They were treated like untouchable animals, kept handcuffed for 20 months day and night, and were rarely fed.
This is how Deborah Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari, from Durban, say they were kept in Somalia after pirates kidnapped them in 2010.
The couple had been in captivity for 20 months when they were rescued last week.
They arrived at OR Tambo International Airport, Joburg, yesterday and were to spend the night in Pretoria, at the home of one of Calitz’s daughters. Their families are not sure when they will go to Durban.
The couple emerged from the terminal holding a multicoloured bouquet of flowers, but no luggage. Calitz’s eyes filled and Pelizzari smiled as they took their first steps out of the terminal.
Both were pale and looked frail, and Calitz’s cheek bones protruded.
“We are home, we are safe, we are happy and there is lots of reuniting to be done,” said Calitz.
“We need to let this out in public so these people can stop doing this. It’s not right to do this to people.”
Pelizzari, who had lost his voice, whispered hoarsely: “It’s going to take four lifetimes to repay everybody.”
Calitz added: “We must have felt the vibrations of South African people there, because something kept us strong.
“I thought it was a guardian angel… I think it was all the people... Thank you South Africa, we love you.”
Pelizzari said: “We created a rainbow nation in SA. We have to do the same for the world.”
He would like to sail up the east coast of Africa and through the Suez Canal to Italy without the fear of encountering pirates, Pelizzari said.
“My old life is gone. It’s a new life and I’m a new person,” he said.
The couple did not know if a ransom had been paid.
“We were rescued by the Italian government and the Somali government… We were kept in the dark. We don’t know much and still need to be debriefed,” said Calitz.
She said they had been “treated like animals, like untouchables”, by their captors.
“Handcuffed 24 hours a day,” whispered Pelizzari.
“We rarely bathed and didn’t have soap,” Calitz chipped in.
“We lived on one and a half litres of water a day between us… It was just terrible. We had a mostly starch diet – no rice or bread.”
And the first thing Calitz wants to do back in SA?
“Sleep a bit,” she laughed.
Dale van der Merwe, Calitz’s brother, said: “I feel relief and happiness – everything at once.”
The past 20 months had taken a toll.
“We went to sleep at night wondering if they had slept,” Van der Merwe said.
Deborah’s daughter Samantha de Jesus said she felt nervous as well as excited.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I don’t think it has sunk in yet. I haven’t heard my mother’s voice for almost two years. They didn’t even allow her one phone call.”
De Jesus asked her mother and Pelizzari: “Did you kiss the ground? You are home.”
Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane slipped out of the ANC policy conference early to make an appearance.
She said the couple’s release had been the result of a joint effort by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, the Italian government and the couple’s families.
“Thank you to the family for believing in the government, and being patient. It was a very difficult task to recover them,” she said.
Nkoana-Mashabane said the international community should seek long-term solutions to bring Somalia to “constitutional normalcy”.
To other criminals harbouring South Africans, she said: “We will leave no stone unturned.”
She noted that an SA man had been taken hostage in Mali several months ago.
Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesman Nelson Kgwete said the government had not paid a ransom.