One on One


One of the jobs I was given was to see if we could prise some of the Sorghum Beer businesses away from the local administration boards, who ran them ‘for the benefit of the black community!’

Sorghum Beer takes the basic concept of African ‘home brew’ and industrialises the process. This produces a wholesome low alcohol product, usually with a pinkish tinge from the sorghum. It’s an ‘acquired taste’, if I could put it like that. The company’s subsidiary in Zimbabwe had major investments in Sorghum beer operations in that country, so the expertise existed to run such operations.

After a few months talking to various admin boards I had a phone call from the Chairman of one of the said admin boards.

We talked very briefly what I was doing and the man then said:

“Witbank Hotel, one on one, ten o’clock Tuesday.”

“Ok. Ten o’clock Tuesday.”

“Ja, be sure you are alone, must be one on one.”

“Ok, one on one.”

I drove to the appointed meeting.

Witbank, a coal mining centre, was and probably still is a dirty uninspiring town, about 150 k’s east of Jo’burg. The hotel was typical of many of the country hotels in South Africa at the time- dull but usually good value.

I waited in the bar for a few minutes, eyeing the only other customer. It soon became evident this was the person I was to meet.

It took the man just a few minutes to explain that he could deliver the industry to us provided we paid him so many cents a litre (this would have been worth millions). I listened and told him I would get back to him. I have no idea whether this was an elaborate ploy to get us into trouble by attempting to bribe a Government official or whether it was a genuine attempt to get us to bribe him personally.

I didn’t bother to find out. I drove directly to the offices of our lawyers in Jo’burg and made a statement to one of the senior partners there, which was put on file. We never made any contact with the man again. There was no purpose in going public on such a meeting, the ‘one on one’ arrangements ensured that.

Corruption in lily-white South Africa? You are joking? Ha, ha.

(The Witbank Hotel appears briefly in the third book of my ‘Winds of Change’ trilogy, ‘No Peace for the Wicked’.)

Guy Hallowes