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Log in to view your Bookings We see you haven't logged in recently. Please log in to view your bookings page. Log in to access your supplier portal We take your security seriously. Please log in to protect your business from unauthorized access. He seldom showed any emotion and shied away from any attempt to express his innermost feelings. We seldom see each other and I would say that we are now friendly but not close. Shortly before the escape Alex proposed, in the form of an ultimatum, that I should break the electric light bulb in my cell to divert the night warder.
I told him that nobody had to help but might be asked to help. We had to find a way to justify calling Vermeulen at the moment it was necessary. We could wait for a coincidental lightning storm but that was too unpredictable. Alex demanded the short circuit. I would have to cause it in my cell by breaking my light bulb.
But how could I do that without giving the authorities the proof they would love to have that I was part of the escape plot? Torture was always a possibility. Who knows whether he is strong enough to resist blabbing out everything he knows, especially after years of imprisonment? A rough ride in prison thereafter was a certainty. That was of no concern to our Alex!
My study privileges meant a great deal to me. They were a key element in my survival. Everybody took me to be a diligent student. I had been studying for 15 years already, often for ten hours a day. How do you fill the time without the electric light that goes with the study privilege? Every newcomer to our group in prison found that having so much time to study was a great advantage.
They envied me a little. In reality, I would much rather have been free to do many other things! What upset me most was that Alex demanded of me, with such absolute certainty of his position, that I should make his escape possible. In his mind, I am sure, I was the lifer and therefore of no further value. He could not hear my arguments. I had grown a thick skin during my years in prison, but this was too much. Some in our group were quite nervous about the escape. Their responses ranged from willing help through guarded participation to reluctant acceptance.
For Alex, and for Tim, each was a soldier in the revolution and therefore duty-bound to escape. I found myself in the same position except that I did not see myself escaping. Alex wanted to escape at all costs.
He could think of nothing else. He feared that his life would disintegrate with his wife and son turning away from him. He had named his son Boris after his Soviet trainer. I do not know if Boris was his real name or a cover name, but it would have made no difference to Alex. Alex believed with absolute certainty that Boris was trying to send him messages. He was so obsessed with this that he wanted to read and examine all our letters for hidden messages.
Predictably, Boris made no contact at all. There were times when Alex was so aggressive and acting without finesse that some of his actions threatened more harm than good. Like a bull in a china-shop he came close to smashing everything on a number of occasions. Of course he was totally unaware of all this. In the end none of this mattered.
Eventually we hit upon the obvious solution to the problem: use the trip switches. Vermeulen would not be suspicious. I would call him to reset the switches, keep him talking, and our three would be away. The escape was discovered by Sergeant Badenhorst when he unlocked our cells the next morning.
Every day the heavy steel doors were opened and we were still locked up behind the steel grill in each cell. Badenhorst had come in through the street door with the lock broken but had not noticed anything suspicious. He opened the first door. Stephen Lee was still lying in bed.
He opened the second door and Tim was also still in bed. I was third in line and I was at attention, innocently standing at attention behind my grill. Badenhorst, turning back, saw that the first two had not got up. Suddenly he realised there were dummies in their beds. I watched him the whole time. He turned chalk white and staggered back against the passage wall. I thought he had fainted or had a heart attack. After a moment he pulled himself upright and called for his superior.
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Oom Piet. Prison officer Pieterse, in reality a friendly type who seldom lost his nerve, came up the stairs, saw the damage and then briskly opened all the cells to see if there were others missing. I thought I saw him give me a small smile. Alex, much further down the passage, had also escaped.
When I was asked about the escape, I naturally knew nothing. I had played my guitar and I had listened to the nightly concert of recorded music. Then I had called Vermeulen because the lights had gone out. Nothing unusual had happened. I did not think it necessary to add that Alex had passed my cell and waved goodbye, the signal for me to give the three escapers time to hide in the cupboard after they had tripped the light switches before I called Vermeulen.
On the morning after the escape, when the security people descended en masse on our prison, the high officials showed great amazement that I was still there. If anyone had reason to escape, then surely it was you! Communists always hold out and fight to the end. Even the prison officers understood that I was the one who had to escape. Only my fellow prisoner Alex could not grasp it.
The security police put David Rabkin and Tony Holiday through the wringer. What they thought they would get from them remains a mystery. Many high-ranking security officers came to the prison. Each first made sure that I was indeed still there and seemed to become much calmer when they had seen me. Because of the unusual circumstances Rabkin senior, now a British businessman, was able to meet General Roux, the second highest officer in Prisons. I hope that the prisoners remaining behind will not be punished for the escape.
The security police arrested Vermeulen and locked him away for some months until they charged him with assisting the escape. They forced a confession out of him through threats of physical violence.
He said that he had been promised a payment of a laughably small amount of R He was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment. He appealed against the conviction and was found not guilty. During the case against Vermeulen, Stephen, in London, told a British newspaper about the escape and how they had achieved it.
There were divided opinions about it because that was helping an official of the hated regime. However, he showed through his action, seen by the whole world, that we, despite anything Vermeulen might have done in his daily life, preserved our sense of humanity and acted accordingly. He was a person who hated injustice and fought against it. He fought against the injustice of apartheid as he would against any injustice. A ruling was made after the escape that we should remain locked up on Sundays. Previously we had been allowed to use the courtyard to move about and exercise.
Now it appeared that this privilege had to be withdrawn because there were not enough warders to guard us. I saw this as a hidden punishment and demanded to speak to Brigadier Gericke immediately. I had known him since when he was a Captain. I was so insistent in my argument that the weekend staff did not lock us up. However, Gericke would not allow his Sunday to be disturbed. He came only on Monday morning.
You obviously ordered that we were not to be locked up on Sunday. Thank you. I do know, Brigadier, that you will come only when you wish to.
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Honour and ego were satisfied! In his office he asked me to tell him of the things that were troubling us. I can still see how this very large man took out his very large and very expensive Mont Blanc fountain pen.
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He noted down our complaints about studies, letters, the way visits were controlled and, above all, the deteriorating conduct of the warders. He wrote down everything in great detail. I have to say that he dealt with all the issues within a few days and things did get a bit better.
Tim and Alex managed to cross the border into Swaziland within 24 hours and then further into Mozambique. Stephen hid out in Johannesburg and was later smuggled across the border. More than a year later a number of people were arrested and because of their involvement with him they were tried and imprisoned. Raymond Suttner later told me how severely a prisoner is affected by the terror of a renewed round of interrogation when his constitution has been weakened by long years of imprisonment.
After completing his prison sentence with us in Pretoria Raymond was arrested again and held in preventive detention, in solitary confinement, for a period that had no predetermined length of time. In the end he had a little bird for companionship in his cell. It slept on his chest and saved him from insanity, he said.
After the first report of the escape, with no details of who had fled, many people assumed or hoped that I had to be one of them. Her phone calls stopped immediately after Alex was reported to be safe in Mozambique. What hurt the most, she said, was the callousness of the younger comrades like Josie and those who escaped, who made no effort to comfort her. Baruch Hirson was deeply disappointed when the escapees arrived in London without me.
He was upset that all his efforts, mainly to enable me to escape, had been ignored. Later, after my release from prison, I spoke to him in London about the escape and indicated some of the problems, but nowhere nearly as fully as I have done here. Of course I would have loved to arrive in London as the hero who had escaped.
It was at the time difficult for me to accept that I had to remain behind. I rejoiced in their success and despite my own disappointment I was very proud of my comrades for the role we had all played in achieving this slap in the face we gave the apartheid regime. Courage alone, without that precision, would not have been enough. I could live with my decision and made the best of the rest of my time in prison. My continued presence was a benefit for our whole group. When I was released in a bit more than five years later, I heard from Rob Adam that their conditions became considerably worse.
The weather might not seem to be important in prison. But it is. After the great escape of Tim, Alex and Stephen in December our prison had been rebuilt to increase the security. Remote-controlled doors, which required a huge key and a massive tommy bar to force them open when the mechanism broke down, were an indication of the seriousness with which the authorities took our incarceration.
The whole system of guarding us, whether we were four prisoners or ten now required a staff of 38 officials including a captain, a lieutenant, several warrant officers, sergeants and warders to watch over us. Then there was a system of microphones, bugs, embedded in walls and fittings to enable them to overhear our conversations. This was not a piece of speculation born of our paranoia. We knew for a fact that they were bugging us. We would plan what we would say to the Captain on some or other matter such as health, food, visits, letters, the conduct of a warder, or about the movies we were allowed to see.
He would answer our arguments before we had finished. He would even answer the points in the order in which we planned to raise them. There were times when I would keep back some arguments that I had not spoken aloud and therefore the Captain had not heard them through the bugging apparatus. He answered what he had heard. Then I put the reserve arguments to him. The Captain would be dumbfounded! He had not had time to prepare his answer.
He would look at me with a wry smile, knowing he had been caught out. I would smile "sweetly" or as innocently as I could manage to avoid embarrassing him further. Sometimes the technique worked and we got what we wanted.
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Sometimes it failed. But it was one form of amusement! On one occasion I forgot about the bugging devices. I explained to someone that I often spoke in Afrikaans when I wanted something from the authorities.
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If speaking "their" language aided the process of communication that suited me very well. In fact I spoke Afrikaans well and with enjoyment. The manipulative aspect seemed to me to be a legitimate tactic. It amused me to find Captain X insisting on speaking English to me to show that he was resisting the manipulation, and giving up his language rights at that moment.
Sometimes, as a long-term prisoner, you just cannot lose. When we returned to our rebuilt prison after nearly three years in a cell in Beverley Hills where there were no windows to the outside, I was given a cell with a view. The scene was not very beautiful. Twenty metres away was a blank golden brown brick wall. The ground was concreted from wall to wall.
No longer could we bury homemade keys in the garden soil, as Tim had done. But the wind did blow in. I could put my hand out through the bars and feel rain drops and rub the wetness over my face. I could smell the rain. Pretoria is known for its electric storms.