Prisoner Exchange

I don’t know who remembers the exchange of Major Wynand du Toit – who had been languishing in an Angolan jail for more than two years at the time – for 133 FAPLA soldiers, Frenchman/communist Pierre Albertini and Dutchman/“terrorist” Klaas de Jonge on the tarmac at Maputo airport on 7 September 1987. I don’t remember it myself. I was freshly back at Rhodes after a year in Italy and everybody was either in hiding or paranoid about getting picked up by the security police and so, I suspect, any significant debate with first year students about the events beyond the Groot Visrivier fell by the wayside briefly. Or maybe even the white left had their head up its ass.

Whatever. But to get back to that that is history. Whether you remember it or not, in some way or another, to somebody it was real. A singular even may be remembered differently by the different people who were there (which blurs the line between history and fiction, as we know) but nonetheless, if it happened, chances are that it has been recorded somewhere and was, hence, real. Except if it had been recorded by the SABC in the 1980’s. Then all bets are off.

Still, the release of Wynand du Toit was a well-recorded event, even beyond our own state broadcaster, and I have recently had the occasion to spend time with the man who 1) negotiated the entire deal – let’s call him Monsieur Jacques – and 2) the funny guy with the red hair following Pik Botha and Major du Toit to the aircraft that would take them to Cape Town from Maputo on the day in question.

It’s been a long day and I am not going to go into detail about the whole thing, anybody can read that on the web, or in the very badly written book by Alan Soule, Gary Dixon and Rene Richards. What is not in the book, however, is a very entertaining story about what happened to Monsieur Jacques after the exchange took place and everybody flew off in their different directions: France, Holland, Angola, Cape Town.

He was left on the tarmac.

Here is a guy who, for mysterious reasons under extreme circumstances, put together a deal that pleased the French government (possibly so much that they momentarily forgot about the international arms embargo against our beloved republic), the SADF (who was, let’s not forget, de facto running the country in the ‘80’s) and Jonas Savimbi Pik Botha. I am not really suggesting that the end of Klaas de Jonge’s diplomatic occupation of the Dutch embassy in Pretoria, even after the Dutch had moved to new premises and were probably, secretly, begging the CCB to just make him another casualty of Apartheid as the double lease was hard to explain to the auditors, was uppermost in our Minister of Foreign Affairs’ mind at the time. I am just thinking that this is possible.

But back to Monsieur Jacques. Here was a guy that put this unlikely deal together, spent seven months travelling across flying-bullet zones in order to negotiate with all the interested parties (he did not have to go to Amsterdam, where bullets were not flying), and when the last journalists have packed up their pencils and vacated Maputo International Airport, found himself in need of a ride back to South Africa.

He eventually, he told us tonight over a really excellent roast tomato soup and a glass of Jordan Chameleon, managed to hitch a ride with a private charter to PE, where he landed at 2 am the next morning. Then he had to catch the regular red-eye to Cape Town where, furious and in need of luxury, he booked himself into the presidential suite at the Mount Nelson.

“These fucking South Africans…” he apparently thought.

Pik Botha apparently organised a formal thanking session with PW Botha within 24hrs, and sometime after that some major award was bestowed on him. Like the Order of the Cape of Good Hope, or something.

I cannot imagine that it was adequate compensation.

But it was a very funny story. I love it when the truth is stranger than fiction.


3 thoughts on “Prisoner Exchange

  1. Spear The Almighty 4 October 2010 / 14:12

    Amazing. 🙂 Behind the scenes details are always the best details.

  2. hardspear 5 October 2010 / 14:22

    I remember. I was somewhere in high school. Haven’t thought of him in years. The Huisgenoot certainly reported regularly pre-and post his release. Funny what details stick. I remembered he used to love Wilbur Smith and re-read the copies he was sent whilst prisoner many times over. I also remember the Afrikaans community was shocked at his swimming naked in the ocean (whilst being photographed for the Huisgenoot) immediately after his release. Wat better way to celebrate freedom?

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