The JRB presents an excerpt from The Reed Dance Stalker, the new novel from Angela Makholwa.
The Reed Dance Stalker
Pan Macmillan SA, 2023
‘And in breaking news, convicted serial killer and rapist, Napoleon Dingiswayo, escaped from Pretoria’s C-Max Prison at twelve-fifteen this afternoon, along with serial rapist and armed robber Andries Mathe, and heist kingpin Sifiso Khumalo.’ The voice of the newsreader rings crisp and cool while announcing the earth-shattering news.
Prison Area Commissioner Lennox Tshabalala irritably turns down the radio in the prison war room and looks out the window, his nostrils flaring in rage.
He rises to his full height; his tall and stout frame paces the room as he awaits his press officer and the head of Pretoria Central Prison to address him about the recent media announcement. Sprawling over many square metres, Pretoria Central Prison has different buildings where inmates are held according to the levels of crimes they have committed, their different genders and whether they are still awaiting trial or have already been sentenced. C-Max is the unit that houses the most dangerous criminals at this correctional facility.
The air inside the prison walls is laden with tension. Officials and inmates alike have been hanging on a knife’s edge since the statement about the escapees was released just hours ago.
Warders are on high alert; emergency units have been dispatched with the dog squad investigating every corner of the correctional facility to sniff out clues that might have been left by the escapees on their route to freedom. The ominous ring of the prison siren still lingers in the air as if signalling the end of days.
Calls from everyone from the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Tourism, to the Minister of Correctional Services have inundated Lennox’s mobile phone, not to mention an endless stream of press enquiries.
As Thabo Molefe and Richard Sethokga enter the war room, Lennox bangs his meaty fists on the boardroom table and stares daggers at both. He plonks himself on one of the brown upholstered swivel chairs.
He fixes his eyes on the two men who stand looking back at him with panic in theirs. When neither of them seems about to speak he scans the wall behind them, and his eyes involuntarily settle on the pictures of the two political heads who have been making his life a living hell for over two years. The Minister of Justice, with his permanently blank stare, and right next to his picture on the wall, the Minister of Correctional Services, with that menacing, shit-eating grin of his.
Lennox sighs in exasperation. The next few weeks are going to send him to an early grave.
He glares at the men and yells: ‘Which of you fools is responsible for this catastrophe? Hmmm? I’ve had my ass hauled over the coals by every minister and DG for the past two hours. Who authorised the release of that statement?’
‘Sir, we followed all protocols before making the announcement,’ says Thabo, the press officer.
‘Followed all protocols? I didn’t sign off that statement! I’m missing three dangerous inmates and we haven’t even swept through every nook and cranny of this facility yet to make sure there aren’t any unaccounted-for crooks in this hellhole!’
‘Sir, we sent the statement to your secretary, and she assured us that you had approved it before going to press. Our aim was to ensure that all stations were on high alert because of the level of risk posed by the escapees.’
Lennox shakes his head in irritation.
‘I didn’t approve that damn statement! I told Pinky to hold off till I came back from the airport this morning!’
‘Sorry, sir. Maybe she misheard you,’ bumbles Thabo.
‘Misheard me? Incompetent assholes! Cadre deployment at its worst! This is a catastrophe! So how did they do it? We just upgraded our security features,’ he says, waving his hands in exasperation.
‘The trio were apparently led by Andries Mathe; as you know, he’s quite wily and he’s military trained. They covered their bodies with Vaseline and squeezed through the cell windows,’ explains Thabo.
Lennox wags his finger at Thabo.
‘Listen, you imbecile. That may be the story you want to sell to the gullible public, but neither of you is getting any sleep until you give me the names of the officials who aided this escape, you hear me?’
Head of prison Richard Sethokga speaks up. ‘Sir, we checked the windows. They were smeared with thick coatings of Vaseline … we don’t have a reason to believe that any of our officials were involved at this point.’
‘Are you hearing yourself? That makes no damn sense! Mathe is as thin as a whip … so is Khumalo, but Dingiswayo … how on earth could he have squeezed through a cell window? It’s 20 by 60 centimetres. I know that because I signed it off two years ago. And he’s too tall … how did he do it? We must find them. All three of them. Pronto!’
Lennox’s phone rings. He looks at the screen.
The words ‘Office of the President’ flash on the screen and he reluctantly picks up the call.
‘Mr Tshabalala, the President is on the line,’ says presidential aide Thuli Hlatshwayo.
‘Please put him through, Thuli,’ he says, heaving a sigh. ‘Commissioner Tshabalala, you need to put out this fire; the country’s reputation is hanging in the balance.’
‘Yes, sir. I am at Pretoria Max as we speak and I’ve got the head of prison and the press officer with me. We’re getting to the bottom of this.’
‘How did this disaster spiral out of control like this? I’m seeing the news on CNN. This is preposterous! We’re in peak tourism season and next year we’re hosting the FIFA Preliminary Draw. We can’t afford this kind of bad press. Three dangerous criminals roaming around scot-free? I don’t need to tell you how much the country’s security has been compromised by the incompetence of your people,’ says the President.
‘I’m rounding up every single one of the officials and we’re doing a clean sweep of the facility.’
‘I need better than that, Tshabalala. You need to resolve this within the next 24 hours. I will make sure you have all the resources you need to make sure you find those escapees.’
‘Thank you, sir. That’s much appreciated. I’ll take care of it.’
With an abrupt click on the other end of the phone the conversation is over.
There is a loud knock on the door.
‘Eh … sir. May I please come in?’
‘What do you want, Botha? This is a highly sensitive meeting,’ says Richard Sethokga.
‘Sir, if I may … there are some new developments,’ prison warder Dawie Botha announces as he shuffles into the war room.
Lennox looks up from his seat with deep furrows on his forehead.
‘Who the hell are you? What developments are you talking about?’
‘My name is Dawie Botha, sir. Eh … sir … we found a body in the Unit 2 pipe-shaft.’
Richard and Thabo stare at Dawie with panicked expressions.
‘A body?’ repeats Richard.
Dawie looks down and nods.
‘Yes, sir. The body is charred but … but there was a suicide note posted on one of the pipes in the shaft not far from the body.’
‘Do we know if it’s the body of an inmate?’
‘Yes, sir,’ says Dawie.
‘Were you able to positively identify who it is?’
Dawie shakes his head.
‘Not exactly, sir. It’s burned beyond recognition but it’s clear the deceased is in a prison uniform. And there is this note,’ says Dawie as he shakily proffers the note to the Area Commissioner.
Lennox reads the note with disbelief.
Remember not the sins and offences of my youth. I have run my race and pray for redemption as I journey back to meet my maker. I commit this body to the ground. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of my resurrection to a new and better life.
With Deep Remorse
13 January 2006
- EAP Member Angela Makholwa is the much-loved author of gripping psychological thrillers. Her novels—Red Ink, The 30th Candle, Black Widow Society and the internationally acclaimed The Blessed Girl—are filled with entertaining escapades and sexual misadventures.
‘And in breaking news, convicted serial killer and rapist, Napoleon Dingiswayo, escaped from Pretoria’s C-Max Prison at twelve-fifteen this afternoon …’
Fortunately for journalist and PR maven Lucy Khambule, the alarming news, in January 2006, that her nemesis might once more be on the loose has proved to be false. Charred remains in a prison pipe-shaft, along with a suicide note, are confirmation that convicted serial killer Dingiswayo is dead. Once Detective Justice Morapedi brings her a copy of the note to compare with the letters the killer wrote to her, Lucy tries to put her unease aside.
A year on, Lucy is flying high in her life and career. Her book on Dingiswayo is a bestseller, she is in demand for talks and interviews, and her company has been chosen as part of the team organising glamorous events around the Preliminary Draw to take place at the Durban International Convention Centre ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
But who is the person stalking her on Facebook? And what should be made of the gruesome ‘copycat’ murders of two young women at the Reed Dance in the neighboring kingdom of Swaziland? Is this the work of an ex-convict on a deadly mission or are there other dangers lurking?
When events in Durban take an unexpected and terrifying turn, Lucy finds herself completely alone and in the fight of her life.