There is an Afrikaans show called “Getroud met rugby”. In English it is  “Married to rugby”. I have never watched it but it kind of feels like the whole country is somehow in this state of mind at the moment. We are all sporting our green and gold, Googling what hair products Faf is buying and have acquired a few new swear words we can shout at the useless refs who so clearly favour all the other teams who are not from here. This sport fever reminds me of when South Africa hosted the soccer world cup and I remembered a story I thought I’ll tell today. (My blogs have been heavy lately, so I thought I’d change the topic from suffering and death and talk about crime, deceit and heartbreak instead).

If you are a regular reader you know that in our previous lives,  before we became obsessed with good care, we were in “pure” hospitality and had guest houses. So when 2010 hit and SA hosted the soccer world cup, we were delighted at the prospect. Firstly, we were rubbing our greedy little hands together scheming and making plans on how to make disgusting amounts of money out of unsuspecting people. A few years before 2010 Johannesburg hosted the World Summit, and we were just about carting the cash to the bank in wheelbarrows. So when 2010 arrived, we thought it would be even better this time around. Radio and television personalities were announcing that there was not enough accommodation for the hundreds of thousands of visitors that were to descend on our soil. Every family with a spare room, spare mattress or one man tent decided to get in on the action and started advertising accommodation. Those with a spare bit of cash added rooms to their homes, or if the cash was a bit tight, stayed in said tent themselves and rented out their homes to sports fans and soccer teams. Hotels and guest houses that stood entirely empty, echoing the silence, envisioned the thronging masses pushing each other aside fighting for their lumpy mattrasses and thread bare carpets, all this of course, at ridiculously inflated rates.

We were no different. We knew the foreign currency was going to boost our sales and we got ready for the tsunami of people. Luckily the Boer in me always sees the dark cloud inside the silver lining and I knew, that even though many would come, they would only come for three weeks. You can logically only make that much money. It is not as if all the soccer lovers will arrive on your doorstep, pay triple your usual rate, stay for three weeks and then, instead of getting on that KLM flight back to eating cheese, will change their minds and keep on staying ‘til the end of time.

We were ready. We fastened our seatbelts and waited for the frenzy. Long before the start of the world cup, our rooms were all sold out. We had a broadcasting team from China and Argentina and the engineers of the Gautrain staying with us. (The Gautrain was to be used for the World Cup and it was ready by the skin of the engineers’ teeth, Those who stayed with us can vouch for the fact that it was extremely close). We had planned to add additional rooms long before the world cup, but as it happened, we were just finishing off a two year building nightmare after adding ten extra rooms at that time, and I was still walking around in my hard hat shouting at tilers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers a few weeks before Shakira arrived on our shores to shake her hips that do not lie.

A week before the games began, in the middle of a winter night, my phone rang close to my ear. I was in a deep sleep, delighted that my rugby team had won (yes, we were able to support more than one sport in June of 2010 – call us multi-taskers) and I was still slightly high on a few too many glasses of champagne. A midnight call does not have the effect on me as it might on others. In this industry, when a geyser bursts, when a key breaks off in the lock, when someone is parked in, when a fight breaks out, it is usually this time of night. Rest assured, I sleep in practical nightwear. No skimpy lace or, heaven forbid, nakedness between the sheets. I’m like a poor person’s fireman, always ready for action, and of course, our house was next to the lodge, so I did not have far to go when these crises arose.

I answered groggily. Sibongile told me something I’d never heard before. Someone had stolen a laptop. I pulled on my winter coat and made my way to room 14. There a skinny Argentinian, very much worse for wear after a clearly huge party, explained with a thick tongue in an even thicker accent that when he came back from the rugby match and walked into his room, he noticed his laptop was gone. He explained the value and the great loss. I sympathised but condescendingly told him that there is no way the laptop could be gone. Surely he misplaced it. No one has ever stolen as much as a bar of soap at this guest lodge. So we searched his room, his car, phoned his colleagues and eventually also phoned the police. The laptop she was gone. Maybe it was an insurance scheme, my cynical mind suspected. Who would steal his laptop? No guest could have gotten into the room, and my people, my staff, would never steal.

The guest was sulking , I was grumpy and the poor staff felt as if everyone suspected them. But it was business as usual and we kept calm and carried on… until I went to pick up my daughter from school two days later. Child 2 was ill and was left at home with Beauty, our heavily pregnant domestic worker. I went to pick up Child 1, who was in grade 0. I could easily identify her little blonde head amongst the others. On our way home we stopped at Woolworths, to get some bread and milk. My phone rang, it was work. Again.

 “Ma’am”, a very polite Sibongile said “Sorry to disturb, but there is an armed robbery at your house.”

The words did not sink in, maybe because Sibongile’s tone was so polite, or maybe because the words simply could not be true.

“What?” I shouted.

“Ausi, there are three men with guns in your house. Beauty is here at reception, she is crying.”

“Where is Child 2?” … and then the words every mother dreads: “We do not know, she was in the house when Beauty escaped.”

I dropped the low fat, extra smooth six pack yoghurt and grabbed Child 1,  shouting into the phone all the while, calling a variety of security companies, my husband and the police. I cannot recall much of the journey home – just that there were many phone calls and that a petrified little Child 1 was willed to keep quiet and pray. By the time I pulled into our road, there were five police cars with blue lights flashing and sirens reminding our peaceful neighbourhood that this is South Africa, capital of crime. I ran out, to find Sibongile holding Child 2. Beauty was sitting on the floor in the kitchen, weeping and holding her pregnant stomach.

Nothing mattered anymore, my children were safe.

I heard the different versions of the story from my reception staff and Beauty. What I think happened was that I left to fetch Child 1 at around 13:00, when all the staff go on lunch, and usually this would include Beauty. Three men entered the house with guns. They found the pregnant Beauty in the kitchen and demanded to be taken to the safe (which we did not have). Beauty, was a woman of consistency. She never followed orders, not mine for sure, and it would seem she had no intention of changing her ways. She ran. Running is exactly the first thing people are taught NOT to do. (Yes, us people in Joburg attend courses on how to survive different crime situations – lesson number one is always, if they have a gun, do what they say, if they do not have a gun, scream and run). Beauty did the latter against best practice advise and common sense. Not only did she scream and run with her generous tummy, but she pushed one of the gun-bearing robbers out the way and wrestled him away from the back door. People often say that this must have been a surprise to me, but I know us African chicks, where there is a will, there is a way. We are tough cookies.

Beauty left the three robbers in the house with Child 2. While they were calling me, Sibongile knew my baby girl was in the house, so she left her post and without help or back up quietly ran to my house. She tiptoed through the back door and sneaked through the halls. At no stage did she know where the robbers were. She found Child 2 in our bedroom, innocently playing with her blocks and blissfully unaware of the drama that was unfolding. She scooped her up in her arms and brought her back to safety.

What then ensued was a time of uncertainty. I knew we were under attack. Someone on the inside was giving information away. Usual suspect number one was of course the builders, still completing the penthouses. A vicious fight ensued in which I completely lost my decorum and accused them outright. My knee jerk reaction was to brick up our gorgeous pedestrian gate and employ a small army of body guards, while paying a fortune for therapy for all my staff members and family (So the World Cup cash we made, was very quickly given to shrinks and armed guards instead of spending it on a holiday in the Seychelles).

It was time for the World Cup to officially launch and even though we were bruised and battered, we were ready to do battle with the hordes arriving. Sibongile and I stood together, and on the first day it went swimmingly. The phone rang off the hook and endless queues of people arrived hoping to find last minute cancellations. I was seeing the money being pumping into our account and let’s be honest, that does ease the pain a bit.

On day two, I saw Sibongile answer her cell phone and then an animal scream erupted from her and she collapsed on the floor. She was speaking incoherently and sobbed her brother’s name over and over again. I knew he was ill, but did not know he was close to death. Her lovely brother with soft brown eyes died that morning. Sibongile had lost her Down syndrome sister only a few months before. How was this fair? She left. I knew she could not stay and work, and I was left on my own to cope with the masses, of course grateful that my own brother was still alive.

The funeral weekend for Sibongile’s brother arrived, and as is the tradition in my team, I organised a little bus and we all piled in to pay our respects to Sibongile and her family. We left before day break, all squeezed in and tired after a horrific 3 weeks of Soccer World Cup mayhem. The journey was four hours long, but funerals are very important in the Tswana tradition and I would never dream of disrespecting my friend and staff member by not attending.

Kgomotso was seated next to me. (Don’t worry, if you are not from this continent, you ‘aint gonna be able to say it). Kgomotso was a cleaner and she had a very special place in my heart. I think sometimes I try to fix the broken-winged birds, and little Kgomotso was no different. She had the most horrific scars on her face. She was in an explosion at school. Somehow whatever experiment the teacher did went horribly wrong. Her arms and half her face were covered with huge, angry scars. Her mouth was permanently pulled into a grimace and the movement of her head was limited as the tight scars restricted movement in her neck . She had big, sad eyes and I so wished I could help her more. The day before, she had collected some leftover building materials from me and I knew other staff members were jealous that she got the loot. We chatted on the bus ride and while later, Kgomotso fell asleep on my shoulder.

The funeral was long and cold and tiring. I could not wait to go home.

Like the funeral, the World Cup also came to an end and life slowly returned to normal. Sibongile came back from mourning her brother and we fell back into our familiar routine. I was exhausted and run down after the trauma of the crime and the frenzy of the World Cup, and suddenly got very ill with Encephalitis. I was hospitalised and had to fight the virus from my hospital bed.

While watching the drops running through my IV, I saw my phone ring. I answered and was surprised to hear a Zulu-speaking man ask me if I wanted to meet him at the Diepsloot police station. Now, Diepsloot is one of the more notorious of the squatter camps, and I had no intention of lifting my weary, virus-infested body out of the hospital bed and going to the township. He told me that he could not tell me what he needed to tell me over the phone, but that he knew what had happened with the crime spate at the lodge the previous month.

There was not much I could do. I threatened and pleaded but he refused to say. I let it go and hoped there would be another chance for me to talk to him. He might have been talking nonsense, or he was selling the information. I am not sure which. Later that night, Sibongile came to sit at the foot of my bed, peeling me an orange for me because she knew I struggled with the hospital cuisine (I use the term loosely). I shared the story and she looked at the phone number with recognition in her eyes. She took out her phone, dialled the number and a name came up. Yes, she said, this is Kgomotso’s boyfriend’s number and he lives in Diepsloot.

The gloves came off and right there, sick or not, hooked to the IV and wearing bright pink flannel jamies, I phoned him. I might have come across a tad too strong, but I assured him that the police were on their way and that he best tell me the story… fast. Amazing how a bit of a threat can open up a well of information! He told me that a few days before the World Cup started, some strangers saw Kgomotso climb off the taxi and go to the lodge. They approached her and arranged that she would let them know when we had a lot of cash or valuables on the premises and then, she would get a cut of whatever they managed to steal.  For the laptop, she got a handsome cash incentive (all of R300!) and for arranging my armed robbery, opening the gate for them, showing them to our backdoor and assisting in their escape, she got nothing because their expedition was fruitless.

I could hardly believe it. Not my Kgomotso! Surely, it could not be her? She wept when I held Child 1 close to me after our ordeal and she was the one asking for extra sessions with the psychologist, but it was true. My heart broke a little. My safety was sold for quick cash.

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked her boyfriend. “Because she was cheating on me. She cheated on me with the builder.”

See, I told you the builder was involved.

I often think of this incident. In fact, not a time goes by when I am separated from my children that I do not fear that something might happen to them. Some people ask me how I can ever trust a staff member again. I obviously fired her shortly after finding out she was the person that sold me out for a couple of ZAR’s, but I cannot lie and say it did not leave any scars. On the other hand, look at what Sibongile did. She risked her own life to go and find Child 2. It proves to me again, that even in these simple stories with happy endings, there is room for the brutality of life to meet the beauty, and as always, I am acutely aware of our weaknesses as humans. We are flawed and capable of doing the most hateful things. We are also able to show such incredible love that it has, and will continue, to change history.