Back in 2012 I wrote an autobiography called “Mean Streets – Life in the Apartheid Police.” I remember distinctly I came home from the local university, my so called Alma Mater and felt I just wasted a few days of my life. You know that feeling when you talk to people and you just know (1) you not getting through (2) you are wasting your time and (3) they are paying lip service to you?
The first you can overcome with forbearance and explaining more properly. The second you have to ignore at times, it comes with the job and the third? Well, that is it, as they say. When such disrespect is shown you struggle through the allotted time and walk away humiliated or wiser or both. I can tell you, I have great knowledge on what is known as “Forensic Law” and that university will never gain my knowledge nor will I ever donate one cent to them and lastly, I don’t care about their problems in life which is many and greater than what they can handle. Almost like MTN, I read wisdom is slowly returning, yep, it takes a while with such companies but we are getting there!
As I drove back from the meeting, disaster as it was, I realised I live on a different planet than the ivory tower brigade and I lived on a different planet because of the old South African Police Force where I spent six years in my youth between 1985 – 1991. I was something before I studied law and have a lot more life experience than the legal profession that is very one way mined (the chase of their god called mammon). I was a different man in the old police, (thinner to begin with) and had views which will make any liberal cry (a delightful sight – I remember how many times we made a certain Anglican Bishop cry). Then I further realised I am reading books what can be described as politically correct crap and yet they were published books. I fancied myself that I have a better story to tell than most, simply because I went from a police sergeant to an attorney in a well-known human rights law firm. This alone made my story “different” and with my legal knowledge, combined with an interest in history, I could bring another perspective and my word, so I did.
And so I sat down, that very same afternoon, and started typing. It was a spur of the moment idea, I did not plan it and I did not fancy myself as a writer (still don’t). But the stories just came tumbling out of my head. People asked me later, how did you remember what took place twenty years plus ago? Well, I just did and thinking about it I may have the answer. Men of my age and generation seek acceptance, I suppose, above all. We were in our middle twenties when the changes came and could not retire on fat pensions as did the Nationalist Cabinet Ministers that caused the problems. We were left on our own, angry, frustrated and with no real understanding how much we were abused to support a failed concept. And no one appreciated us, no one ever said thank you. Our medals, for which we sweated blood were now seen as “shameful” and those that stayed in the police had to see their once proud force become the crappy service it is today.
In most other countries, we would be seen as “veterans” and combat veterans and be respected – here we are looked down upon and no doubt, many of us cannot find a job in this country because we served. Fair enough, the first rule of the old police and repeated many times in the books, is “only long haired liberals complain” and so it is. But then we started reading crap, about an “unpopular war” and some explaining to us what great “liberals” they were during Apartheid. Yep, they were trying to work the system from within and hence had to keep rather silent because you know, the old Security Police were mean mothers and they careful to survive. Yeah, I was at the human rights law firm then and yes, I adapted to the new South Africa. I mingled with the who’s who of the ANC and I had hope, under Mr Mandela, a lot of hope – I have none now, just to be clear – this country is heading for disaster and I would advise you to leave if you can. It is going to get much worse.
I never hid my past in the police, ever. It may have cost me a few jobs, no doubt. But I was respected by our former enemies because I told the truth and I tried that with the Mean Streets Books, to tell the story but to respect my enemy. The books are in no way the usual “I was there” type of book. No, they look at history, they look at the law and they combine into something I am proud about, and with reason - many readers came back to me and said “they get it, for the first time.”
In my view I restored the honour of the old police by explaining what the law says about a police force, highly disciplined, and refusing legal orders. It always bothered me that a police force, highly respected for 6 decades, become known internationally as “an instrument of terror” and we look at this aspect in the Mean Streets Books. No one else did, the few others I read was all me me and me which is expected but not why I wrote the books. It never was about me as such although I played a major part, obviously.
Along the way I made many good friends. I got many letters from children, wives and even parents of policemen stating flatly they now “understand” their loved ones better. I also made a few enemies under the older generation and they are entitled to their opinions. Some called me a “kaffir boetie” in need of black clients (my client base is white, poor people that cannot afford to pay and hence I work for free a lot of the time, therefore, I am poor). And many complained about the name “Apartheid Police” which was done only to show the international reader the time period. I explain in the book, that “Apartheid Police” was not the real name. And then came the grammar mafia, oh my word, for an educated man I am really pathetic in spelling and grammar and I stopped reading reviews. One even complaint that I did not write “f” out in its full length, another wondered if I have a spellchecker, yet another bitched about the way the policemen spoke “by the grace of General…” and so it went on.
Sadly, the long haired liberals were not all wrong. The Mean Streets Books were very much a home grown affair. I was on my own and I can testify, you cannot edit your own books, you read over the mistakes and spellcheckers help you only that far. When you write a Books Series of 1050 paper pages (all of them combined including the Afrikaans translation), there will be mistakes. But I am glad (and relieved) to say that readers, all of them unknown to me, I have yet to meet most of them face to face, from a girl in Port Elizabeth (a great fan) as well as an attractive widow in Pretoria to a South African in California to a Vietnam Vet in the East got stuck in and today I am proud to say to you, they are edited. They read well and they read easily and they take you to a place you cannot possibly comprehend unless you were in the old police at that time. And they made people laugh, we have dislocated jaws, sore stomach muscles and yet, they are serious books – they have a serious message. They should be read and they are all in paper now. I am proud of this, as proud as I am of my fiction books (which are better in my view), I found peace writing Mean Streets and cannot do more – you either read them and love them or you don’t.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a practicing commercial law attorney for eight years. He also wrote several books on business, law, counter terrorism and security issues. He is a widower and lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa.