1988 South Africa teeters on the edge of a state of emergency. Seventeen-year-old Bradley Steyn crosses Pretoria’s Strijdom Square and walks straight into a massacre. Barend Strydom, the notorious white supremacist ‘Wit Wolf’, is mowing down black bystanders relaxing in the square during their lunch break. Bradley cradles a dying man in his arms and, later, with reports of eight dead and 16 seriously injured, he is brought face-to-face with the insanity of the nation.
Suffering from acute PTSD, unable to cope with day-to-day life and consumed by rage, Bradley spirals out of control. His parents unwittingly initiate the next chapter in the story of the boy who crossed the square when they arrange for him to join the SA Navy.
Here, angry and unable to work though his trauma, he is called on by the apartheid regime’s Security Branch to ‘confront the threat of communism’, and the navy serviceman joins the dreaded D Section of the Security Branch as a classified government enforcer – but not for long as the underground ANC’s Department of Intelligence and Security (DIS) soon recruits him.
On the political stage events are changing fast: FW de Klerk becomes president, the ANC is unbanned and Nelson Mandela walks to freedom. However, undermining this progress, a sinister Third Force has formed an alliance between the deep state military-intelligence complex, the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists. With these forces edging the nation towards a bloody race war, De Klerk is forced to make a deal with Mandela. Bradley is part of the DIS’s plan to infiltrate this
Third Force network before all hope for a free future is destroyed. He goes undercover to help unravel the extremists’ master plan – but will his time run out before they discover he is working for Mandela’s spies? This astonishing true-life thriller reveals for the first time some of the dirty secrets of a dirty war. Here is an extract.
A quick lick of the thumb and I flipped to the next page of the ANC’s department of intelligence and security (DIS) file. Koos Vermeulen was married to Marguerite, nine years his junior. Apparently, she had once attempted to take her own life and I believed I could see why. Just as an example of his hatred, her husband preached that HIV-Aids was intended as a “cleansing medium” in South Africa and would play a pivotal role in “controlling” the black population.
Grotesquely nicknamed “Smiley”, Vermeulen in fact presented no surprises, his supremacist father and their Church of the Creator, which paraded the abomination known as “the White Man’s Bible”, polluting his thoughts from what must have been an early age. To him, there were whites and there were “mud people”. That was it.
Pinned inside the DIS file was an example of the World Apartheid Movement (WAM) membership approval and welcome letter, written in Afrikaans on a WAM letterhead over Vermeulen’s personal signature. I did a quick translation.
Honourable Struggle Partner,
Your application for membership has been approved. On behalf of WAM, it is our honour to welcome you to the most realistic people’s movement worldwide. Its birth is the most dynamic right-wing movement seen in the last 40 years.
We trust that you will help us build the most powerful movement around the world. And it will be seen as the highest calling to the white race ever.
All suggestions and criticisms are welcomed to the betterment of the movement and our people.
Greetings and good luck,
As obtuse as this letter was, I wanted a copy for myself. This was one job application I couldn’t afford to fail.
Neil interrupted my thoughts. He wanted to know about Keith Conroy, HDL’s mate whom André had mentioned during the briefing.
Conroy wasn’t a big talker, but he was serious in his convictions: he despised black people and played off his Englishness - as if he understood irony - by choosing the company of Boers.
Neil’s response was spot on: “He sounds like a real wanker.”
But Conroy was more than your basic old white wanker. He was a diehard supremacist with a fixation about ridding his adopted country of “black communists”. He trained the AWB’s Aquila recruits in the Western Cape and was a primary force behind a wave of anti-Semitism.
I assumed Conroy would be at the Vermeulen compound, although he seemed to relish the company of AWB chief Eugene Terre’Blanche. Those three constituted an unholy alliance of the most racist order, but after Terre’Blanche was killed in 2010, their power dimmed from public view. That didn’t mean Vermeulen and Conroy slunk away, though, but Vermeulen didn’t have much time left himself. He died the year after as a result of a road rage incident in which he and another motorist had a physical fight not far from his smallholding outside Pretoria.
At the height of the AWB’s infamy, Conroy got off on being the “kommandant” of its Iron Guard. He was identified as one of the ringleaders of the attack on the World Trade Centre during the Codesa negotiations, in which thousands of AWB supporters thronged at the conference centre near the airport before a military vehicle was driven into and through the plate-glass doors of the venue.
Dozens then stormed the place, many of them drunk, pissing on the carpets and furnishings, buzzing around Terre’Blanche and hoisting their rifles, shotguns and swastika-like red-and-black flags. There’s footage of this incident on right-wing websites on YouTube where it’s accompanied by mournful supremacist poetry and songs about the theft of the land, the belittling of the Boers and the love of the vierkleur, the flag of the old Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, which existed from 1852 to 1877, and again from 1881 to 1902.
Conroy had assisted in building a cult of personality around Terre’Blanche since the early 1980s when the AWB first began to show its ugly head. On paper, it should be inexplicable how a person of British extraction would not feel alienated by the AWB leader’s speeches.
But racists are racists are racists. They like each other’s company, and that’s where I was headed. It sent a shiver down my spine.
“So that’s the prick,” Neil said dismissively. “A Pommie who doesn’t speak a word of Afrikaans, but is right at the heart of the Boer resistance movement? Now that does make sense.”
We spent the first night at Sun City. We’d no idea what we were getting ourselves into so we made precautionary plans. Cyril was on standby across the Botswana border near Gaborone, a couple of hours away, under the sub-command of Comrade Thabang Makwetla (who later became the Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans). The back-up Tango team in the chase car was to set up on a neighbouring farm. We had agreed on a nautical flare as the sh*t-has-hit-the-fan signal. If they received the signal, Tango would make an approach through the orange orchards to the west.
The following day we staged our departures from the hotel. Tango went ahead, and then disappeared down a dusty road toward the adjoining farm. We drove to our rendezvous - the Vermeulen citrus farm in the lovely Marico Valley town of Zeerust.
Ironies abound. Zeerust was also for many years the transit point for MK recruits and others heading for the ANC camps through Botswana, because it’s right on the N4 highway link between the two countries.
The farm gate was padlocked, and I expected brown-shirted sentries but instead an elder wearing blue work overalls bearing a Zion Christian Church patch unlocked the chain and waved us through. He issued the blessing: “Kgotso e be le lena ... Peace be with you.”
We drove along a sand road until the farmhouse loomed into view. Neil slowly steered our bakkie with its precious cargo nestled in its covered shell and headed towards a small cluster of cars. A few guys with side arms and rifles approached our vehicle. They were dressed in paramilitary uniforms: khaki shorts and plain shirts with the insignia of an X split by a vertical arrow.
One pounded on our bonnet and ordered us to stop. We complied.
“Klim uit die kar, julle! Get out of the car! Show us your hands.”
“Check out these Nazi idiots,” Neil grunted. “Any of them Conroy or Vermeulen?”
I shook my head, which seemed to irritate one of the stroppy crew assailing the bakkie.
“You have any concealed weapons?”
“Are you fucking stupid?” I barked back. I’ve used this tactic in high-stress situations before - a display of no fear. This time it backfired. A butt of a rifle smacked my head from behind.
My vision blurred and then I kissed the dirt. But my brother Neil had my back and pulled his 9mm, tapping it against his leg, then wagging it as you would with a finger, reprimanding a child. There’s no way they’re going to shoot us, I hoped. Still, the asshole in charge of the wannabe storm troopers stood only a couple of feet away.
I decided I wasn’t going to take this abuse lying down. It was time for my favourite manoeuvre.
While still on my side, I swept his feet from under him, grabbed hold and pinned him down, then dropped two or three elbows on him until I heard: “Bloody hell, Bradley. You love a scrap, don’t you?”
There was a broad smile under Conroy’s oversized moustache.
The book goes on sale next month at R240.
About the authors
Mark Fine is a South African-born novelist specialising in historical fiction, social injustice and wildlife conservation. A story worth telling is the inspiration for his work, usually based on moments in history that both entertain and inform the reader.
Bradley D Steyn is a former government contractor, specialising in risk mitigation, operational support, B2B and B2C within the US national security and defence arenas. In his late teens, Steyn found himself in the middle of the Strijdom Square massacre. The experience profoundly changed his life. Steyn now lives in California. He works as a security consultant in Beverley Hills.