Bruno and Debbie
||01 July 2012 07:00
Devi Sankaree Govender
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
Devi Sankaree Govender (Carte Blanche presenter): "Two weeks ago Bruno and Debbie were prisoners in Somalia, but now they're here with me in Johannesburg. Welcome home! When I looked at news clips of you, you looked rather bewildered. Did you think you were going to come back home?"
Bruno Pelizzari: "At times no, not with us just being two normal citizens."
Devi: "Debbie, did it feel like this was really happening when you were finally released?"
Debbie Calitz: "It felt like a dream; it felt like a dream."
Devi: "What does it feel like Bruno, being back in South Africa after being a hostage for 20 months?"
Bruno: "Freedom is great; to see family again... no, it was beyond words."
Devi: "Bruno, what food did you miss the most?"
Bruno: "I dreamt about chocolate cake. So many other things, liver paste..."
Devi: "Liver paste?"
Bruno: "Cheeses... oh, so many things. We both lost weight; my spine was sticking out."
Devi: "Did you ever feel that your family or the country had abandoned you?"
Debbie: I knew my family would never give up... I knew that. But I knew that they didn't have the money either and I was realistic. But I never realised that South Africa would stick together the way they did and that they cared enough about us to do what they did for us."
Devi: "This is one of the first one-on-one television interviews with Bruno and Debbie, who were held for the longest time by Somali pirates. But, before they go on with their story, let's take a look at what happened on the day when they were first captured."
On 26th October 2010, Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz became the first South Africans to be taken captive by Somali pirates. They were captured outside of the pirates' usual hunting grounds, on the border of Mozambique and Tanzania, while travelling back to Richards Bay.
Skipper Peter Eldridge managed to escape the ordeal and shared the horrific experience with Carte Blanche when he returned to South Africa at the time.
[Carte Blanche 5 December 2010] Devi Sankaree Govender (Carte Blanche presenter): 'The minute you saw those vessels, did you know that trouble was here?'
[Carte Blanche 5 December 2010] Peter Eldridge (Skipper): 'Yes, oh yes.'
Peter says he had no choice but to let the pirates board his yacht, but not before he'd managed to radio for help.
[Carte Blanche 5 December 2010] Peter: 'After they boarded, you know, they went through all our belongings.'
The bandits began unloading weapons and ammunition on the yacht. Peter says they realised the attack was more than a simple robbery.
They had become hostages.
[Carte Blanche 5 December 2010] Peter: "They wanted money; we were the prize."
Throughout the ordeal, Bruno and Debbie were separated from Peter. All three were locked in their cabins below.
With European Navy Vessels on the horizon, the pirates fled, eventually burning out the yacht's engine and running it aground.
Peter says he heard the hijackers take Bruno and Debbie off the boat.
[Carte Blanche 5 December 2010] Peter: "Well, obviously I feel very bad. I was the skipper of the boat; it was my boat. You know, I feel some responsibility."
[Carte Blanche 5 December 2010] Devi: "But you couldn't have foreseen this?"
[Carte Blanche 5 December 2010] Peter: "No."
Debbie: "It happened so quickly and we just had to go and they had the gun behind us, pushing us forward. Then we heard another three shots. So, we thought he was dead."
Devi: "Listening to your story, it sounds like a script to a movie?"
Debbie: "We felt like we were in a movie (laughs)."
Bruno: "I was just going to say that!"
Debbie: "I never could have imagined that this could happen to us."
Bruno: "Doing our stunts."
Devi: "Did they ever tell you why they had captured you?"
Debbie: "Money... they want money. They said, 'Somalia is a poor country; the people there are poor, they are suffering, they've got no money.' They lied! It's not like that in Somalia."
Debbie: "No, Somalia you can get anything you like. They had milk powder from New Zealand and they had soap from Dubai. They had..."
Burno: "...from all over the world."
Devi: "What do you think they wanted the money for?"
Debbie: "I don't think they wanted the money, it's the people that control them that wanted the money. They just follow orders. They think it's great to celebrate with a bowl of meat. Just meat! The wardens... it's not them that get the money."
Devi: "What is the bigger picture? What is the war?"
Debbie: "We asked them, who is the president of Somalia. They said, 'The government of Somalia? There is no government - every one of them is a government of their own, and they do what they want to do.'"
Devi: "Did they get angry with you that you were actually South African, that they made the wrong choice?"
Debbie: "They didn't care. They didn't care how long they kept us for. They've got a lot of patience these people."
Bruno: "Seemed like they followed orders all the time. They'd get a phone call and then we'd get food."
Debbie: "And they bang the pots, as if they are going to feed us, and then they don't. And then they start banging the doors, shining a light on us at night, early hours of the morning coming in..."
Devi: "Let's talk about your prison quarters; tell me, describe it."
Bruno: "Various rooms all over Mogadishu, changing consistently."
Debbie: "We had steel doors locking us in, we had steel windows... the heat was unbearable. Dirty!"
Debbie: "Always dirty!"
Bruno: "It did get better at times... you get a good mattress. Then suddenly you'd move again, and they'd take it all away, and you'd be on the floor again."
Debbie: "Back to the floor again."
Devi: "You were always kept together?"
Bruno: "Yes, luckily."
Debbie: "Probably because we didn't fight. Well, we did."
Devi: "How would you have an argument?"
Bruno: "We'd whisper."
Debbie: "We'd whisper our argument."
Bruno: "You'd get louder and louder and then you'd get the banging on the door telling us to stop. And then we'd get a whipping."
Debbie: "You're not allowed to shout out and you're not allowed to say anything when they hit you - you have to be quiet."
Devi: "You went through two Christmases?"
Debbie: "Those days they treated us worse than the other days. Whenever it was our holidays... I think they knew it was our holidays then, and they wanted it to be really bad for us."
Bruno: "Yah, Christmases."
Devi: "What was that like?"
Bruno: "Look at my eyes. [emotional] Terrible!"
Devi: "And then when you swung around to the second Christmas?"
Bruno: "That one was even worse."
Debbie: "We thought it was Christmas time, we were going to go home."
Devi: "Did you have access to the outside world in terms of knowing what was going on?"
Debbie: "Nothing, nothing, nothing... We were kept in the dark."
Devi: "Let's look back at what was going on back home."
For months there had been no call for ransom. Mark Courtney, South Africa's only certified Kidnap for Ransom Responder had told us back then that it's not unusual to wait months for contact.
[Carte Blanche 5 December 2010] Mark Courtney (Certified Kidnap Responder): 'They move the victim from a certain point to a secure location and then, in that secure location, they conduct their negotiations. But they don't communicate with anyone before then.'
In December 2010, Bruno's sister Vera was contacted by Ali, the Somali negotiator - they originally wanted $10-million.
[Carte Blanche 5 December 2010] Devi: "Can your family raise the money?"
[Carte Blanche 5 December 2010] Vera Pelizzari: "We are the basic working class South Africans."
But that meant nothing to the ruthless pirates - they wanted their ransom in full.
[Carte Blanche 23 October 2011] [On phone] Vera: "Please... we'll show you that we will... that the money is growing. Please don't hurt them! Please don't hurt them."
Devi: "Now, while you were in Somali your families became victims of emotional warfare. They were concerned about your safety. Did you at any stage feel that your lives were in danger? That they were going to kill you."
Debbie: "Yes, yes. We were never sure from day to day whether they were going to kill us or not."
Devi: "We know that you were physically assaulted... but, sexually?"
Debbie: "Let's not talk... I'd rather not answer that."
Devi: "When you go through something like that on a daily basis, do you not at some point look at each other and think, 'We may be better off dead'?"
Debbie: "No! We are so lucky to be alive. We never gave up that. We had to be positive... you have to be. You can't allow yourself to go down and go, because you'll just get so depressed, you will give up - and you can't do that there. These people... they thrive on fear, they thrive on that. And if you don't give that to them, they leave you alone; they don't know what to do - they've got nothing."
Devi: "Did you ever try to escape?"
Debbie: "No, no, no, no - you can never. They guard you all the time - day and night. They aim the gun at you when you go to the toilet with the red light and you can see the red light on you. You know if they make a mistake, you're dead."
Devi: "If there is one thing about this whole experience that you will never ever forget, what would it be?"
Debbie: "The scariest thing in the beginning was - you are already handcuffed and blindfolded, because you don't know where they are going to take you... you think you're on your way to be killed. That was the scariest thing in the beginning."
Devi: "Do you have any idea how it was actually arranged."
Debbie: "They kept us in the dark."
Devi: "We all know ransoms are paid, whether directly or indirectly. Pirates are in the business of making money - and people are their currency. We spoke to Vera a little earlier to get some clarity about what was going on behind the scenes while the final negotiations were taking place."
In April this year, Bruno's sister Vera was contacted by a new Somali hostage negotiator. She believes that Bruno and Debbie were sold on to a different pirate warlord.
Vera Hecht: "I kept on believing that they wouldn't hurt them. That gave me the strength that they wouldn't hurt them because they need this money."
Devi: "Did you realize during those 20 months that you were being sold from gang to gang?"
Debbie: "We weren't sure because our treatment changed a few times. And sometimes - we called them the 'muscle men' - the big Muslim people, the light skinned Muslims, used to come and moved us a few times. But it was so quick, and then we were back to the others that wrapped the bands around their head. So we thought it was really one organisation."
Desperate, Vera got in touch with the National Somali Community Board of South Africa.
Vera: "I felt I had very few options left. And I had to pay for his expenses to go to Somalia and his hotel. And the pirate negotiation will play us up against each other and it was quite a process."
For the first time Vera had someone representing her in Somalia. She says this is when things started to gain momentum.
Vera: "With the combined effort of the Somali government and the Italian government they managed to coordinate a rescue for Bruno and Debbie."
Devi: "Vera, did you pay a ransom?"
Vera: "I'm sorry; I'd love to disclose this, but to save problems for people that are still there and that might end up there, I can't disclose."
Vera had finally succeeded. She got a call saying that Bruno and Debbie were free at last.
Devi: "And when you got on that plane, what were you thinking?"
Vera: "I couldn't wait to see them; to touch them."
Devi: "What was it like when you finally realised this was it... 'we are actually being released now? It is real!"
Debbie: "Just relief, hey? It took getting used to... [speaking to Bruno] even that night we were whispering to each other when we were free, in the bed, remember?"
Bruno: "Ja, we were still whispering."
Debbie: "Remember, we're free... we don't have to whisper anymore."
Devi: "So when are you planning your next trip back to Somalia... on holiday? I've heard they've got nice beaches?"
Debbie: "We told them we need a Somali passport."
Devi: "Plain sailing from here for you two?"
Debbie: "We don't know yet. You never know what's going to happen in the future - no one really knows. We've learnt that you can't live in the future, and you can't live in the past, you can live for this moment right now."
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.