Family lifeline strainedComment on this story
Durban - For 20 months Debbie Calitz and Bruno Pelizarri clung to the dream that they would be reunited with their children and relatives as they endured abuse at the hands of their Somali captors.
When they finally returned home, thin and traumatised by their ordeal, their hopes were realised.
Debbie and her three daughters and son put the differences behind them that had resulted in estrangement before her capture, and now enjoy relationships that she told us she will never forfeit.
Bruno was warmly welcomed by his sons, elderly mother and sister, Vera Hecht, who had almost single-handedly campaigned for their release, and conducted negotiations with the terrorists until they were freed.
Hecht also raised an amount of almost R1 million through appeals in the media.
Five months on, Debbie and Bruno are both trying, in their own way, to plan for the future.
Bruno is trying to get his yacht seaworthy again after it lay at anchor in Dar es Salaam for months. Vera is preparing for the launch of her book, Twenty Months of Hostage Hell, which will be released soon.
However, Debbie and Vera no longer speak to one another. Their strained relations stem from a fallout over the funds that were collected for Debbie and Bruno’s release.
The Sunday Tribune has learnt that the South African government did not pay anything to get the pair freed.
Vera and Debbie have both confirmed that the R1m collected by South Africans, and contributed to by members of the Somalian refugee community in Cape Town, was not spent on a ransom.
This week a national magazine ran an article on Debbie in which it was stated that she and Vera had argued over money.
Debbie would not go into detail, but said she felt Vera had done everything in her power to drive her and Bruno apart.
Vera, in turn, told the Sunday Tribune: “I have no reason to do that. Their relationship is entirely their own business. They are adults and I don’t care in the least if they are together or apart.
“I feel that her family feel guilty they did not do more to help get them freed; so they are driving a wedge between Debbie and Bruno.”
In an interview this week, Vera said the bulk of the R1m was still in the SOS fund established for them.
“I think Debbie misunderstands the terms of the trust, though. I can’t simply authorise payments to her,” she said.
Vera said she feared “nasty things will have been written about me in Debbie’s book”.
Debbie said nothing could be further from the truth.
“There are no unpleasant revelations. I thank Vera in the book for everything she has done.”
In the course of the reported squabble over funds, Debbie and Vera have both engaged the services of lawyers.
Debbie said she did not want to say anything negative about Vera, adding: “I am deeply grateful every day for all the people who held us in their hearts and prayers, and gave money to help us come home, but since I got back my faith in human integrity has taken a severe blow. That is all I am prepared to say at this point.”
A lawyer who has acted pro bono for Vera, first assisting with hostage negotiations and later advising on the running of the trust, said that any costs that are incurred by either Debbie or Bruno in the course of their rehabilitation and return to normal life would be covered.
“The trust was drawn up with three aims: to collect a ransom, to ensure their rehabilitation when they were released, and to ensure any money left over would be donated to a registered and reputable charity, which will be done.
“If Debbie and Bruno need any further medical or psychological treatment, or dentistry to repair the tooth decay they suffered, they need only submit quotes or invoices and they will be covered.”
The lawyer said the trust was a public document, regularly audited. Anyone was free to apply to have a look at the trust statements.
“I just want to get on with my life and make the most of it, so I try to think peaceful thoughts and generate positive energy,” Debbie said.
“I have been told that I would help a lot of people by becoming a guest speaker and sharing our ordeal and what reserves I had to draw on to survive.
“I am thinking about it, but for now my focus is on having the loveliest Christmas imaginable with my kids. Other people’s karma can sort itself out, as it always does.”