Guardians

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Chapter 4

Pretoria, Republic of South Africa

Jan watched the tank burning on the screen. The story was that it had been set afire by a Molotov cocktail (ironic, that name), hurled by a protestor against the junta that had ousted Gorbachev.

It seemed the confrontation in Moscow’s streets had already turned bloody. How bloody it would get remained to be seen, but he had a sense that the hard-liners were about to crack down and crack down hard. Surely the heirs to Stalin would not let such a challenge go unanswered by all the soldiers, all the tanks at their command.

But the defiance in the White House continued, and then he saw Soviet troops pulling out of Moscow. The men who had sent those troops into the city in the first place seemed to be giving up, without a real fight.

In the days that followed the coup’s fizzling, the Russians declared their independence from the Soviet Union by brandishing a new national flag, the Estonians joined their Baltic brethren in declaring their secession, and Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Armenia followed suit in a movement that seemed as irresistible as it was surreal.

That Sunday Jan went over to Piter’s house to watch football.

“It’s all over,” Piter said out of the blue during a commercial break.

“You sound disappointed.”

Piter popped open a beer can. “Maybe I am. Much as I hate the Communists, I don’t like everything about what their going may mean.”

Piter tended to see the Cold War as a game South Africa played to its advantage, while Jan usually thought of the Cold War as a game that had played them. Jan thought of the difference between them as rooted in experience. Piter certainly knew what it was to carry a rifle and be shot at, but he hadn’t been on the front lines in Angola back when they were outgunned by an enemy openly and lavishly supported by nearly the whole of the Communist world. All while their own “allies” not only stood aloof from them, but implemented economic sanctions against them.

Jan had. Still, when the game was done, it was also done with them, after which, what? After that, they didn’t hesitate to treat them as Bad Guys. Just like Noriega, and Hussein, and Mobutu, and that no matter how much they conceded. They’d already given up a great deal, pulling out of an Angola under the control of their enemies and leaving Jonas Savimbi in the lurch; turning Southwest Africa over to the United Nations as a prelude to its becoming the “Republic of Namibia”; and even legalizing those terrorists whose leader the CIA itself once helped them arrest, which now seemed likely to have a role in the government. He was seeing more Black faces in the street with each passing day. And just this month in Ventersdorp the police shot and killed Whites who dared to protest it all.

The path they were on seemed to lead to places far worse than anything they had endured in the Cold War, and thinking about it all it seemed Piter was right after all.

Some were prepared to go on fighting despite their betrayal by their leaders, and Jan had given some thought to joining them. After all, his family had been in Africa for over three hundred years. Three hundred. That was longer than any White man had been in Australia, and much longer than the vast majority of the Whites in America could trace their ancestry on that continent. (And about as long as the Bantus had been present in South Africa for that matter.)

They’d fought for this home, given their life’s blood for it. He could name ancestors who’d fought the Khoikhoi and the Xhosa and the Zulus. Jan’s grandfather had fought the British in the Second Boer War, as his father had done in the First, and his great-grandfather in turn had done at Muizenberg; his wife, Jan’s grandmother, had died in a British concentration camp.

His father was still farming his holding in Hekpoort, handed down through the men of his line since the days of the Great Trek. He probably would go on doing so until the day he died, hoping that despite it all one of his sons would follow in his footsteps.

And the entirety of adult life had been spent fighting the country’s enemies, foreign and domestic.

Yet, the world seemed to think nothing of all of that, and even the stock of nukes the country so expensively acquired didn’t seem enough to save their life as they’d known it. They could drop the bombs on an enemy capital or base, or wipe out an attacking formation with them, but they couldn’t keep order in the streets with them.

To fight now seemed futile. If it had been entirely up to him, he might have done it anyway. But he had a family to think of, Gerda, and the children. And so he and his wife talked of immigrating, something he had never considered earlier, and which didn’t appeal to him much now.

Jan had been abroad a good many times and liaised with foreigners any number of times since joining the Department of Military Intelligence. His relations with them had always been correct, and got the needed results. There were some he’d even come to like, not all of them from White countries. He’d come to respect many of the East Asians he’d worked with, and even some of the Africans.

Still, he preferred to be among people like himself. He thought this was one reason for his selection to discharge those particular duties: he was someone who wouldn’t “go native,” who wouldn’t be persuaded to put another country’s interests ahead of his own. And he certainly would have preferred not to bring up his children abroad.

Still, what else could he do now?

Tired of the thoughts stirred by the company, Jan excused himself and returned to his car. Settling into his seat Jan caught a glimpse of himself in his rear-view mirror, noticed how the gray was crowding out the gold in his hair, which was thinning, unlike his waistline, which was going the opposite way.

He pulled away from the sidewalk and drove around for a bit, trying to take his mind off things, looking at the city in a way he hadn’t in a very long time. Truth to tell, he hadn’t cared much for Pretoria when he’d first arrived. It was in the country that he felt at home. But thinking of leaving it now he felt deeply attached to every tree, every house along these streets. He wished he could accept his father’s farm, and hand it down to Dricky in his turn, but it didn’t seem like it was going to happen.

It wasn’t good to be like this, Jan thought. Not good to spend so much time thinking. That brought out the worst in people. So at the next corner he just turned back for home. Dinner, a night’s sleep, work tomorrow. It seemed a better way than most of putting this morbid introspection behind him.

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