Iconic mercenary lived for adrenalin

By Mervyn Naidoo Time of article published Feb 9, 2020

Share this article:

DURBAN -  Who said accountants were boring?

Action man Mike Hoare, who was born in India in 1919, fought in World War II as a British officer and, until his death last Sunday, lived much of his life on the edge.

Hoare, who earned his fame or notoriety, depending on which side of his pointed weapon one stood, was widely regarded as the leading mercenary of the 20th century, blasted to oblivion the notion that bean counters held a dreary outlook to life.

His penchant for danger set him apart.

Leading troops of “whites only” mercenaries on various missions in Congo and other parts of Africa, and hiking through the Drakensberg and Basutoland (southern Africa), including lone motorbike rides to various corners of the continent, often brought him face to face with danger.

It’s just that Hoare knew better how to deal with it. That’s probably the reason he was able to reach the milestone age of 100.

He will be buried on Tuesday and his last rites will be performed at St Martin’s Church in Durban North at 3pm.

While Hoare’s guns for hire held sway in Congo, his plan to take down communist rule (Khmer Rouge) in Cambodia never got off the ground in the 1970s. His other failed mission, came in 1981. At age 62, Hoare and about 40 men attempted to overthrow communist rule in the Seychelles but that incursion bombed out at the local airport.

Hoare and his soldiers of fortune commandeered an Air India aircraft from the airport back to South Africa. They were arrested when they landed in Durban.

He and his men were charged with air piracy. As the leader, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. But after 33 months in detention, he got a presidential pardon from PW Botha in 1985 and it marked the end of his mercenary days.

While the end was not spectacular, at the height of their powers Hoare and his revolutionaries, nicknamed the “Wild Geese”, were the darlings of the Western world. Their exploits, especially in Congo, were celebrated in the media.

That’s because they often took on forces aligned to the Russians and prevailed, and Hoare was dubbed “Mad Mike”, for his sense of daring and bravery.

Even when Che Guevara tried to drive the rebels’ agenda in Congo, Hoare and company emerged victorious.

Congo, in particular, during the 1960s, had its “Cold War” connections. At that time the US and the Soviet Union were locked in the “space race” and the rockets they needed to get them to outer space required cobalt.

Cobalt, a mineral found mainly in Russia and Congo, was a prized possession and the US were not prepared to be kept out.

There was also talk that Hoare and his team’s skirmishes in Congo with the rebels was covertly backed by the US’s CIA.

His eldest son Chris, from his first wife Betty (Radha), said that his father signed up for mercenary work because he liked the military way of life and wanted to make a difference.

“He made a name for himself as a mercenary and when people needed help, they knew to give Mike a call,” said Chris.

On Hoare’s work in Congo, Chris said, his father was of the belief that the Russians would have not only taken charge of the cobalt, but they would have also come to South Africa and grabbed the gold.

“Besides, Mike said he didn’t want his children growing up and speaking Russian.”

Given Hoare’s reputation as an action junkie, when Chris was asked what were the words that best described his father, he said: “Good-natured.”

Chris, who wrote the book Mad Mike Hoare: The Legend, a biography on his father, said: “People described him as an extremely polite and charming person with a powerful presence.

In Chris’s eyes, his father was a “pukka British Army officer, right wing and conservative”.

“He was in the army for seven years and he was in World War II. When you come out of that sort of experience, you are unemotional. You’re a tough guy who gets things done,” said Chris.

He said Hoare was a bit of an absent father especially after he divorced Betty, and went adventuring, which lasted months, but the camping trips and outdoor holidays with his father were good memories.

Chris said he was chuffed to have been made the military adviser on the 1978 movie, The Wild Geese, which was shot in Tshipe in the old Northern Transvaal because it featured a host of stars, including Richard Burton.

The main character in the movie, a mercenary leader, was said to be similar to that of Hoare.

“Mike appreciated the opportunity of being around Burton, who was a prominent Shakespearean actor because he himself was a big fan of Shakespeare.”


Share this article: