Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2008. Apartheid, 1970s, Fraser's Conscription, Banking and Travels

< 1971. Fraser Esslemont acting in 'Saint Joan,' Northlands BH, Durban North (Bird & Leeney).

1973. At Holy Cross Mission Hospital, Transkei, Fraser worked as a volunteer orderly with poor Xhosa patients.

1974. Conscripted Citizen Force Fraser trained as a cook at Voortrekkerhoogte Services School, Pretoria, quickly achieving corporal rank. SADF then sent Fraser to Walvis Bay for nine months in the Namib Desert, where he learnt boozing.

1975. Back in Durban, Fraser battled to find work. No employer wanted a white ex-troopie with standard nine certificate. Fraser door-knocked for weeks, finally finding a bank clerk job at Broadway Standard Bank. For the next decade, Fraser worked at various Standard Bank branches. Fraser had girl friends, but preferred boozing, karate, sail-surfing, water-skiing, and fishing with old school mates, led by Jason. Amstels, Lion Lagers , Castle Lagers, cane-and-Coke kept the boykies together.

Fraser's work life was interrupted when SADF called him up for South West African border camps. After promotion to cook sergeant, Fraser handed back his stripes, tired of rising early and retiring late. He stayed an infantry troopie until SADF finished with him. He brought home Bushmen bows, arrows, quivers, and Ovambo carvings.

< 1972. Fraser Esslemont, Northlands BH Cadet Drill Squad (Bird & Leeney).

Fraser never met any terrorists or communists during his 1970s camps at Grootfontein and Rundu. But he swam the crocodile infested Cunene River. SADF wasted over two years of Fraser's life. Like the rest of our conscript-generation, he was mind-fucked by SADF.

< 1975. Ovambo carving, Rundu, South West Africa ~ Angola border.

While clerking at Standard Bank, Fraser lived with mom at 22 Chelsea Drive, Durban North. I completed my BA Honours degree, declined an Edgewood College of Education drama lecturer post, then taught biology and general-science for a year at Northlands BH, where I coached rugby, cricket, cadets, and did makeup for the school play. The sweaty headmaster expected me to teach sciences without a laboratory.

I sung in Cantabile Choir, where I met slim, blue-eyed, brown-haired Leah. We sung with Cantabile throughout the 1970s. While I lived in Durban North, Leah lived with her folks at 294 Freemantle Road, Hillary. Every night for three years, I visited Leah before we got engaged.

1970s: The Rhodesian Bush War raged. Terrorists were supplied with Soviet arms. ANC slept. 1976. Soweto school pupils rioted, resenting Afrikaans tuition. Hundreds of blacks died in townships. ANC woke up, processing exiled rioters.

Fraser and I dodged army call-ups, by going overseas, and in my case reading an honours degree. Call-ups were inexorable. Missed camps had to be completed later. Our conscript escapes were exile, prison, medical exemption, or rarely - religious convictions. Conscientious objectors were gaoled for 6 years, or labelled "deviant" and sent to psychiatric Ward 22 at Voortrekkerhoogte. (T. Bell, DB Ntsebeza, Unfinished Business, Verso, London, 2003). There were no black, coloured, or Indian troopies during our call-ups. Later on, volunteer white women and non-whites joined SADF, as there weren't enough white, male troopies to fight SA Bush Wars.

Call-ups continued during prime ministers BJ Vorster's, PW Botha's and FW De Klerk's regimes, throughout 60s, 70s, 80s, early 90s. The longest military regime was PW Botha's, 1969-1989 inclusive, when he was defence minister, prime minister, president. A generation of white boys was brutalized by SADF, securocrats and Broederbonders. Much was asked of our generation, and I found overseas youths my age effete, especially anti-apartheid protesters. They didn't have to make big moral choices like Fraser and me: kill or be killed.

I evaded promotions and stupid troopies, some of whom were my college, varsity, or teaching colleagues. I did Commando basic and an NCO's course at Kimberley. The rest of my service was either in Durban, or various KwaZulu-Natal bush camps. There were no terrorist attacks in SA during Fraser's and my 1970s call-ups.

Portuguese colonists pulled out of Mozambique and Angola, civil war shattering both countries. Some SA conscripts fought terrorists, Cubans and Soviets in Angola. And were killed by land-mines or border contacts. Some conscripts did navy, airforce, or police service, instead of army.

SADF trained teacher cadet officers at Oudtshoorn military base. During my teaching career in Natal, QwaQwa and Cape, cadet masters and SADF soldiers strutted and fretted round state white high schools. SADF touted cadet military tatoos, cadet bands, drill squads, bisleys, cadet camps, annual cadet parades. Durban high schools I taught in during the 70s and early 80s did extra-curricular cadets, after school. During the late 80s and early 90s, Selborne College, East London, where I taught, did cadets during school times.

Eastern Cape "Border" ghosts of eight Kaffir wars, during the 1800s, haunted whitey descendants of old British Kaffraria colony, living in good pasturage above Fish, Chalumna, Kieskamma, Buffalo, and Kei bushy river valleys, where many a Boer, British soldier, and Xhosa tribesman, Bushman, Khoikhoi, Mfengu, and Coloureds were killed in cattle and guerilla wars.

During mad apartheid, Xhosa were dumped in Transkei and Ciskei homelands. KwaZulu homeland, accommodating millions of Zulus, in squalor, was scattered in infertile patches, overlooked by verdant white farmland, where Zulu, British and Boer ghosts haunted. During apartheid, there were other separate homelands and self-governing states as well, only recognized by mad Broederbonders, SA politicians and racists, and ignored by the rest of the world.

< 1978. Aunty Jean & Valmai Esslemont, Garden Route, Cape, SA.

During the 70s, I trekked overseas five times. I paid for my trips. Fraser trekked overseas three times. Mom paid for his trips. In England, we met dad's family, Birmingham Esslemonts, who weren't too interested in us.

1975. Mom was diagnosed with liver cancer, while she had a hysterectomy. Fraser and I didn't tell her, as we felt shock and anxiety would quickly kill her. Mom's GP jollied her along, while she went into and out of remission over the next seven years. We bluffed mom that her various swellings were cysts, which surgeons excised. I suspected that years of stabilizing melleril tablets, which mom's psychiatrist had prescribed for mom's depression, had caused mom's cancer.

< 1978. Valmai Esslemont, Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel.

As mom had cancer, Fraser and I encouraged her to travel, after she retired from Durban North Primary. I accompanied mom on a Greece trip. Fraser accompanied mom on a Middle East tour, then a European tour. Although mom had just nine years' retirement, they were mostly happy years. As a single parent, she'd worked hard and earned her happiness.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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