28 June 2012
There were mixed emotions at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport when South African couple Debbie Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari walked out of international arrivals to meet their families and friends on Wednesday.
There were hugs, laughs, screams and tears from both the couple and their relatives – tears of joy and relief, and of pain and heartache symbolic of what the couple had gone through since their capture 20 months ago.
The couple, whose release from Somali pirates was secured last week, were taken hostage off the Gulf of Aden in October 2010 after armed pirates hijacked their yacht as it was about to enter the Mozambique channel, south of Dar es Salaam.
The pair was rescued last Wednesday and flown from Mogadishu to Djibouti and then on to Rome, where Pelizzari’s mother lives.
In the emotional homecoming, the frail-looking pair sounded strong spirit despite their physical condition.
Speaking to the media shortly after their arrival, a tearful Calitz expressed gratitude to everyone involved in their rescue and those who kept them in their prayers. “We must have felt the vibrations of South African people because something kept us going … We love you South Africa.”
The couple was received by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane when they landed.
The two spoke about their ordeal, which they described as inhumane, as they were treated worse than animals. Calitz said they were not fed well, were handcuffed 24 hours a day, and were also not allowed to bathe much.
The couple was kept together and fed a high starch diet of rice, pasta and bread.
“We were not allowed luxuries which meant no soap. We had one and half litres of water per day between us … it was just terrible,” said Calitz.
Pelizzari, who holds dual South African-Italian citizenship, said they were happy to get their freedom back. Pelizzari, who said he came out of the ordeal a “new person”, told reporters that it would take a lifetime to repay everybody.
Hitting back at their captors, he said what the pirates were doing needed to stop. He added that South Africa had created a rainbow nation and, as a country, it had to help others to do the same.
Caltiz’s daughter Sam said their safe return was a miracle. “There are no words, it’s emotions, we are happy,” she said.
Nkoana-Mashabane welcomed the couple, saying it was a happy moment. She assured the couple that no one would take their freedom away now that they were back in the country.
The minister also took some time to express gratitude to both the Somali and Italian governments for their roles in securing the release of the couple.
The instability in Somalia has exacerbated the growing scourge of piracy. Instability due to war and the absence of a functioning government have contributed to the worsening of the situation, while a lack of sustainable programmes for institution and capacity building also renders Somalia more vulnerable to natural disasters.
Last year alone, 24 ships where hijacked in 134 piracy incidents off the Somali coast, according to the European Union Naval Force.
Nkoana-Mashabane said Somalia, with the assistance of the international community, needed to evolve a developmental strategy that would a result in a prosperous and stable democracy.
She also encouraged the families of those who were in similar situations not to give up.
The couple is expected to debrief South African officials about their journey in the next few days.