That imaginary bullet in my bones

David Bullard relives a crime experience that the Americans have now decided never really happened


At around ten minutes past seven pm on 7th March 2007 I was sitting on my sofa at home in Parktown North with my wife enjoying a bottle of Ken Forrester’s Grenache. My wife had just returned from a yoga session in Melville and, unusually, she was sitting to the left of me on the sofa which was my usual perching position. It was a very rainy night and we had put the blinds in the living room down to cut out the grey and gloomy weather. Mrs B was still working at the Financial Mail in those days, and I was still employed at the Sunday Times as a weekly columnist and motoring writer. So, we had just caught up on a bit of office gossip when I suddenly noticed two large gentlemen entering our living area from the bedroom passage.

Our phone had been misbehaving and I had reported the fault to Telkom (this was back in the days when we used to have access to landlines) but I quickly ruled out the possibility that these were two Telkom technicians come to reconnect us. The first clue was that they had climbed in through the bedroom window and the second was that one of them was carrying a gun.

We very quickly put two and two together and realised that jittery whiteys that we were, we were about to become yet another crime statistic in the newish South Africa.

The uninvited visitors made it quite clear what they wanted as soon as they appeared. They wanted all the money I kept in the safe plus our guns and they weren’t about to take no for an answer. At this point I decided that we might be in some danger, so I leapt up from the sofa and rushed to the front door to activate the alarm and, hopefully, attract the attention of Chubb security. If I hadn’t been unusually sitting to the right of my wife instead of the left this manoeuvre would have probably been impossible so fate was on our side.

The wailing alarm outside the house caused a third house invader to appear and while two of them were harassing my wife the third ran up to me at the front door and started waving a revolver around uncomfortably close to my head. The other two told my wife that unless she showed them where the safe was and gave them the code then they would kill her husband there and then. She protested that, not being Greek or Portuguese, we didn’t keep any money in a safe at home and that we didn’t have a gun either.

This didn’t go down well with our uninvited visitors because the ‘home invader’s instruction manual’ had assured them that all white people keep at least R50 000 in cash in their safe at home plus a small arsenal of weapons. In fact, the contents of our safe were remarkably boring and contained two passports, some legal documents, and an old pocket watch. If the invaders had managed to open it, they would almost certainly have killed us both out of sheer disappointment.

While my wife was remonstrating with invaders one and two, invader number three was still tackling me at the front door where I had set the alarm off. The phone had already rung which was presumably Chubb to check if we were OK and since we hadn’t answered I assumed an armed response unit was on the way. Meanwhile invader three was trying to remove a Cartier watch from my wrist and I was gamely but rather unwisely resisting and, quite possibly, using some language that would be frowned upon as ‘offensive’ by the SA Human Rights Commission. To borrow from Woody Allen, I invited my assailant to “go forth and multiply”, but not in those words.

I was planning to smash a heavy paperweight into my assailant’s skull but as I was mulling over the possible legal repercussions of such an action, I found a 9mm pistol being waved around by a rather twitchy home invader who had rather set his heart on that Cartier watch. It all happened very quickly but one minute the gun was at my head, and I remember thinking that it was all over and the next thing I knew the gun had dropped to waist level and went off with a very loud bang.

For some inexplicable reason I had dropped my arms in a split second to protect myself against any attack. Fortunately, it sort of worked because the bullet entered my left lower arm, exited (somewhat slowed down) and then entered my abdomen to the left of my navel, travelling through my torso and finally coming to rest embedded in the left side of my pelvis.

At the sound of the gunshot and anticipating the immediate arrival of the armed response the other two members of the team decided it was time to go and so they all hastily left as they came in; through the bedroom window leaving lots of muddy footprints on the new bedspread, across the wall and off into the night. They took wallets and handbags and cell phones. The cell phones were found discarded the next morning because they didn’t have an access code. The bank cards were all cancelled by friends and relatives within two hours of the incident and apart from that, they got away with about R300 in cash. Not their best evening’s work I imagine.

Meanwhile I was bleeding and running around like a chicken with no head to make sure my wife was safe. In the process I was spurting blood and turning the house into what looked like a Quentin Tarantino film set. My wife was fine but obviously very shaken. Chubb had arrived by then and were superb, but they realised I needed some urgent medical attention. As a Butch Cassidy fan, I was running around holding my stomach where the bullet had entered (painlessly I should add) while the blood was in fact pumping out of my arm.

Thankfully the Parkview Police arrived shortly after with some reservist paramedics who just happened to be having a training session that evening and they calmed me down and stabilised me before an ambulance arrived to take me to Milpark Hospital where I became a celebrity patient in ICU, much to the delight of 702’s Mandy Wiener who apparently won an award for her coverage.

After three days I was discharged from hospital, and I still have the bullet in my pelvis which is quite a talking point at nudist parties in the Western Cape. The miracle is that it didn’t hit or infect any internal organs which, as a friend of mine drily remarked, “proves something we’ve suspected all along Bullard; you’ve got no guts”.

I mention all this in the wake of James Myburgh’s essay last week “The day the miracle died (III)” in which he quotes Eve Fairbanks, the author of ‘The Inheritors: An intimate portrait of a brave and bewildered nation’. I probably won’t be buying Ms Fairbanks book because my taste is for somewhat more escapist reading in these troubled times, but I have read her article in The Atlantic where she suggests that violent crime in SA was mostly in the wild imaginings of troubled white, post-apartheid minds.

At the time of my ‘house invasion’ (a lovely euphemism that suggests nothing more sinister than a wasp’s nest in the eaves) a couple of my close neighbours had similar experiences. One was shot through the head and his wife was left in a vegetal state while their young son was unharmed physically. Others were more fortunate but were left severely traumatised. A colleague of mine at the Sunday Times was shot getting out of her car and was nowhere near as lucky as I was. She is now confined to a wheelchair.

The trauma counsellor I went to consult after my shooting was also attacked in her home shortly after, and also had to see a trauma counsellor. This would make for a great comedy gag if it wasn’t so real.

Before my home invasion I had written that crime levels seemed to be rising and that it was no longer a matter of if but when. This would qualify me in La Fairbank’s opinion as one of those whiteys talking down the country pretending it was falling apart. But that, as the ‘wokists’ love to say, was my ‘lived experience’ and I certainly didn’t find the elite Johannesburg northern suburbs as “safe as anywhere in Western Europe”.

Looking back now on my own experience it was no big deal. I was very lucky not to be killed and the occasional back spasm I feel as a result of having a bullet in me is a small price to pay. Despite reports to the contrary, the experience didn’t turn me into a rabid racist and it didn’t persuade me to emigrate. What it did do was to convince me to live life to the full, to annoy as many lefties as possible and not take things too seriously.

However, we live in a country where the leader of one political party has called repeatedly for violence against white South Africans and where the President himself urged Youth League members last weekend to “return to the militancy of the ANCYL of the 80’s and 90’s. We do not want to see an ANCYL that is docile during a revolution". Perhaps a bit of white paranoia is understandable although I doubt whether Ms Fairbanks’ American editors would agree.


The country of my birth seems to be suffering from a pandemic of lunacy for which there is no known vaccine. Three news stories appeared last week which confirm my diagnosis.

The first was some new wisdom from the Bank of England. In normal circumstances the central bank of a country keeps itself busy protecting the currency, regulating the banking system and keeping inflation in check. All rather dull boring stuff so it comes as no surprise that the B of E has diversified into a gender advisory service.

The Old Lady (or maybe Laddie) of Threadneedle St, as he/she/they has been known for many decades, stated last week that people of any gender can get pregnant. Apparently, part of the 7th floor of the George Sampson designed 1734 building in the City of London has now been converted to non-gender specific toilets and chest-feeding male mothers are allowed generous leave to care for their little ones. The Bank will also pay for any employee who wants gender reassignment surgery using private medical insurance.

The second bit of lunacy comes from the Archbishop of York (York was named last week as a ‘hotbed of systemic racism') who feels that the Lord’s Prayer is too patriarchal for modern society. Presumably the new version to be passed by the General Synod of the Church of England will begin with the more sensitive opening “Our non gender specific deity, who art in heaven”?

And finally, the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK has come up with some new domestic abuse offences that could land you in serious trouble with the law according to a newly published guidance document. Not respecting someone’s chosen pronouns and dead naming them is one but the winner by far is refusing to fund your partner’s sex change operation; although if your partner worked for the Bank of England this wouldn’t be an issue.

Those who the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.