This is going to be a long post – sorry. But it is about two people I met that made me rethink my definition of what evil might be. Two guys I always thought were the definition of evil. But I met them both briefly (and “stalked” one) and that made me question the meaning of evil. So I have to tell you about them to get to my story. Sorry – be patient. You know I am not into short blogs in any case!
The Big Crocodile (1991):
One of the most evil men in the history of South Africa was PW Botha – Pieter Willem Botha. He was the last Prime Minister of the Apartheid Regime – and their first President of power. Oh man he was bad, bad news. Under his “command” more than 2,000 people died at the hand of the “security forces” (Security? As if they were protecting anything valuable). And more than 25,000 people were detained without being charged and often tortured (this last one sounds oddly familiar to recent US policies – except for the number of people). While he was Prime Minister in South Africa he also started the South African secret nuclear weapons programme with Israel and established the notorious police counter-insurgency unit – Koevoet (Crowbar). Yes, he was bad, bad news.
He was a racist to the core. Here, read this and see what you think. In his own words, “Blacks look like human beings and act like human beings do not necessarily make them sensible human beings. Hedgehogs are not porcupines and lizards are not crocodiles simply because they look alike. If God wanted us to be equal to the Black, he would have created us all of a uniform colour“. I hope you don’t need more convincing that PW stood for “Pure White” or “Pretty Wretched”.
He wasn’t just a racist and killer though. He was also a coward. Of sorts. He started his career by supporting the South African Nazi movement in WWII. But then changed his mind when he saw that they were going to lose. So he is cowardly in his warped convictions as well. Just a bad man all together. As evil as you can get. But to the Afrikaners who supported him during Apartheid – he was their bread and Botha. He meant everything to them because he kept them in power. And kept them “safe and seperate”. With a strong hand on the rifle. Of course you won’t find any of them today. It’s like asking the school class who had the “accident” in the bathroom - no one is willing to admit that it was them in public.
We called him “Groot Krokodil” in South Africa. Meaning Big Crocodile. Mostly because he will take a bite at everything and his skin was as thick as the skin of a crocodile. And he was pretty ugly as well. Just like a crocodile. We didn’t shed any crocodile tears when he died on 31 October 2006. No tears for him. He was a bad dream from our past. A past we didn’t want to be reminded of. And I met the man. Briefly. But I was also a bit of a stalker in my own way.
My wife’s father used to own a local car dealership in the town close to where Groot Krokodil lived. And he used to come and buy a new car there every few years. And with our luck we were there when he came the last time. My wife was working at the garage during the university break and I came up to visit her. And I worked at the garage as well. Worked at the forecourt – or petrol pumps. Yes, he owned both a car dealership and a gas station. All I did was sit in the forecourt and enjoy the scenery. Filling up cars as they came back from the beach or taxis taking people home. It was fun. I sat outside in the summer sunshine and enjoyed working there. I got to see my future wife often enough – and that was a major bonus.
I went inside to say hello – she was working the telephones. And we hang out – not to make out. Not with her dad there! I had my own nickname for him – but not for public consumption! He is an unbelievably nice guy. I really love and like him. Good guy who always pulls the mickey out of me. Hey, I took him to his first Bruins game (and mine) when they came to visit. But, again, I digress.
I was hanging out with her when he walked in. PW. He was old. Really old. This was back in December 1991. The ANC was unbanned and Mandela was free – but we were still negotiating the terms of our new democracy. It sounds odd – the terms of our democracy. But back then the Apartheid ruling party, the National Party, still believed that democracy was too good to share with everybody. PW wasn’t in charge anymore. He suffered a mild stroke in January 1989. He resigned as leader of the National Party in February, hoping that his hand-picked man will take over. But the National Party elected FW de Klerk as the National Party leader in February and as President in March. PW Botha refused to go. Typical. But by August he was completely alienated and forced to go. Oh man, you should have heard his speech. It was full of hatred for everyone – especially those in the National Party leadership. But he was history by now. A few months later FW would free Nelson Mandela and unban the ANC. PW was a bitter old man by the time he walked into the dealership.
He came in to service his car. My future wife and I walked into my father-in-law’s office and we walked right into PW. They knew how I felt about this guy so there was no way we were going to hang out with him! My father-in-law introduced us and PW started asking my future wife what she was studying. He studied at the same university as us when he was young – Stellenbosch University. My wife looked at him and gave him a little knowing smile (her I-dare-you-to-go-there smile). And then she said slowly, “Political Science”. He blinked and pulled his head back even further – as if he smelled something bad. He stared at her for a little while and then said quietly, “Another cat amongst the pigeons”.
I knew that look in my future wife’s eyes. It was a challenge. A challenge saying – come-on-you-want-some-of-this? You think I am the Angry African? Ha. Don’t piss her off. She is the tough one. I knew that it was time to get her out. He was an old old man. And a stupid man. An easy target. And he would underestimate her and get his backside kicked. So I made my excuses and got her out of there. But it wasn’t the end of me and PW.
I knew where he lived. Every now and again we would drive there and stop a bit down the road where he lived in a quiet dead-end road. Dead-end road made sense for a dead-end human being. And I would wait in that car to see him come out for his daily walk. Security police and all. Him, his wife and their dogs. Little brakkies en mat-kakkers. Little dogs – useless dogs for a guy like him. And we’ll sit in the car and stare at this old man, his wife and their dogs walking down the road. He was getting really old now. Walking with a walking stick and slowly moving along. Playfully patting the dogs and his wife with his walking stick. Like any old man just taking a walk knowing that it is one of those last pleasures left in life. Just an old man walking the dogs and loving his wife with the sun shining on his back. He wasn’t much of a crocodile anymore. Just a slow shuffle of a walk like a wounded crocodile trying to get back into the water. But a toothless one.
The Guguleto 7 (2002):
We were down at the beach at Betty’s Bay with our friends. They had a place there. Or rather, her dad had a place there that they used. We had fun. The girls were playing on the beach looking for shells and playing in the little pools. We had a few beers and some crayfish and a braai. It was fun. Just the perfect weekend. Away from the craziness at work. Just the six of us hanging out and talking crap. Yes, Oosie and me knew how to talk crap. We were very different – me an activist and him a cop, but we could talk crap for hours and hours. Amuse ourselves with stories that just kept on piling up with the sh*t we spoke. My wife and his wife would just look at us and laugh at the nonsense we could talk without any signs of slowing down. But it was time to go and stock up. So we took a drive to Kleinmond (“Small Mouth” refering to the mouth of the river) – a town just a few miles down the road.
I love Kleinmond. I have good memories of it. My ouma (grandmother) used to live there and I remember going there to visit. And she used to make me roosterkoek (type of bread) on the open fire. She made the best roosterkoek ever. With butter from the farm melting as she took it off the fire and broke it open with her bare hands. I was young when she died. But I remember her. This fragile old woman who used to smell like fresh bread and hugged me when she gave me those roosterkoek. I loved my ouma. Again, I digress.
We drove into Kleinmond and bought our “things” (beer and… hum… more beer. Oh, and wood for the braai). Oosie decided to take us for a drive through town. Down to the beach area to show us where they fish. We drove slowly as there were loads of people hanging around. Oosiestopped the car as an older guy walked up to the car waving. He looked like a typical newly retired guy. A wide open friendly face with not a worry in the world. They spoke and laughed a bit about some guy they both know who got into trouble with the fisheries inspector again and shared news on how their families were doing. I was between Oosie and the guy leaning in the window talking. I can remember his face well. He had laugh lines all over his face. He looked like a guy I can sit and have a beer with. And share crap stories with. He had shorts, an open buttoned checked shirt, socks with sandals, and a fisherman’s hat on. Typical South African though – he had a paunch from the beer and meat - what we call a boep. He could be anyone’s dad. He just looked and sounded like a really good guy. A family man with friends and stories to share around the fire.
Oosie and the guy said goodbye and we drove off. Oosie knew my politics, but we hardly spoke about it. We didn’t share the same views on everything. But then, I never let politics alone define my relationships and friendships. If I did I would have very few friends left in this world. Anyway, Oosie was quiet for a bit while we drove off. After a bit he asked me whether I knew who the guy was. I said no – but obviously a friend of Oosie’s family. He looked at me and said, “He was in charge of the Guguleto 7 hit squad”. Oh man, it was like a ton of bricks hit me. Stunned.
The Guguleto 7 were 7 guys from the ANC who got brutally murdered by the a secret police hit squad in South Africa in 1986. This police hit squad operated from a secret location called Vlakplaas. The most evil things happened there. Murder, executions, torture, rape – you name it and they did it. It was the centre of all things evil under Apartheid. The Guguleto 7 were ANC supporters who got lured in by the hit squad and were brutally murdered. For ANC supporters (including myself) the Guguleto 7 became a rallying cry for the murdering of our people to stop. It united people against Apartheid. And hardened the resistance to Apartheid. And this guy was in charge of the hit squad who murdered the Guguleto 7. He was what I saw as the epitome of evil. Leading a hit squad. And now I knew who he was.
That was the problem. I thought he was a good guy. Someone I can hang around with. Someone to sit with around the fire and share a few beers and talk crap. How do you hate someone you liked 5 minutes ago? But the same someone who you hated for 16 long years?
PW and the nameless monster (I never wanted to know his name). The two of them taught me a lesson on evil. People do evil, evil deeds. But somehow they still manage to look in the mirror and believe in themselves. Bigots yes. But they are not the woman beaters, serial killers, child abusers or rapist we think they are. Evil people are people who do the same things we do. They are never the obvious bad people that stand out in a crowd. Or who we hope they are. They love and live their lives in very similar ways we do. Talk crap with friends while having a beer around the fire. Taking their loved ones and the dogs for a walk. Loving their kids and wives and enjoying retirement. Enjoying the sunshine and open spaces. Evil people are normal people. They are around us and they are in us. You will walk past them in the streets without looking twice. They can sit on the other side of the table and you might never know. They can lean in and talk to you with a genuine smile on their face. And that makes it hard to hate. And knowing that they live lives just like us. When you have met them and stalked them. And when you have liked them. That makes it difficult. How do they do it? How do they sleep at night and still laugh and love. How do they do it when they do the things they do? And how do we hate them when we see their other side? It’s not that easy…
I knew the grandson of PW. I knew him before I knew who his grandfather was. He was at university with me and although not an activist we still shared friends and good times. And even when I knew who his grandad was it didn’t change our relationship. Just every now and again I would rant against PW and his evil ways and he would go quiet and say in a whisper, “But he is still my grandad”. That’s the thing. We can hate the sin. We must hate the sin. But it is difficult to hate the sinner. Especially if you know them and have seen them live their lives the way we all do. It takes a special person to hate those they know. Evil. Evil is evil. But just not always expressed the way we expect or hope.
I don’t know. I don’t know much about handling evil. But I know we walk with crocodiles everyday. We just don’t always know it. And they don’t always look like crocodiles.