23 October 2007

Holiday in Pretoria

By 1999, I had achieved a successful Wall Street career in the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) market. But I wanted a break. So I went to South Africa, a move I had been intending to make for years. I went in part to write, to conduct academic research, and to pursue paramilitary training. And, to be perfectly honest, to look for adventure. South Africa was then, as it is now, undergoing a process of black-on-white crime and ethnic cleansing, and I thought I could play a part in addressing it. Shortly before I arrived in the country, a white Namibian female student at the University of Pretoria had been abducted and raped by a dozen or so local blacks. It was horrific events such as this that, to me, called out for a direct response.

I settled in Pretoria. Through some contacts in Afrikaner political circles, I rented a large villa in Hatfield, a Pretoria suburb. I traded in my Brooks Brothers shirts, J.Press suits, and Alfred Sargent brogues for khaki bush shirts, fatigues, moleskin jeans, and Veldschoen. I grew my hair long and stopped shaving. I tanned and my hair became blonder in the African sun. I took Afrikaans lessons from pretty blonde girls at the University of Pretoria, where I also attended seminars at the Institute for Strategic Studies.

A short walk away was McGinty's, a bar popular with local residents and University of Pretoria students. There I got to know the bartender, a short, muscular white guy with a thin moustache. He had once worked in the mines, he told me, where he had led a mine gang. He said his blacks were lazy workers with a mañana attitude and constantly complained about racism. Tending bar was a better job. One afternoon, as a group of rowdy students was making noise and irritating customers at the bar, I saw him calmly walk up to the biggest, tallest student in the group and lay him out flat on the ground with a right hook to the nose. Blood and broken glass were scattered about the floor. I was impressed.

At McGinty's I met a short, well-built, shaven-headed Irishman in a short-sleeved shirt and brown boots. He said he was an ex-soldier. He looked it. He had moved to South Africa as a young boy in the mid-1980s with his parents, who had wanted to escape the Irish troubles. They must have realised later, I thought to myself, that things were much worse in South Africa. He had served in an artillery unit in the SADF and had seen fighting in the border war in Namibia and Angola. He sounded bitter. He asked me what tourist sites I had visited and I told him most of them. He said I should visit some of the farms east of the city. "Right-wingers are storing nuclear weapons in underground silos on those farms," he told me.


Chi-Chi and the Greek said...

You writing is amazing. You have the ability to transport your readers to these amazing locales and actually feel that they [or rather, I] are living the experience. Beautiful.

oldskooljunky said...

any plans on coming back to south africa? alot has changed since then!
stumbled on your blog today and I refuse to go back to work! would really like to know, what are your thoughts on south african fashion, did you see any cool clothing stores while you were on this side?
stores on this side recently started stocking Alden Shoes and Loake shoes, theres a very small following for that type of stuff on this end, but guys who are into it wouldnt settle for anything else.
damn cool blog, havin problems subscribing though?

Viking said...

Very cool.