South Africa Trip 1993

In 1993, my eldest brother had been living in South Africa for about six years. He is four years older than me and we had never got on. However I wanted to see him and see South Africa as it sounded very interesting. Free elections were planned for the following year in April and this was a transition period for the country. He had met a businessman when on holiday in Crete who lived in Pretoria and ran a construction company. Jack was an odd-job man who sometimes lived in a remote private game reserve 80 km east of Pretoria looking after the place and sometimes acted as a foreman on building sites. He had embraced the Afrikaaner way of life and attitudes and was a difficult person to get on with at the best of times. He was a loner and a bit of a loose cannon. He seemed to share many of the character traits of my father. He was belligerent, moody, and would attack me verbally and get very defensive about minor issues.


He was thirty years old and had left school with few qualifications at sixteen.  He had then worked with horses at racing stables in Lincolnshire, Ireland and Somerset. His life consisted mainly of shovelling horse shit as far as I can make out. He met some pretty rough people. He did this for several years and ended up taking a brick-laying course in his early twenties. I was still studying for my A-levels when he returned to my mother’s house in mid-Sussex to stay, which didn’t last long.  He then lived with my father in Petersfield where he continued his lifestyle of getting in with the wrong crowd. It was from here that he ended up spending a year on a kibbutz in Eilat, Israel. After finishing there, he worked in the seaside town of Tel Aviv before coming to South Africa in about 1987.


The plane landed one morning at about 7 am and I collected my bags and passed through customs and immigration at Jan Smuts International Airport. My brother and his friend Freddy were waiting for me and the first thing we did was buy some beers at a cafe. He seemed pleased to see me and we caught up. I had not seen him in about eight years. I did not really know what to expect. I was to find out soon enough.


Freddie was tall and weathered, in his late twenties or early thirties. He was of Afrikaaner descent with curly hair and perhaps a touch of the Hottentot in him. He was unapologetic and hard-core in his racist views. I think we visited a few friends of my brother’s during the day before driving out to Bronkhorstspruit, a quiet dorp off the M4 motorway, in the evening, which was where Freddy lived with his wife Mona.

My brother had two firearms on him. One was a 38 special and the other was a 357 magnum with a six inch barrel. He loved his guns. For some reason he gave me the 38 special to carry and kept on reiterating how dangerous South Africa was. This was his mantra. To me, he seemed to display symptoms of paranoia. On the way out of Pretoria to Bronkhorstspruit, it had already turned dark. The dual carriageway we were driving along was empty. We drove in a bakky that Jack had borrowed from his employer and Freddy drove behind us. My brother talked about himself, which was pretty much a sign of what the next month was going to be like.

There were two pedestrians walking along the road and they seemed drunk. One of them decided to stand in the path of the vehicles in an attempt to stop them. My brother said something about an ambush, slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the cab with his gun in hand, sliding me the other one. He walked purposefully up to the drunk man and pointed the gun in his face. He then began to scream at him in Afrikaans. The man was saying ‘shoot me’ and my brother was getting more and more apoplectic. By this time, Freddy had turned his vehicle around and pointed the lights on full beam at the unfolding scene. Later he said that this was so that the man’s friend could not identify us.

Freddy got out and walked over to my brother and the other man. He told my brother to put his gun away and get back into his vehicle, which he did. Then Freddy floored the guy with a kick to the solar plexus. He then landed in the road in a heap. The other man had long since run off. We then drove about 1 km further up the road and pulled down a track. My brother and Freddy got out and were joking about the scene that had unfolded. They though that it was hilarious. I was in shock. ‘Welcome to South Africa’, they said.

My brother isn’t a bad person but he had a lot of pent-up rage at the time and when he got in with the wrong crowd, I think he did not know what to do with it. He is very different now and you would not think he was the same person. He was very difficult to be with at that time and had very little patience for people. I saw him pull a gun on someone once during our trip who approached the car window asking for change. Even his friend Freddy, who was supposedly a member of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement), said that he was over the top.

I found it profoundly uncomfortable associating with people who were so unashamedly racist in their views. My brother had told many of his friends that I was gay, including Freddy. At Freddy’s house in Bronkhorstspruit, Freddy said that he respected me for this and seemed genuinely amazed that I was not attracted to women.

R4 assault rifle, South African Army issue

Jack and I met up with another of Jack’s friends, a former Captain in the South African army. He carried a R4 assault rifle around in the back of his car. Here I am testing it out. We went to a private game reserve to do this.

My brother had truly embraced the racist hard-core Afrikaner views held by so many whites. I don’t really want to discuss some of the exchanges I witnessed.

We planned a road trip from Pretoria down to Port Elizabeth and along the Garden Route to Cape Town. The vehicle was a bakky, meaning a small van with a two-person cab and a canopy that fitted over the back. It was in bad shape and was very unreliable. It was just the two of us and we set off one day in mid-December, camping on the way. Sometimes we stopped and slept in the bakky at the side of the road. We drank a lot of brandy and coke. This was my brother’s drink of choice. Klipdrift was the brandy of choice. The nights were warm and the night sky was incredible. I had never seen a sky so dark or full of so many stars.

I recall the iridescent colour of the drinks that you could buy in the roadside cafes in dorps along the way. These were usually staffed by surly Afrikaans folk. The food was equally unpalatable. Greasy burgers and soggy chips. South Africa at that time was strangely conservative. My brother remarked that pornographic magazines were not available. He could be remarkably contradictory at times. He chastised me for not greeting a vendor of African carvings properly yet I had seen him talk in a disgusting manner both to and about black people.

I recall the smell of the bush when we made it to the coast somewhere near to Port Elizabeth. It is hard to describe but it made me feel so alive. It is a piney smell that comes from the bushy vegetation that grows by the roadside and near the sea shore. Once we reached the sea, I wanted Jack to stop the car so that I could go for a swim but in a strangely controlling way, he refused to do so. We made our way through places like Knysna, George, Plettenburg Bay (Plett) and eventually to Cape Town. We stayed in backpacker accommodation along the route. I was lending Jack rather a lot of money and he seemed to have very little of his own. He admitted to having spent a lot of time living in Cape Town previously selling shirts. he would have no money at the beginning of the day and then at the end of the day would have enough money to pay for a bed at the place where he was staying. I think that he was very close to sleeping rough at times when he lived in South Africa.

One activity which was sure to relax him was smoking weed. It was freely available in South Africa and we smoked quite a lot of it. It relaxed him and made him much better company. One night walking back from a pub after a few beers, Jack began to open up. He admitted to me that he had been close to killing himself when he was on his own living on the private game reserve that his boss owned. Almost as quickly as he had opened up, he clammed up again as I did not know how to respond.

In 1994, he returned to the UK. He emigrated to Canada in about 2010, following my other brother who had emigrated in 1996.

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