SA widow tells of hubby's last call from Iraq

By Caiphus Kgosana, Sapa-AFP and Sapa-AP

The last time Melinda Strydom spoke to her husband Francois in Iraq, he told her to stop watching TV news as it would upset her.

But she had every reason to worry, because since he left their Pretoria home for Iraq six weeks ago, news coming from the country had been that of suicide bombings, killing and mayhem.

And three days later he was dead - one of the victims of a suicide bomb that ripped through a Baghdad hotel.

Four other South Africans were injured in the blast, one seriously.

Security guards yesterday fired without success as the suicide bomber drove an explosives-filled mini-bus with ambulance insignia up to the Shahine Hotel, in the upmarket Karrada district, and detonated his cargo. The bomber and three other people were killed and 17 injured.

The irony of 42-year-old Strydom's death is he went to Iraq to secure the future of his family. Instead his death has shattered the family and left his wife and the 10 children from their previous marriages destitute.

Strydom, who had been unemployed for three years, was offered employment by American based security company Erinys International.

According to his wife, he went to Baghdad to deliver vehicles.

"He said (on Sunday) I should ignore the news because the situation in Iraq was not as bad as what they made it look like on the news.

"He said I should not worry at all because he was fine," she said.

But that was the last time the couple were to speak to each other.

On Wednesday at 11am Melinda Strydom was phoned by her mother-in-law, who said something bad had happened.

"I thought she was talking about my father-in-law.

"Then she started crying and I knew something was wrong. She said there had been a bomb blast in Iraq which had claimed the life of my husband.

"I could not believe her, but after a while it all started sinking in," said Melinda from her home in Sinoville.

She said news of Francois' death had affected their children badly and she did not know how they would cope without him.

Strydom said she blamed South Africa because her husband could not find work here and was forced to go all the way to Iraq so that he could be able to provide for his family.

The family are arranging to have the body flown back to Pretoria, but have not yet made any funeral arrangements.

Francois Strydom and the four injured South Africans are all believed to be former police Security Branch members.

Erinys Africa's general manager, Johan Viljoen, confirmed that Erinys Iraq had subcontracted SAS International to do security work in Iraq and that several South Africans were working for SAS International.

He said that the company was still trying to establish the exact circumstances that led to the blast.

Foreign affairs spokesperson Nomfanelo Kota said the department had managed to establish the identities of the South Africans and would release their names as soon as their families had been notified.

Kota said that Strydom's remains would be flown home.

According to security officials, a large portion of the hotel was used by interim Iraqi Labour Minister Sami Azara al-Majun, who blamed the attack on members of Saddam Hussein's former Ba'ath Party.

"I get threats nearly every day," said Al-Majun, who was apparently being protected at the hotel by the five South Africans.

Hotel owner Hamud Ismail said he was sent an anonymous threat three months ago, telling him: "There are Jews and Americans in your hotel. Get rid of them."

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