Some call him a dead man walking, and for the past 25 years Rudi van der Merwe has sometimes felt dead.
The former policeman was severely injured when two limpet mines exploded at the Jacobs substation on January 9, 1986, and his life was changed forever.
“He (Robert McBride) had a job to do, I had a job to do, but I am still suffering and he is not suffering,” he said.
Robert McBride, who took responsibility for the bombing, was quoted in reports as saying: “The first bomb blast was intended to cause economic damage and (act) as a propaganda campaign.
“The purpose of the second was to intentionally injure or kill security policemen who would converge on the scene to investigate the first blast.”
In the reports, McBride said the bombings were intended to mark the ANC’s birthday.
Speaking to the Sunday Tribune this week about the 25-year anniversary of the incident, Van der Merwe said he was working as a policeman when he responded to a call of duty.
As the then detective sergeant of the Brighton Beach station, it was business as usual for him on that fateful day.
“I went to work as usual. I was on standby.”
Van der Merwe said they received a report of an explosion at the Jacobs electricity substation on Chamberlain Road.
“My team went to see if the place was safe and within 10 minutes, the second explosion went off. It felt like an electric shock. It felt like I was standing on electric cables. I didn’t realise I was in flames,” said Van der Merwe.
Eighty percent of his body was severely burnt and Van der Merwe’s colleagues, Mervyn Dunn, Dudley Booysens and Vincent Zimmerman also suffered burns. Another colleague, Robert Welman, later died of his injuries.
Van der Merwe was in hospital for five months and recovered at home for 18 months. Although he returned to work, he was eventually medically boarded in May 1997.
Van der Merwe said that before the incident he had been very active and sociable and was a good father.
”I joined the police force because I wanted to help other people and I wanted to make sure that justice was done,” he said. “I had a very good social life. I had lots of friends.”
However, Van der Merwe said all of that came to an end after the incident. His wife divorced him in 1998 and he has lost touch with his children.
“It was difficult for my family to see me in that position; they had to accept what had happened and that I couldn’t do the things I used to do with them,” he said.
Now his legs are often swollen, especially during summer. “My legs ooze puss and sometimes when I get an infection, I have to be hospitalised.”
Looking at his face, the 53-year-old seems in normal health, but as your eyes wander down, you notice the scars on his legs, the missing pinkie finger and that one foot appears larger than normal.
When people see him they stare. “Kids ask their parents what is wrong. They come to me and I tell them, ‘I was burnt in a bomb.’ If they want to feel, I let them touch,” he said.
However, his personal battle with his body is nothing like the one he faces with the Department of Labour.
According to Van der Merwe, the last time his doctor received any payment for medical fees was in 2006.
When he was in hospital for six weeks in 2008, the hospital informed him they were not paid for his hospital fees.
“I was not aware the hospital was not paid, so I started to query what was happening,” he said.
He said the department settled the hospital claim in 2009.
“The accountants at my doctor’s office then called me in December (last year) and told me that the doctor will not treat me anymore because they haven’t been paid.
“So if anything happens, I cannot go to the hospital, the clinic or see a doctor.”
The Compensation Fund’s Vincent Nubzanani said: “All Mr Van der Merwe needs to do is to re-apply for his claim and we will re-open it. We paid for the claims and we will continue to pay for them.”
However, Van der Merwe said he has gone through all the right channels to keep his file open, but no monies had yet been received.
Van der Merwe said the police had played a big part in trying to help him. “I am grateful to the police; they have tried their best to assist me but I suppose they can only go so far.”
SAPS spokesman Colonel Vishnu Naidoo said: “The SAPS, together with the Compensation Commissioner (CC), accepted Van der Merwe’s injury on duty (IOD), and they awarded him 80 percent permanent disability.
“We took it upon ourselves to engage the compensation commissioner as Van der Merwe needed ongoing medical treatment,” he said.
Naidoo said the police took full responsibility for Van der Merwe’s medical accounts as he was injured on duty. SAPS said they are committed to looking after his wellbeing and making sure he gets the medical assistance he requires.
Van der Merwe said it is a positive attitude that keeps him sane.
“I didn’t go for any psychological therapy – the doctors said I didn’t need it because I had a strong mind.”
He said he accepted his situation. “I knew it was my duty, and that kept me going and still keeps me going. I don’t give up easily.”
But the painful memories won’t go away, especially when he sees McBride on TV or reads a newspaper report about him.
“I will never forgive him. I will never forget what he did to me and other people. When I see him on TV, I always think back to the incident. Sometimes I want to explode because whatever he does, he gets away with it,” he said.
He said while he sometimes feels angry and frustrated over what happened, he lives every day as it comes.
“It is difficult, but I have managed for 25 years,” he said. “It’s a miracle that I am still alive.” – Sunday Tribune