Saturday, June 16, 2007

1969-70 Apartheid Durban: Fynnlands, Jacobs and Bluff Commando Guards

At Durban Bluff Fynnlands barracks, Lootie, lieutenant, my age, paraded us yelling, "Yous'll guard oil tanks, Blubb Big-Gun magazines an' Jacobs militawy warehouses. Dere'll be no Chwistmas passes!"

We hefted our balsacs onto the barracks roof, to hose mud off our webbing. "Whadda-buckya-doin'?" yelled Lootie. I swung round, squirting Lootie's face. "Gedya bull-webbin'-and wible! Weporta- guardgate! ON-DA-DOUBLE!"

Lootie bunny-hopped me, my wible at high-port, over a sand dune. "Kak-ab-woob. ONE-TWO-ONE-TWO!..." When Lootie was hoarse, he marched me back to my barracks. Lootie didn't harass me again. Whenever we had a chase-parade or other "punishment," I stayed bone-faced and got on with it.

Night guard-duty was 6 hour shifts. Day-duty was 8 hour shifts. At Fynnlands and Jacobs, we stood in cylindrical, concrete guard -towers. Fynnlands guard-towers had glass windows, a stool and an iron hatch-cover. Jacobs guard-towers had no such luxuries. We 18 year olds were allowed a full water-bottle and 5 live rounds in a clip, separate from our .303 magazines: enough to commit suicide. Each guard-tower had a telephone. A guard-commander, often Lootie, phoned every half hour. If no reply, the guard-tower was raided. If found asleep, the guard got dune-PT. I slept most nights on my hatch at Fynnlands, slinging my rifle over the phone-cradle, so the receiver hung on the floor. Phone ringing woke me, then I lifted my rifle from the cradle, saying, "Alls well."

Guard-towers stood at perimeter-fence corners. Wandering around outside guard-towers was forbidden. I sneaked books and food into towers, relieving boredom. I remember spending hours crumbling one slice of bread, and chewing each morsel, meticulously. Alsation guard-dogs, chained to wires, patrolled inside Jacobs fences. Jood the Jew and I phoned each other, gossiping. Nights were muggy, so I slept outside Jacobs barracks on grass, with my WW2 greatcoat collar covering my ears, avoiding mozzies. "Aandag!" yelled dronkgat Lootie. We stood at attention beside our beds. "Yoush shtupit shmock!" Lootie yelled at Jood. "Yoush got no gutsh!" No win. Jood couldn't hit Lootie. "I'll bayonet ya buckin' thwoat..." We stood at attention taking Lootie's crap, until he staggered to an office and fell asleep.

02:00 From our guard-towers, Jood and I heard a Bedford racing around the perimeter-fence, then a mighty CRASH and drunken oaths. Lootie had wrapped his Bedford round upright railway-lines at the end of a track. MPs arrived. Lootie stood at attention, pale, next to a seated MP. Jood witnessed, "I heard the crash just-now, but couldn't see the accident, as a warehouse made my view up to maggots." I confirmed Jood's view. Lootie was arrested for DB sorting out.


Jood, PP and I guarded Number One Magazine at the end of Durban Bluff, near the lighthouse. We saw Durban harbour, Berea, Indian Ocean, white beaches stretching to Umhlanga Rocks. I imagined dad doing similar guard-duty 24 years before. We patrolled over grass-covered magazines. On New Years Eve, Jood and I climbed a radar-tower, when boat-horns bellowed New Year in.

"Open-dish-fuckin'-gate!" yelled the white-uniformed lighthouse -keeper. "Geddorf-dat-radar! Pull-finger-man!" We dropped off, sneaking round the Big Gun, hoping the dronkgat would vanish."Open-dish-fuckin'-gate-or-I'll-shootit-open!"

We approached the gate, bolting live rounds into our .303s. "We're not opening this gate against our orders," said Jood.

Pashop! I'm-gunna-phone-your'sh-Lootie-hey." I woke PP for the next watch. Not having a father while I grew up, mom expected me to be the man of our family, and aggro from authoritarian figures annoyed me. PP fell asleep, and while we all slept, leaving Guns unguarded, our New Lootie raided us and took our rifle-bolts. Back at Fynnlands, New Lootie chase-paraded us around the barracks, not minding us singing, "Buck-the-army! (x3) Thwoo-an'-thwoo!..." (Clementine tune).

Jood phoned the barracks, "A car-load of drunk coloureds is jolling outside my fence, chucking dumpies at my guard-tower now-now!"

Our squad boarded PP's Bedford and raced to the rescue. We leapt from the Bedford, fixed bayonets, lined up and advanced on the car. Our D formation riot-training hadn't prepared us for that. Outcast coloureds tried smashing into us, chanting, "Fokkof! Fokkof!..." Troopies scattered, and the car vanished.

PP dropped me off at the corner of Old Fort Road and Soldiers Way. At a white bus stop at the end of Umgeni Road, near a black spot, Green Mamba bus stop for non-whites, a Zulu isanusi (female witchdoctor) shuffled towards me, reeking of skokiaan and piss. Her wrinkled face was painted white, colour of ancestral shades of her underworld. Her hair was beaded white. "Bulala umlungu!" she shrieked. (Peter Magubane, Vanishing Cultures of South Africa, Struik, Cape Town, 1998).

Her breath stank.

"Suka isalukazi!" I said. She mumbled off towards Alice Street. I looked at non-whites waiting for buses: umfaans and Indian servants returning to their hovels, abafazi with laundry bundles at their feet. They avoided my eye-contact. An Indian newspaper boy yelling, "Daily News," stood on Alice Street corner. Post apartheid, by 2000, Zulu food-peddlers cooked cows' heads on Alice Street, by hacking off cows' craniums, then serving brains to Zulu customers.

I'd finished my basic. I shouldered my balsac, hefted my rifle, and boarded a red municipal bus, which belched fumes on outcasts' faces, still waiting. I'd learnt two jobs by the time I was eighteen: teaching and killing. I chose teaching. I resolved thereafter to play Dumb Troopie and avoid army callups.

See Lighthouses of South Africa, including Durban Bluff and Umhlanga Rocks Lighthouses.

See Ian Patrick's Behind the Lines, troopie stories


Mark JS Esslemont said...

Email from an old Northlands BHS and Durban North Trafalgar Sea Scout mate:

"...After school I did my military service with the South African Navy in Saldanha Bay and Simons Town. All the apartheid ministers' sons were with me there. Vorster's son was the intake ahead. Mulder's and Kruger's sons were in my intake. Kruger was in my unit and Mulder in the next unit. I actually became fairly friendly with Connie Mulder, who is now leader of the Conservative Party...

Many people emigrated in the early 90s when the political situation changed..."

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Email from an expat in USA:

"Mark, Went on your blog and started reading. Just what I needed, reminder of Fynnlands, had forgotten about that shithole.

I must say that your writing is awesome. It is time to write a book on your life. How the hell do you remember all the names and details? [Dug deep and SA background reading].

You know I remember your Bro, also his face is so familiar, never forget a face, and you look so young and have not changed barring the beard. Some of the photos at the mines [De Beers, see later posts] were also cool."

Ian Patrick said...

Mark. Your blogs are fabulous. This one, in particular. Starting with basic training six months earlier than you, I had EXACTLY the same experiences as you - from Danie Theron Combat School (with Killer Finlay etc.) and through various camps from Shongweni to Kwa Mashu - including a stint at Bluff command, Highway Command, and guarding the Oil Refineries (I was in a tower on the night Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon). People looking at this note can read all about that last one in my 8 short stories about commando training (all of them covering my experience from DTCS through Durban and Natal camps) - at (only $0.99 for the whole collection, called Behind the Lines). Keep writing, Mark - it's brilliant stuff. Ian Patrick (DTCS January 1969).

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Keep the memories alive Ian. We were "kop toe" or reluctant, conscript troopies serving the apartheid regime. Go well.