Our ‘Soma-hell-ia’

2012-06-28 00:00

“SOMA-HELL-IA” — that’s how Bruno Pelizzari described the country where he and his partner, Debbie Calitz, were held hostage for 20 months and treated “worse than animals”.

They were permanently handcuffed and were at times not allowed even to bath.

Yesterday the Durban couple whom 12 Somali pirates kidnapped back in 2010 as they sailed off the coast of East Africa landed back on home soil from Rome, six days after their dramatic release.

Speaking to The Witness from Johannesburg, Pelizzari said: “We were lucky to be together and be able to give each other support in that dark room with no ventilation.”

They said the experience made them think that they were in hell, but the hope of seeing their families again kept them going.

“We were only allowed two meals a day. Sometimes just one meal a day,” Pelizzari said.

Calitz added: “It was 20 months without a smile.

“We could not receive luxury things. Sometimes we weren’t allowed to bath. There was no soap. We ate only rice, bread and pasta.”

She said she looked forward to “sleep and sleep”.

Yesterday, the couple arrived at O.R. Tambo International Airport to be mobbed by family and journalists.

After taking their seats for a special media conference, Pelizzari whispered to Calitz: “This is too much.”

Calitz in turn opened her eyes wide and exhaled slowly.

Emotional and trembling, she said: “Thank you for not giving up on us.

“I thought it was a guardian angel protecting us over there, but it looks as though it was the energy of everyone in South Africa who kept fighting for our freedom.”

As for what lies ahead for the couple now that they are back home, she said: “We’ve even got four new grandchildren we still have to meet!”

The South African, Somali and Italian governments worked together to free the couple.

Calitz and Pelizzari said they were still in the dark about whether a ransom had been paid.

A family member has previously said some money did pass hands.

“As far as we know we were released [without a ransom], but we have not yet been properly informed of that,” Calitz said.

Pelizzari said the South African government should help Somalia to cast off the yoke of piracy and lawlessness.

“We’ve created a rainbow nation in South Africa,” he said.

“We’ve got to do the same for the world.”

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said the government had already made R100 million available to help promote development in the liberated parts of Somalia.

Pelizzari and Calitz were scheduled to spend last night with their families in the presidential guest house in Pretoria, and to return to Durban at the weekend.

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