I was not close to my father as a child as horrible as that sounds. The man was distant and a rather forbidding figure most of the time but then I am not close to any family except my mom. We did our own thing as children and it is my personality to be a loner by nature. As the years went on and I became a man I realised what a good man my father was. He could laugh at full volume and had a great sense of humour not usually associated with regional court magistrates (like a district court judge in American). Mind you, he had no known sense of humour in court. It is not a humorous place.
I remember a few incidents about him which I am sharing with you since it is his birthday on 16 May. He would have been in life 79 years old. However he passed on from asbestos cancer in 1994 at the age of 58. His coming birthday date is also a sad day for me or was last year. First my mom collapsed and I had to take her to intensive care. On the very same day my wife went into intensive care from which she did not emerge and she went to the Lord on 21 May. I will write about that on 21 May and yes I hate that day with a passion which is hard to describe. All my dreams came to an abrupt end but anyway, another blog another day.
One of my first memories of my dad was him playing cricket in the Caprivi and making a few runs. How good a cricketer he was I would not know as I never saw him play again. Apparently he played good tennis and taught me to play golf. Well, he tried. All I learned on a golf course was that I knew curse words he did not know I knew and he reacted predictably if not plainly shocked. I never took to the game or any other - I would rather read a book or do something useful. I am afraid I did not share his love for rugby either and he supported the Griquas team since he came from the Northern Cape where his parents were well-known farmers. I never knew them either as they died before I was born. We Kotze's don't live long and God be praised for that. I don't get the constant search to live forever and think there is something wrong with your relationship with God if you don't want to leave. I would not want to stay one second longer on earth then what is really needed and required.
I remember flying from the Caprivi, the Air Force had an airstrip (it was not more than that but neatly kept and tarred at least) called Mpacha. I was about ten years old and this was great fun as we flew in the old South African Air Force Dakota's (known as kotskoetse and the DC3) as well as more modern Hercules C130 transport airplanes to Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria. I hated Pretoria on sight with its horrible smelly air, strangely materialistic people, millions of cars, tar roads, cafes where the Portuguese oom (Afrikaans, uncle) did not know my name and robots (traffic lights). I could not wait to get back to Katima Mulilo where everyone did know my name or at least my dad's.
That is still a problem by the way. Wherever I go and I introduce myself the first question is whether I am related to Magistrate Kotze? In those days and in smaller towns most people respected the police sergeant (a dangerous fellow at the best of times), the school principle (an idiot of note) and the magistrate above even the dominee (Afrikaans, reverend). So he is known and he was a superb legal scholar. In later years when I studied law properly I read his verdicts and had it printed. Though outdated now (the law must always change to confuse the public, then lawyers are needed) it clearly shows a legal mind which understood law. That is not a common thing in a profession where confusion rules and men get tears in their eyes over the meaning of one word or athletes shouting like a girl. They are exceedingly boring people, lawyers, ask me I was one long enough and my family still are. It was my father's dream to practise law with my brother (an outstanding lawyer) and myself (not so brilliant). This unfortunately was cut short by his untimely death.
I remember that day when he passed. We had extended "family" with us who I chased away soon after. When you live next to the sea or in Bloemfontein, which is in the middle of the country and so flat you can see the future three days away, you get used to "family" packing off. However that was not the time and they left and good riddance too. I assure you, when you experience the death of someone close to you you don't want to be bothered with crap and people overstaying there welcome. There are some mountains you climb alone.
The military aircraft we flew in were not empty. At times the wounded soldiers lay on stretchers hanging from the roof with medics all around them. This included drips and blood transfusions. I saw a few body bags at the rear where the suitcases were stacked and asked my father about it. He looked rather uncomfortable and replied "life is not in our hands, God decide." It made no real sense to me then but today I get it. You really need to live every day to the fullest as you don't know what happens tomorrow. Besides that is was great fun flying with the Air Force and I sat with the pilots many times as they puffed on their pipes and talked rugby and politics with dad. As a child, in those days, you kept quiet unless spoken to though it must be said he was not a violent man at all.
Then one day he shot a magnificent hole in the wall of our house. Every male member in that town was armed against terrorist attack (a very real possibility) and he chose to have an automatic shotgun he obviously did not quite understood yet. Everyone else chose a SLR or R1 rifle which was the standard Army and Police combat rifle at the time. The shotgun was an interesting choice and I asked him why. He did his military service in the Signal Corps back in the middle 1950s or twenty years before this. At that time they used the old (read ancient) World War Two .303 Lee Enfield. Still he knew how to shoot and was a crack shot on the hunting field and he certainly knew how to handle a R1 rifle which is semi or full automatic and in .308 calibre. So why the 12 gauge shotgun? He said he is the man of the family and needs the shotgun to protect his family in his home. For that purpose a shotgun, even if not Gucci, is perfect. At short range and in the dark when most attacks occurred he chose the correct weapon. I learned a lot from this in life - always do what is right for the situation. The rest is crap.
And then I remember him clapping hands as I came stumbling in after running the King Williams Town Willy Waddle or whatever they called the charity run. I was just out of the Police College and our strange lieutenant offered the opinion that we youngsters (he was an ancient 27) would surely keep the South African Police Force's name high. And so I came in at number 179 which is not exactly last but nothing spectacular either. It was the first and only time my dad saw me on the sporting field. He also never saw me graduate with law degrees or the publication of my first book or the birth of my son who would never know him. Regretfully he also never met Melissa as I believe they would have enjoyed each other a lot.
In later years I remember deep conversations on law or politics or whatever, the man had an encyclopaedic knowledge on anything and when he talked men kept quiet to listen and learn. I wish I could be like that, that men would listen, not because they pay me and I get paid by the minute but because I talk sense.
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.