Tag Archives: John Vorster

The Curse of the Bogenfels (# 7)

images (65)General Matotsi comes from a long line of shepherds: he’s used to being obeyed.  Running DEAD is a simple affair for him: you issue orders and await results. This time, however, reality didn’t fit into the scenario he had hoped for. Surely warning off an old lady cannot be this complicated?

He gets off the helicopter. trying to look grim. Unfortunately, his features pucker themselves up in a cartoon-like resemblance of Nemo, which is why Gertruida has to concentrate to keep her face straight. The little general stomps in to Boggel’s Place, comes to a halt, and studies the bemused faces studying him.

“What is this all about?” Attack being the best form of defense, he doesn’t bother introducing himself.

“Ah yes. You must be the general?” Syrup dripping from Gertruida’s words. “Come in, dear man. Sit down. It’s so hot outside, you must be thirsty? What can Boggel get you, sir?”

Matotsi cannot decide whether the woman is stupid or being sarcastic. Nevertheless, he sits down at the counter, refusing the beer Boggel is waving at him, growling “Not while I’m on duty.”

Boggel nods with his understanding barman face, suggests a cooldrink, and excuses himself to fetch it from the storeroom.

“We still have the other chap.” Vetfaan seems to be talking to his glass. “A veritable fountain of information he’s been. I actually like him. Pity he isn’t here. Not feeling well, he said.”

“Wha…?” Matotsi swings around to face Vetfaan. “Where is he?”

“Listen, General, let’s get something straight. This is Boggel’s Place. Maybe you’ve never heard about it, which explains your confusion. The first rule upon entering here, is that you stomp the dust off your boots, take off your hat and say hello. Then, if you don’t know the people, you introduce yourself. Thirdly, we only drink cooldrink when the cactus runs out. Otherwise we’d think you’re a bit of a whimp, see?’

Matotsi can only stare at the big man.

“So, let’s start over, shall we? I’m Vetfaan and you’re…?”

The general gives his surname, but Vetfaan shakes his head. “First name?”

“Alpheus.” By now the general is completely unsettles. Who are these people?

“Okay, Alphie, this is how it’s going to play out. We’re a peaceful bunch over here. We don’t pick fights – especially the ones we cannot win. But we do believe in peace and harmony and we subscribe to equal opportunities. See? We have women in the bar and a disabled barman. We also practice religious freedom, which explains why Oudoom’s church isn’t always full on Sundays.

“But we don’t assault old men, and we don’t threaten mature ladies. That’s what your men have been doing. We don’t take kindly to that. Gertruida – she’s the one over there – knows all about DEAD and she’s written a most entertaining letter about it and it’s recent activities regarding the lady over there, Elsie. Now she’s waiting to see if she must post it to The Mail and Guardian.

“I suggest we all sit down, relax, and share a brandy. Then, as becomes civilised men, let’s have a friendly chat.”

This is the longest speech anybody has ever heard Vetfaan make, and it is so eloquent that he receives muted applause from the Rolbossers.

“Ja. And tell your three men – the bodyguards outside – to take a scenic tour of the town and its surroundings. They make me nervous.” Kleinpiet feels he has to say something, anything, to show everybody he’s brave, too. He puts on his Basset face when he gets no response from the little crowd…

Gertruida says you mustn’t think shepherds are stupid. They live in the veld, get to know the weather very well, and understand risks. Matotsi weighs up the odds as he accepts his cooldrink from Boggel. If he tastes the generous tot of Vodka in the orange juice, he shows no sign of it.

***

Gertruida is fond of saying alcohol is the greatest social lubricant ever invented. She also says smaller quantities are the source of great wisdom – before the next glass brings out the imbecile in you.

So it’s no surprise to find the bar a rather rowdy place two hours later. Vetfaan discovered that he and Matotsi must have had each other in their sights during the bush war. Strangely, it forms a bond between the two men.

“You were at Cuito Cuanaval? Hey man, that time I was really scared! Eish…I think we all were.”

Vetfaan nods, orders another round, and tells Matotsi he still wakes up at night, hearing the mortars explode.

“I do, too,” Alpheus Matotsi admits, clinking his glass with Vetfaan’s.

“Now tell me, Alphie. What’s this with you being involved with scaring old ladies? You guys fought bravely in Angola…what’s with you now?”

 ***

Matotsi remains silent for a long time.

“I’ll tell you,” he says after obviously coming to a decision. “But what I say now, remains here. I have the power – and the influence – to make your lives…very difficult. Understand?”

Oudoom assures the general that they won’t whisper a single word of the conversation. He doesn’t lie – he didn’t say anything about talking or writing.

The general’s account tends to drift off the subject every now and then, but Gertruida manages to piece it together.

The Nationalist government realised it was in trouble in the 70’s. The world was turning against them, their funds were drying up, and civil unrest took it’s toll. They were still firmly in the saddle, though – but they needed a lot of money to keep them there.

images (66)It was general van den Bergh who remembered the story of the City of Baroda. It was one of the bits of gossip making the rounds in the internment camp where the pro-British government of the 40’s held the members of the Ossewabrandwag (who sympathised with Germany).

According to the talk in the camp where van den Bergh and John Vorster were locked up, the Third Reich was crumbling under the combined assault of the Allies. However, the die-hard members of the Hitler regime refused to believe the end of the war would be the end of the Nazi dream. No, they planned a Fourth Reich.

“The Germans smuggled out something to South West Africa.” By now Matotsi had to concentrate really hard to keep the narrative together. “Had a lot of sympathy there amongst the people – most of whom still spoke German as a first language. And then they wanted to let their sympathisers in South Africa know about it. So a letter and a box containing evidence of what they’ve done, was sent to a member of the South African parliament – somebody they trusted. But…” he waves a wobbly finger in the air, “the box was on a ship. Ironically, the ship was sunk by a German U-boat.”

Matotsi’s eyes, set high and wide on his pointed face, starts drooping. Boggel immediately serves a mug of strong, black coffee.

$T2eC16F,!yMFIcTu(VTBBSM22eyPyQ~~60_35“Van den Bergh guessed this had to do with a massive fortune. Gold. He knew the Nazi’s already established a bank in Monaco in 1943 where they tried to hide their treasures. Later, in an investigation by the Americans into the way Germany tried to secrete away money for later use, they confirmed that a shipment of gold was smuggled to South West Africa.”

“Operation Safehaven,” Gertruida whispers. “The West stealing the assets the Germans stole…”

General Matotsi almost loses his balance as he spins around to face Gertruida.

“You know about this?”

Boggel laughs. “She knows everything, Alphie. Everything. Get used to it.”

“Oh.” Matotsi sipped the scalding coffee. “Well, that was what Boss was looking for back in the 70’s. The Minister of Finances sent an expedition. They died in the desert. That was the end of it, until this woman started poking around.” His one eye focussed on Elsie. “And we couldn’t have that. No sir. Not at all.”

“Why, Alphie?”

“Because we’re looking for it, too…”

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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…