Bert Sabatier was a mechanic of huge ability. If I visited him by vehicle, he would immediately detect if there was anything wrong with it and soon know exactly what. It could never wait for a more opportune moment. Bert, even if dressed in a suit, would crawl under the beast at once and apply surgery. It could be very embarrassing for such as myself who didn’t know there was a problem in the first place.
In 1982, Bert and his wife June, whose surname, Sabatier, by the way, means cobbler or shoemaker in French, had their car stolen.
A year went by and it had not yet been recovered. Then the forensic investigators pieced together enough evidence after a car bomb was exploded on 20 May 1983 in Church Street, Pretoria.
Bert’s car had been found.
The bomb had been placed by Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress. The bomb killed 19 and wounded 217 people. Twenty ambulances were used to transport them to hospital. This was one of the largest attacks launched by the ANC during its armed struggle against apartheid. Exploding ten minutes before it was supposed to, the two ANC members in the car were among the dead. Being rush hour, many civilians died, although the target had been the South African Defence Force Head Quarters. The Church Street attack was authorised by ANC President, Oliver Tambo.
Naturally, with a name like theirs, the security service was very reluctant to believe that Bert had nothing to do with the bombing! Even though Bert, as a civilian specialist in mine-proofing vehicles and battlefield vehicle recovery for the South African Army, spend a lot of time testing vehicles on the war-torn border of South West Africa, his name got onto their lists as a person of interest!