The Papwa Sewgolum Golf Course seems like a perfect place to carry out a quiet assassination.
Here, between the silent, overburdened mango trees and rotting shacks, old Indian men dressed in skinny golf shirts, bomber-taupe golf shoes and biscuit-coloured shorts, indulge their colonial fetish of nine irons and black caddies.
The course is named after the great Sewsunker “Papwa” Sewgolum, who kicked Gary Player’s butt back in the sixties.
It’s a glory still talked about with some fondness over pints of Castle in the clubhouse. But far from the luscious greens of an Augusta, the Papwa Sewgolum Golf Course sits uncomfortably like a dampened oasis in a swamp of discontent, prejudice and municipal neglect.
There aren’t many golf courses that can boast a crematorium and squatter camp as neighbours. Little wonder then, if you are an old Indian man with golf clubs and enough under the mattress, you come here to Papwa, to die.
This might explain the spooks about the course.
So, it is with a mixture of trepidation and fascination that I agreed to meet Krish Dhudraj in the parking lot of the Papwa Sewgulum. I imagine a scream muffled under a duffel bag would pass for an irreverent cry of a passing hadeda.
The previous day, Dhudraj called me from a private number and introduced himself as an associate of Schabir Shaik. He’d read about me in the Sunday Times as a “rockstar political blogger”, or so he said.
“I have a story for you. Meet me in the parking lot of Papwa Sewgulum,” he instructed me.
Krish rocked up in a BMW. I don’t remember the colour, but I’m guessing it was black (it would suit him).
He climbed out of the car, his long hair glistening in the April sun. I readied myself. His dramatically faded jeans and steel-toed boots made him look more like a cowboy than a BEE groupie. He tapped his cigarette pack and bit on to one with the grittiness of a Texan in a black-and-white Western about to describe a righteous kill.
He offered me a cigarette. I could have done with a drink.
I declined. He leaned slightly against the bonnet of the car and looked me up. And then down.
“You are the writer then,” he began.
He seemed sceptical; people usually are. I don’t know why readers imagine me to be older, taller and my pen a blood-stained machete. I tried hard to narrow my eyes to a squint, hoping my forehead creased in thoughtful intensity.
He then got down to business. Pulling out news clippings inserted in plastic sleeves that proved his close relationship to Shaik, he went on to give me a snappy summary of the political conspiracy at play. Shaik, it seemed, was promised a political pardon if he took the fall for Zuma, but with the president already in power for a year and controversy after controversy dogging his heels, the prospect of a presidential pardon was fast becoming a distinct impossibility.
Public sentiment had already dramatically dived against Zuma after it was revealed that he had fathered another child, this time, with Safa boss, Irvin Khoza’s daughter.
“Shaik is becoming impatient with his situation,” he said.“What about his health?” I ask.
He went on to fill me in on Shaik’s “good health”, about how the media was operating in a separate universe, dislocated from the actual political reality, that blaming Shaik, who he insisted was not guilty of any crime, was the easy way out.
“Shaik’s side of the story needs to be told … it’s taking a strain on the family, and as his friends, we think it’s time,” he told me.
I disagreed that the media would be against publishing his side of the story. I had already received a go-ahead from Ferial Haffajee at the City Press for a large Vanity Fair-type profile of Shaik before I had even met Dhudraj. I did agree with Dhudraj that, however battered to death the story had been in the local media, it did feel rather incomplete. That is why I’d agreed to look into it. But I needed proof and I would not, I clarified to Dudhraj be anyone’s political mouthpiece.
At his disposal he said, was evidence that would exonerate Shaik of any wrongdoing, specific things related to the relationship between former president Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, information he reckoned “could result in a civil war”.
I was suddenly excited at what I thought for a few seconds would be the biggest scoop in recent South African media history. But the deep humming from funeral rites being recited at the neighbouring crematorium interrupted my free-fall into self-importance. I requested to meet Shaik before I took the story seriously. For all I knew, Dhudraj could well have been a delusional lover Shaik made promises to in St. Augustine’s Hospital the last time he hung out there. I wanted a meeting with Corleone to know if any of this was true.
Dhudraj puffed a little more smoke into my face and said he needed to meet with me a few times, “sift you out” as he so delicately put it, and would then get the ball rolling with Shaik. But I needed to understand that, as a convicted criminal, Shaik was not quotable and Shaik would have to give the green light that a campaign of sorts be started to clear his name, before “anything could be published”.
“So nothing must be written just yet … remember, we run this city ... the police, everything, so don’t write anything until I tell you,” he warned.
“Is that … a kind of … threat?” My reply, punctuated with a nervous giggle.
“No … it’s not a threat,” he replied sheepishly, expecting me to have understood. His cigarette quickly burned away as the awkward moment passed.
“So I will speak to Schabir and tell him about you, and then we shall talk,” he said.
I drove off, wondering if he took down my number plate.
We exchanged a few text messages after the meeting. They were mostly acts of deference; meeting Shaik was still off-limits. When Dhudraj’s name popped up on my phone some weeks later, I had relocated to a different postal code.
But the campaign to clear Shaik’s name and leverage public support for a presidential pardon is out in the open now. The same talk of evidence, documents and political conspiracy have resurfaced.
Ironic, or apt, that when Shaik raised his ire over the title “Zuma’s Bastard” at a book-signing in Durban some six months after my meeting with Dhudraj in that Godforsaken parking lot, the Don himself had no recollection that I may have been the guy to have told his side of the story... DM