As they sat in a somber silence, colonel van Reenen realized something, and he spoke. “Gentlemen, the airports will be watched by the government and swamped by foreigners trying to get out. Getting nearly five million people out by air isn’t going to happen fast, even with the best of intentions, and the blacks won’t be interested in that- blood is what they’re after. Hell, it could take months at least for an airborne evacuation. No, it’ll have to be by road, convoys emanating from the major urban areas and joined by those from towns and villages, if they can make their way. These convoys must head towards the Namibian border, nowhere else. Getting the word out will be a problem because the cellular networks seem to be down, but that’s for another time to sort out. Once people get on the freeways, the army and air force are going to be on them and the people will be under attack, stuck in line. If that is allowed to go unchallenged, it will be a slaughter. I know it’s asking a lot, but Henk and Johan will need to contact every western nation’s embassy in Windhoek and ask them to create no fly zones for the areas at least 40 kilometers on either side of the freeways to prevent jets, ground troops and armor from moving in on the freeways. If the Americans and others agree to this, they’re going to need at least one carrier battle group with electronic warfare planes, aerial surveillance, special forces on the ground to coordinate attacks on targets and if possible, access to that base in Botswana so their teams can be resupplied and rotated from there. This is going to be a big mission, with a lot of responsibility on just two men’s shoulders, but Henk and Johan, you must do this and keep at it until you can’t anymore, or else we’re all dead.” The old men looked at each other and became even more serious, realizing the magnitude of what they were asking. After all, how the hell were two guys going to convince entire governments to do this? In short order they endorsed in writing Armand’s addition to the plan and made it clear to Henk and Johan they had the authority to go for it under whatever conditions they found on the ground in Namibia.

 

To say Henk van Jaarsveld and Johan Aarsen had difficult drives home that night would be the understatement of the decade. Neither wasted time and began telling their wives what was going to happen while they drove. The wives were puzzled, then angry and finally frightened, but there was no way around their men’s determination. Once home, they packed for the journey and what would come afterwards. While they were doing that, each husband went to fill up the car tanks, draw some money and buy whatever food and drink they could find, so that their wives wouldn’t have to stop too often. After they got back, the men further instructed their wives to drive straight to the farm in Louisvale, to refuel only when the tank was down to a quarter and under no circumstances pick up anybody, no matter what. Both men spent a tearful hour with their wives, giving them all the encouragement they could, but all too soon, it was time for Johan to drive his wife to Henk’s house, as the men had agreed earlier. Comparing the cars, it was decided Johan’s Ford double cab pickup truck was more suitable given the amount of luggage the women had packed, so the men loaded Mrs. van Jaarsveld’s bags. After a final tearful hug and promises the men would be there the next day, the women climbed in and began their seven and a half hour journey to the outskirts of Upington, while Henk took Johan home and agreed to pick him up at 4:30 AM for the drive to Lanseria.

 

Neither man slept well that night. The stress of not knowing if they would get away clean from the airport and worry over their wives who were by then 300 kilometers away rivalled questions and nightmares about the nap of the earth flying they’d have to endure shortly. Withdrawn and pale, drinking huge cups of strong coffee to get their brains going faster, Johan and Henk made their way to the airport. Johan was dressed in his best pilot’s uniform and Henk wore the most executive-like suit he had, toting a briefcase filled with cash as well as nature and tourist magazines he’d bought the night before while he filled up the wife’s car, passport and other documents taped securely under the fabric liner of his briefcase. Much to their relief, Lanseria was fairly quiet and they had absolutely no problem getting the flight plan approved. While Johan filled up his plane and did his pre-flight inspections, Henk sat like the business executive he was supposed to be in a seat, his feet tapping impatiently while his face projected a look of boredom for the benefit of anybody who got close enough.

 

It didn’t take long, and pretty soon they taxied to the runway, where the tower cleared them VFR to a game farm outside of Durban. Johan flew normally while he was on the Johannesburg tower radar, but as soon as he could, he dropped below 100 meters, made a left turn and gave Johannesburg as wide a berth as he could. He had to fly slowly because sometimes charts were inaccurate. There had been enough accidents and near misses by pilots who hit power lines that weren’t marked on the maps. Johan was in his element, eyes scanning the sky and instruments, listening to tower frequencies. For his part, Henk had taken off his suit jacket and tie and joined Johan in the cockpit because there was no further need to play any role other than fugitive. He didn’t really like flying, but the cockpit and air of adventure kept him captivated, so he made a pleasant companion. About an hour later, Johan told Henk with a wicked smile on his face “Jo’burg ATC just declared us missing. They’ve lost us on their scopes and haven’t been able to raise us as of 45 minutes ago! Hold on, we’re going to drop a little lower, just to be on the safe side. Do me a favor, keep an eye out for settlements and power lines because we have to avoid both.” Finally seeing the humor in the situation, Henk said “well, I’ve never been a plane crash victim before…” Laughing their heads off, the men felt like boys as they flew at around 100 knots so low they imagined seeing pebbles on the ground. It took about two and a half hours of flying around hills and sometimes scaring sheep, but in the end they approached the farm of Johan’s friend and landed without a hitch.

 

Sweaty, tired, but high on adrenalin, they approached their wives with wolfish looks the women hadn’t seen since the early days of Viagra. They hugged and kissed like teenagers while Johan’s buddy filled the Cessna Caravan’s tanks, then did the manly thing and loaded up their wives’ luggage with hints that there had better be a damned nice negligee in there or else… About 45 minutes later, Henk paid Johan’s friend as agreed, shook hands and boarded the plane. With a sputter and a clank, the engine caught and Johan taxied to the end of the strip. There he advanced the throttle, loosed the brakes and then soared into the sky. He headed for Namibia as far away from known border posts as possible, flying at 50 to 70 meters all the way. It took hours, but they went over the Kalagadi Transfrontier National Park, treated the wives to some wildlife scenes and eventually landed at a spot over 100 kilometers east of Windhoek, where former major Kurt Bergmann waited in his 4×4 as promised. By then the men were exhausted. The women had slept on the way, lucky them. The men on the other hand almost needed a stretcher. Kurt had a brain. He’d considered there might be a need for camouflage and had brought a camo tarp with which they covered the plane after unloading all the bags. After that, everybody climbed in and Kurt drove them to his house in Windhoek, where much as he wanted to talk, his friends collapsed on the beds he’d made for them. Talking could wait. The adventure would begin soon enough. And that’s how hell’s petals began to unfold… End of Part VIII. To be continued…

 

Mircea Negres

Port Elizabeth

South Africa