1975. Mark Esslemont, reluctant Commando NCO, Danie Theron Combat School, Kimberley. (Christos) "Much throwing about of brains."
At Danie Theron NCO training camp, three Afrikaner instructors lectured us about "terroriste." Our instructors were Citizen Force troopies who lectured mostly graduate troopies, who'd already worked years in civvie street. Whenever "terroriste" were mentioned, Piet my barrack -mate said, "frreedom fighterrs." Some trainees already wore NCO stripes, given to them by various Commands. Each trainee received "The Book," repeating lectures. Trainees were housed in Kimberley Airport barracks. A Pinetown accountant, bedding on my right, had a photographic memory. He scanned his lecture notes, then fell asleep, while the rest of us swotted. Piet, Pretoria lawyer, bedded on my left. Three non-professional troopies bedded opposite us.
Practical soldiering was at Schmidtsdrif, a black spot, which had been surrounded by white farms. Schmidtsdrif Tswana had been forcibly moved to live in poverty near Kuruman. Most starved. (Roger Childs, Divide and Rule, Macmillan, Auckland, 1990.) Years later, after weermag took over Schmidtsdrif, San, after serving in 32 Battalion, forcibly used as trackers during South West Africa's border war, were relocated from Ovamboland to Schmidtsdrif, after Namibian independence, so Ovambos wouldn't kill San.
After two weeks of "The Book" brainwashing, most boring lectures in my life, we camped in a derelict farmhouse with no ablutions. We swam boots-an'-all in a water-tank, an old windmill nearby. Training included weapons-drills; useless thunder-flashes; patrols; temporary -bases; signals; map-work; radio-procedures; embussing / debussing from moving Bedfords; fire-and-movement, which was sensible. Durban North Command hadn't drilled fire-and-movement during my three camps with them. We'd charged Somme-stupid. While attacking "terroriste" my webbing snagged, while I crawled through a barbed-wire fence. I entangled more, while troopies sprinted away.
An instructor ordered me to shoot a magazine of live 7.62mm rounds at a cliff. While shooting, my R1 automatic rose higher and higher. When I about-turned, Rock Spiders were scuttling away. We divided into sections, attacking the cliff, doing fire-and-movement, firing live rounds, while other troopies watched from a safe distance. Details remembered and slow-mo cliches were true, while under live-fire, even if stupidly-bunched friendly-fire. While emptying our magazines, Piet fired into an ammo-box. "Whadda fok arre yous doin'?" screamed an instructor. "Yous didn' clearr yourr rrifle!"
Piet could've killed me.
Before our exams we went on weekend pass, the only official pass I'd ever get from SADF. Most troopies went to Kimberley. "Ag no man," said Piet, "You'll neverr hitch to Durrbs man! Derre's petrrol rrestrrictions inna weekends an' few carrs onna rroads. Grrrages arre closed man. You'rre crrazy man!"
I phone mom, asking her to buy petrol, so I could borrow Fraser's blue Mini-van... Stranded in a Senekal storm, I had no luck with lifts. I looked at fossilized tree-trunks on a low wall around a NG kerk. Wandering around a strange dorp at night in army uniform was dangerous. Blacks could get me. I found a cop-shop and asked a Sotho cop if I could sleep in a cell. He refused. I continued hitching, and a Zulu motorist drove me to Durbs. I rocked-up at Leah's home, and we had prawns and champagne in the Revolving Restaurant.
I drove Fraser's Mini to Bloem, filled up with extra petrol at aunt Dorothy's, and trekked to Kimberley. "Ag no man! You made it," said Piet, smiling.
That night, after a pillow-fight with feathers everywhere, a Natal Ladysmith farmer told me he'd done the NCO course, "To sort out kaffirs: I'll shoot 'em, bulldoze a hole on my farm, an' bury 'em."
As our training had zilch to do with urban terrorism. I wondered how clever our generaals were? During our prac-exam, we had to explain how we'd attack terroriste below a hill. "The Book" required fire-and -movement charging through terrorists, then forming a temporary- base on the hilltop. While sipping Five Roses tea from my water -bottle, I wrote about stalking bedside a railway line, ambushing terroriste, and occupying the hilltop, Spionkop-wise. My instructors were unimpressed, as my idea wasn't by "The Book." Terrorists wouldn't attack by "The Book." I just passed the NCO course, as my theory was excellent. As I didn't arse-lick, my Afrikaner instructors disliked "die klein Engelsman."
Post-apartheid, in 2001 Danie Theron Combat School was closed.
Coda: Jan 2012. After emigrating to NZ in 1995, while looking at old pics I found that another NCO on the Danie Theron course was living in Oamaru NZ. In Jan 2012 we had a reunion in Oamaru & reminisced about Danie Theron Combat School & our Schmidtsdrif experiences. We were soldiers then & young.
Jan 2012. Mark Esslemont & fellow NCO, Oamaru, NZ reunion, 37 years after an NCO course at Danie Theron Combat School, Kimberley
Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.