found in the Sperrgebiet. Above all, it mentions your father. Obviously it is connected with BOSS. And don’t forget: it says mission failed. That means they didn’t succeed in doing – or finding – what they set out to do.”

“Exactly.” Elsie fishes out a cigarette, lights it and inhales deeply. “I was still puzzling about it, when two nights later I had some visitors…”

 ***

PompadourHairstylesThey were typical of the men BOSS employed back in its heyday. Suited, hats, 70’s long hairstyles. On the streets of Pretoria in 1978, they would have been labelled as “well-dressed ducktails’. Ferret faced; black pointed shoes. Overconfident. Sadly, not as handsome as some movie stars.

She was, they said, to stop prying. Go on a holiday. Forget the past. “We mean you no harm, understand? It would be a pity if something happened to you.”

That’s all. They left before she could ask a question.

***

“That’s when I knew I was onto something big. These men came to warn me off – but I had no idea why…or what.”

“I’m sure you pieced it together, Elsie.” Gertruida doesn’t like the way this woman is playing it out. Obviously she knew more than she was letting on. By acting the broken wing role, she was hoping for sympathy and help – and that’s okay…as long as she remains honest. “What were your thoughts, Elsie? Why did you come here?”

Elsie fixes Gertruida with a knowing stare. She’ll have to be careful with this one…

“I think something of great value is hidden at Bogenfels. Something so big, so secret, that the Nationalists kept it away from their own people. And I think the old secret service structures are still aware of it and wouldn’t like amateurs prodding at something they’ve buried. And…no matter what that might be…I’d like to know what happened to my father. I need to get closure on that, see?

“So, where do I turn to? Who do I ask to help? I can’t tackle the Sperrgebiet on my own, can I? I needed somebody who understands the way of the desert. I needed somebody I can trust. I needed that somebody to be a nobody – a person so far below the intelligence services’ radar, they’d never think he’d assist me. And I needed to disappear, as well.

“Those men scared the hell out of me, I can tell you. They were so casual and off-hand..but their eyes were cold and hard. I understood them perfectly – if I didn’t lay off, I’d come to grief.

“So, what could I do? I disappeared. Came here – to a place few people know of. And linked up with Servaas, the only man I really can trust. So there. Satisfied?”

A single tear coursed its way down her cheek, causing Boggel to offer a box of tissues.

Somehow, they all turn to Servaas, who has been listening quietly. He shrugs, spreads his arms wide…and says nothing.

“Well,” Gertruida sums up the situation, “either we do something, or we don’t. Easy as that. Doing nothing is maybe the wisest choice. I know,” she emphasises her statement by lowering her voice, “that the old and the new intelligence services are not much different. They even have a number of the old agents still active in the field.

“Taking into consideration the visit Elsie had, I think it would be short-sighted to make enquiries – however discreet. She’s right: we can’t trust anybody. If Bogenfels is the place where something of value is hidden, and if Captain Parker was sent to retrieve it…well, I don’t know? Basically: either we go find it or we remain right here downing Green Ambulances.”

0250Gertruida drums the counter with restless fingers. “That unit? The Radical Action United Taskforce? I remember something about them. They took out opponents of the State. Palme, Lubowski, even John Vorsters’ ‘stroke’. And of course, Dulcie September…people like that. They did it in such a way, nobody knew who did it, why, how, and so on. But they slipped up once. Only once. Two men, only known by their code names – Erlank and MacDougle – left a calling card at the Smit murder scene.”

Boggel grasps it immediately. “The RAU TEM spray-painted on the wall of the Smit home after the murders?”

“Yes, Boggel. They left an explicit warning to anybody opposing the government – or exposing any of their underhand dealings. Those guys played for keeps. I suspect they still do…”

An uneasy silence descends on Boggel’s Place.. The mysterious visitor to Rolbos may well be threatening to end their peaceful existence…

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…