Hannes became a professional hunter because, as he says in his fine book Strange Tales from the African Bush, he missed “the smell of cordite… the clatter of the helicopters and the memory of the blood brotherhood that few, other than soldiers under fire, are lucky enough to know.” He’s a fourteenth generation white African and a veteran of the famous Rhodesian Light Infantry that fought valiantly in that country’s civil war. He still loves Africa and lives in the Western Cape. When he visited our beach house on the Kenya coast, I managed to persuade him to tell me a few stories, fueled with bottles of Tusker — a much-loved local lager which is named after the elephant that killed the original brewer.
In the burning light after noon, in a dense thicket, the bull charged while Hannes’s back was turned
After the civil war, when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, Hannes tried being a barrister. He tired of life in a courtroom and it wasn’t for him, so he picked up his rifle and headed off back into the bush where he’d grown up and seen so much action. For the next twenty years he hunted across Africa, guiding rich tycoons tracking trophies, but he met his nemesis in the flat dry scrub of northern Tanzania, deep in the heart of buffalo country. Here they came upon a 2,000lb bull at 150 yards. His American client fired his .375 rifle prematurely, as the creature faced him head on, wounding but not killing it. The injured beast took off into a ravine thick with wait-a-bit thorn and combretum scrub.
Hannes and I poured another beer.
Leaving the apologetic American behind, Hannes went in after the buffalo, tracking him until dusk. He broke at nightfall and slept on the tracks, then resumed at dawn. The sun got hotter and in the intense burning light after noon, in a dense thicket, the bull charged out of the thorn while Hannes’s back was turned. It scooped him up with its huge horns and tossed him high into the air. Hannes crashed to the ground and the rifle flew out of his hand. The buffalo gored him into the dirt and then tossed him again, the right horn ripping through his groin, his bladder and up through his entrails towards his liver.
The creature then flicked him over its head so that Hannes found himself astride its back, wondering if he should grab its tail and cling on rodeo-style. It bucked him off on to the ground and came at him again, this time driving towards his skull. Hannes raised his hands up in defense, only to see the buffalo’s horn rip through his left arm, separating the bicep from the bone as it tossed him yet again. Hannes’s nemesis strode off snorting, turned and was coming back for the coup de grâce when the American client, just arriving on the scene, fired two bullets into the animal — at which point it collapsed with its full weight on to the spreadeagled and bloodied Hannes.
We poured another beer.
The American and two trackers pulled the carcass off Hannes, who reached down to his groin — and to his horror his testicles had disappeared.
Waiting for death, Hannes gave his client some messages for his loved ones, then the American said a prayer. Hannes waited for death, and waited, and after a while felt embarrassed he hadn’t died. He asked his Tanzanian tracker to run off and bring back the car. An hour later he came back to say the keys were still in his top pocket. Off he went again and then, after a path was hacked with machetes through the thicket towards him, the vehicle got a puncture.
Following many more dramas, during which Hannes suffered his injuries without morphine, they got to an airstrip. Here a crowd gathered and Hannes had to fight off a man wielding a rusty syringe with which he wanted to inject the wounded man — this being the height of the Aids pandemic. The hunting party had a VHF radio and by a stroke of luck, a series of mayday calls were picked up by a pilot transporting a cargo of cattle drugs, who then landed in his Cessna to evacuate Hannes to Nairobi.
Two more beers.
On arrival in Kenya’s capital, for some reason the hospital staff all thought Hannes was Mel Gibson, so he received royal treatment. In a six-hour operation the surgeons restored his shredded bladder, sowed up his arm, his leg and his guts. The buffalo had missed his femoral artery and by a miracle his liver was unscathed. His belly was full of sand and thorns and had to be scrubbed out with a brush and soapy water. After much digging around, the doctors found his testicles, which had been bashed right up inside his pelvis by the buffalo’s horns. These were yanked back out into the scrotum, which the medics then sewed up.
Hannes waited for death, and waited, and after a while felt embarrassed he hadn’t died
A few gasps from me and another round of beers.
One of Hannes’s Zimbabwean friends, a comrade from the war days, happened to be in town and he dropped by at the hospital. Full of soldier’s banter, the friend proceeded to lambast the wounded man for making such a big fuss about his wounds. After going on like this for days on several visits, the friend came to the hospital and stood at the end of Hannes’s bed, chiding him for being such a malingerer. “Hold on, John,” said Hannes. “Have a look at these.” Hannes drew back the sheet to reveal two purple and black testicles the size of cricket balls. The man looked horrified and then he disappeared from view as he fainted, passing out cold.
Another beer. Cheers Hannes — and Merry Christmas.