When good times go bad

Text: Danie Botha
Photogaphy: Jannie Herbst, Pieter and Thea Bosman

Pieter and Thea Bosman are real outdoors people.

Pieter, who used to work in the technical department of a cement manufacturing plant and is now retired, and housewife Thea have been camping since they can remember. They bought their first caravan in 1988 and over the years have enjoyed most of southern Africa’s natural splendour firsthand.

But Lesotho proper eluded the Bosmans. Although they did enter the country on prior occasions, time constraints meant that they had only scratched the proverbial surface of what the mountain kingdom has to offer.

So when Pieter and Thea hooked up their Jurgens caravan behind their Land Rover Discovery II TD5 auto and headed to the Drakensberg in October 2009, they had a plan.

They would leave the caravan in Ladybrand, and make a detour to Lesotho for a three-day expedition in the country.

And explore it as it should be explored.

“We planned on camping at lodges, and plotted a route that would take us to the places we’ve always wanted to see,” says Pieter.

This included the town of Semonkong, situated in the heart of Lesotho.

“We entered Lesotho through the main Maseru border post at 8:30am, drove through the town of Roma and reached Semonkong around mid-day. Little did we know our holiday would be over by 12:15. We missed the Semonkong Lodge’s signboard in the somewhat chaotic town “metropolis”, and found ourselves on the Maletsunyane waterfall road. We ended up at the waterfall’s look-out point, which was not a half bad thing. It is really spectacular,” says Pieter.

Arriving at the look-out point, two young men were sitting on a nearby rock, dressed in modern clothing. The couple greeted the two youngsters, who spoke good English.

“We asked them if there was a road closer to the falls, but they said most tourists walk down the steep mountainside to get a closer look at the waterfall. So we locked the Landy, and walked down the rocky mountainside,” explains Pieter.

After they had taken their photographs, at a closer look-out point, they started back up the steep mountain side. The couple saw one of the men occasionally peering over the edge. Pieter was increasingly wary of the situation.

“I mentioned to Thea that I hoped they did not break into the Discovery,” says Pieter.

When the couple arrived at their vehicle, the two youngsters were waiting, close to the Land Rover.

“The Land Rover was unscathed, and my initial thought was that they were going to demand a fee for looking after our vehicle. But the moment we were in range, one of them let loose with a big rock, which hit me in my chest. This was followed up by another rock, which hit my right hand, and then a third in the stomach. Stunned, I realised the guy who had thrown the rocks at me brandished a large screwdriver, and was advancing. I looked over in Thea’s direction. The other thug held her at kitchen-knife point. At that stage I realised resistance was futile, in lieu of our own safety, and we were ordered to lie flat on the ground, on our tummies,” tells Pieter.

The two men demanded the Land Rover’s keys, which one of them removed from Pieter’s trouser pocket. The vehicle was unlocked.

“We had, amongst other things, a Coleman Cooler box and picnic basket in the load area. While his tjommie was looking after us, one of them took out the cooler box and basket and threw them onto the rear seats. He then took twinflex wire that he had handy, and tied our hands behind our backs. We were ordered into the boot of the Land Rover, and one of the jackers joined us in the cramped space. He then chucked a sleeping bag, which we normally use to cover the cooler box, over our heads,” says Pieter.

The other jacker jumped in behind the wheel, but there was a problem: he couldn’t start the automatic Discovery.

“Bitch! You come and show me how to start the car!” he shouted at Thea.

Thea was bundled out of the boot and to the driver’s seat, where she showed the “driver” that he only needed to turn the key further in the ignition to start the engine. She was then bundled back into the boot, along with a kick from behind.

With the sleeping bag covering the couple’s heads, the Landy sped off from the Maletsunyane waterfall’s look-out point.

“While we were speeding along on this narrow and twisty mountain gravel road, they demanded our cash, credit cards, travellers’ cheques, cell phones and “guns”, the latter which we obviously didn’t have. They used the words “we will kill you!” quite often. I told them where my wallet was and Thea told them that her handbag was in the passenger’s foot well,” tells Pieter.

At one point, while the Land Rover was speeding along on the dangerous mountain road, Pieter asked their abductors to take the car and everything in it and leave them at the road-side.

“Don’t worry,” said the one jacker. “We will drop you off at a nice place. And then we will teach you a lesson.”

All the time Thea was praying fervently, one of them told her to “shut up! What are you talking about?” Things were indeed looking bleak for the Bosman couple. “But then her prayers were answered, the driver lost control of the vehicle and over we went,” says Pieter. “The Discovery hit the first terrace down the side of the mountain with its right front wheel and landed on the second on its roof. The two hijackers screamed at each other, confused. The driver came round and opened the rear door for his friend. Then he closed the door again, leaving us there, as they ran off with only my wallet,” says Pieter.

In the chaos Pieter had managed to unravel himself from his twinflex bonds, but couldn’t open the rear door. Almost immediately, though, a local passerby was on the scene.