Naka Drotske: 'I just decided to attack them'
Former Springbok hooker Naka Drotske didn’t take his own personal safety into account when he charged four armed assailants last December because he believed the attackers wanted to kill.
Drotske was shot twice in the attack at his brother’s Pretoria home, but his heroics saved members of his family and his friend and fellow 1995 World Cup winner Os du Randt from injury.
“The day it happened I had just dropped my boys at OR Tambo [airport] because they were on their way to visit their mum in the USA, in Dallas,” Drotske told TimesLIVE after being discharged from hospital.
“I left them at about 7.15pm and went straight to my brother’s smallholding in Pretoria for a braai. I was sitting on the outside patio with my back to the garden when I heard Os and my brother, Thinus, screaming, ‘No, no, no.’
“When I turned around I saw four guys, wearing balaclavas, armed with guns, and spraying tear gas as well. Instinct kicked in. I didn’t believe they were looking for money because our mobile phones and wallets were on the table in front of us. They saw that.
“They tried to force us into the house and I felt that if they got us in the house we were going to die. I knew that my brother’s two little boys [aged 13 and 11] were in the house as well as his partner’s daughter [aged 6], and they would be in danger.”
Drotske, a fearless hooker in his day, showed no regard for his own personal safety, even though his subsequent injuries left him close to death. He decided that attack was the best form of defence.
“I believed they had a different agenda and I just decided to attack them,” Drotske said. “There were some steps leading off the stoep and I knew if I could knock them down they would lose their balance and I could get my hands on a weapon.
“So I targeted the middle man – the leader – and took the other two or three with me down the stairs and onto the lawn. I was wrestling on top of him when he shot me in the stomach, another guy shot me through the arm and a third attacker shot but missed.
“My brother’s son had in the meantime pressed the panic button and by then sirens sounded and luckily they all ran away.
“My adrenalin was pumping and we all rushed back into the house and locked it. That was when Os saw me and said, “I think you’ve been shot.’ I assessed the wound and told him to get me to a hospital quickly.”
Drotske has undergone "around 10 operations" since and despite initially appearing to make a stunning recovery, he suffered a major setback when one of the wounds became infected.
“I had two operations in Pretoria. I was shot through the stomach and the other bullet went through my (right) arm into my chest,” Drotske explained.
“Both operations were a success and everything seemed fine. I was discharged a week later. When I was back in Bloemfontein I had some bleeding in the wound and it was thought that I just needed blood.
“But when I was there they found infection and they needed to operate again. I was in hospital for another 37 days, which wasn’t nice at all.
“The doctors said it was touch and go at one stage, which you only really hear afterwards. They even called the family together to maybe start preparing them, but with God’s grace I got through it.”
As far as Drotske is aware none of the attackers has been arrested, but his brother no longer lives in the house.
“The police initially caught two alleged attackers but they were released due to lack of evidence,” Drotske said. “My brother was renting that house and they left the same day. They have not been back since. Subsequently we have heard that the crime rate is very high in that area.”
On the positive side, he should make a full recovery, although he still has therapy ahead of him. He also started to do some work on Tuesday in the sports supplement business he owns with Du Randt.
“My stomach is fine but my elbow needed about six centimetres of skin to be grafted because they opened that wound about eight times while I was in hospital to deal with the infection,” Drotske said.
“The elbow hasn’t been mobile for about six weeks, so once the plastic surgeon is happy with the wound’s recovery I will start with lots of physiotherapy. But I expect to make a full recovery.
“Os has been looking after the business but I’ve gone back to work because I’m not one for standing still. I believe you need to get your brain working to help your body.
“We have all had some counselling because it was one of those things that you think will never happen to you. I’m thankful my two boys were on a plane to America when it happened.
“They wanted to come home, especially when I was readmitted to hospital in Bloemfontein and things weren’t going so well, but we made the decision for them to stay in Dallas.
“They arrived back on Monday, which was the day I was discharged. They left on the day the incident happened. This incident has changed my life. When you are so close to death you do have a different perspective when you get through it.
“In the first week after it happened and I was in ICU, I was very negative and stubborn. When I had the infection setback though, I was able to appreciate the smaller things in life. I am closer to God, I want to spend more time with my wife and kids and I’m thankful for a second chance.
“It makes things like rugby results seem trivial.”