“Getting arrested really hit me hard, because the court found evidence of what my father and I used to do before he became a pastor and I went travelling. That sealed my fate. The court said I didn’t deserve any mercy even though I am young, only 26 years old going on 27. I was handed a 15-year sentence which was later changed into a life sentence after some of the young women, including Lebohang, with Pulane by her side, testified against us and told the court how they were lured in with false promises and then abducted and sold to the highest bidder.
“The mine workers who actually dug out the diamonds also testified. And as if that wasn’t enough, they brought in the owners of the marijuana farms where the connection used to steal marijuana from, and they also testified against us. We had no hope …”
Ninja tossed the stress ball in the air, looking grim, and Johan was worried that he wouldn’t continue. But he went on.
“I was worried that I would never get the opportunity to see my father again. He was in a separate prison. Little did I know that I would have to attend his trial and testify to set him free. I had given up all hope of seeing the outside world, or seeing my father, until the warden came to my cell one morning and told me I would be transferred to a prison in Mrova and that I had to testify.
“I asked him, ‘For who am I testifying, for or against?’ and he said ‘For your father’.
“That made me happy. I thought I might never see my father again and I didn’t know what was happening in his case. But then I was afraid – what if I failed him at his trial? What if he was found guilty and ended up in prison? He had worked so hard to turn his life around and now he might spend the remainder of his days in a cell block. His health was not good and he would have died in there.”
Ninja stood up and stretched his legs and Johan could see that the interview was starting to get to him.
Ninja walked back to the table and took the bottle of mineral water. He drank from it and then sat down and started squeezing the stress ball again. After some time he began to speak again.
“My father had a very good lawyer by the name of Angelina van Wyk. She came to see me after I arrived here in Mrova prison. We spoke and she told me they weren’t going to charge my father for the bank robberies. He would only face charges for money laundering through the church, because that’s what the prosecutor was building his case on. She asked me to tell her everything about Bishop and his guys – she needed to show that Bishop was the one who framed my father. I gave her everything I knew. She asked me to tell the story at the trial … there was evidence to support it and they were getting more, she told me. She said there was a good chance that if I told the truth, my father would be a free man and if she could appeal my sentence she would fight for that too.
“Her words were very soothing to say the least, they actually brought me some comfort and made me believe that maybe, just maybe, not all lawyers are bad. That there are a few, too few, who are still decent and kind-hearted and want to see what’s best for others, not just for their pockets.
“It got me thinking hard, my broer. I started to think about all the good I could have done with the time I had been given: truthfully I had the chance to lead a great life, a life on the right side of the law, when I finished school. I am certain that’s the part of me that Pulane saw and that’s what made her fall in love with me.
“My father was so proud of me back then. And not just my father, my whole family and community. I bet if I had stayed like that, I would have made a fine husband to my sweet, sweet Pulane, who now wants nothing to do with me and probably wishes me to burn in hell for what I did to her and her family.”
Johan wrote in his notebook, then looked up straight into Ninja’s eyes. It was like he could see past the words into his soul. “You really love your father, don’t you my broer?”
Ninja smiled and Johan smiled back; then Ninja went on with the story.
“I wasn’t allowed to see my father until he had his day in court. I knew I would have to be on my best behaviour, even though I was chained like an animal.”
Johan nodded. “One slip of the tongue and you’re in deep kak. You have to pour your heart out and be completely honest with the judge and pray for the best while you prepare for the worst. I’ve seen it happen.”
Ninja laughed. “True. I watched as friends and neighbours of my father’s testified in court about how good a man and preacher my father had become. Finally I was called to the stand.
“I wanted to shift any chance of blame from my father to me, but actually all I had to do was tell the truth so that people could see it was me and Bishop, not him, that had put the money in the church account without his knowledge.
“After the proceedings my father was set free. Even though he never said it out loud, I could tell he was disappointed in me. And I couldn’t blame him. I had been his prodigy once upon a time. And now I was the reason he had had to go to jail again, somewhere he had sworn with his living soul and beating heart he would never return to again. Despite all this he found it in his heart to forgive me.”
Ninja tossed the stress ball over to Johan who squeezed it a few times, then tossed it back to Ninja. They both laughed.
Tell us: What kind of relationship do you think is growing between Ninja and Johan?