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KARABO SEANEGO and LALI VAN ZUYDAM
WE WERE treated worse than animals. This is how Deborah Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari described their ordeal in Somalia as they set foot in SA for the first time in 20 months after being kidnapped by Somali pirates.
The worn-out pair broke down in tears as they relived their horrendous stay where they were forced to share 1.5 litres of water a day between them. “That was also for the toilet. We were not fed very well and we were handcuffed 24 hours a day. The conditions were very inhumane. We were treated worse than animals,” she said.
Calitz said they were mainly fed starchy foods and did not receive any fruit or vegetables.
There were hugs with tears flowing as they entered the media room. “Debbie, I love you.” These were the words exclaimed by one family member of Calitz as she and Pelizzari sat down for a press briefing. The pair appeared to have been brought closer together during their ordeal as they were constantly touching one another and maintaining eye contact.
The couple thanked the South African people on their homecoming yesterday after being freed from captivity by Somali pirates last week.
“We must have felt the vibrations of South African people there, because something kept us strong,” a tearful Calitz told media, friends and family at the airport.
“I thought it was a guardian angel… I think it was all the people… Thank you South Africa, we love you.” In response to a Pretoria News question as to what the first thing was the couple were going to do when they got home, Calitz responded emphatically: “Sleep!”
However, it was unlikely that they would get much sleep as excited family members who crowded around them at the airport were likely to be with them at home last night.
“I would like to thank everybody in SA. Thank you for not giving up on us; we appreciate it. We need to make it known what these people (pirates) do to people. They have no right to do that,” she said.
Pelizzari said people needed to start looking within themselves and to help build a rainbow nation similar to SA everywhere in the world.
He said it would take him four lifetimes to be able to thank everyone for the support they had showed.
“We need to change; the whole world needs to change. This must come to an end. We created a rainbow nation in SA and we need to do the same for the world.
“Please let’s get it together. SA truly is a rainbow nation; Mandela did a good thing,” he said. The hostage ordeal has changed him and made him a new person, he added.
The pair said they were very lucky to be kept together while in captivity and attributed it to them not fighting the pirates.
“We were treated like ‘untouchables’, we were not allowed luxuries like soap. We were kept like prisoners,” said Calitz.
The couple said they were looking forward to getting on with their lives, for once enjoying their evenings and getting a good night’s sleep. The families of the couple have grown in their absence and they said they would be seeing the new additions for the first time. “We have four grandchildren whom we have not yet met, meeting them for the first time will be very great,” Calitz said.
Family members rejoiced at the couple’s return. Samantha de Jesus said she was overjoyed and ecstatic. “This is a miracle. Thanks to all South Africans who donated to help in their release. I really did lose hope because you can imagine that 20 months is a long time without seeing someone,” she said.
Jason Cross said he was relieved that they were finally free. “I did not expect it to happen so quickly but I always had hope,” he said.
Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said the SA government had helped secure their release in a joint effort with the Italian and Somali governments.
She said they were working with different bodies to try to establish stability in Somalia.
Nkoana-Mashabane said the government was working with the Transitional Government of Somalia when the couple were released and airlifted to Djibouti.
The first calls the couple received were from the the Somali and Italian foreign ministries.
“We have been working together with the AU to normalise the situation in Somalia.
“We are working together with the international community to return Somalia to constitutional normality. We have a responsibility to ensure that Somalia does not become a failed state because it’s not in our best interest. Not in the interest of anyone. We need to bring normality to the whole of Africa,” Nkoana-Mashabane said.