The Phone Call in the Middle of the Night

In reading Helen Zille’s excellent autobiography, she narrates the incident in which she received a phone call in the middle of the night alleging that her spouse was involved in infidelity.  This despicable practice is used as a ploy to intimidate or to extract revenge. 

As I have experienced a similar incident some 20 years ago, there were uncomfortable parallels in my mind. Fortunately, in both cases, no lasting recriminations or suspicions were aroused or damage inflicted on the relationship. Yet it did cast some momentary doubts on the affected spouse in both cases. 

Main picture: Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape

Helen Zille

Helen was awoken in the middle of the night by a telephone call. A woman with a sultry voice informed her that not only was she the mistress of her husband, but that she was also pregnant by him. She shook her husband awake and he told her to listen in on a second phone. This, in some measure reassured her of her husband’s fidelity but her trust is momentarily rocked – until the next morning when she heard him laughing.

He reminded her of something which, in their anxiety and shock, they had both forgotten.

‘I can’t make anyone pregnant. I’ve had a vasectomy.’


My odyssey

In the mid 1990s, I was the Financial Director of Monoweld Galvanisers in Germiston. By then I had probably overstayed my welcome in the company and probably needed a change of scenery. Not that I wished to move as I was in my comfort zone working with great guys, Geoff and Riaan. This was to dramatically change at 4:30 on the 31st May 1995 – if I recall. I was informed by the Group CEO that as from the following day, 1st June, that I would be the Financial Director of CDF, a transport company located in Alberton. This company was involved in the parcel business and had depots in Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

At my desk at Monoweld Galvanisers

At my desk at Monoweld Galvanisers

On arrival at CDF on the following morning, I found that apart from the Operation’s Director, Johan van Zyl, the rest of the senior managers – the CEO and the previous FD – had been dismissed for whatever reason. With a new CEO only to be appointed sometime in the future, my first decision was to review all the operations in detail & to understand the business model and its profitability.

Before I reviewed the Financial Accounts, I asked Johan to accompany me around the Depot.  Lined up against the far wall were about 40 vehicles which, even from a far distance, looked decrepit. Upon closer inspection, it was revealed that none had been used for a length of time as a layer of dust caked them.


My first question to Johan was, “Why are these vehicles not been used?”

“They are all broken down,” he non-plussedly replied.

“Well let’s sell them or repair them,” I incredulously asked

“We can’t sell them because they have a huge value in the Fixed Asset Register but they are worthless.”

I then stubbornly pushed the point, “So what, we must take the knock.”

My 9am was back at my desk despondent.

The fleet was decrepid with depreciation write offs being far too low for their monthly mileage. All of the long haul vehicles were travelling 600 kilometres per day yet bakkies used on the overnight Joburg / Cape Town trip which had a life of 6 months were being written off over 5 years.


A quick review of the General Ledger revealed that accruals and liabilities were understated and that the company was haemorrhaging cash and money.

When the new CEO finally joined CDF a few weeks later, a meeting of all the Branch Managers was held in Alrode. In light of the precarious financial situation, I requested that no Purchase Orders, however small, would be placed in future without my countersignature.

At my office at Monoweld Galvanisers

At my office at Monoweld Galvanisers

A month later I discovered that the Alrode Branch Manager had not only signed an open ended contract for the supply of transport to Cape Town but also that the rate per ton was way in excess of the market rate.

Needless to say, after a disciplinary enquiry, chaired by myself, he was dismissed.

St Catherines Convent

St Catherine’s Convent

A week later at 12:30 on a Friday night, it happened. The phone rang. As usual, I never woke up and Janine took the call. The caller alleged that I was having an affair with my secretary at work. Furthermore, he threatened to kill my daughter at school. He even knew the name of the school: St. Catherine Convent. Fuming, Janine stormed into the bedroom and rudely confronted me with the accusation.

Of course I denied everything hoping that the fact I did not have a secretary as such, by rather used Johan’s wife whenever I required assistance, would suffice.

It did not.


Alesha – unwittingly drawn into a despicable act

I then used the angle that as Lettie weighed 130kgs, she was not my type of female.

Janine refused to accept any of my protestations of innocence. Finally she confronted me with the fact that the caller knew that Alesha attended St. Catherine’s Convent.

It then struck me like a ton of bricks. The manager whom I had fired the previous week lived across from the school. As we had discussed that fact over coffee sometime in the past, he obviously recalled it.

The worst was over. Nonetheless, it was not exactly an immediate case of kiss and make-up.

NO. It was not open warfare

NO. It was not open warfare

Nevertheless, it might well have resulted in a divorce if the marriage had already been rocky at that stage.

In both cases, it was only the additional piece of information provided by the caller which derailed their despicable plans.

It was a close run thing in both cases.

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