The news is by your side.

Extracts from 69 Days by Rev Chris Wessels

IN KRUGER’S CLUTCHES

“Strip! No, everything. Your socks also. Yes, you may keep your underpants on.”

They leave. The clanging of the keys in the first set of doors, and then in the second … Footsteps die away, and an unearthly silence descends on the place.

The clanging of the keys in the steel doors still reverberates in my ears as I look around in the dusk. I can hardly see. I take my five mats and put them on top of one another. They said I could take as many mats and blankets as I wished.  I knew it was against their rules. The great gift of so much to sleep on was only because I chimed in when they discussed the Curry Cup rugby match of the previous Saturday. Yes, my Boer psychology had worked, albeit only for a while.

I look around and see a bucket toilet in the right hand corner opposite the door. It’s freezing cold, but I wrap a blanket round me and go to the only window.  It is built up in little panes with just enough space to peep through with one eye. I must be about 30 to 40km from Port Elizabeth. Where can my house be in this see of lights? That must be Swartkops and those lights New Brighton. I can’t place Korsten and Highfield Road. I wonder what my young wife with little four-year-old Uta and Christopher are doing … thinking … feeling … Dad taken away by the police for the second time … what is going on in those little minds now? We are such a tightly knit unit tied together with such deep cords of affection. I will get sick from the cold that is creeping up my bare legs and feet …. I could never endure much cold, being a summer baby.

In silence I kneel, covered with some blankets, just quiet in His presence. I pray. I may not survive this ordeal, therefore I have to commend my loved ones to His almighty hands.

The call of nature disturbs my communion with my Maker and my thoughts of my loved ones. Now, as I stand with bare feet on the concrete floor and feel the cold air creeping up to my thighs, the cold is unbearable. I struggle to fall asleep because the events of the past week keep whirling about in my mind. (Pages 15 and 16.)

 

SPIDERS ON THE MENU

During the night, I woke up with a funny taste in my mouth. My mouth had touched the blanket. The taste was terribly bitter – or had something else woken me up? In the semi-darkness of early dawn, in that cell that was always dark because it had no electricity, I saw a man framed in the doorway. He was a sturdy middle-aged man, in charge of the police station.

The Officer asked me if I was OK. When I said that I had no toilet paper, he said that he would bring me some. Later on the warden came with old unused prison files, printed in the fifties. From my previous detention I knew that parade was at 6h30, and then breakfast was served. Soon afterwards, the warden arrived with a bowl of mieliepap. My legs and arms were purple and I knew, having grown up in a rural town, that I was covered in spider bites.

Breakfast, lunch and supper that day, were like bitter pills. I could only manage three spoonfuls at a time. After supper was served at 4:00 in the afternoon, the hunger pangs got to me. The food was totally strange.

At the end of the week, I had to decide if I was going to starve to death or force down their food. I decided to force it down – “hope springs eternal in the human breast” – I was not going to give them my life on a golden plate. But would I succeed in forcing myself to eat the food? (Pages 17 and 18.)

 

BLANKETS UP FOR GRABS

My Boer psychology did not work for long. On the third day, a Security Policeman appeared at my cell door with a white police officer who worked at the prison. He had a piece of paper in his hand and was arguing with the officer about what I was allowed in my cell. The officers who had come on the previous day to check up on me, were not the ones that had brought me there. They must have seen that I had too many blankets and mats.

But here I was alone at Kinkelbos. I had made a path with the five mats because I cannot walk barefoot on the concrete floor. Exercise was a must in prison. Now they were taking away two mats, as well as the blankets that I put on the mats like sheets to prevent the cold from coming through. With the remaining three mats, I managed to make another smaller, track to walk on. In that confined space, I could at least execute the exercise program that I had committed to memory because I had no pen or paper. (Pages 19 and 21.)

 

THE SNAKE AND THE CALL

I pulled the dirty blankets right up to my chin because the slightest little bit of cold air coming in was excruciating in this coastal resort of mine where the chilly breeze from the sea penetrated every corner. In this badly constructed facility, people like us were really meant to suffer in every way, because we were regarded as very bad people by the police. (Page 22.)

 

THE BIG TRICK

One day the wardens came to our cells and said that we should clean our cells

that day. The cells were to remain open for the day. We enjoyed the November sun and worked diligently to clean our cells, which were not really dirty because we cleaned it every day. The President of the cell had to keep a roster and appoint people to clean the cell every day, which in any case was not a big deal. There was not much to do and yet the wardens were not satisfied.

So we enjoyed the sunshine and played games in which the wardens also joined. It never entered our minds that the tan we got from exposure to the sun might also be something important. This new thing was a riddle to us. Perhaps, we thought we were going to be released. This funny cleaning process went on for two days, and yet we could not find out what this was all about. Then suddenly we got mattresses to sleep on as well as sheets. Now this was really extraordinary. Something very important was in the offing because why all of a sudden all this generosity and upgrading of all our facilities?

To our great surprise, representatives of the International Red Cross arrived at our cells. The wardens left them alone with us. They wanted to know how we were being treated, and if we were satisfied with the facilities. What could we say? (Pages 37 and 38)