Wednesday, June 27, 2007

1974 Apartheid, Umzinto, Durban North Commando Camp and UK Trek

Conscripts working a civvie "Key Position" were excused army call-ups. My teacher job wasn't a "Key Position." Many conscripts were students, or men establishing careers, reluctant to waste holidays playing troopies. SADF's solution during the seventies: increase commando basic to nine months; from 1972, increased to a year, Commandos then had to complete camps. After 1976 Soweto Riots, from 1977 Citizen Force troopies had to do two year's basic, then do eight camps. Volk and Vaderland, so-called privileged-white, apartheid beneficiaries paid with their time, some with their lives, while racist, exploitative parents wept. While this occurred, SA's economy boomed, and white immigrants (non-conscripts) poured into SA.

After basic, some graduate troopies' skills were used by SADF. Charlie finished his conscription by doing "camps" as an accountant. Sleeping at home, he worked at Natal Command while wearing commando uniform during "camp:" just cheap labour.

Younger schoolmates arrived at Umzinto bush camp, wearing officer shoulder-pips. Slapgat subversives like me thought army was crap. New RSM, PP called out those with "long hair." An army barber sheared us. Next day, top-brass had a tribunal, where 50 "criminals" sweltered. Kaptein, Majoor and Commandant Bourquin lolled on their arses in a hot tent. PP ordered "criminals" in, one by one, and gave his list to friendly Pikkie, ordering us to sign our name on the list. After sweating hours in the sun, playing Dumb Troopie, I marched into the tribunal tent, bumping into the metal table, shaking top-brass from their catatonia. I saluted, staring into Commandant Bourquin's eyes. "Plead!" he ordered.

"Not guilty."

"Why?" asked Kaptein.

"I had a crew-cut before camp."

"Guilty," said Majoor. "A fine will be deducted from your pay."

Commandant Bourquin nodded. Bugger the troops. I saluted, about-turned, with a mighty boot-stamp, marching into the table on my way out. "Who's that soldier?" asked Commandant Bourquin. (I wasn't ordered to act as lance-corporal at Umzinto).

PP asked Pikkie, "Where's my list?"

"What list?" Top-brass had lost troopies' respect.

Training was the same as other camps: rifle drills, marching, leopard-crawling, bush-patrols, ambushing, D formation, night-patrols, temporary bases, idiots shouting at their betters. We fired blanks with bren guns, and fired our new issue R1, 7.62 automatic rifles. While attacking "terrorists," Pikkie running behind me, fell into a hole. His rifle fired, peppering my right hand with brown-plastic-splinters. A live round would've severed my hand. Troopies gathered round, admiring the bloody damage a blank round did at close range. "My fok!" said Pikkie. Shocked, he handed me a tweezer, asking, "Fuckin' sore man?"

"Stront man!"

Majoor drove me to Natal Command, ordering me to wait for him. Doctor picked out more plastic splinters, then bandaged my hand. I waited hours in the sweltering heat, then AWOLled, by sauntering past the guard at Natal Command gate. Great security. I hitched home and showered, then mom drove me back to Umzinto. "You're in deep shit," Pikkie said. "Majoor searched for you just now."

Majoor shat me out, dismissing me, "Don' fokken do that again hey?" No DB.

Over the years, I picked out splinters rising to my skin surface.

One night-patrol, platoons ambushed a valley, waiting for "terrorists." Ambush-formation was capital H: along the lengths of the H, troopies lay along valley walls. I, with troopies lying across the valley in the middle of the H, wriggled into my sleeping bag, with my "wife" beside me. We pulled string, warning troopies, if we saw "terrorists." Brens hammering blanks from valley walls woke me, flames sprouting from barrels. "Terrorists" drank from my water-bottle. "Terrorists" removed bolts from our rifles: "killing" us. We would've been killed either by real terrorists or by troopies in crossfire.

Pikkie worked as a civvie blacksmith in Durban railway workshops. He'd soldiered in Ovamboland: "I drove a Jeep wivva 0.5 Brownin' machine-gun on top," he said. "Lekker powerful gun man! We set up a vehicle-ambush in a no-go area in the dark. Lights switched off, we waited..."

"When we heard someone walkin' through fokken whatchamacalls, we fired our machine-guns. I killed a kaffir-girl, an' 'er baby on 'er back, for sure. I know I shot 'em, as Brownin' bullets make lekker scorch -marks on flesh. No one else fired fokken whatchamacalls that night." Pikkie exemplified Dumb Troopies I'd met who'd fought kaffirs, kommuniste, terroriste - inner and outer enemies. Apartheid enabled Pikkie to boast about murdering blacks.

Cook didn't patrol, rose early, staggered about pissed, retired late: "'Ere's your kos yous okes." Cook ladled lumps into our dixies. "Enjoys your foods hey? I put bluestones in your koffies. Stops yous wanking hey?"

"Hey fokken cook!" complained Pikkie, "Fokken cheese I fokken jerk off while wanking by fokken railway forges, tastes better than this fokken stront man!"

One supper, we lined up with our dixies in the mess-tent. Cook had gas-cooked our steaks in paraffin, thinking he'd used cooking oil. No one ate steaks.

In December, at our Nairobi Airport stopover, a Kikuyu tribesman begged beside a toilet door... Mom, Fraser and I flew on to UK...

At Birmingham, dad's spinster-sister Wee Jean organized a silver-service meal at a hotel: wines served every course. My dad's UK family were Scots, full of medical and agricultural degrees. My engineer dad had left England for India and SA, married twice, and produced five children in SA. His three siblings had produced five kids amongst them. When Wee Jean asked Fraser about dad's stamps, Fraser said, "Dunno."

At Wrexham, we found dad's birthplace at Clayton Villas Stansty, then we drove around Britain.

In London, Fraser and I bought Soho strip-club tickets. A runner walked us through crowds, dumping us in a basement night-club, with a bar serving dear drinks and delicious dames. We sat on dirty chairs below a dingy stage. To music, girls stripped, and sat before us opening thighs and wet labia in our faces.


Mark JS Esslemont said...

June 2007 email from a Canadian Esselmont:

"I'm not sure what, on your blog, you want me to read?..."

He later emailed me how to avoid tele-marketers and junk-mailers, and complimented my sense of humour.

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Email from a Northlands BHS classmate:

"...You mentioned Cmdt Bourquin. He died several years ago, as did Capt Dennysschen. I have now lost contact with all the people from Durban North Commando...

I have stayed in Durban North for almost my entire life... I work for the City Council as a Traffic Engineer, and am involved in public transport - bus, rail, taxi. It is interesting, but there are many challenges...

There are problems in SA but there are also problems elsewhere. We are now too old to move since it becomes financially impossible. In any case it is not possible to easily get into places like Norway where my folks came from.

The name of our street [Kensington Drive] will soon change to Adelaide Tambo Drive, since about 100 streets have been renamed..."