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Book Review: Africa Will Always Break Your Heart by Gerrie Hugo

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This is a book that I really don’t know where to start with. Although by his own admission the first draft was slammed together in only six weeks, it is exceedingly well written. Either Gerrie Hugo is a master of the art, or else he employed a superb editor. Africa Will Always Break Your Heart is not just a biography, it is a history lesson about South Africa during the rather grim age of apartheid and its hateful and vengeful effect on the indigenous population.

Gerrie Hugo mostly manages to create a very funny read in the first half of the book. I am sure that anyone mentioned has Gerrie crossed off their Christmas card list. His childhood was not particularly good, life was often difficult, an army father with double standards, and a mother whose infidelities were obvious to even the most casual observer created a less than ideal environment. In his teenage years we discover there is no doubt about his sexual orientation, as a hormone-ravaged young man he was a true terror to the fairer sex, and amusing the stories are.

The second half of the book takes on a much darker shade. As a member of the armed forces we watch Gerrie get pulled gently but insistently into the always murky world on ‘intelligence’, agendas abounded, the obvious quest of the White minority being to sustain the status quo against increasing world pressure to force democracy. And an increasing groundswell from both the Colored and Black majorities to recognize their presence (and yes there is a difference, one was indigenous while the other was an interloper, this is a fact that few of us in the west understood).

Being asked and commanded to do increasingly more inane and obviously illegal tasks Gerrie becomes rebellious, but asking questions does not get him any answers, just more and more grief.

Democracy finally arrived and It was time to speak out. Gerrie knew that much of what he had been involved in was in at least immoral and usually illegal. The Truth And Reconciliation Committee seemed like the perfect way to move forward, he found it the exact opposite. Although he had gained some notoriety by going to the press, little of his story garnered support, a smear campaign on his character had been conducted by his old colleagues, and even some of the press fell into this disinformation.

Finding himself with a criminal conviction on a trumped up charge, no money, no home, and no job, life was indeed looking grim. I will give Gerrie credit though, he did not crumble as most people would. With a price on his head, he continued to try and get his message out.

Now aged 50, he lives in Sweden, far away from his family, friends, and enemies, he is a much happier person, and maybe one of the few people who understands exactly what happened in South Africa during these turbulent times.

This is the second book that I have read recently about this area and this time frame; they take two different viewpoints but share a very common thread. Peter Davies in The Scatterlings Of Africa concludes his book with the quote "and the terrorists won", referring to the ANC; Gerrie could have concluded with the comment "and the white terrorists lost". Two very opposing looks at one very disturbing period of history.

There is more than a smattering of bad language in Africa Will Always Break Your Heart, but it is so well put together, funny, sad, poignant, and disturbing, it should be on your summer reading list.

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About Simon Barrett

  • Hi,
    Great review. I just want to point out that I am the South African publisher of this book and for South African readers it is available from my website (there are a number of other books available from the same site related to South Africa and South African topics).

  • Stumpy

    I have read Gerrie’s book twice now and it is very thought provoking read and would recommend it to anyone to gain a better insight into the history of this period in South Africa’s History.
    Gerry is a very dear friend of mine honest and straight forward.I have had the pleasure of staying with him and his family in Sweden.He did me the great honour of mentioning me in the acknowledgement’s for the very small contribution i made towards publication of the excellent book.I hope this book brings him the rewards he greatly deserves.