Back from hell: Durban couple speak about ordeal

2012-06-30 20:12

They were handled in the way that some cruel people treat dogs. They were kicked, slapped around and given little food and water.

The very thin Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz, both in their 50s, yesterday told the story of how they were held captive for 20 months by Somali pirates.

The Durban couple was released a week and a half ago. They traveled from Somalia to Italy, and returned to South Africa on Wednesday.

They had bad nightmares while they were held in 17 different houses in dark, damp rooms – almost always in chains.

Since being released, they said yesterday, they had slept well.

Calitz said that initially the tension took its toll on their relationship and they even broke up for a while.

“But it didn’t last very long,” she said, laughing.

Throughout the interview, Pelizzari rubbed Calitz’s arm or hugged her.

“We are twin souls, on the same road but in different directions,” Calitz said of the couple’s spiritual bond.

Their ordeal meant they had plenty of time for self-reflection.

“We told each other, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” she said.

They devised their own game, which they called “dog syndrome”, because that was how they felt – that they were being treated like dogs.

They would even take turns to lick their bowls after a meal.

For months, they received little food and were starving.

Only in the last three months of their captivity did they receive fresh fruit.

Calitz had to wear the same dress for a year until it fell apart, and then she received a Somalian dress.

They were initially allowed to take baths, but when the pirates realised their ransom was not going to be paid, they were denied baths for eight months.

During this time, their handcuffs were never unlocked or removed, and eventually had to be sawn off.

Later, they were allowed to bathe in a bucket of water every eight to 14 days. Calitz said the people who were looking after them did not believe them when they said they had contracted malaria.

Once their blood was tested, and it emerged that both had the disease they then received medication.

It was mainly young people who looked after them.

“I don’t blame them. They are being co-opted from the age of 10 and many of them are orphans,” she said.

These young men looked down on their captives and did not touch them or even their food bowls.

But Pelizzari was beaten with a broomstick while Calitz was repeatedly kicked because she took off her blindfold before being told to do so. They were always blindfolded when they were taken to a new house.

To keep their minds occupied they made their own set of tarot cards with pieces of paper they picked up.

Back in South Africa they are catching up with friends and family.

Calitz saw her three grandchildren for the first time this past week.

They plan to go to Durban this week, and Pelizzari wants to go to the beach.

“I am a surfer. It’s only when I’m in the sea that I know I’m truly free,” he said.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.