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An Interview With Gerrie Hugo About Africa Will Always Break Your Heart, Part Two

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In part one Gerrie Hugo explained a lot about his life in South Africa, and the reasons for writing Africa Will Always Break Your Heart. In part two we talk about his life after South Africa, and the problems of bringing a book to fruition.

This is quite the international group, you are in Sweden, your publisher is in South Africa , your promotion is being handled out of Southern California, and I am interviewing you from Canada. Even a few years ago this would have been an impossible situation! How important is the internet to you in your endeavours?

The impact of our global village still does not fail to astound me. I am a techno-peasant and have yet to grasp the full extent of what the worldwide web can do for one. I am however slowly getting to grips with it and would not have made one sale had it not been for this capability. My writing also started off by posting little nonsensical snippets on chat sites. I can clearly recall one titled “The Plight of the Yak Fur Traders in Outer Mongolia.” The response to this diatribe was so overwhelmingly positive that it led me to believe that I might be able to hammer something together closely resembling a book. I also used these chat sites as a sounding board and posted endless snippets of my work. I need to thank all my good friends in cyberspace for allowing me to bore them to tears. They were my initial “editors” and because I value their opinions this book is now available.

On the topic of editing I need to add the following. I saw the need for a specialized edit but alas the budget did not allow for that. I had an editor in South Africa and she did a sterling job with the first 90 pages but I ran out of funds. I then followed her advice and suggestions with the rest of the book.

Credit for most of the editing will have to go to three main ladies in my life. The ladies in no particular order of importance are:

Gun von Krusenstjerna, a translator and now good friend who is busy translating my book into Swedish. This little bundle of energy and wrinkles pointed out things that both my wife and I overlooked, even with detail scrutiny. (Just kidding about the wrinkles – she is a stunner for her age.)

Lisbeth, my mother-in-law, a retired school headmistress and one of my main supports with this work.

My wife Bodil, who never complained and made endless suggestions and pointed out obvious flaws missed even with the 100th read. With her all things in life is possible.

Neither these ladies nor I can call English our first language and I believe they have achieved the almost impossible to get my ramblings into something resembling a book that others might want to read. I wrote “informally,” the way Afrikaners expressed themselves in English and was concerned about how this would be received. As I’m sure you know one becomes “blind” when having read a text for the umpteenth time.

Translation into Afrikaans will be such a natural step that I don’t even count this as an achievement but need to mention that it's work in progress as well.

If you could wind the clock back, would you join the military again?

In short no. Not because of the things I was exposed to but the knowledge that I wasted most of my adult life in defending a dinosaur cause. I should have listened to the career guidance councillor who advised me to become a “professional” student. I’m a born teacher and the part I miss most about the military is to be able to give instruction. I sometimes daydream about teaching young fertile minds, influencing them to expand their capabilities and to never stop doing so. Information will always be the most powerful weapon in the world.

I long for lost opportunities, for developing my own potential, for being able to speak more than four languages and to be able to play a musical instrument. Maybe it’s not too late but I can only mourn for all the time wasted.

On a lighter note, books are like cocaine, they are very addictive. I have never met an author that stops after one, and so what are you working on now?

I have completed a few children’s stories. They will be available soon. Currently only in Afrikaans and aimed at the expat community but they will be translated into English in due course.

I’m also working on a tongue in the cheek version of the “History of Ciskei.” This little Bantustan played a major role in the continued covert fight against the ANC after the organisation was un-banned. Call it a Tom Sharpe or Terry Pratchett version of events in this comical “independent country” that no-one but the National Party of old recognised as an entity.

Maybe the writing was already on the wall when the flagpole got pulled over during the flag hoisting ceremony with Independence Day celebrations.

I aim to illustrate the importance of the covert operations I exposed with this book. What could have happened had I not spoken out and effectively put a stop to their activities.

And on a personal level, I understand that your wife has been diagnosed with MS. I send my brightest greetings to a lady that obviously has great strength (well she is married to you!), and how is she doing?

Have no fear of offending me. That’s my job. I have a very thick skin and realise it was intended as a joke. I read somewhere that one have to have a thin skin when writing and a thick skin when marketing as well as facing critics. In any event I hand this part over to my wife who can express this part a lot clearer than what I could dream to. I will make the odd comment after her piece.

Dear Simon,

Thanks for the greetings! Whether or not I’m a lady can always be discussed but still…MS sucks. I was diagnosed in '99 but know for a fact that I’ve had this crap since '94. And all things considering, it could have been worse. Don’t get me wrong now, but it can sometimes be difficult that it doesn’t show; no limping, no blindness etc. Therefore it can be hard to actually make people understand that I actually do have MS. What they don’t see is the chronic pain and extreme fatigue I’m living with. I refuse to take on the role that many a good Swede expects from a handicapped person. Having worked in neurosurgery and neuro-medicine I know exactly where this might end up, seen many terminal cases of MS. But life is too precious to waste, thinking of what can and might happen – or not.

Gerrie and I have, with our respective backgrounds, long since come to terms with just how capricious life can be. One should never take anything for granted. The years I spent in Angola and Namibia taught me that.

Somehow Gerrie and I are more than husband and wife. We’re “partners in crime”, friends, lovers, mates. And the fact that I’m “sleeping with the enemy” is still terribly upsetting for some of (most of?) my colleagues in the solidarity organisation I’m working. Oh, how enlightened we Swedes are…One memorable comment; “Well, if the MPLA can forgive UNITA I guess I can try to forgive you.”

Somehow that was never an issue with my parents. When gently trying to introduce them to the fact that I’d met up with Gerrie and we’d become an item (3 months after we’d first met), they had no problem with it.

My wife is an extremely brave and mentally strong person. She is the love of my life and after meeting her I decided to cut out the crap in my life that can take up so much of one’s time. Petty issues like what people will think of me and why therefore disappeared out of the window. We live for the truth and we live it now as the current is the only certainty we will ever have.

Sweden is now your home, can you tell us a little about life there?

What can one say about civilisation? A country rated the second-best in the world after your good old Canada. What a wonderful eye-opener this was for me. Clean, friendly with law-abiding citizens. People that find it hard to cross a street against a red light even when there is no traffic around for literally miles. A culturally rich society where people fly their national flag with pride. Hell, they even get tearful about paying taxes and having the privilege to vote. People who not only sport names like Åsa and Håkan but can also pronounce them. This is paradise. I still spend some Sundays just getting on the subway and exploring some new and wonderful places.

Crime is an alien entity. There are fewer murders in the entire Sweden in one year than there are in Hillbrow (a suburb of Johannesburg) over a weekend. Try to get your head around that one.

The only negative thing I can say about Swedish society is that they seem to very naïve as to the mental make-up of the low-life forms of this planet. Your average Swede can not fathom how cruelty and bad genes can exist in other humans let alone how they can practice activities associated with it.

I do have a problem with the fact that the founders established this country so close to the artic circle. Winters are no joke for a Boer from the Southern tip of Africa and I tend to lose my sense of humour when it gets to minus 25 degrees Celsius.

Would you ever consider returning to South Africa? If you had the opportunity to make a real difference would you go?

In the short term I would not even consider going back to South Africa for a visit. Not even to attend my father’s funeral. I have too many powerful enemies with extremely long memories. I might be brave but I’m definitely not stupid.

I have dual nationality and am proud to call myself a Swede. Africa Will Always Break your Heart is my final apology and effort to try and set the record straight. Africa can continue to break hearts as far as I’m concerned. I wish I could say that I now wash my hands with the entire continent but just like an abused wife I will always return for more. My love for her is too strong.

Postscript: Gerrie Hugo is a most engaging man, I hope that his book makes it to the best seller list, if for no other reason than the he can show that the Truth And Reconcilliation committee was a sham!

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About Simon Barrett

  • Gerrie Hugo

    My thanks to Simon Barrett and the administrators of this site for allowing me to air my views. Best to all from my wife.
    On the topic of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission I just need to add a comment from a dear friend that explains my views in a nutshell. In 1992 John Battersby was one of the first journalists to interview me for the Christian Science Monitor. I received this mail from him today and I can think of no better way to express my feelings:
    “The TRC was both a good and a bad thing. It forced some to confront what had happened but allowed a sanitised version of the truth to masquerade as the full truth which is probably better than the perpetuation of a full lie.”