The Prey by Tony Park – Extract

The Prey
Prologue

Australian Financial Review online
Mining executives killed in Zambian air crash
10 October 2013

Lusaka, Zambia: Troubled Australian mining giant Global Resources is mourning the loss of two of its brightest stars, second-in-charge Dr Kylie Hamilton,  and a senior South African mine manager, Cameron McMurtrie, who died today in a light aircraft crash in Zambia.

Dr Hamilton, the company’s director of health, safety, environment and community, had been widely tipped to take over the company if and when its besieged CEO, Jan Stein, departed. Dr Hamilton and Mr McMurtrie, who had been recently appointed to the position of director of new projects, were on their way to visit a mine in Zambia’s copper belt region when their Cessna crashed.

A Zambian air force helicopter found the crash site yesterday in rugged bushland in the centre of the country’s remote Kafue National Park. Reports said the badly burnt bodies of two men, one believed to be the pilot, and a woman were found at the scene of the crash.

Mr McMurtrie, from Barberton, South Africa, and Dr Hamilton, from Sydney, Australia, were the only two passengers on the flight.

‘The pilot did not radio a distress call, and a ranger in Kafue National Park told us he saw the aircraft pass overhead and then heard a loud explosion a short time later,’ Zambian military spokesman Colonel Oliver Mwanzi told the Australian Financial Review.

Mr Stein said in a statement issued last night that Dr Hamilton and Mr McMurtrie were irreplaceable members of the Global Resources family.

The news has sent Global Resources shares plummeting to an all-time low, continuing the trend of the last two weeks as the company has lurched from one crisis to another in its African operations.

PART ONE

1

Sabi Sand Game Reserve, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Unlike the rest of his kind, he was a catcher of fish, and unlike those of his relatives who also liked to fish, he did so at night.

He didn’t fear the darkness, populated as it was with the lion and the leopard on the hunt and countless smaller predators, such as the wild cat, the serval, the genet and the civet. Secrecy was part of his defence. He was a master of camouflage and, although he had a big voice when it was called for, he usually went about his business in silence.

He scanned the water of the Sabie River in front of him. It was the end of the long dry winter and the river, which had been a raging torrent that claimed trees and washed away banks in the summer, was now gurgling gently. Perfect.

His eyesight was good. In the light of the full moon he could see a fat barbel snaking its way along the bottom, its ugly black tadpole-shaped bulk and its cat’s whiskers clearly silhouetted against the rich gold of the sandy bottom of the shallow river.

A crocodile cruised a little further upriver, its nostrils and eyes the only parts of it that sliced the glittering surface. A hippo honked its impatience at another in its pod as it wallowed and queued, waiting for its turn to wade ponderously out of the river and begin a night of foraging for grass.

The deep shade of the sycamore fig cloaked the fisherman in a dappled moon shadow, so the barbel wouldn’t see him until the second he speared the water and struck. He watched the fish and thought of the feast to come.

From the home he shared with his mate he heard the cry of his baby. He turned his head three hundred and sixty degrees to face the sound.

His baby squawked again. A fiery-necked nightjar offered a prayer to the night: good Lord, deliver us, good Lord, deliver us, the bird called.

He was under pressure.

A blade of bright light suddenly slashed the darkness and played across the surface of the Sabie River. The barbel, as startled as the fisherman by the intrusion, flicked his tail and disappeared upriver at a speed surprising for his size. The crocodile dived, like a submarine preparing for action.

‘Look, it’s an owl,’ a human voice called. The fisherman took flight.

2

Barberton, South Africa

Chris Loubser hated the dark. He stole a last glimpse of daylight as he walked into the cage, and closed his eyes tight as the gate slid shut. The few people in his personal

life who knew of his phobia – his sister and his parents – had been astounded when he’d taken the job working underground.

The cage bell rang. Immediately it felt to him as though the rock walls around him had started to move inwards, as if pushing the bodies of the other mine workers into him, so that he melded with them, a single multi-armed, multi-legged crush of flesh sandwiched between the pressing rock.

This was his nightmare, and his job. Themba, his newly recruited and freshly university-minted assistant, elbowed him in the ribs. Chris, startled, opened his eyes to see the young man grinning. He’d said something but Chris hadn’t heard it over the screaming of the spooling cable.

‘What?’

‘It’s faster than I thought. Hell of a ride, man.’

Chris nodded and took in the scene in front of him. Themba seemed to be enjoying it. Two other men in the cage chatted and laughed casually, and another couple stared straight ahead, looking bored. Just another shift. Chris wished he could be like them.

‘It’s a job, Mom,’ he’d said to his mother. ‘And I’m a twenty-nine-year-old Afrikaner oke in a  workforce  where  black  women are at the top of the hiring list – even in the mines – and white men are at the bottom.’

‘You could go to Australia, Chris, there’s plenty of work for smart boys like you there.’

His mother hadn’t looked into emigrating, but Chris had. He knew it wasn’t nearly as easy for him to enter Australia as she thought, and besides, the only industry that would offer him a job and sponsor him into the country was mining. If he was going to have to work in an underground hell he would rather it be at home. He loved the bush and he loved his country, despite all of its faults.

‘I can do more here in South Africa,’ he had told his mother. ‘In Australia safety is already the industry’s priority, whereas here there’s much more to be done on that front. I can achieve more here. I can save lives, Mom.’

His stomach lurched as the multi-deck cage he was riding hurtled into the black abyss. Suspended below the platform he stood on were two more decks, each with a further six people in them.

He knew the statistics, and they didn’t make him feel better. The temperature rose by 0.4 of a degree for every hundred metres they descended. He’d checked the thermometer before entering the cage and worked out that the wet-bulb temperature would be 30 degrees – flipping hot – in the madala side they were heading to, one thousand, four hundred metres below ground level.

‘You feeling OK, man?’ asked his dreadlocked trainee.

Chris looked beyond the confines of the cage and saw the rock face rushing past. He wished he’d kept his eyes shut. ‘Big night last night,’ he responded weakly.

Themba threw back his head and laughed. ‘I thought you were the quiet one in the office?’

Chris supposed he was. He hadn’t been out drinking last night; he had been poring over the environmental impact assessment for a new mine, the one planned for the game reserve. He was one of six people in the South African office of Global Resources who’d been asked to contribute to the assessment when it was in draft form. Most of his comments had been included, some ignored.

Chris closed his eyes again. The truth was he spent very little time underground, but Themba had never been into a madala side and it was company policy that no one went into the disused tunnels, or an ‘old’ side or area as the name meant in English, alone. It was too risky. They were also being escorted by a mine security guard, an Angolan named Paulo Barrica, who carried an R5 assault rifle in addition to his lamp and the self-rescue pack they all wore underground.

The smell and heat of the bodies around him added to Chris’s sense of unease, a feeling that was rising steadily with every additional level they plummeted. Nearly a kilometre and a half, he thought to himself. It would have been worse if he was working in one of the big goldmines in the Free State; some of them were more than three thousand metres deep. He clasped his hands together to stop them from shaking. He couldn’t let Themba see just how frightened he was.

When the hoist driver stopped Chris and Themba’s deck at level fourteen, bells rang to tell the onsetter controlling the cage it was safe to open the gate. The man nodded for them to get out. Barrica knew the way to the disused workings and he led off, his rifle cradled across his broad chest.

‘Who were you out partying with last night – some of the boys from the office?’ Themba asked him. ‘Get in trouble from the wife?’

‘No. I’m not married.’

‘I am. We have a little girl, just turned six months. Do you have a girlfriend?’

‘No,’ Chris said.

Chris wondered if Themba was making small talk because he sensed that Chris was nervous and was trying to ease the tension.

If so, it wasn’t working. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts and fears.

They left the parade of men and machinery behind them as the three of them turned into an unlit side tunnel. Barrica turned on his lamp and Chris and Themba followed suit.

‘This leads to one of the madala sides,’ Chris said. In front of them, in the light cast by Barrica’s lamp, they could see where the tunnel had been bricked closed, and where a man-sized steel door had been fitted at the wall’s centre. Barrica unclipped a key chain from his belt, set down his R5 against a wall and tried three keys before he found the one that opened the padlock on the latch.

‘Although this part of the mine isn’t being worked it still needs to be monitored,’ Chris said, more to stop himself from turning and running back to the cage and begging to be hoisted back to the surface, than from any real need to explain to Themba why they were here.

‘Because of the dead zama zamas?’ Themba asked. ‘Why do we even care about them?’

Chris didn’t bother to hide his annoyance. ‘Because our men work nearby. We know some of the bodies the zama zamas leave out for us to collect died of cholera and others from carbon monoxide poisoning. Cameron wants us to find out how close the contaminants are to our workers.’ He risked adding, ‘And because they’re human beings.’ The term meant ‘try try’ or to chance, and Chris despaired at the poverty or greed that would make men want to live likes a zama zama, slaving away for months on end underground, where death was a more likely outcome than riches.

‘You sure we’re safe down here then, man?’

Chris stopped and turned to Themba. The younger man took half a pace back. Chris saw he carried his own fears. ‘You’re worried about the zama zamas?’

‘No.’ He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Well maybe.’

‘That’s why Paulo’s here,’ Chris said, nodding towards Barrica’s broad back. The security guard now held his rifle at the ready, the tip of the barrel leading the way. He didn’t bother looking back at them. Paulo had been hired because of his military skills – he was a veteran of years of fighting in the Angolan civil war – and because as a foreigner there was less risk of him being bribed or coerced into working for the local zama zamas. He would also have no qualms about killing them if he had to.

‘Come on then,’ Chris beckoned Themba with false bravado. ‘We’ve got work to do.’

As they trudged behind Barrica in the subterranean heat, Chris was sweating and a little short of breath. He stumbled every now and then as his gumboots slipped on an irregular chunk of rock. As they rounded a bend, he smelled something.

Barrica stopped and held up a hand. Chris gave Barrica a nod, and the Angolan started moving forward again, at a careful pace, rifle at the ready.

Eish! What is that stink?’ Themba put a hand over his mouth and coughed.

The rank odour grew stronger as they moved down the tunnel. Chris forgot his fears of the roof of rock falling on him, or of the side walls closing in on him. There was something very real waiting for them in the blackness ahead. The stench reached out for them.

‘What is that?’ Themba asked again.

Barrica stopped and turned to fix the young man with the hard stare of a warrior. ‘Ssssh. That smell, it is death.’

Sydney, Australia

Kylie set down her takeaway latte on the boardroom table and looked into the lens of the video camera.

‘OK, please tell us your name and position in the company as a tape identification and sound check,’ said the thin man operating the camera. ‘And look at me, not into the lens.’

She shifted her gaze. ‘Doctor Kylie Hamilton, EGM, HSEC for GR.’ She’d been interviewed a few times for real, for mining industry magazines, some country newspapers in the Hunter Valley where she had managed a coalmine for five years, and twice for regional television. Kylie wasn’t nervous about the media training course she’d been volunteered for by corporate affairs, but given the choice she would have been back at her desk – she had a mountain of work to get through before her flight to South Africa the following morning. ‘EGM HSEC?’ The media trainer smiled condescendingly. ‘GR?’

‘Executive General Manager, Health, Safety, Environment and Community, Global Resources,’ Kylie said with the patience of a teacher taking extra time for the slow learner.

‘Window-dressing, in other words.’

Kylie sighed inwardly. So this was how it was going to be. There were three other people on the course, her CEO, Jan Stein; the human resources EGM, Jeff Curtis; and the new South African corporate affairs manager, Musa Mabunda, who was in Australia for four days of familiarisation with the business. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Musa put his hand over his mouth to hide his customary smile. Let him smile. ‘I wouldn’t say window-dressing, I’d say –’

Environment?’ the thin man said over the top of her. ‘How environmentally friendly is a company that destroys the pristine bushland of the Kruger National Park, South Africa’s  flagship game reserve?’

‘I’d say we’re very friendly. The land we’ve been exploring on is hardly pristine and –’

‘The land you’ve been exploring,’ the trainer paused for a moment to check his notes and Kylie was about to jump back in and finish her sentence when he silenced her again, ‘is home to a denning site of the endangered African painted dog, as well as black rhino, cheetah, lion, leopard, and a host of other threatened animals.’

‘Actually, it’s –’

‘Why is Global Resources raping South Africa’s iconic national park?’

Kylie was getting annoyed at the trainer. She knew it was only role-play and she had been in more stressful situations before – both in training and in real life – but she suspected he was going harder than was useful, possibly because she was the only woman in the room and on the exec team. ‘We’re not raping anything. If I could just finish what I was –’

‘Yours is the same mining company that’s recently been exploring in other parts of Africa, isn’t it? How much does Global Resources expect to make off the backs of poorly paid African workers this year?’ ‘Our mines in South Africa were spared the strikes and violence that plagued other operations in that country last year because our workforce is treated with respect and we have negotiated mutually agreeable pay packages with our people.’ Finally, she thought, she was getting it together. She added: ‘Our financial position is particularly strong given the demand for resources in developing countries.’

The interviewer nodded. ‘Yes, and China and India’s hunger is going to cost South Africa one of its great wilderness areas.’

‘You’re putting words in my mouth,’ she said. He smirked at her and she felt like punching him in the face. She could feel the sweat pricking at her armpits and beading on her top lip. She’d stared down unionists over enterprise agreements, green activists over open-cut mines, and politicians over the mining tax, but those were real negotiations, where Kylie had at least been treated with respect, even if her views weren’t popular. Kylie was also conscious that her boss and the rest of the exec team were watching her, like Roman spectators at a one-sided gladiatorial contest.

‘How safe are Global Resources’ mines?’ the trainer asked, changing tack just as she was formulating something to say about profits and demand for minerals worldwide.

She reached for a lifeline.‘I’m pleased you asked,’ she said, smiling. ‘Our mines are very safe. Safety is our number one priority.’

‘In Australia perhaps, but what about Africa? Isn’t it true, Ms Hamilton, that nine workers were killed in workplace accidents in South African mines last year?’

She stared at him. ‘Well?’

He trotted out his make-believe questions like he was some hotshot investigative reporter, but the truth was he hadn’t worked as a journalist for years. Kylie, on the other hand, had seen what was left of a man when his remains were dug from the cab of a truck that had just had five tonnes of coal dumped on it by mistake. This was bullshit.

‘Ten,’ she said.

‘Sorry?’ said the trainer.

‘Regrettably, ten people were killed in our coal and goldmines last year, not nine, and that is ten too many.’ She paused. ‘And it’s Doctor Hamilton, if you don’t mind.’

The man glanced at his notes, then looked up at her, this time meeting her eyes for the first time. ‘Thanks for your time.’

Kylie unclipped the microphone from the lapel of her jacket, picked up her now lukewarm coffee, stood up and went back to her seat.

The trainer rubbed his hands together. ‘Next victim.’

Kylie had volunteered to go first but now Jan Stein and Jeff Curtis looked at each other. They’d just seen her demolished on camera by a one-man wrecking ball and neither wanted to go next. Kylie thought Jan would have had bigger balls. She opened the workbook the trainer had given each of them; as a senior member of the team she would be required to face the media more often and now that the shock of the pretend interview was over she was looking forward to mastering a new skill. If she had a chance at a second interview, and she suspected this would be part of the training, Kylie wanted to be able to nail it. She had not got to where she was in this male-dominated industry by backing down from confrontational situations.

‘My turn,’ said Musa. He was beaming. Kylie looked up from the course notes as Musa got up, adjusted his silk tie and buttoned his suit jacket. He was the smartest dressed man in a head office full of suits – some of them very expensive. By contrast, Kylie’s approach to her wardrobe could be described as pragmatic at best. While she had an office in the company’s Sydney headquarters, in Macquarie Street with a view out over the Botanic Gardens to the Heads, she spent most of her time on the road and on-site at the company’s mines. There she wore steel-capped boots not stilettos, and the standard uniform of blue overalls with a yellow high-visibility vest ringed with reflective panels – a uniform she felt far more comfortable in than the navy A-line skirt suit she’d thrown on for today’s training session.

Musa took a seat in front of the trainer, threaded the lapel microphone up under his jacket and carefully attached it to his perfectly tailored grey suit jacket. Kylie felt sorry for the man already, he was about to be eaten alive.

‘OK,’ said the trainer, ‘we’re rolling. If I could just start by getting your name and –’

‘My name is Musa Mabunda,’ he spelled in a clear, deep voice, his delivery slow and precise, yet not laborious. ‘I am the Manager of Corporate Communications for Global Resources in South Africa.’

‘Mr Mabunda, how can your company rape –’

‘Perhaps I could start by giving you an overview of our plans for a new mine in South Africa – a mine that will uplift an impoverished community, provide valuable resources and income which will aid the development of the new South Africa and be a world-class model for safety and environmental protection.’

The trainer tried to interject, but Musa had the ball and he was running with it. Kylie smiled. The former journalist tried again to ask one of his barbed questions, but Musa raised his voice ever so slightly and continued his monologue.

‘First, the site of the proposed new Global Resources coal extraction facility is not, I repeat, not in the Kruger National Park. It lies to the west of the park on a former game farm that was returned to its rightful owners, the Shangaan people, back in 2009. The traditional owners of this land own the mining rights, not the national parks board of South Africa.

‘This proposal has been the subject of an exhaustive environmental impact statement and Global Resources has not only met, but in fact has exceeded the requirements placed on the company by government in terms of air and water quality management, economic upliftment of local communities and wildlife conservation conditions.’

‘But –’ tried the trainer.

‘Further,’ Musa continued, ‘this project will employ nine hundred formerly disadvantaged South Africans.’

The trainer looked at his notes. ‘There were ten fatalities in South African mines last year. What guarantees can you give that –’

‘As a company, safety is our number one priority and I can assure you that Global Resources works tirelessly to educate our workforce and to continually review our operations in order to improve this part of our business and ensure our people go home from work at the end of each shift as fit and well as they started.’

Kylie was impressed by Musa’s performance, but as the corporate PR man, this was his bread and butter. She had paid careful attention to the way he had steered the interview away from the trainer’s inflammatory line of questioning and back to the company’s key messages. She looked over to her CEO, Jan Stein, and saw that he was grinning broadly.

‘Well, I think we’re done here,’ said the trainer.

Musa unclipped his microphone and stood up. Jan, the naturalised Australian from South Africa, started to applaud. Jeff and Kylie joined in. It was all bullshit, Kylie thought, but it was damn good bullshit. Musa winked at her as he took his seat beside her.


Excerpted from The Prey by Tony Park. Copyright © 2013 by Tony Park.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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