Second Basic Camp, December 1969: New Durban North Command was called-up with South Coast Command at Shongweni bush camp. Sections of ten troopies slept in army tents. There were officers' and troopies' mess tents, adjutant's, cooks' and medics' tents. Our ol' toppie Commandant Bourquin worked for the Department of Native Affairs. Ol' ballie, South Coast RSM was an Engelse-Dutchman with waxed moustache. He straight-arm-lifted a .303, barrel-end, ground to shoulder height. No else at camp could do that.
As there were few trained NCOs, sergeant and corporal stripes were given to keen troopies. PP grabbed sergeant stripes. I didn't volunteer. PP, after driving a Bedford in the veld, and reversing through two 44 gallon drums, got his army driver's licence. It rained for a week, and our officers stopped field-training. The quartermaster didn't have spades, so using our spoons, dixies and bayonets, we dug gutters around our tents and sleeping bags. Lying in our tents, we bullshitted, brewed tea and chomped dog-biscuits.
At night, we attended lectures in mess tents. RSM example: "Fokken Chairrman Mao's TanZam Rrailway will brring Culsherral Rrevolution an' fokken terroriste to our fokken borrderrs man!..." Construction began on the TanZam Railway in 1970 and ended in 1975. (Guy Arnold, Africa A Modern History, Atlantic Books, London, 2005). At night, I wore my poncho doing guard duty with PP, while most troopies slept. Some pissed in iron lilies, planted beyond tent lines. Steam rose in shadows.
Bored one rainy day, I climbed down a cliff to Mpumalanga Bantu Reserve, and walked in uniform through outcast Zulu kraals. "Sawubona. Kunjani? Usaphila na?" I greeted. "Uphi istolo?" At the store I bought snacks. Eighteen years later while apartheid collapsed, those Mpumalanga Zulus were embroiled in civil war between Inkatha impis and banned ANC / UDF strugglers. Mud huts were torched. Zulus murdered one another. Thousands of refugees fled to Durban and 'Maritzburg, where they stayed with their baases and madams, until it was safe to return to kraals.
After the rain, we learnt patrol drills, map-work, signalling, radio procedures. Night and day, we bush-patrolled, setting up ambushes and temporary bases, with all-round defence on high ground. We used bren guns, but blue-nosed blanks caused stoppages, so troopies avoided carrying heavy brens. We learnt D formation riot control drills, our only "urban training."
We did a stopper-and-sweep operation in a valley. I lay at the valley-head as one of the stopper group, while "terrorists" were swept up the valley. I imagined Boer War general Kitchener's British troops trying to trap outcast Boers in blockhouse stopper-and-sweep operations on the highveld. Boer generals De Wet, Smuts, Hertzog, De la Rey, Botha and Boers slipped through stopper barbed-wire fences. Boers harried Brits repeatedly.
Kitchener's drives, scorched-earth policy, and internment of Boer women and children in concentration camps demoralized Boers, leading to Vereeniging peace in 1902. Louis Botha admitted imprisoning Boer women and children protected them from kaffirs. Boers objected to British using kaffirs as combatants and blockhouse guards in a white men's war. (Rayne Kruger, Goodbye Dolly Gray, The Story of the Boer War, Book Club Association, Swindon, Pan, London, 1983). It left a legacy of Boer-British hatred which my generation felt 70 years later in places like SADF and Dokkies.
In the 1980s, SAP would use Inkatha Kits Konstabels to sweep ANC / UDF kraals in the day, then massacre Zulu inhabitants at night. (Refer to SAP Brian Mitchell's Trust Feeds Massacre, New Hanover).
Content Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.
See Obituary, Commandant 'SB' Bourquin, Durban North Command (SA Military History).