Sunday, July 29, 2007

1983 Apartheid, South West Africa Trek and SAP Pinetown

< 1983. Leah Esslemont, Principal & Natal Education Department Director, Leah's new Reception Class, Montclair Junior Primary, Durban. (Natal Mercury)

On a South West African holiday trek, in our new, 1200cc Datsun bakkie, desert-wind colour, I drove westwards...

At Kalahari Gemsbok Park (where Bushmen had been eradicated) Leah and I viewed gemsbok, jackals, scrawny lions, springbok in the dry Nossob riverbed. A road ran along a sandy riverbank. Riverbed boreholes watered game...

Near Twee Rivier, we parked beside the dirt road for a pee. Our bakkie stuck in gravel. We dug for hours...

Welwitchias grew on a stony Namib plain where nothing else grew. Atlantic foggy winds blew while gemsbok galloped away to desert hills - shadowy ghosts...

At Swakopmund, while we signed a pension register, a German host asked, "Are you married?"

"We've been married five years!" said Leah.

We stood on a cliff-top staring at the far rim of Fish River Canyon. We chipped rose quartz from a huge pink boulder, then washed dust off ourselves at Ais-Ais spa. We would return to the desert in a year's time.

After cop training at Pretoria, Al was posted to Pinetown, one of Natal's busiest police stations. Al lived at 294 Freemantle Road in the flat Leah and I'd built. In blue SAP uniform, Al wearing peaked cap, loomed over six foot, intimidating charras, skollies, tsotsis, jollers, including Skate. During his four years at Pinetown, Al wasn't physically harmed, but he left SA after conscription completion.

< 1983. Fish River Canyon, South West Africa.

Pinetown cops patrolled and controlled white Pinetown. Outcast black Indanda and Claremont townships smouldered nearby. Outcast Indian Chatsworth was in the opposite direction. On one of Al's earliest call-outs to a Fields Hill road accident, he found a runaway truck had hit a car. Al had to restrain the wife of the car-driver from seeing her decapitated husband: misery for a teenager cop.

Al liked night-shift, which kept him out of the charge-office, on vehicle patrols, making independent decisions, driving his van most of his shift, in radio-contact with CR Swart headquarters and Pinetown cop-shop. Patrols included checking warehouses, homes of holiday-makers, businesses; speeding to places where alarms sounded; checking subordinate Zulu cops guarding government buildings. Al sorted out: public complaints and requests; N3 western freeway and suburban motor accidents; rowdy parties; nervous white women hearing night-noises in their gardens; drunken drivers. When arrested thugs were abusive or aggressive, Al slapped thugs' faces. When Al tried peacemaking in white domestic disputes, squabblers abused him. "Fight quietly!" Al said. "Don't disturb neighbours!"

Once, Al found two Afs robbing a warehouse. They ran to the perimeter fence, and climbed. Al raced up, warning them, cocking his 9mm automatic pistol behind them. Robbers froze. Al ordered them down and arrested them. At another warehouse, Al saw a cardboard box moving along the ground... moving... stopping... Al sneaked up, tapping on the box: "Hello?... Come out!"

Box moved... then stopped. Al laughed. A Zulu man emerged, blinking in Al's torchlight. "Hau seh! You geev me freight!" Al jailed crims in Pinetown cop-shop cells. Cops found a car-bomb under Spaghetti Junction on Durban's Ring Road. If it had exploded, it would've disrupted N2 and N3 freeways for months.

Al and teenager partner Bobbejaan were called to a burning oil storage-tank near Chatsworth. Black smoke billowed upwards. It would explode any moment. An outcast chutney mob shoved closer to the blaze. Al radioed for assistance. "You're on your own Al." HQ said. "It'll take time sending cops and firemen." Al and Bobbejaan ordered jeering coolies to disperse. They didn't. Lives were endangered, while hysterical coolies pressed closer to the blaze.

"What do you do when confronted by a mob?" Al later asked. Although armed, Al and Bobbejaan pushed coolies, who swore at them. Al and Bobbejaan clouted coolies with their black plastic truncheons, dispersing anyone in their way. More cops arrived, cordoning off the area. Firemen quelled the blaze. Coolies didn't thank Al and Bobbejaan for saving their lives and property. At patrol's end, Al drove back to Pinetown charge-office, completed paperwork, and drove home.

Unrest: During the 1980s, state censorship blurred the fact that SADF was warring in Angola and Mozambique, by military actions, induced famines, or using surrogate armies UNITA and Renamo, to kill hundreds of thousands of people. (Sean Moroney, Editor, Africa Volumes 1, 2, Facts on File, New York, 1989).

1983. Leah Esslemont, Koker Boom & Datsun Bakkie, Windhoek - Swakopmund road, South West Africa. >

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