I read many books, and most end up on the ‘Done Pile’ and forgotten, while a few though go on my ‘must keep and revisit’ list. Africa Will Always Break Your Heart by Gerrie Hugo is on the ‘must keep’ list. I was just an obnoxious English grammar school kid when the apartheid ‘war of public opinion’ in South Africa was raging. Although I was young and outspoken, I most certainly thought that apartheid was just a glamorous way of dressing up the word slavery. I think I was mostly right, but I did not understand all of the factors at the time – and I certainly did not know the facts. Black versus White, was how it was portrayed to me.
Gerrie has written a tour de force in Africa Will Always Break Your Heart. You might even recognize his name. He was featured in the 1997 Emmy winning documentary Gerrie and Louise (although it is best to only mention this when you are outside the range of his fist). A great disservice was heaped on Gerrie through this production. In classic TV tradition, facts were taken out of context and used to present a case that was blatantly false.
I had the opportunity to chat with this very entertaining guy – he had much to say, and all of it important, for that reason I decided to make this a two part interview.
Can you tell our readers a little about who Gerrie Hugo is?
I’ll try to steer away from my standard flippant response which will always be a façade to hide away my grave concerns about the country of my birth and the pitfalls of life.
I was born at home on the 1st of April 1956 in Cape Town. When my mother laid eyes on me she was immediately taken to the hospital. (See I can’t help myself) As the middle son of a military non-commissioned officer I tried without success to get my father’s love and attention and later decided to break all ties with him. His double standards became the main reason for me losing all faith in any form of Deity to date. He is still alive but in my mind I’ve buried him a few years ago for the sake of my sanity.
I have always been a maverick and a fierce protector of what I believed to be the underdog. Mostly these beliefs were misplaced but that did not stop me from expressing my opinions in the most colourful language to all within earshot. I was therefore not well loved by my seniors and have always been much too outspoken to my detriment. The fact that I normally call a spade a shovel did not enhance my chances of ever making it to the General Staff of the Defence Force. Tact is not my forté and I do not suffer fools lightly. (Unfortunately there is too many of them around.)
I rose through the ranks rapidly and was quite successful as an Intelligence Officer, as I’m with most things I put my mind to. Consumption of copious amounts of alcohol mostly contributed to the fact that I always “under-achieved” in my opinion. (I am now a dry alcoholic).
Africa Will Always Break Your Heart details my career, and my life during the awful apartheid period I was part of the problem, and yet when I tried to become part of the solution even bigger challenges were sent my way.
I now live in exile in Sweden. Even though by choice I will always see myself as being in exile. I sometimes long so much for the country of my birth that my chest physically hurts. Reading a newspaper online about all the murders, mayhem and chaos prevalent quickly cures me of my longing though.
Africa Will Always Break Your Heart is a very powerful book, and one that you should be very proud of. It also has burnt many bridges for you. Was it worth it?
Thank you very much for that comment. I believe that most people who possess the ability to do introspection and are willing to be honest about their flaws and shortcomings have a unique story to tell. Not only me. If I have to be proud about anything relating to my book it will have to be the honesty with which it was written. It was no easy road and admitting to my shortcomings and faults was indeed a very difficult thing to do. I knew that I had done the right thing when my 16 year old boy told me that he was proud of me and the fact that I could admit to my failings as a human being. So yes, I am indeed proud and will hold my head high in the face of fierce criticism. A little purging of the soul does one the world of good and I can strongly recommend it to the likes of Peter Davies to consider but more of that later.
Most of the bridges were already burnt for me after speaking out against the apartheid-regime. The fact that I introduced the concept and/or revealed The Third Force was definitively not appreciated by the powers to be, and after that very little was left for me in South Africa. But yes, by publishing this book the hatred against me was once again resurrected and the same threats, from the same group of people, started surfacing. This time aimed not only towards me but also aimed at my wife.
I think the reason was the fact that the Afrikaner way of life with their double standards was brought up. Is the truth worth it? Definitely.
It is my story, my memories, how unsavoury it might be. But having lived a lie for most of my life had to be put to an end. I know that many people will disagree but still, it is my story and I have stuck to the truth as I knew it.
When I compare your book to Peter Davies' The Scatterlings Of Africa I feel that he thinks ‘The wrong people won’, and you believe that the right people lost. It may be semantics, but you are both negative, albeit from opposing camps. No-one really won, everyone lost in their own way. Was there a better way to have handled the entire situation?
I have not read Peter Davies and probably never will because of a moral problem I have with his (and others) point of view. The problem can be found in the lack of acknowledgement that they fought for an unjust cause. Any soldier fights for the government of the day and what it stands for. In South Africa the government of the day stood for Apartheid (white supremacy) and that have been aptly dubbed as a crime against humanity. Not one of these “heroic autobiographies” admits to or even hint at the fact that they actually fought for white supremacy. All will spell it out as a fight against communism. If they can or will not admit to this simple fact, I will treat all of their works with contempt and scorn.
Hindsight is an exact science. A better way would have been for more serving members to see through the propaganda pumped out by the politicians, clerics and other authority figures and to have rebelled against the fact that human beings (people of colour) got categorised as dirt.
For too long the white man’s political views on the Southern tip of Africa were just cleverly disguised Nazism. For the likes of Peter Davies I have a message: “Before you pump out your seditious opinions to the world, first analyse exactly what you were led to believe in, admit to the faults and shortcomings or else don’t advertise your ignorance.” If he still maintains that the wrong people won then I have no hope for him and his kind. The facts of the matter are that the popular and overwhelmingly majority’s will prevailed in the end. That is called real democracy and he seems to have a problem with that.
You are very critical of South Africa during the apartheid period, and clearly you have managed to make a number of pretty high ranking members of the establishment pretty mad, yet I noticed that you currently use a South African publisher. Was it a challenge to find a publisher?
Finding a publisher was a lot easier than I expected. The very first publisher in the UK I submitted my manuscript to, accepted it within weeks after I posted it on the condition that I would have to go on a two year waiting list. This led me to believe that my work was good enough and as I could not wait for so long I embarked on a self-publication exercise with Authorhouse in the UK. No-one warned me about the pitfalls of self-publication and the excessive cost of marketing but I guess one learns as one goes along. The good thing about self-publication is that I kept the copyright to my work and could thus shop around a bit more. I met up with John Dovey of Just Done Productions by chance and as I then did not have any publisher in South Africa things just took its natural course. John worked like a demon and within weeks I had the first copy of my book in my hand. I will always be grateful to this superb man for that moment in my life.
John suffers fierce criticism for publishing me as he is a serving member of the citizen force in South Africa and normally publishes military history and related topics. Even though my enemies of old (as well as new) make up the larger part of his “readership” he maintains that I have a story to tell and will not budge in his decision to carry my work. According to some I should be strung up by my feet as I’m trash, a turncoat and a traitor. A traitor to what? Atrocities committed in the name of apartheid? A dinosaur cause and a crime against humanity. I can live with that.
To get the media in South Africa interested in my work have been a totally different kettle of fish all together. South Africa is still in the Stone-Age as far as self-published authors are concerned. As I do not have the safety network of the “big boys” and have no chance of wining and dining the journalists with columns in the cultural pages, very little note has been taken of my book up to date. That is however soon to change through the tireless and selfless efforts of one Sarah Britten, author of, The Art of the South African Insult and I can only thank her from the bottom of my heart. I can also fully recommend her book. (Just as a by the way: For anyone to wine and dine a journalist to be reviewed is also something I find a bit repulsive, even though I know that it’s quite a common way to go about it.)
I am currently in the process of negotiating publication of a translation into Swedish by none other than Henning Mankell’s publishing house called Leopard Press. Things seem to be on an upward curve.
Part Two coming soon!Powered by Sidelines