A year of scandal and ill-health hasn’t dulled Steve Hofmeyr’s allure, or rubbed the edges off his contradictions. Pearlie Joubert talked to the most popular Afrikaner in the world
‘Please don’t come back pregnant,” my boyfriend said when I told him I was going to interview Steve Hofmeyr.
“And so he should be asking. I’m always happy to hear that other men don’t underestimate me,” Hofmeyr says with a laugh when I tell him at a Mugg & Bean near his Midrand home.
The man has had a rough year, but he remains a boere icon. It is a safe bet that more than half of the three million Afrikaners in South Africa have bought his records and been to his concerts over the past 23 years.
They have made him, at 44, by far the top-selling artist in the country, snapping up more than two million CDs and making hits of songs like Engele om Ons (Angels Around Us); Maak die Bulle Almal Bokke (Make all the Blue Bulls Springboks); Pampoen (Pumpkin); Kiss Me; Ver Hiervandaan (Far from Here); and Loves the Light. Pampoen, released in 2003, is his biggest seller and according to EMI’s Darren van der Walt is one of the most downloaded tracks in the history of South African music. Watch the video on YouTube and you will see Hofmeyr perched on a tractor, wearing blue overalls and looking like an unusually well-fed bywoner.
Digital nostalgia indeed.
Pampoen, like most of Hofmeyr’s hits, is a love song. He pleads with his girl to leave her mother and take the train via Bloemfontein to Petrus Steyn. From there she will have to bicycle past the mielie fields to come and live with him on his debt-ridden farm even though he has no money for a ring.
Who the hell, growing up behind the boerewors curtain, wouldn’t fall for that story?
I don’t know whether it’s the slight gruffness in his voice, the boyish haircut, the attention deficit disorder manicness, the catchy tune or that farm-fresh-cowshit-between-your-toes wholesomeness that speaks to one, but Hofmeyr has something. And Pampoen is lovely in that kind of way when you can’t help yourself from singing along with the radio playing at the Spar.
Hofmeyr says he is so big because he “doesn’t sell songs, but loyalty and trust — singing pretty songs has nothing to do with that”.
“I sing what’s on my mind. My audience is very conservative and yet I don’t go to church. Some of these people want to tattoo the Ten Commandments on my testicles while I’m eyeing their daughters. But they trust me because I don’t want to hurt people. I’m not a bad man.”
But in 2008 his “badness” has been the focus of a tabloid frenzy worthy of Russell Crowe.
He has five children - only two by his wife who left him recently.
Every salacious SMS he wrote to a longhaired gym instructor he was having an affair with was slavered over by the Afrikaans press.
He was on the front cover of Huisgenoot and You five times this year and if you google Hofmeyr, you get more results than you do for sosaties.
“I don’t understand why people go on and on about me and sex and women. I mean I’ve only had sex with a third of all the women running after me,” he says, knocking over his coffee cup.
He isn’t going to offer the kind of clichéd re-evaluation that comes with age, scandal and medical emergencies.
Earlier this year Hofmeyr had a perforated colon and, after being rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery, he believed he would die. After surviving the operation, his doctor told him to slow down. Hofmeyr brushes the conventional advice aside: “You don’t build kites and catch fish after flirting with death.
“I had a shit year. My personal life is a mess. I’ve not accepted that my wife is going to divorce me although she, the kids and most of the furniture have gone … For weeks my family and I were hounded by this predatory paparazzo who parked outside our house. Our domestic worker was offered money to tell stories about my family and I at home.”
None of it appears to be dulling his allure. “Despite all this shit, I had my biggest concerts this year. I think it’s maybe because everybody can identify with heartbreak and their personal lives falling to pieces at some stage,” he says.
Facing his mortality he wrote an autobiography, Mense van My Asem (People of My Breath), which has sold more than 40 000 copies. Zebra Press reckon it will break records for autobiographies in the local market.
Hofmeyr draws 40 000 to 50 000 people to concert halls and open-air shows. He swears. He’s charming. He flirts with the waitresses who all know his name. He loves Philip Roth and reads Sylvia Plath and Karl Popper. He sings Neil Diamond songs to packed houses and his album of Kris Kristofferson covers is on course, EMI thinks, to be his biggest seller yet.
The Mugg & Bean, with its fake authenticity, is the kind of place his audience flocks to.
Tannies with too much eye shadow and large brown shoes; skinny high school girls with pierced belly buttons and their gymed, dieted, blonde mummies alike try to make eye contact with him in public. He looks and smiles. At all of them. By the time the fifth woman had sidled up to the table to touch his arm and flicker-flicker her eyelashes, commiserate about his divorce or tell him that she bought his latest CD, he had started introducing me as his oldest kid from his first girlfriend. “It’s best we continue talking at my house otherwise we’ll sit here all day long and I’ll talk more and more shit with my fans,” he suggests.
His house is filled with books on poetry, philosophy, politics and novels. Serious novels. None of the sunset-love-songs-farmgirl stuff. On high white-painted walls hang large, very large, pictures of his family and himself. Some of the rooms echo a bit — the wife took most of the stuff, leaving behind the books and DVDs and his studio with its musical instruments and walls full of accolades.
The books are not as incongruous as they seem. Hofmeyr is not only famous for making music and that blond, alpha male, oozing sex look that he does so well. He’s also an outspoken Afrikaner proudly proclaiming his culture and heritage. The boere love him for that. Last year he spent two hours chatting to ANC president Jacob Zuma at a braai attended by only Afrikaners. He took him a bag full of biltong and they did some serious male Boere-Zoeloe bonding.
And although he refuses to hunt or drive a 4×4, he still insists on calling himself a boer. “It’s genetic. If I have to call myself a South African I have to work too hard, while if I call myself a boer, I immediately know who and what I am … I don’t believe that this frenetic globalisation is either natural or good. How fucking boring if we all have to be the same. But I’m also gatvol of race. I was just about to forget skin colour when the ANC came along and rubbed everybody’s face in race.
“I’m not a rightwinger. I’m not a Vierkleur type who believes that the boere must own the country again. But I do have political ambitions because I’m politically homeless. The right is disappointing because they’re so stupid and the left is so dogmatic and judgmental.
“My job here is not only to sing. I’m very involved and participating in what happens in our country because I love this bloody fucked-up place. I love all the people who live here. This mess is my home, but we have to sort it out and the boere must be part of the solution.”
Hofmeyr says he went to the JZ braai because Zuma is a man he could look in the face. “I understand the pain and alienation that the boere feel because we’re a tribe. We’re not better. We’re just different because we belong to a certain tribe and JZ understands this because he is also a tribalist.”
But when it comes to finding a way to talk about getting over “the kakkest year of my life” he doesn’t reach for the 19th-century mythology of the volk, but for a vision of rugged individualism crafted by 20th-century advertising.
“I’m growing older and I can feel that I want to shed this metro-man bullshit. I can feel the Camel man calling — maybe I need to treat myself and buy myself a Camel man car for Christmas.”
In the echoing, denuded house, one thing about Steve Hofmeyr is clear: he is smart enough to know that you need more than a 4×4 to get away from yourself.