Thursday, July 5, 2007

1976-77 Apartheid, Zululand / Mozambique Border Camp, Pietermaritzburg Command

On the dirt road to Jozini on a Bedford-bench, I bounced alongside sergeant Jan, Northlands old-boy, and we fantasized about food, while trekking up the Lebomboberg. We camped with 'Maritzburg Command in sweltering Makatini bush-savannah near Pongola Dam. We had to patrol south of Swaziland and east to Kosi Bay on Mozambique border. We were "min-dae-manne," completing our training. Playing Dumb troopie, I didn't mention my NCO rank.

As Fetid, kop-toe 1975 Angola veteran, nursed a cat-bite on his hand, he rarely patrolled, mostly jolling about base-camp. On bush-patrols, we skived to our Pongola fishing spots, catching tiger-fish and catfish. We didn't swim due to bilharzia. Jan gyppoed our map-reading coordinates, and radio-reported false coordinates to platoon HQ near base camp. We were winning Zulu outcasts' hearts and minds. From our map, concocting kraal sizes, population and livestock numbers, trivial information, we bamboozled, bewitched and bebuggered HQ officers, who hadn't issued us live rounds, or blank rounds. If we'd contacted any ANC or Frelimo terrorists, or Soweto fugitives, we'd've pooped ourselves.

From kraals, we bought tins of ilala-palm beer, then marched back to camp, where RSM Pull-through said, "Julle oumanne is fiks ne?" After patrolling Pongola Flats, we weren't tired. One day, Pull-through ordered Bedfords to drop us about 30 kays from base-camp. "Kak-af kerels! Vasbyt!" said Pull-through.

While patrolling under wild fig trees, I looked up, seeing bare-boobed Zulu maidens staring at us through branches. They wore beaded leather aprons, no underrods. "Woza lapha! Why you hidin'?" called Jan.

"Haai Baasie! We see you coming kude," said an intombi. "We frighteen you bepa us. Bepa! We climb trees Baasie." We assured them we weren't rapists, while they balanced pottery, metal, plastic water -containers on their heads. One bore a firewood bundle. They didn't spoil their mud-plastered hairstyles. They had brown skins; nyala eyes; flat noses; thick lips; bare breasts; straight backs; flat bellies; strong legs, coarse feet, thickly toed. They smiled, then spoored off, singing, leather-aprons slapping their thighs, hips swaying in the wind, buttocks sliding through thatch-grass.

Entwined sweet-thorn branches fenced umuzi kraal huts. Inside an umuzi, ancestral spirits dwelt in the isibaya cattle-kraal. (Peter Magubane, Vanishing Cultures of South Africa, Struik, Cape Town, 1998). Subsistence farming fields of ground-nuts and sorghum were fenced with thorn branches, fending off nkonka, nyala, porcupines. At one umuzi, an umnumzaan offered us ilala-palm utshwala. We boozed under a weeping Shotia. Induna of our Indaba said, "We ah suffering. No school heah. No school. Will army help build?"

Back at HQ, Pull-through said, "Whadda fok do kaffirs wan' - varsidy edacation?"

We practised night-patrols in Jozini, stopping civilians and senior officers driving around, playing terrorists. On a street-patrol, at a petrol-depot, we heard someone clicking a round into a rifle. We jumped into a ditch, and formed an ambush, while Jan strode forward. A CF guard emerged from shadows, pointing his rifle saying, "Halt!"

"Don' poin' your rifle at me!" yelled Jan. "Clear that roun'!"

"Who the hell are you?"

"I'm a Commando sergean', outrankin' you fuckin' CF rifleman. Stop pointin' your rifle, or you'll get DB chop-chop!" CF guard cleared his rifle. No one had warned him Commandos would be patrolling Jozini.

One bush-patrol, I found a tortoise, and kept it in my water-bottle -holder, thinking it would be a present for Leah. While resting, I let the tortoise have a walk, but it escaped into grass. We inspected our crotches for pepper-ticks, which fell off grass, and chewed our balls. Mamba snakes were noisome. Fetid collected a sack of puff-adders, letting snakes slither into the officers' mess-tent. "Catch your fokken snakes!" yelled Pull-through. "Quick-quick man!"

Troopies, tired of crap slopped up by cooks, looted cooks' tents, escaping with rations. Pull-through chase-paraded the battalion, by jogging us around the parade-veld, while we sang lewd songs, and top-brass searched troopies' tents.

At a medic's tent, I presented sores on my thigh and testicle. "You've got tick-bite fever." Doc handed me pills. "You stink man! Go shower, then sleep in the sick-tent with other troopies." Although I was fit, for weeks the pills had a euphoric effect, and for the next year I felt light -headed, and my heart pounded when I climbed stairs.

On our last night, boozing Castle and Lion Lagers, round our platoon campfire, we threw in sweet-thorn logs and empty dumpies, which fused in the heat. "In 1975, after the Portuguese government collapsed," said kop-toe Fetid, "I was one of 2000 troopies who invaded Angola to kick Soviet and Cuban arse." (Guy Arnold, Africa A Modern History, Atlantic Books, London, 2005). "We scavenged from kraals, while sending it up the coast and the north road. We saw Luanda lights before support-troopies reached us. We were ordered back, so commie forces could control Luanda: Total Onslaught eh?" Or was it SADF's "Total Strategy" bullshit?

Jan: "Shing klein Engelshman!"

Me: "Aaaandag! I've gotta sherioush shong ta shing: Nkoshi Shikeleli Africa..." Most troopies had never heard it before. Pull-through scowled. It was a good ending to my conscription, while a shadowy sangoma rattled his bones, and begged for beer.

Troopies, teasing the sangoma: "Hold him down you Zulu warrior..."

Had I done my Honours call-up, I would've gone to South West Africa -Angola border. My call-up dodging saved me from Bush Wars. I'd dodged seven months of my Commando twelve month's training, slipping through the cracks of extended conscription. Indefensible apartheid wasn't worth dying for. There were no non-white troopies during my conscription. I experienced bizarre contrasts between my army life and civvie life. I enjoyed army cameraderie and wildlife. I endured white men I wouldn't've met in civvie life. Most were fine men. Some conscripts I chose never to meet again.

My bush-camps had pit latrines, and watching troopies strain, fart, scratch, gossip, wiping themselves, and seeing flies, maggots and piss-moats around faecal-lahars disgusted me. Securocrats would scrape the conscript cesspit for troopies to fight Bush Wars in Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia and South West Africa. There were no ANC terrorist attacks in SA during my eight troopie years, but the fleeing of post-Soweto blacks to ANC camps in Swaziland and elsewhere would change that. My training was mostly rural bush patrols - useless against urban terrorists. Rarely did we night patrol, so while troopies kipped in tents, terrorists claimed the night.

I reckoned the biggest greedy criminals were war-mongers and arms -peddlars. I'd been conscripted during my "holidays." NED didn't credit my conscription for salary purposes. Later, teacher-conscripts received salary credits. During WW2, dad was demoted from officer to sergeant, after a Bluff brawl. Fraser would become a CF cook sergeant, and after border stints would hand back his sergeant stripes, as he wanted to be a real soldier. I was a trained Commando corporal who never was. Although I'd finished army, the rotten influence which SADF had on teacher-conscripts and white, high -school cadets would dog my future teaching. Over the next two decades, I'd resist white teacher-conscripts and mean white bosses who'd never been conscripted.

Coda: 1975-1989. White and black troopies fought commie onslaught in Angola. (Marlene Burger, Chandre Gould, Secrets and Lies, Zebra Press, Cape Town, 2002.) Army chaplains spied out gays, who were sent to gay battalions. Some gays went to Ward 22 at Voortrekkerhoogte Military Hospital for "rehabilitation" and "curing" by taxpayer-funded aversion-shock-therapy, chemical-castration, incomplete sex changes. Cuban and Soviet commies and Ovambo and ANC terroriste would've been amused.

1 comment:

Mark JS Esslemont said...

Two emails from Natal expats about SADF conscription:

1. "The last trip to SA... and I was dumbfounded by culture shock. I could not believe that such a beautiful city [Durban] could go crap in such a short period of time.

You mentioned the Durban North Commandos. I was part of that circus for 3 years, before coming over to the US, and of course after the... accident, was duly discharged on my arrival home.

I am still pissed [4 decades later] at what the SADF did to me regarding my military service. I should have been called up to the gym, so that I could continue my athletics career, but unfortunately had the wrong name. If my name was ven der Merwe I probably would have made it there, and my life would have taken a totally different direction..."

2. "The last time that I saw... was in November 1969 when we finished up our 9 months of army training. I remember asking after... at one of our Natal Field Artillery 3 week camps (28 days! ~ amazing how the military worked out the 3 weeks!).

If my memory serves me. I was told ... had had an accident... and had ended up with a slightly shorter leg. As such, he had managed to get out of the follow up camps that we had to attend..."