My 8 hours with Mark Minnie, 3 days before his death
Three days before the death of Mark Minnie, co-author of The Lost Boys of Bird Island.
Photographer Lulama Zenzile and I meet Minnie in the parking lot of the McDonald's in Cape Road, Linton Grange, Port Elizabeth.
But first I had to tell him what kind of car we were driving.
I contacted Minnie shortly after the first report about the book came out on Sunday, August 5. We began chatting on Facebook Messenger.
Minnie was totally paranoid and didn't want people to know that he had already returned to South Africa from China months ago. I had to give him my word that I wouldn't tell anyone.
Finally, after he had checked out my background, he agreed to meet me.
Minnie rode with me and Zenzile to the Tsitsikamma region, where we hoped to meet more victims of the alleged paedophile ring Minnie wrote about in the book. We also wanted to try to track down the house and/or houses where some of the alleged rapes of underage coloured boys were said to have taken place.
Tsitsikamma inhabitants had told us about a house which was said to have belonged to the brother of a deputy minister. However, we couldn't verify this information.
In the end, we were to spend about eight hours with Minnie.
Minnie got in the back of our vehicle. He was jovial, friendly and pleased to talk to people who wanted to investigate the alleged abuses.
He was dressed in dark blue track suit pants and a red track suit top with Chinese writing. He kept constant hold of his gold coloured cellphone. His packet of cigarettes was never out of reach.
Minnie's hair was shaved short. His translucent blue eyes watched you intently. He was especially keen to find out how we had come across Mr X, one of the alleged victims who had come forward.
Minnie's life revolved around his son (24) and daughter (13). Also his former wife Bernie (pseudonym), the bar lady in the book who he still stayed with when he was in the country.
But he admitted that his past always caught up with him: the fact that as a boy, he was raped by two other youngsters. This, he told us in a three-hour conversation after we had left the Tsitsikamma region, was one of the main reasons why his private life, especially his love life, was never stable.
"My relationships never lasted, no matter how much I loved the woman. I always had to prove my masculinity. I always had to prove I was the stud in bed."
Minnie also said the rape was why he couldn't let the matter rest when he started investigating allegations of the paedophile ring more than 30 years ago.
"I knew, after I arrested Allen and he named the big names in the car, that I would get into trouble. But I would have let those children down and I couldn't do that."
Something else he didn't tell people was that he had already given up his job at the university in China, where he was teaching English, 20 months ago. He took unpaid leave to write his book. But his rector couldn't keep his position for him any longer and had to appoint someone else.
"I asked for unpaid leave so that I could begin working on the book, because I couldn't do it while I was working full-time. I also had to return to South Africa to do further research."
He spoke about his life in China, and that he returned to South Africa at least twice a year to spend time with his young daughter. His face was radiant when he said she was an ace hockey player. That Wednesday he still attended one of her matches.
While he was talking, he was constantly on his phone in the back of the car. It was one call after another. He also sent many messages. Many of them were to Chris Steyn, the investigative journalist who co-authored the book with him, and the book's publisher, Maryna Lamprecht. But he didn't elaborate about what was said in the messages.
He was also contacted about four or five times by people he had named in the book. The media is constantly calling them for comment. Minnie just laughed and said they should say "no comment".
While we were driving to the Tsitsikamma region, he said he hoped more victims would come forward. "We have people's names, but struggle to get to them or to find out where they are now."
According to him, the book's information was just the tip of the iceberg.
"The people preyed on more than underage coloured boys. White boys and gay white boys were also abused."
Minnie believed this implicitly.
The journey was long. After about two hours on the road we stopped to stretch our legs. He immediately got out and lit a cigarette. He smoked a further two in the course of the ten minutes we stood there.
He laughed when I asked him why he smoked so much. "It's the only way I can cope with the stress."
Mark Minnie, three days before his death. (Photo: Lulama Zenzile)
Minnie showed a childlike excitement when I got new information from a source.
During this time Zenzile and I snacked constantly from the food parcels prepared for us by the hotel we were staying at. He said no thanks and pointed to his cigarette.
"This is my food."
Upon our return to Port Elizabeth he mentioned that he feared for his life, even if only a handful of people knew that he was back in South Africa.
He also said that people on social media had tried to find out where he was.
On Tuesday morning I receive the shocking news that Minnie was dead; that he had presumably shot himself.
Immediately I think about the circumstances in which John Wiley, former minister of environmental affairs, and businessman David Allen died. Both are believed to have committed suicide. Both had been shot. In the book there are so many questions about Allen and Wiley's death; questions which still remain unanswered.
I still spoke with Minnie on Sunday. He was positive and said he was on the trail of a certain Igor and his younger brother, two further alleged victims he wrote about in the book.
He was also excited about the first official launch of the book in September.
"Will I see you there?" he wanted to know.
"Absolutely," was my response.