I was asked the other day by a friend: “What do you want? What would make you happy? What dreams do you have?” On a deeper level than the usual monetary desires, the answer is “recognition.” For an Afrikaner male, a white man, of my age and older, I suppose we want recognition above all else. We are long past the stage where a “thank you” is expected. To be sure, you will be wildly overoptimistic to expect appreciation from anyone but I suppose there is hope, who knows, God is all powerful. We are likewise at the age where we know if we made the American Dream or not, I certainly did not. Shrug, it is often the luck of the draw, not your degrees, not your experience, but who you know. Dreams are for those that have human feelings, not sure I do anymore, I have no dreams really and I am not alone feeling like that.
I am 50 years old in two months, I never thought I would reach 25 and am quite surprised but there you are, half a century of what? Life was very different when I was younger but fair enough, every generation say that, and I am sure many in the future will say the same. Sometimes I look back. I am at times contacted by readers of my Police Series Books and they use the language inside the books, words I forgot, it is 26 years since I left and I moved on. Some of my friends never left, they still serve, grey and grizzled. Others will never leave, they are dead. They died in the line of duty and they are forgotten by most. This reminds me of the Old Testament where we read of the Kings of Judea and Israel whose great deeds are written somewhere, but where?
In the Military, and the old Police was a military, you look at a man’s chest to see his achievements. You see medals, awarded for something he did when he was respected, recognised as someone that fought for his country. I said in one book that when South Africa called, we answered. We did not run away to London and never considered such options. We did not fake being gay or some odd religion just to avoid service. Nor did we stay on at university year after year to evade and circumvent honourable service. In fact, we looked at anyone with long hair (civvy street) and something dangling between his legs, as wankers worthy of contempt and disgust. I reminiscence about young and fit men, fine looking in uniform, carrying unbelievable burdens on their shoulders, making life and death decisions every day. We paid the price and when awarded medals in recognition, commissions, parachute wings, whatever, it was well deserved and we were proud. We were recognised as men, respected.
And now? Now people just don’t want to know about you. Our medals, once so coveted, are gathering dust in the gun safe or like mine, hanging on a tuxedo several sizes too big for me. We are yesterday’s heroes and today’s villains... the only certainty we have is whatever goes wrong in this country would be our fault: “Die kat kry kleintjies, eish, dis jou skuld! Ek wens jy gaan dood, jy is in elk geval reeds dood! Jy bestaan nie werklik meer nie.” And so it goes. When affirmative action cost many of us our income, our wives left with the kids soon after. There is no love where there is no money, smile, yes, try an argue with me, I have the evidence. In the past two decades, those that somehow survived the job cuts, saw many promoted beyond their abilities, and themselves stuck to their position for years and years, and there is no sympathy, none. If you tell your sad story, people are very quick to say: “you are on the pity train” and so you keep quiet. If you lift your head, you are accused of “living in the past and have anger issues.” Your opinion is neither wanted nor listened to, there is no recognition for our great deeds which is written nowhere actually. Even the history books are changed to reflect our plight as self-inflicted for answering the call for a lost cause. If we point out what you can see with your own eyes, we are accused of “colonialism” and other historically inaccurate crap. Closer to home, I recall the last time I saw my late wife. She was leaving to go home, the US, and we were very much in love. I would have joined her a few months later for a new life in a new country but I never did and never saw her again in this world, she got ill and she is now with God. I must die to get to her and I will, have no fear, I will never be cheated like this again, my time will come. But I recall saying to myself that day: “If this is all there is to life, then that is enough, I have peace, she made me whole.” Tonight, I saw my medals on the old tuxedo, medals my wife asked about with awe in her voice and I thought of the hundreds of thousands like me. I thought of the forgotten and frankly, unwanted men, the black sheep of their families. Those that would be treated with respect in other countries and only contempt here. The idea makes me smile, our great deeds are written in our hearts you know, our faces, grey hair and that is enough, I suppose that is all there is to this life and better awaits. I have no regrets and I am not sorry.
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.