Showing posts with label South Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Africa. Show all posts

04 December 2022

Selous Scouts

Not Your Boy Scouts

Note: This is a follow-up to my story in Alfred Hitchcock, ‘The Precatory Pea’. After writing this article, I received terrible news, which I include at the end of this article.

A few matters in my Alfred Hitchcock story bear explanation. As so often happens with storytellers, several particulars, as my grandmother would say, coalesced at the right place and moment. Most significant was laconic Simon Parkin, formerly of Zimbabwe, née Rhodesia.

According to his wife, in-laws, children, and small animals, he’s an utter lamb. Nonetheless to strangers he, like my brother Glen, projects a don’t-ƒ-with-me aura. He’s NOT the guy you want to jostle in a bar, not twice, anyway. It’s not so much he suffers fools badly, he doesn’t suffer them at all. Perhaps that restrained intimidation may simmer from his military background.

Selous Scouts badge

He began to talk and eventually he turned to history. Simon told me about Selous Scouts, Rhodesia’s special forces, specialists at guerrilla warfare. I captured some of his words for my story: “Reid-Daly marshalled the finest counter¬insurgency team on the planet. Our fathers fought Soviets and Red Chinese, for God’s sake. Uncle Ron kicked Castro’s arse back to Havana.”

After speaking with a couple more people, I tracked down relevant material in a Pietermaritzburg bookstore. The mixed-race Scouts were fierce. They were sly. They were feared. Their ferociousness scared the hell out of the communist putative freedom fighters. But interestingly, they became known for an offer that couldn’t be refused.

Critical Career Path

Unfortunately, I couldn't justifiably include one of the Scouts’ most interesting philosophies, a sort of prisoner triage. When the Scouts took POWs, they looked for those who might be saved from prison or possible execution. They offered captives an opportunity to join the Scouts.

This wasn’t done haphazardly, but was well planned, testing each. For example, during interviews, the interrogator and a too-casual guard would leave the room occasionally and, during one of these exits, the guard ‘accidentally’ left his rifle behind in a corner. How the prisoner reacted determined his future… or lack thereof.

I wouldn’t have given that program good odds, but surprisingly captured recruits turned out to be especially loyal with a success rate of eight or nine out of every ten.

Clearing the Air

Wikipedia is experiencing one of its hysterias about Selous Scouts, arguing that violent apartheid-era Scouts who’ve written on the subject shouldn’t be allowed as sources. Let’s be clear– they weren’t angels. They were at-risk soldiers for the white government of Rhodesia. But their fierce reputation spread, leaving behind a sense of awe. Think Rommel. Think King Shaka.

I received cautions not to write about Selous Scouts and especially don’t criticize them. Simon didn’t think an outsider could write about them at all. But no, I didn't plan to criticize.

My mind raced in a different direction. Zimbabwean and South African mercenaries were highly sought after apartheid, but the Blackwater 2007 mass murder in Nisour Square, Baghdad temporarily reduced demand for hired guns.

What if, my thinking went, what if unemployed wannabes fancied themselves as heirs of Selous Scouts? And what if they turned to cross-border crime to fund themselves?

As our Nellie noted, her nemeses were urban bad guys, not soldiers of the bush. In a literal sense, they didn’t know their own land.

A Colourful Cast

Like real Scouts, each of my bad guys brings a different heritage to the party:

  • Smith   — Rhodesian English
  • Buhle   — Ndébélé
  • Smuts   — Afrikaner
  • Svitsi  — Shona

and the other characters:

  • Nellie  — Zulu
  • Barbara — SA English

A spread of ethnicities like this appears fairly commonplace in South Africa.

Madam & Eve
Eve, Madam, and Mother

Apartheid may have ended, but a vigorous service economy remains for workers who fall outside of BEE, Black Economic Empowerment. In South Africa, the domestic black/white relationship is close and complex with considerable interpersonal involvement that retains a certain formality.

A sly comic strip, Madam & Eve captures some of this attitude. Madam Anderson may be the employer, but she ain’t the boss. Four million readers follow them… Black, White, Brown, and Coloured– and yes, South Africa has those designations as Trevor Noah has explained. (Eve's niece Thandi is one of the most delightful characters ever.)

Nando's ad
You are not reading this wrong.
(World Cup ad)

Nando’s, a famous chicken restaurant (its peri-peri hot sauce has been seen on the shelves of my local Walmart), is known for its sexy and politically incorrect hilarious ads about South Africa issues. You have to love people who laugh at themselves. Who else but Nando's would offer a WTF Special? (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) One advert is sooooo risque, I don't dare provide a link, much as I'd love to.

[And I do love South Africa. Of all the countries I’ve visited, lived, and worked in, South Africa is my favorite. I loved it and I could easily live there.]

Military Hardware

The story references the ugly, stubby weapon ‘HMC’, sometimes called a spraygun. Here it means ‘hand (or handheld) machine carbine’ and not an M1 designated QUAL HMC made by Quality Hardware Manufacturing Company.

As opposition to apartheid took effect around the globe, South Africa and Rhodesia could no longer buy on the arms market. As a result, they began manufacturing their own designs, some considered the finest in the world. Their boat-hull shape and double skins made military vehicles notable for their resistance to mines and IEDs. You can see one example, the Casspir in the film, District 9. The Marauder came along later. It was featured in the British television programme Top Gear.

US flat-bottom HumVees faired poorly in Iraq. IEDs ripped through the floors of vehicles. Soldiers welded steel plates underneath, creating their own double hull, although a better solution was manufactured elsewhere.

Salad Days… it’s all in the wrist.

After our Nell stitches up the doctor, she makes her exquisite salad and serves each a bowl in the Nguni tradition. This distinctive method of serving looks like this: The server extends the bowl in one hand while cupping the forearm with the other hand.

I recommend salade lyonnaise without extra red berries.

Breaking News that may Break Your Heart

The following is disturbing and it reveals a major spoiler in the story. Proceed with caution.

06 November 2022


What the Bad Guys Wear this Season © South African Paramount Marauder

An Unexpected Heroine

Seldom do we encounter a housekeeper who singlehandedly defeats a criminal terrorist cell. On television, such a heroine would have a CIA backstory, keep a 10mm in her spatula drawer, and be trained in seventeen different ways to kill a bad guy with a broken pair of nail scissors. But no, Nellie appears so extra ordinary, she becomes extraordinary. Our calm and self-possessed iqhawekazi unpacks her most formidable weapon, her wits.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine arrived mere minutes ago, seven hours before today’s publication deadline. It contains stories by my betters, Eve, Janice, Mark, and O’Neil, and  a rare chance to see one of my stories in print. I’ll discuss the genesis of the story another time, but let’s discuss language… or in this case, languages.

South Africa has thirty-five languages, eleven of them official. My story, ‘The Precatory Pea’, is sprinkled with expressions from several. The Netflix television show Blood & Water illustrates how South Africans speak, sometimes coloring sentences with two, three, or four languages.

We do the same thing without realizing. We North Americans mix in Spanish, French, and Latin, plus numerous American Indian place names. We’re the richer for it.

The Name of The Name

“The name of the song is called ‘Haddocks’ Eyes.’”
“Oh, that’s the name of the song, is it?” Alice said, trying to feel interested.
“No, you don’t understand,” the Knight said, looking a little vexed. “That’s what the name is called. The name really is ‘The Aged Aged Man.’”
“Then I ought to have said ‘That’s what the song is called?’” Alice corrected herself.
“No, you oughtn’t: that’s quite another thing! The song is called ‘Ways and Means’, but that’s only what it’s called, you know!”
“Well, what is the song, then?” said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.
“I was coming to that,” the Knight said. “The song really is ‘A-sitting On A Gate’, and the tune’s my own invention.”

The table below contains unusual mixed-case words like siSwati, isiXhosa, and isiZulu. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might note, Zulu is a Nguni language but isiZulu is the name of the language… or something like that. The particulars fomented a searing war within Wikipedia. British Wikipedian’s were outraged, claiming the names were at best stolen loan-words or worse, made-up slang. South African editors responding by quoting the Oxford Dictionary, South African Edition, which Wikipedian’s initially didn’t believe existed. So, if you aspire to be ultra-obsessively, compulsively correct (and Good Lord who doesn’t?), Zulu is the people, isiZulu is the language.

Complicating the issue is what computer people call ‘camel case’, mixed capitals and lower case, but this is not unusual in South Africa spelling. For example, the name of the province where I lived is KwaZulu-Natal… birthplace of the Zulus.

I’m admiring and grateful Alfred Hitchcock’s chief editor Linda Landrigan took in stride these issues of languages on the other side of the planet. How terrific is that!

The Fame of The Name

“Must a name mean something?” asked Alice in Wonderland.

Well, yes. Meanings of names used to be important in Western civilization. They often denoted something about the child or birth (Tuesday, Ginger), or religion (Mary, Josh), an occupational name (Carter, Fisher), a place name (D’Arcy, DuPont), or pretty much anything at all (Pearl, Rose). Society has let these lapse from shared memory, but meanings of names remain important in other cultures. An African family naming their little girl Treasure or Precious softens the hardest heart.

I’m not the only one, but I have a habit of relating names to the character of people in my stories. Sometimes I use sounds; sometimes I go by popularity. In the telling of ‘The Precatory Pea’, I took into account ethnicity and name meanings of characters, e.g, Sipho– gift.


To my ear, South African English combines the sounds of British English with American Deep South vowels. “I like to ride my bike,” sounds like, “Ah lahk to rahd mah bahk.”

I enjoy the sound of several isiZulu terms. It happens to be a click language, so once in a while a *click* pops out. Many words use onomatopoeia. Anyone who’s been around aged farm machinery knows the sound of a tractor, ganda-ganda. A rattletrap vehicle is a skedonk. A bad guy is a skabenga– you can hear the word spit out in disgust.

I suspect Dutch Afrikaans has influenced some pronunciation. For example, ‘th’ sounds are pronounced with a hard T. The talented actress Charlize Theron is exceptionally tolerant of Americans mispronouncing her name, but in her home country, it’s spoken as Teron.

Johannisburg, Johannisberg, Johannesburg… I never know which spelling to use, never mind tasting the riesling. I learned it pronounced with a ‘Y’ as in “Yohannisburg.” So what happens? My hostess corrects me… “Johannesburg.” And then her Afrikaner friend corrects me back, “Yohannesburg.” I get verbal whiplash… or toungelash. At least all agree on Jo-burg pronounced as Joe-burg).

Salade Lyonnaise (salad of Lyon, France)

Salade lyonnaise is delicious, perhaps not often made with African spinach. Its distinguishing feature is warm vinegar and oil dressing with bacon scraps, heated but not so hot to wilt romaine, endive, or whatever lettuce you have at hand. Finish with chopped egg on the greens and dribble savory dressing over it. Try it!


Many words have both formal and informal variants. Informal forms and plurals are in parentheses.

term definition, description   language
Arch Desmond Archbishop Desmond Tutu
bakkie pickup truck
bandile increased isiNdébélé, isiXhosa
bok, buck any horned, antelope-like ruminant Afrikaans, English
buhle handsome isiNdébélé, isiXhosa
deurmekaar confused
dof daft, dumb, stupid
dwaal dazed
en and
hawu expression: wow, whoa, pfft isiXhosa, isiZulu
impi war, warriors
induna foreman, overseer
injakazi slut, bitch
inyanga (plural izinyanga) healer
isangoma medicine man, witch doctor, diviner, spirit talker, seer isiZulu
isigebengu (skabenga, plural izigebengu) bad guy, criminal, villain isiZulu
isipho (sipho) gift isiNdébélé, isiXhosa
isiXhosa language of the Xhosa isiXhosa, English
isiZulu language of the Zulus isiZulu, English
kokayi summoner, caller of the people together Shona
mach schnell hurry (verb), quickly, now
Madiba Nelson Mandela (clan name)
magondo hyena
mampara idiot, cretin
marogo African spinach isiZulu, isiXhosa
moegoe cretin, stupid person
nelisiwe satisfied
nkosana prince
rooibos South African red tea
salade lyonnaise salad of Lyon: egg, heated vinegar, oil, bacon French
schalk varlet, knave, servant
Selous Scouts controversial Rhodesian multi-race guerrilla special forces English
skedonk jalopy, beater, dilapidated car, junker isiZulu
svitsi hyena
uDokotela physician, doctor
umlungu (mlungu) white person
umndeni (mndeni) family
umthakathi (tagati) sorcerer, witch
umuthi (muti) medicine; any liquid of useful purpose isiZulu
voortrekker pioneer
xiang si dou aphrodisiac love beads

  (parentheses imply informal variants or plurals)


I owe thanks to Simon for describing Selous Scouts and approving the finished story. I extend appreciation to ABA for helping me get the wrongs right and the rights better. Thanks to RT Lawton for reading and advising. And I thank the real Nelisiwe, a gentle soul, an open heart, and a lovely person. She’ll be shocked to learn she’s known a world away. Nellie, I miss our shared lunches.

23 September 2012

Adventures in South Africa

I'm spending the better part of a year living in South Africa. If you're anything like me, you probably harbor pre-conceived notions and yet wonder what the land is really like.

I've lived and worked in Europe and South America. Each country has a 'personality' not to be defined by or confused with their nation's politics. A national personality is both amalgamation and generalization, a distilled broad-stroke synthesis of millions of people.

South Africa… I've never visited a land whose personality so closely matches that of North America– the friendliness, hardiness, sense of humor, spirit of industry and entrepreneurism, a determination to conquer prejudice, and the will to persevere when times get tough. And, everyone speaks English.

To many Americans, South Africa must appear exotic, even strange, but I have a surprise for you– it's more familiar, more 'ordinary', more like America than you can believe. To be sure, I've spent almost all my time in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (birthplace of the Zulus), which is like a tourist spending their entire visit in one American state and thinking all of the US is like (shudder) Florida. KZN is the most English of the nine provinces, so my perceptions may differ from parts of the country that are dominated by, say, Dutch Afrikaners.


People pepper their speech with Zulu words. I love the expressive sound of isiZulu– the actual name of the Zulu language. For example, a rattletrap vehicle is a skadonk and a bad guy is a sigebengu (prounced 'skabanguh'). The onomatopoeia word for tractor is gunda-gunda… anyone who's familiar with older farm machinery can't help but smile.

One word I adopted is muti (moo-tea), meaning medicine, but it can also mean any liquid put to good use, such as 'dishwashing muti'. Americans use at least one isiZulu word without realizing it– fundi, an expert.

South meets South

Three weeks ago, our friend Geri came to visit. She's the epitome of the Southern lady, soft-spoken and very easy to underestimate as some have learned to their surprise or dismay. She travels perhaps twice a year and accepted Cate's invitation to visit.

Fortunately Geri travels well and is patient, since the textbook publisher seemed to ramp up the workload at the same time the deadline loomed like a plunging vulture. But family was good to us, Tig and Sue, who lent us their home. Geri, Cate and I lived on the beach, sunbathed and waded in the Indian Ocean, and visited the Oribi Gorge, a scenic combination of horticulture, agriculture, and wildlife. Geri rode a Segway along the beach in Durban and into Moses Mahbida Stadium.

Thanks to friends Dave and Shirley, we visited Springbok Lodge in the Nambiti Game Reserve. Among other bragging rights, Nambiti boasts the 'Big 5', the five most dangerous animals to hunt. South Africa's bank notes portray the Big Five: rhino, elephant, lion, cape buffalo, and leopard. This is even more impressive when you realize the Egyptians considered the hippo and crocodile to be the most fearsome. These aren't animals to fool around with– even the ostrich has been known to kill men.

Four out of Five

On my first visit to the game reserve weeks earlier, locals told me I was amazingly lucky to see the Big 5, all except the leopard. And these weren't distant sightings: A mother and child rhinoceros galloped along side the Land Cruiser. We were close enough to grazing cape buffalo to see oxpecker birds cleaning their coats. Only days later, bad tempered buffalo turned on a Jeep and wreaked thousands of dollars of damage upon it. And the lions– a pride of three strolled past our Land Cruiser so close you could have flicked a booger at them, had you been so foolish.

During that visit, herds of zebra and giraffe seemed to be everywhere, and it's an amazing sight to see giraffes browsing above the treetops. Cate calculated we spotted 13 different kinds of buck– the South African term for deer and antelopes– from the small bush buck, to impala, hartebeest, wildebeest, and the largest of all, the eland.

On this trip with Geri, we again saw all the Big 5 except the elusive leopards. Birds surrounded us. Bachelor rhinos eyed us warily. As we watched, mother elephants taught their calves how to uproot trees: In the winter, roots contain more nutrients than barren branches, so elephants require a goodly supply of trees to munch upon.

Normally, hippopotami soak in ponds like huge inert hogs, imitating boulders. Not this time– hippos rumbled ashore during an early morning stretch. One juvenile postured and played with another, putting on a show.

Meanwhile, Geri was busy snapping photos. For example…

You may notice a theme here. Every time Geri raised her camera, subjects would spin around and pose: "Wanna see my butt?"

One afternoon we found lions hidden in the tall grass, but a big male wandered off, his bum toward us,to check his kill because jackals were wandering the area. Minutes later he strolled back, at last facing us. Geri raised her lens and… the big lion paused and… Geri aimed her camera and… the lion squatted and…

Proceeded to take an excruciating minutes-long dump.

Cate burst out with "Dude, you need fiber."

Later– yesterday in fact– Geri and Cate found a calendar of animal butts. It looks like Geri's animals thought they were still posing for it.

When tracking, Rangers communicate 'visuals' over the radio in isiZulu so passengers don't leap out of their seats to spot the latest 'find' and scare off– or attract– the animal's attention.

Geri took great photos of a lounging jackal, rarely seen sunning. She also got a great snap of a warthog. They kneel when they graze and shuffle along on their foreknees. In another great bit of luck, rangers spotted the reserve's lone cheetah– just one cheetah in 22,000 acres– lions had killed the others.

Darkest Africa

Through poaching and hunting, populations of some big cats number in two and three digits. Elephants are threatened in many places, but may be stabilized. The black rhinoceros is critically endangered and other species are believed to be extinct. For what? For their horn, that bit of keratin thought to be an aphrodisiac in some Asian cultures.

Speaking of cultures, to Westerners, elephants, rhinos, and hippos are great lumbering beasts, but to Africans, they are elegant, powerful, imbued with history and mystique. They're like bison and bears to the American Indian, creatures to be respected and protected in a modern and hazardous environment.

This is the Africa of legends, of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Ryder Haggard, and perhaps of Lee Falk, Lyman Young, and Wilbur Smith. Like our state and national forests, this commitment preserves and conserves habitat so that species– some numbered in the hundreds, some in the dozens or fewer– have a narrow chance to survive and perhaps thrive.

So what do I think of South Africa? I love it. I love it here. I wouldn't be surprised if you would too.

01 July 2012

Loaded Magazines

by Leigh Lundin

As you may have noticed from posting datelines below my recent articles, I'm traveling, which is taking me through South Africa. At the moment, I'm being unforgivably rude by closeting myself in a corner of my friends' beach home as I dash out this article, the result of a sudden decision to take down my intended column for today and slap up a new one… with good reason.

The friends are Tig and Sue and their house in Port Shepstone overlooks the Indian Ocean, where in the distance, whales are breaching as I write. Yesterday, they give us a tour of the Oribi Gorge where the deer and the antelope play… or rather monkeys and impala, the real kind, not those bred by Chevrolet.

This sounds exotic to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, but what I've found more amazing is how comfortable, how natural South Africa feels, at least this province of KwaZulu-Natal, birthplace of the Zulus.

Family helps of course, and everyone has made me feel like family. There's English, too– North Americans don't have to struggle with phrase books because everyone speaks more English English than most of us do. S.A. politics are as mad as America's and our sense of humor shares the same DNA. Except for occasional vervet monkeys scampering through the back garden, you couldn't possibly find this beautiful land all that different from ours.

So with abject apologies to my gracious and forgiving host and hostess, on with the article.

Loaded Magazines

One of the last things I did before journeying across the seas was to forward subscriptions for Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines. Thus, I was happily able to enjoy RT Lawton's bail bond twins and Janice Law's 'Medium' in the last issue and Rob's story 'Brutal' in the current one. Damn, SleuthSayers has great authors, don't we?

Reading these stories reinforces how good these writers are. If anything, their talents are understated, because I find myself marveling and taking a sort of proprietary pride in knowing them. And before I forget, Janice Law has a historical coming out later this year, which I'll ramble about in an upcoming article.

AHMM Alfred Hitchcock

I've read all but two stories in this, the September issue. I know, I know… the magazine industry dates their periodicals like automobile companies… is the 2013 Dodge Viper out yet?

Rob Lopresti, as usual, received mention on the cover for his wicked story 'Brutal'. It's sly, it's funny, it's a groaner… I can't say more without giving away too much.

The story reminds me of one of John Lutz's parables. There's an author's adage to heap misery on the hero until he can't take any more… and then dump on even more. You might say both writers turned that adage on its head.

Read AHMM to see what I mean. But wait, there's more…

Jolie McLarren Swann, otherwise known as James Lincoln Warren, graced the previous (August) issue with 'Inner Fire', the Black Orchid Novella Award-winning takeoff on Nero Wolfe, which I was previously permitted to critique– actually rave about. You do not want to miss this story.

EQMMEllery Queen

Although Ellery Queen inexplicably omitted SleuthSayers authors in the current August issue (don't ask me to explain why the magazines' dates differ), they do contain articles by two of our friends.

Terrie Moran, our pal at Women of Mystery, has come up with a nuanced tale set in Florida. Terrie is one of those authors who never stamps out the same kind of story twice. Each seems very different from the other. Her latest seeps with research she's put into it. 'Fontaine House' reads like a southern romance… without the romance. With a pinch of love in the air, I could picture an offshoot of this story winning a RWA competition. You'll probably gulp at the end.

Melodie Johnson Howe
, our colleague at Criminal Brief, created the series Hollywood fatale Diana Poole, who appears in a new book, Shooting Hollywood, on sale at disreputable bookstores everywhere. Now I liked Diana Poole, but I love her new story, 'Losing It', a deceptive tale about a stolen shawl. I doubt most readers will come close to guessing this unusual plot; I certainly couldn't. And like I said above, you'll probably gulp at the end.

SSMM Sherlock Holmes

Jeff Baker placed a story in Sherlock Holmes #8, which I haven't seen yet. Herschel Cozine wrote a parody in the queue for December, issue #10. This is my wake-up call to subscribe.

And More Coming Up…

David Dean's scheduled for the December Ellery Queen with "Mariel."  A reprint of "The Vengeance Of Kali" will appear in an Ed Gorman edited anthology, Best Mystery Stories Of 2010.

Jan Grape co-edited an anthology released in May, Murder Here Murder There from Twilight Times Publishing, which includes her short story 'The Confession'.

Elizabeth Zelvin has a CD out. She also currently has out her third novel, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, 'Shifting Is for the Goyim', coming out on Untreed Reads very, very soon, and a story in Ellery Queen that will appear in 2013.

John Floyd has several stories in the queue… Actually John's like the British Empire… The sun never sets on John's stories– they're everywhere. John reports a story in the current Woman's World and another coming up there in August; stories coming up in future issues of Hitchcock and Strand Magazine; stories in issues #8, #9, and #11 of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Mag; one in Prairie Times; several coming up at Mysterical-E; and stories forthcoming in three anthologies. John will also release a fourth collection of short mystery stories, called Deception, scheduled for next spring.

Janice Law wrote a story in Connecticut Muse, one in the most recent Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and an entry in the recent MWA anthology.

Rob Lopresti has another AHMM story about six months from now.

Readers and writers, who have I missed? Let me know and I'll add you in.

You don't have to have your literature shipped to South Africa… find them at bookstores and newsstands now.