4 January 1988
Beneath a cloudless sky the land sweltered.
During the night the sky above Phalaborwa had been rent by
lightning and the air had quivered with thunder, then the rain
had come. For an hour it had drummed on the corrugated tin
roofs of the houses in the town, pouring into downpipes,
submerging gardens and pavements alike.
By dawn the town was already drying out again and by seven
o’clock all that remained of the deluge were a few toppled
trees, a memory of the wind and the rain and the lush
fragrance of the African bush. Not a city smell, dry and
dusty, but of verdant foliage, rich and fertile.
The call came at just after
nine o’clock that morning. Kemp was lying asleep on his
disordered bed, still in the clothes he had worn the day
before, when the telephone began its shrill ringing. Kemp let
it ring. It was his day off and for the first time in months
– in years even – he had slept without dreams, without
Three minutes later the phone was still ringing. Kemp,
dragging himself upright, looked at his watch and then rubbed
his face. “I’m coming,” he croaked, lurching out into
the hallway, his heavy footsteps echoing off the walls of the
“Where have you been?” a voice demanded when Kemp picked
up the telephone. “Come, man, get your shit together,” the
voice continued when he was slow to answer. “You’ve a body
to look at and Dlamini’s already on his way to collect
It was Colonel Lategan, the station commander at Phalaborwa
police station. Kemp imagined him sitting red-faced and
scowling at his desk. There would be beads of perspiration
popping out on his brow, just as there always were when he was
“What body?” Kemp asked, suddenly becoming conscious of
the oppressive heat within the house.
“A male. Suicide by the sound of it. That’s all I
The Captain reflected indifferently on this new snippet of
information. After all, a violent death was a violent death no
matter who did the killing.
“Are you still there?” the Colonel said, interrupting his
“Yes, I’m still here,” Kemp snapped. “Where do I find
the dead man?”
“In the park. Drive to Shingwedzi. Ask for the camp
“You need to send forensics as well,” Kemp said, but
Lategan had already put down the phone.
“The Lebombo Mountains,” the camp manager said, pointing
off to his right. “The eastern border of the park. On the
other side is Mozambique.”
They were on a straight stretch of road and in the distance
the air shimmered. The few animals they passed were standing
motionless in the shade, taking refuge from the blazing sun.
Herman Schutte was a large, bearded man. As the manager at
Shingwedzi camp and an employee of the National Parks Board he
wore the regulation dress of his profession: khaki shirt with
green epaulets, khaki shorts, knee-length brown socks and soft
brown walking shoes. Detective Captain Kemp sat next to him in
the front of his Land Cruiser and Sergeant Silas Dlamini, the
other half of the Phalaborwa Criminal Investigation Division,
behind them in the rear.
The two police officers had that morning driven from
Phalaborwa to Shingwedzi, where they had transferred to
Schutte’s Land Cruiser for the final leg of their journey to
the water hole where the dead man awaited them. Inside the
baking vehicle the temperature was at least thirty degrees
centigrade, outside it was over forty. In their discomfort,
neither of the police officers was paying the camp manager
much attention and Kemp, who was suffering from a vicious
migraine, was slumped up against the door pillar, eyes tightly
shut against the glare.
“The illegals from Mozambique come through the park because
they think it’s an easy option,” the camp manager
continued. “It isn’t. They think they’re heading for a
land of milk and honey, but they’re not. The lions take a
few of them every year, then, when they get a taste for human
flesh, we have to put them down.”
Clearly, the killing of the predators was Schutte’s main
concern and not the deaths of their victims.
“Are you saying that lions don’t normally attack people,
Mr Schutte?” Kemp asked, momentarily rousing himself. His
head was pounding and every joint ached. Even opening his eyes
was an effort.
Hearing what appeared to be a note of genuine interest for
the first time, the camp manager took his eyes off the road to
study the Captain anew.
Kemp was a tall, yellow-haired man with dark rings beneath
his eyes. His clothes were creased and misshapen: a blue suit
jacket over fading denims, a cream shirt un-ironed, and worn
black shoes crusted with red clay; a man more at home in the
city and clearly uncomfortable and out of place in the bush,
someone who in his present dishevelled state would have passed
as a down-and-out, a homeless person even, but never as a
senior police officer.
His Black Swazi companion, Sergeant Dlamini, was by contrast
a precise and tidy man. Shorter and slimmer than Kemp, he was
wearing a threadbare grey suit over a neatly pressed white
“Most lions will run for cover when they see a human,”
Schutte said, turning his eyes back to the road. “They’re
scared of us, you see.”
A herd of impala began slowly making its way across the
tarmac up ahead, forcing Schutte to slow down. As the vehicle
crawled towards them, Kemp began working through the pockets
of his jacket. Eventually he found a tin box containing a
number of small white tablets, one of which he popped into his
“For a headache,” he announced, but he kept the box open
on his thigh, counting the tablets, moving them around with a
fingertip, though he saw to his horror that his hand was
“You’re from the city, aren’t you, Captain?” the camp
manager said, looking across at him, as two young males
standing in the middle of the road dropped their heads and
briefly locked horns with a clatter before moving off into the
Kemp closed the lid and hid the box away again. “Yes. I
grew up in Johannesburg. I was transferred here a few months
He spoke slowly, like someone awakening from a deep and
were you transferred?”
stared at him. It was the kind of question that a more
considerate companion would never ask.
“Because the powers-that-be reckoned I needed a change of
scene,” he answered finally.
“What does that mean?”
“It means I upset someone who was powerful enough to do
something about it.”
Surprisingly, Schutte nodded agreeably. “If you work for
the government, sooner or later you must expect to get fucked
over, Captain,” he said, with what sounded remarkably like
Kemp shrugged. “Yes, I think you may be right, Mr Schutte,”
he said after a moment’s quiet reflection.
Nine months earlier Kemp had been working on secondment with
the Special Branch in Johannesburg. He had been
“reassigned” to Phalaborwa’s detective division after
yet another altercation with his superiors. This time it had
been over the killing of a fifteen-year-old boy who had
committed the capital offence of throwing a stone at a passing
Kemp remembered the morning of his disciplinary hearing quite
clearly. It was a typical chilly June day in Johannesburg; at
pavement level perpetual shade and above the tall buildings
that demarcated the city centre a square of clear blue sky.
Inside Special Branch Headquarters in Johannesburg he had
stepped out of the elevator into a barred cage on the fifth
floor, then waited patiently while the uniformed officer on
guard duty had risen from his small desk to unlock the gate.
Only after Kemp had shown his warrant card and given his name
and number – and these details had been duly recorded in the
man’s laborious longhand – had he been allowed to head
down the corridor.
In many respects, Special Branch Headquarters was no
different from any other government building in the republic:
the same bare walls, the same tired government-issue green
paint, the same smell of floor polish and the same notice
boards bursting with the same out-of-date memos.
Lieutenant-Colonel Carel Boonzaier, his commanding officer,
was sitting at his desk in his shirtsleeves when Kemp walked
into his office.
“Please take a seat, Captain,” he said, glancing up for a
moment before returning his attention to the paperwork that
lay on the desk in front of him.
Waiting for the meeting to begin, Kemp took stock of his
The Lieutenant-Colonel was a bloated, red-faced man with the
blue-veined nose of a seasoned drinker. Around his colossal
chest his shirt was stretched to breaking point, the collar
bursting apart beneath the tie knot.
Judged solely on his appearance the Lieutenant-Colonel should
have been a slow thinker, even a man promoted beyond his
capabilities, but appearances can be deceptive.
Holding a doctorate in political science and as a staunch and
vociferous disciple of what he called the “Old Order”
Carel Boonzaier remained a rock in the swirling river of
change that was sweeping through the country. He insisted on
speaking only Afrikaans, although Kemp knew that his English
was cultured and articulate. But then the Jews, the Blacks,
the Coloureds, the Communists and the English-speaking White
Liberals were all the same to the Lieutenant-Colonel:
traitors, spies and dangerous subversives.
Though a dinosaur in what was quickly becoming the “New
South Africa” he nevertheless remained a man of considerable
influence and power and, as Kemp knew from personal
experience, he could also be both sadistic and violent. He was
not someone to cross.
“You’re a good investigator but you’re also a loose
cannon, you know that, don’t you, Captain?” Boonzaier
remarked lazily, finally turning his attention to Kemp.
Kemp furrowed his brow. “Am I, sir?” he asked. “A good
investigator, I mean?”
The Lieutenant-Colonel’s expression never changed. Staring
across the desk at Kemp he leant back in his chair, clasping
his hands behind his head and showing the damp rings under his
“You don’t have many friends, do you, Captain?” he
It was such an honest appraisal it hardly seemed worth
arguing the point. “I’m afraid I have to agree, sir,”
“No one in your corner, to speak up on your behalf, I
“Are we talking about my altercation with the General,
sir?” he asked.
“In part, yes.”
“I have to admit that no one has leapt to my defence,
“No, nor are they likely to,” the Lieutenant-Colonel
Kemp mustered his most dignified face. “I just don’t
happen to believe you can go around shooting people without
just cause,” he said.
After twenty years of active service in the police force, he
was one of those rare individuals who had never unholstered
his firearm, let alone shot anyone.
“And who, apart from you that is, said there wasn’t just
cause?” Boonzaier asked.
For a moment Kemp was thrown off by the quiet venom in the
Lieutenant- Colonel’s voice. But it was also a good
question. It was just a pity he didn’t have a good answer.
“All the boy did was throw a stone,” he finally said.
“Ah! He threw a stone. And next week it would have been a
hand grenade or a petrol bomb.”
“Maybe, but when . . .”
“I don’t like you, Kemp,” the Lieutenant-Colonel said,
waving him to silence. “I don’t like you and I never have.
That’s why I’m having you transferred out of Special
Branch to where you can do the least harm.”
“What do you mean by ‘transferred’?” Kemp asked
“Transferred. Moved out. Reassigned,” Boonzaier said.
Kemp ignored the sarcasm. “Where to?” he asked.
“For telling the truth?”
“No, for being a fool. For not knowing when to keep your
“And that’s a punishable offence is it?”
“It is now,” Boonzaier said pleasantly, steepling his
hands on the desk.
Strangely, the most vivid recollection Kemp had of that
unpleasant meeting with his superior officer that morning was
not the conversation they shared, or of the disordered office
with its dirty coffee cups and stacks of dog-eared files, but
rather of one small, inconspicuous family photograph.
In his younger days Carel Boonzaier had been a rugby player
of some note and photographs of his exploits were on display
on the walls. The wall behind the desk was devoted to framed
newspaper cuttings, now all yellowing with age: pictures of
Boonzaier the Provincial lock forward – scoring a try in one
scene, being helped from the pitch in another, holding a
trophy aloft in a third.
There were pictures of his family too. Holiday snaps in the
main, though one or two professional portraits also. One, for
example, showed him in uniform sitting in a studio next to a
plain, dark-haired woman, flanked by their two grown-up sons,
all four of them stiff and uncomfortable before the camera.
The picture that stuck in Kemp’s mind, however, was not
placed centre stage, but was pinned to an overflowing notice
board behind a tall bookcase lined with leather-bound law
books. Not hidden so much as kept out of view. He could see a
corner of the photograph from where he was sitting and went to
look at it when Boonzaier left the room to collect his
transfer forms. It had turned out to be an ancient
black-and-white picture showing a very much younger Boonzaier,
a teenager perhaps, standing in dripping swimming shorts
beside a pool, having just emerged from the water. But it
wasn’t Boonzaier who had caught Kemp’s eye, it was the man
next to him, the man who was grinning as he held out a towel
to his much younger companion: Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, the
architect of apartheid.
“I don’t like the city,” Schutte said, bringing the
Captain back to the present. “And Johannesburg . . .” He
pulled a face. “No, you can keep it, as far as I’m
Kemp shrugged noncommittally. The Johannesburg that he
recalled was full of unpleasant memories.
The camp manager sniffed. “We get one or two suicides in
the park every year,” he said, changing the subject.
“How do you know it’s a suicide, Mr Schutte?” Kemp
“Because it’s either suicide or murder . . . and murders
don’t happen in the Kruger National Park, Captain, that’s
why,” the camp manager said. “We just get these city
people. They come up here, book themselves in somewhere for a
few nights and then . . .”
“And how do you explain that?” Kemp asked. “The fact
that some people come here to kill themselves, I mean?”
“Everything can seem much simpler here sometimes . . .”
the camp manager said.
That was a very interesting hypothesis, Kemp thought. It was
also one without precedent as far as he was concerned. In
fact, it was something he had never considered – a suitable
location for suicide, that is, not the act itself. The night
before, for example, he had taken out his service revolver,
cocked the weapon and held the barrel to his head. At the time
he had been sitting in the living room of his house,
contemplating a glorious oblivion. Even now he wasn’t sure
why he hadn’t pulled the trigger. Perhaps things would have
ended differently had he earlier on ventured out into the
Five minutes later they turned off the tarmac and onto a
narrow dirt road that vanished into deep bush. Between the
wheel ruts tall Guinea grass scratched against the underside
of their Toyota. After a kilometre or so they drove across a
stretch of open land where a lone baobab tree stood out
bleakly against the sky then back into thick bush again. In
the shimmering distance was a line of mottled hills, lying on
the horizon like a string of ancient vertebrae.
The track ended in a clearing about the size of a cricket
pitch; a dry and dusty bowl pitted with animal tracks and
fringed by a circle of trees. It was here that the body, or at
least what was left of it, had been found by one of the
park’s game rangers. Alerted by the sound of a pack of
hyenas so close to a well-used tourist track, he had
investigated. It had been immediately obvious to him that the
corpse they were fighting over was human, but the animals were
so aggressive that he had had to charge them with his vehicle
and twice discharge his rifle into the air to get them to
When the hyenas had retreated to a safe distance, the ranger
had approached. By then only the head and upper torso of the
victim remained reasonably intact. Below the breastbone was a
torn abdomen and spilled entrails, a third of a body, no more.
Though, amazingly, the upper right side of the victim’s body
was completely untouched, with the arm and shoulder in place
and free of bite marks – the limb in question outstretched,
with the hand seemingly grasping for the revolver that lay
nearby, almost as if the dead man had been trying to reach for
the weapon as he fell.
The ranger had covered what was left of the body with a
length of canvas sheeting from the back of his truck and had
then radioed the camp manager at Shingwedzi to report his
By the time the camp manager parked his Land Cruiser under
the trees, alongside the other two vehicles, the incident site
had already been marked out with police tape and the two crime
scene officers were sitting in the shade with the game ranger
who had made the original discovery, all awaiting Kemp’s
Ignoring the others, Kemp climbed out of the Land Cruiser and
went to stand at the edge of the clearing. The air was full of
birdcalls and the ticking of cicadas and the tablet he had
taken a short while before had brought on a pleasant
light-headed numbness, replacing the migraine that had sprung
up so suddenly on the journey with a gentle euphoria.
He gazed at the canvas sheet covering the victim. The smell
of putrid meat hung heavily in the air, yet above the body a
cloud of butterflies floated gently in the breeze, wings
aglitter in the sunlight.
The camp manager had remained standing next to the Land
Cruiser, where he was swiftly joined by his colleague and soon
the two men were in deep conversation together. Sergeant
Dlamini, meanwhile, had moved away to one side and was writing
in a notebook.
A few seconds later Sergeant Swanepoel, one of the crime
scene officers, came to stand at Kemp’s shoulder. For a
while the two of them stood in silent contemplation of the
“It’s a nice morning, George,” Kemp remarked finally.
His companion remained unconvinced. “You think so?” he
“So what can you tell me?”
“The victim’s name is Johan Coetzee. We found his wallet
in the car. His ID was inside. Louis photographed it in
situ, then I had a quick look inside and put it back. My
guess is that he came out here this morning, put a bullet in
his brain then got himself half eaten by hyenas.”
Kemp glanced around. The other crime scene officer was still
standing in the shade, camera in hand.
“Has Louis finished taking photographs yet?” he asked.
“More or less.”
“Have you looked at the body?”
The sergeant pulled a face. “Yes, and I’ve taken swabs
from his hand to check for gunpowder residue.”
Kemp steeled himself for what was to come. The area
immediately around the body was a brown wasteland of dust and
bare earth splattered with a trail of blood and gore
stretching back to the water hole.
“What about the rest of him?” he asked, staring around.
“We found one of his legs,” Swanepoel said.
Kemp frowned at the thought. Looking around he spotted a
bright orange traffic cone half hidden amongst some bushes.
“I’m sorry I missed that,” he said.
“We had to bring it in otherwise the hyenas would have
“Where is it now?”
“We wrapped it in plastic and put it in the boot of his
Kemp regarded the back of the victim’s Ford with new eyes.
That was one piece of information that the next owner of the
vehicle would probably not want to know.
“Have you gone over the vehicle?” he asked.
Instead of answering, the sergeant merely shrugged.
The clearing was an oven, the heat relentless. On the far
side of the water hole a pair of yellow-billed hornbills
swooped down to the ground, poked their long beaks into some
dried elephant dung, then hopped back into the shade.
Kemp felt a surge of apprehension and though his stare
remained fixed on the birds his mind was a jumble of
disjointed images: one second he was at the crime scene, the
next he was with his angry daughter in Johannesburg, then he
was sitting in his kitchen in a house full of echoes with a
gun upon his knee.
“Time to go to
work,” he said brusquely, turning and heading back towards
He returned to the crime scene wearing plastic gloves and
overshoes, walked over to the victim’s vehicle, peered
through the windows, then opened the front passenger-side
door. Lying in the passenger footwell was the victim’s
wallet, which he removed. It contained a standard Republic of
South Africa green Identification Document, thirty rand in
cash and a small wedding photograph dated 1984: a
head-and-shoulders shot showing the dead man and his wife,
both smiling happily for the camera. Kemp then turned his
attention to the victim.
One of Constable Ontong’s photographs – a long shot taken
from the edge of the clearing – shows Kemp standing next to
the dismembered corpse, gazing down at the torn abdomen and
spilled entrails. There is a look of exhaustion in his face.
He’s bending forward, his straight arms pressed down on his
knees, like a tired runner. Far behind him, in the background,
are the blurred head and shoulders of a giraffe, a dark
silhouette set against a frame of glinting trees.
There are other photographs too – of a jacketless Kemp
making notes on a writing pad; of him swallowing another
tablet from the tin box he kept in his pocket; of Kemp and
Sergeant Dlamini taking measurements around the body; of the
two Parks Board officials sharing a cigarette beneath the
trees – but there is no sense of urgency in any of the
pictures. Rather the opposite, in fact. The impression gained
is that all the detectives – Kemp in particular – are
merely going through the motions, that instead of an enquiry
gathering pace, one was witnessing an investigation slowly
Doctor Francine van Zyl, the local district surgeon and
acting pathologist, drove into the clearing thirty minutes
after Kemp and Sergeant Dlamini had begun their work. She
parked her Land Rover close to the other three vehicles, then,
pulling on a wide-brimmed straw hat, stepped out into the
The Doctor was small and neat; a slim, plain-looking
thirty-five-year-old woman with dark eyes and brown hair drawn
back into a ponytail. Beneath her white coat she was wearing a
pink cotton dress bedecked with small white flowers.
“It’s good of you to make time to see us, Doctor,” Kemp
said, reaching into the back of the Doctor’s Defender to
retrieve her medical bag.
“You should be wearing a hat in this heat, Captain,” she
said indifferently, checking out the clearing – the police
officers and Parks Board officials gathered in the shade –
the place where the corpse awaited her.
“Are you sick?” she asked, looking back at him.
“What do you mean?”
“You look sick.”
“I have a migraine.”
“Have you taken anything for it?”
“I have some pethidine tablets.”
“Then you need to be careful.”
“I am careful.”
That was when she glanced at him: head to toe, a professional
“Maybe not careful enough,” she said.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You’ve lost weight.”
“I’ve been on a diet.”
She gave him a cool look. “And your eyes? Have they been on
a diet too?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Miosis . . . your pupils are like pinpricks. You don’t
get that from dieting.”
Kemp’s face became taut, like he had suddenly heard bad
news, but by the time he opened his mouth to say something the
Doctor was already striding towards the water hole.
Kemp went after her.
“I take it that forensics have finished?” she said as he
caught up with her.
“Right, I’ll get to work then,” she said as she helped
herself to a pair of latex gloves from the bag Kemp was
holding and stepped over to the corpse.
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