What it's like being a hostage
THANK YOU MZANSI: "Something kept us strong. First I thought it was a guardian angel. But I think it is all the South African people"
WITH only a litre-and- a-half of water to use between them each day and a meal of only bread, pasta or rice every day during their 20-month ordeal, Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz have described their conditions in captivity as “inhumane”.
The couple, who were taken hostages when they were captured on the luxury yacht, yacht Choizil off the coast of Tanzania in October 2010, said on their arrival at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg that they were “treated worse than animals”.
“The conditions were inhumane. We were like untouchables ... We were kept in handcuffs permanently,” said Calitz shortly after they arrived.
The couple was welcomed in tears of joy shortly after they arrived at the airport from Italy at 4:30 yesterday afternoon.
As they were swamped by family, journalists and supporters, Calitz turned to Pelizzari, whispering “this is crazy”.
Calitz did most of the talking at a media conference hosted by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, as Pelizzari had temporarily lost his voice.
She was shaking as she described their ordeal.
“We weren’t allowed to bath,” she said.
While they were kept together during captivity, they weren’t allowed to speak.
“If we fought [one of the hostage-takers] we had to be separated.”
The couple only had one-and-a-half litres of water to share between them each day.
This included water they had to use when going to the toilet.
The couple were given very little food — consisting of only rice, bread and pasta — to eat by their captors.
“There were no vegetables and fruit,” she said.
The couple had been kept in the dark about any possibility of release, until they were rescued, reportedly through a joint operation by the Italian and Somalian security forces.
Calitz didn’t want to reveal much of the details of the operation, nor whether a ransom had been paid.
“It was a rescue. We can say more when we have been debriefed,” she said.
The couple is expected to be debriefed by the SA Authorities in Pretoria in the next week. During this period they will be staying at the Presidential Guest House.
As the couple came into the media room yesterday, they were hugged by family and friends who were there to meet them and wept.
All four of Calitz’s children flanked her and Pelizzari was met by his eldest sister.
As Pelizzari addressed the media, Calitz leaned towards him and said “We have a second chance at life”.
Pelizzari agreed: “My old life is gone. I am a new person”.
An aged-looking Calitz who still managed to make jokes between shedding tears thanked the South African people for “not giving up” on them.
“We must have felt the vibrations because something kept us strong. I thought it was a guardian angel. But I think it is all the South African people.”
The couple had sold their belongings and were sailing around the world as part of their retirement dream when they were captured by pirates.
However terrifying their ordeal had been, Pelizzari said his zest for sailing along the African coast had not been stolen.
He would like to be able to sail up the African coast to his family in Italy without fear of piracy, he said.
“This (piracy) must come to an end.”
Pelizzari also said: “We need to change. The whole world needs to change”.
Minister of International Relations and cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was at the airport to welcome the couple.
“Thank you for being patient. We would have loved to bring you back safe earlier but now you are home safe and sound.
“You are free now and no one will take it away from you.”
When Calitz’s brother Dale van der Merwe welcomed the couple, he placed ribbons around their neck with the words “Believe”.
The ribbons had been sold to raise money for a ransom to bring them home.
Calitz’s youngest daughter Carey-Ann said she couldn’t believe her mom was really free.
“It is unbelievable. I can’t explain how I feel. She is real. I can touch her.”
Asked what she wanted to do now that she was home she answered, “sleep a bit”.