SA man tells of Guinea prison hell
Johannesburg - The first thing Daniel Janse van Rensburg did when his flight from Equatorial Guinea touched down in Joburg was to borrow a fellow passenger’s cellphone and call his mom.
“Moeder ek is hier, ek is veilig (mother, I’m here, I’m safe),” he told her, fighting back tears. The pain and suffering of being incarcerated in the notorious Black Beach Prison in Equatorial Guinea for almost two years still haunts him.
“I’ll get too emotional if I speak to my wife, that can wait for later,” Janse van Rensburg told The Star at OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday, moments after he touched down.
Janse van Rensburg, 49, has been incarcerated in Equatorial Guinea after an aviation contract with former Malabo mayor, Gabriel Mba Bela Angabi, went sour.
Angabi cancelled the aviation contract he had with Janse van Rensburg and had the man thrown into jail when he couldn’t pay him his money back immediately.
Janse van Rensburg was found not guilty by a court, but was again thrown into prison when Angabi’s men had him hauled off a plane that was headed back to South Africa in December 2013. He was later released and rearrested a third time.
By last week, Janse van Rensburg had told the South African embassy to “get me out of here, they’re going to kill me”, according to the family’s spokeswoman Fran Kirsten.
When the shell-shocked man walked into the airport’s arrivals he was whisked away by Victor Rambau, the South African ambassador to Equatorial Guinea. A security guard was also on hand to shield him from media attention.
“We want to debrief him,” Rambau told the media.
The Star later caught up with Janse van Rensburg at a restaurant at the airport, where he sipped on a large milkshake.
“I’ve missed strawberry milkshakes,” he quipped.
When asked about his life in prison, Janse van Rensburg struggles to find the right words.
“It’s…” he said, shaking his head. “The dirt, the overcrowding, the violence, all the other things you have in jail I could handle.
“The worst part is I couldn’t speak to my family, that killed me. I only managed to get two phone calls while I was there.”
His eyes welled up with tears as he spoke. Janse van Rensburg suffered from typhoid and four bouts of malaria while he was in jail.
“It’s only by the grace of God I survived it. My faith carried me through in jail. I only had the Bible to read there. It forced me to read the Bible and work on my communication with God and it worked, I’m free.”
Despite his ordeal, Janse van Rensburg cracked jokes and laughed. But he said he’s not yet ready to share all the details about what exactly happened with the soured business deal.
“The problems we had were just to do with this one man (Angabi) and money. It was not the government. He’s got a lot of power and he abuses it. He didn’t want to accept the fact that he lost legally.”
To highlight the fact that he doesn’t blame Equatorial Guinea’s government for his ordeal, Janse van Rensburg said: “I would go back, but I don’t know if my wife would let me.”
It was the office of the second vice-president that eventually secured his release along with the tireless work of the South African embassy. “The help and support I got from the staff have been incredible. They’ve gone more than the extra mile. This has been so frustrating for them too.”
“I can’t believe it yet, it’s surreal still. I can’t believe I actually got out of the country. We were sending messages right until the plane left. I’m physically drained and mentally I’m finished.”
What’s the first thing he’s going to do when he gets to George?
“Kiss my wife. I haven’t kissed her in two years.”
On Sunday night, Janse van Rensburg flew to his hometown, George, to be reunited with his wife Melanie, one of their two children, Abigail, 22, and his parents Hennie and Martha. A large group of friends also welcomed him at George Airport.