Nine days before my wakening.
I went looking for the rehab centre where Yolandi had once met Lelie, her real mother – the woman with the unforgettable scars. But I wasn’t sure if I had arrived at the right place. It was burnt and in pieces, picked away by the desperate Africa around it, recycled for dignity – for a home perhaps – for a few Rands at the nearest scrap yard. What were once tall gates were now torn down and brown grass grew khaki through the paving that led to the front reception. The windows were removed and where they were not, they were blackened and broken, shattered on the damp floor where several homeless had finally made a home. What was left was a shell of a place where Yolandi had once met her scarred mother, Lelie. But there was no sign of Lelie or her scars. She was gone.
A black man, middle aged, stepped from a small guard hut, which by then, I could only assume had become his tiny home. As homes go here, he had done well for himself: Outside, a small DSTV dish was the crown of everything he owned – a bed, a TV, and a two-plate gas stove. It was a little home for the little dignity the world had spared him.
I spoke in the broken Zulu that I knew, Sepedi too, strung together with the glue of Afrikaans.
‘There used to be a woman who was a patient here,’ I said after I greeted him, ‘Lelie. Do you know her?’
I showed the man a photo of Lelie, of her scars, and just as the photos had done to me when I first saw them, they too sent him into panic. Immediately, he disappeared into his little home and locked the door.
I knocked again.
He knew something, but what? For the sake of the answers, for the sake of my soul’s peace, for the sake of mine and Van Vuuren’s resolution, I needed to know how he knew Lelie and why he was afraid. Why was this not as simple as photos should be – and why did they lead me here? Why did I dare come?
So, as it is here, as it is everywhere, I used money to lure the man from the hut; the risk of departing with dangerous information was quelled by the thought of what I then offered him and what that could buy poverty here. He took it, and when he did, he warned me what they would do to me:
‘They will kill you, Mfana.’
He ushered me into his home. It was cosy. And warm. And the smell of burnt pap, as it was scabbed to the two-plate gas stove, reminded me of my mother’s ancestral home. Matches on his bedside table were red-Lion-yellow, and a small navy bible beneath spectacles meant that he believed in something – in a God that he perhaps prayed to for a better life. I sat on the edge of his bed. And for all I was and for all I had accomplished as South Africa’s ‘next big thing’, he did not know my face or my name. I, like any other man, was his ordinary guest. And I, although anxious about his words, felt comfortable with him.
‘I was working here in 2013’ he continued, ‘I was a security guard that time.’
He glanced through his curtains before he continued, afraid still that someone might be listening. But who? Outside the grass was silent; a breeze blew through its dancing khaki, spilling it red with blood. Like the blood of our ancestors, it was stained in the highveld beigness: Someone evil had been here wearing his own shade of khaki and with his heavy foot had flattened this place.
‘The boss was going to shoot her but he did not,’ the guard continued, ‘Instead, he said that I must take her to hide her. To keep her alive.’
[On the abandonment of Lelie at Krugesdorp. UmKhonto we Sizwe Headquarters, within the depths of a hidden mine somewhere beneath the Johannesburg CBD. May 2019. Two months before my wakening.]
Nkosana: Did you kill her that day? Did you kill Lelie?
Van der Stel: No. I was ordered to but I could not. Van X was very clear that she needed to die but there is only so much a man can do for a war, a war that cannot be won.
Nkosana: Why did he want her dead?
Van der Stel: We didn’t need her anymore. We had Van Vuuren – and we were confident that we could time travel without her genetics. She was safer dead than in your hands.
Nkosana: So why did you let her live, then? Why risk it all that day and let her live?
Van der Stel: Do you think I am a monster, Nkosana, a monster like the people who made me? When a crying mother is on her knees with nothing, and you are responsible for everything she is and has lost, what part of me left could have shot her then? I am tired of the war, Nkosana, just like you are. So when Van X drove away that day, I left her alive. I passed her along to a security guard and paid him to help her disappear. Then I burnt the place – as were my orders.
Nkosana: So why didn’t you come to us six years ago? Why now?
Van der Stel: There are things I did not know then. There are evils not even I could imagine. Van X and the boy will destroy this country, I assure you that. Everything that has happened in this war will pale in comparison to what will come if we do not stop them.
Nkosana: Can they be stopped?
Van der Stel: Yes. It is possible.
Nkosana: But we will need Lelie if hope to travel.
Van der Stel: No. We will need her genetics only. Her offspring. There is a daughter. Yolandi.
Meanwhile, I kicked around the burnt bits of rehab memories. As usual, nothing but questions. They cut at me like the glass did my shoes, like Van Vuuren’s knife once did to the air between us. What have you done, Frans Van Vuuren, I thought. What have you done?
Disturbed, I drove to a nearby lookout and stared out at the immensity of our skyline. Joburg was deep red then, and from where I was, it sat pretty between two sunset koppies. Lelie was somewhere inside it, barely breathing, and with her, were all of the answers to the list of questions that would not only change my life here, but everyone’s, here in the land of the Mandela Men, here in our land of khaki secrets.
I drove away that day looking for her, deep in thought.
Inside, I was screaming.