CityLife Arts

Yes, that’s Mr Rogue to you

BY Evelyn Groenink

‘Why must they publish my picture,’ Ivan says angrily, and I can’t help laughing. The Sunday Times has been headlining ‘rogue unit’ stories about him and his fellow enforcement people for weeks now, but what gets him even more than the content is that they display his face every time. I am reminded once again of how this man hates the spotlight.

On one occasion the continuous exposure yields some benefit, though. Driving at night through Burnett Street in Hatfield there is a police road block for license disks, or alcohol, or both, and we are called over. Though we haven’t had anything to drink and the license is in order, we are nevertheless prepared for the police’s increasingly common scare tactics and fishing for bribes. The policeman who stops us shines his torch in Ivan’s face and seems ready to demand things, but then his expression changes. He reflects a bit, then waves us on. Has he seen the pictures, does he fear that this must be a person with connections? For the first time that day Ivan smiles. ‘Yes, that’s Mr Rogue to you.’

These are weird days, when friends and relatives commiserate about all the bad stuff in the papers, but sometimes still with doubt in their voices, because what if some of it is in fact true? You must be in very real trouble, the message often shines through. I continuously reassure them that we are fine, really. So what if they spied on organised criminals, is that not what one should do?

One of the published allegations is that the SARS rogue unit ran a brothel. It’s an excellent concept, of course. Catching tax dodgers with the help of a contingent of sex workers (equipped, also of course, with professional skills, preparation and training, health care and good wages) seems like a great way to bridge the revenue gap. I’d love to run an outfit like that, to use Mzilikazi wa Afrika’s words, and dream away about dressing the part. The funniest bit is the thought of Ivan as a brothel boss, with his extremely well ironed shirts and squeaky-clean behaviour, a man who still hesitates a bit before pronouncing the word ‘sex’.

‘They should have done all that,’ says Gwen Ansell, who has entertained similar images. ‘Why didn’t they?’ We reminisce about Elliot Ness and the Untouchables and so many other stories about unconventional law enforcers. We doubt that any of them ever ran a brothel, but feel that it should certainly be an option. Our coffee talks are back to being peaceful and non-argumentative. I have sent her an email to say ‘Boy, were you right about Zuma.’

‘I told Gwen I would run an operation like that any time,’ I tell Ivan as we meet back at home. ‘You’re not the only one,’ is the answer. ‘Some women from work asked me why I didn’t inform them of such career opportunities.’

When a clearly upset Johann van Loggerenberg tells me that certain people in the investigative unit have experienced marital problems because of the brothel story, I can’t help arguing. Even if it were true, running a brothel project surely doesn’t mean cheating on any wives or partners? Most commercial brothel owners (I did know a few in Amsterdam, back in the day) would not even tolerate such dalliances.

Johann shrugs. ‘It’s just that traditionally prostitution and brothels are such triggers in most people’s minds. I guess that is why they made one up to slander us. You could also say that we ran an ice cream parlour, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?’

The brothel accusation will be exploited by Tom Moyane, when he takes over SARS and disbands the executive: He doesn’t want to hear any more brothel stories, he says. Remarkably, people don’t seem to think that the accusation of murder in the story about mysterious car crashes comes even close to it.

Death squad captain Dirk Coetzee once used sex work as an example of evil, too. I met him in London, in 1989, during the hearings that were triggered by Jacques Pauw’s revelations. Coetzee had testified there. Interviewing the captain in a nearby pizza restaurant during one of the days, I remember that I could not eat much, but Coetzee was chewing away with abandon. I also remember, very starkly, that Coetzee described one of the worst murderers and torturers in his circles as ‘worse than a prostitute’.

.This is an extract from Mr. Unlikely Rogue: A Life With Ivan Pillay a book by Evelyn Groenink, published by Jacana Media.

Please share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *