Thursday, June 14, 2007

1969 Apartheid, Shongweni, Durban North Commando Camp

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).

1 comment:

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Email from a US expat, Northlands BH friend, who did Danie Theron Combat School basic in Kimberley and early Durban North Commando camps with me in KwaZulu-Natal:

"Mark... Just great to hear all the old stories again, but I just can't believe we never made contact at Danie Theron Combat School [hundreds of troopies there], or at a later date, as all the camps you mentioned until Oct. 71 I attended, but we were probably split into different directions. [Ja.]

I do remember that at one call up I ended up at the Bluff oil storage facilities and at the guns on top. Could never figure out the typical SADF mentality, as they say 'military intelligence' is an oxymoron. When we went through the fire-fighting drills at the oil tanks, they specifically told us that there was no way the tanks could be set alight, because they had floating lids with CO2 extinguishers and had those huge concrete walls around them to contain the spill. But I guess it was a way to further brainwash and control individuals who were attending college / university, and heaven forbid the last thing the SADF wanted was bunch of educated independent thinkers, who could actually think for themselves and didn't need someone constantly yelling and vloeking at them to motivate themselves. No wonder the terrorists won!

I remember the very first day at Kimberley after getting off the train, the verbal abuse we had to endure, but knew was coming, and how after filling out all the propaganda reports, which were mailed to our parents telling them how well we were going to be taken care of, with church on Sunday n'all, thinking, 'What a load of bullshit!'

Tom... who lived across the street from us was in the bunk opposite me in the hangar, and we all vowed not to let the Dutchmen get to us. Little did we know that the entire brainwashing process of stress, lack of sleep, and abuse turns people into the meanest characters. The first two weeks standing in food line at 4 am. in the freezing cold was endurable, but after 2 weeks of brainwashing you wanted to stab your own mate if they pushed into the line in front of you.

What really turned me against the whole facade, was the same weekend you mentioned at Cato Ridge, our CO was a jackass who was my boss at Lever Bros... who had already completed his BSc and was at officers training camp, spent his weekend drinking hot coffee and sleeping in the command post vehicle up on the hill, 'directing our war games operations,' while we Roofies spent the night in the rain eating spam and dog biscuits.

Almost had my ear shot off that night with wooden splinters from the blue tipped wood rounds out of the bren, ex first world war stock. Then to cap it off we were supposed to come across a bunch of 'terrorists' early the next am. who were waiting in the long grass for us, and shot the shit out of the whole platoon, again with the wooden rounds. 'Brain' saying to me, 'If this were real we would all be in body bags now.' How could some moron who had no life experience, he was a total nerd by today's standards, nor any military experience straight out of Natal University with a BSc, get to run a military operation?...

The straw that broke the camel's back was a weekend jaunt to the camp just north of Umdhloti Lagoon, the jackass driving the Bedford hit a low hanging branch on the canopy, and of course stopped the truck dead, and all us cannon fodder in the back holding onto all our crap, ended up flattened up against the back of the Bedford cab.

To add insult to injury, we also spent the entire night in the rain, playing soldiers. I was one of about 20 terrorists that night and the good guys had to come and find us. After about 5 hours of this crap we were asked to expose ourselves as they could not find anyone. 'Brain' saying, 'Duh!' I had guys walk by me so close I could have touched them, and had it been for real they would never have survived. I guess the US is now finding that out! You cannot use conventional war strategy in a terrorist war.

Anyway, I really have opened up the proverbial can of worms and stimulated the sub-conscience again. Thought I had hidden the past, but sometimes good to visit. I do remember you playing the bugle..."