6 SA INFANTRY (1987-1989)
Daniel reported for national service in August 1987, pleased to have been called up to the Airforce. Almost immediately he was reassigned to 6 SAI (Grahamstown), where he did basic training, and tried out unsuccessfully for the section leaders course. He went on to serve in Sector 10, Eenhana and was present during the SADF withdrawal from South West Africa - Namibia. (There is more to follow!)
Posters's note:The author sent all of this to me, which I have been extremely grateful for, not only for its interesting content and perspectives, but because this has involved a minimum or work from myself regarding transcription, editing etc. As commendable is that the author took the trouble to write this all in English, even though he is a native Afrikaans speaker. Please let his efforts inspire others to document and present their own experiences in such a way!
PRIOR TO REPORTING FOR NATIONAL SERVICE
I do not come from a very military family. My name, Daniel, a good family name, I share with my father and an uncle of his, who died in action during the (Second) Boer War. My father was never drafted, but his brother, my uncle, was. He was quite involved in military things. The first military rifle I remember seeing was his R1. I remember a visiting cousin showing my father the scars on his elbows, acquired from leopard crawling in Outshoorn.
With high school came cadets, of course. The most important part was parade ground drill. I bore the unprofessionality of that for a year, and the next year I joined the 'drill platoon', that took part in the regional competition. I was chosen as a kind of reserve. Half way through the next year I left the platoon, because of a clique-ishness that started among the hostel-living members of the platoon. I was also getting tired of being made fun of.
During that year, all boys turning sixteen that year were called to one classroom and given registration forms for National Service. I received my force number on my sixteenth birthday.
This paragraph is about my academic career, but it has a major bearing on my national service. I left school at the end of that year, and enrolled at a correspondence college, to write my Matric at the end of that year During 1986 I stayed at home, and studied for my Matric. At the end of that year I passed the National Senior Certificate examination with matriculation exemption, but I had failed at mathematics, obtaining a final mark of 32% in that subject. This also barred me from the re-examination, 40% being the minimum. Since I had always had in mind a career in science or engineering, I had to wait for the examinations at the end of the next year. The defence force, not getting my proof of registration as student at the required date, called me up to report on the 4th of August 1987 at the Air Force Gymnasium, Valhalla, Pretoria.
I was very glad to be called up to the Air Force. I knew it meant a less harsh life than in the Army, and that I would be able to study there. It also meant that I would be close to flying and aircraft, which I had loved (from a distance) all my life. I do not know why I was assigned to the Air Force; I've always had the idea that one had to have special abilities to be assigned there.
There was always the debate about whether one should study first, or go to the army first. I had come to the conclusion that, to have a nice time in the army, one had to study first, and to be successful at study one had to go to the army first. Since I was more interested in study than in the army, my inclination was to the latter. During my national service, my sister, then at University, told my mother that the first year male students who had gone to the army after school were better and nicer; more mature than the third year students of the same age. Today I would say that, unless one were to become a lawyer, a doctor, or a minister, going to the army first is the better option.
(I will keep to the following convention: "the army" or "going to the army" means National Service, or the Defence Force. "The Army" as fighting arm of the SADF of SANDF will be capitalised. This was the spoken language, also in Afrikaans.)
I did not try to evade national service. I knew it to be a duty, as I was taught at school and sunday school. Nobody I knew tried to evade, possibly because of social pressures, but also possibly because I knew very few people.
In preparation for National Service, I took to cycling as a way of getting fit. I cycled a distance every day trying to get my pulse rate above 60% of maximum for 20 minutes every day, as the book said. I also did sit-ups, pull-ups and push-ups. I do not know if it did me any good, but I know it was necessary. During all my years at school I never played at any sport, and did not do any kind of exercise that was not forced on me. This means that I was not fit enough for the army.
Together with the call-up instructions, the army sent me a booklet called Diensplig/National Service 1987. It was sponsored by many advertisers, and contained a lot of information on what to expect during national service. This very informative booklet told one everything one needed to know. The most important was a list of what to bring along. The official list was very short. My mother was very helpful in making me pack, for she would insist on me taking things I would have left behind. I was glad of every one of them.
Before the call-up the Air Force invited my parents and I to an information day at the Air Force Gymnasium. There the Commanding Officer and others gave talks on what to expect. We were told that the bulk of the intake would be trained in airfield security, since the air operations depended on irreplaceable aircraft. Afterwards some refreshments were served, during which time we could talk to the officers. My mother talked to one of the chaplains. My father talked to the CO about studying.
My best preparation for the army was the Voortrekkers. This is a youth organisation for Afrikaner schoolchildren, something like the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. During school holidays in the autumn and spring they offered camps, mostly teaching fieldcraft and campcraft. This was a introduction to living in tents, queuing for food, and sharing bathrooms. I was never taught to pitch a tent in the army, but it wasn't needed, for I already knew. (The easiest way to pitch a tent is the way I was taught in the Voortrekkers. It is also the one way guaranteed to get it tight the first time.) Putting black stuff on my face was no novelty for me during basics. Voortrekker leaders had often been to the army and applied what they had learned at these camps. The Defence Force knew that, and readily supplied tents and water carts for these camps. It was part of the total defence against the total onslaught.
REPORTING FOR NATIONAL SERVICE
The morning of the day my father took me to report for National Service, my mother gave me a fried egg for breakfast. I tasted that egg in my mouth all the way to Pretoria. I was very scared, very lonely, and very, very young; I was still more than a month away form my seventeenth birthday. When we got to the Gymnasium, there were a lot of cars, and people everywhere. I said goodbye to my father, and walked to the enclosure where NSM were to report. Somebody in uniform stopped me and asked to see my call-up instructions. I took it out of my bag and showed it to him. I felt it took to long to get it out, but he just looked at it and let me through. At least the first thing went right. I went and sat on the stands overlooking the sports field. It was August in Pretoria, and quite cold, but a sunny day. On some kind of command we formed up in lines on the field. It must have been alphabetically, because the names in our flight all started with letters between H and P. We then went into a hangar, were we were asked our force numbers for the first time. Mine was quite easy: 85474849. After a few more times of giving force numbers and other information a group of us were formed up in threes, and a corporal was told "This is yours!"
We were in 5 Squadron, 3 Flight. If memory serves, we were about 25 to a Flight and 10 Flights to a Squadron. Our first flight commander was Corporal Blom. He was quickly known as "Blommetjie"[Little flower] or Flower Power. I cannot remember much about him, except that he disliked me (I think), and that he made someone climb up an tent middle-pole and stay there, for punishment. He was soon promoted to admin to do administration, and was replaced by a junior instructor named Strauss.
In the Army, a platoon or troop is commanded by an officer, with the aid of a platoon sergeant. In the Air Force, during basic training, the flight commander is a PTI [Physical training instructor] with rank of corporal. The platoon sergeant's role is in a large measure taken over by the "Bungalow Bull", a member of the flight chosen by the flight commander to represent the flight . He is more than a spokesperson, and to some extent responsible for the flight's discipline, but receives no recognition for it. Ours was called Landman, a blonde chap with somewhat of a beak nose. He had already been to University, but came to the army when a number of his close friends died within a short time. A professor then suggested that he go to the army to settle himself. I met him again the day I went to hire the gown for my honours graduation. He received his Bachelor Degree at the same ceremony.
The PTI's that acted as our Flight Commanders were all short and thin. The reason for this is, I think, that the PTI training course is very strenuous. Only small men, with a high endurance quotient, were able to pass.
We must have been issued our trommels that same day, because we slept in our beds that night. The tromme [steel trunk] was standard in both the Air Force and the Army. It contained bedding (sheets, blankets, pillow and pillowcase) and eating utensils (pikstel, varkpan, spoegbakkie and cup.) With it, you were an inhabitant of a base. Without it, you are in transit or operational.
The next ten days were spent in administration, and forms and things. It took us some days to be issued with kit other than our trommels. Our clothes became very dirty, because only one set was recommended for clearing in. One chap remarked that he "didn't normally wear red and orange together." During this time we were much engaged in cleaning and smartening things up. One thing I can remember, and did not appreciate until later, was that the sandbags on in the Gymnasium were filled with cinders, the stuff that's left after coal has been burned. When wet, those sandbags became square in a jiffy, and stayed that way. They were also much lighter than soil-filled ones.
The kit issue was very well organised. When the time came, everyone was given a form, on which all items of clothing and kit to be issued was listed, and on which he had to fill in his name and number. We then went to the tailor, where you gave the form to a clerk, got on a stand, and were measured. The tailor called out the measurements, the clerk wrote it down in the appropriate places, you got down from the stand, were given the form and fell in outside. At the QM stores you were given your kitbag with the standard issue already in it. When you got to a hatch the storeman took your form and fetched the clothing of the correct size for you. You dump the stuff into the bag, and move to the next hatch. At the end of the store you have all the clothing of the correct size. Outside the store, inside the stores compound, were rows of tables. You went to a table and emptied your kitbag on the table. A man (a SM?) stood on the veranda with a similar kit issue. He called out the name of each item, held it up into the air. You found the item on the table, held it up into the air, and waited until everybody had found it. If somebody did not have the item, it was sent for. You then put it in the bag. This was repeated until the last item had been handled. Before you left the compound, you signed the form and handed it in. This procedure, even if it takes a little time, ensures that everybody has been issued the all the equipment, that everything fits him, and that he has heard the name of every piece of equipment. Woe betide the man who got the wrong size, for it took quite a time to get things exchanged.
We spent one whole day doing HSRC [Human Sciences Research Council] tests, to determine where we would be most effectively utilised.
We spent half of one day talking to the welfare people.
Medical examinations took half a day. I passed G1K1, perfectly healthy. I still do not know exactly what the other classifications means. I might have been G3 on grounds of eyesight, but I forgot to tell the doctor I could not read beyond the first line without my glasses, and the medic who took the test didn't notice.
After medical classification, there was some shuffling of people around the squadrons. G3's and G4's were sent to other squadrons, and people from the transit camp came to fill their places. G5's were sent home.
One night a chap in our flight had an epileptic fit. I am not sure whether he had hoped to hide it, or whether it was his first attack. Shortly after clearing in, his girlfriend left him, and he heard that his father had cancer. I was looking at him at the time, and saw him jump over his bed, for no reason at all. He then fell down on the floor, convulsing. When he banged his head on the door, we tried to restrain him, for there was to much furniture around, but it was not easy. Somebody ran to the sickbay to fetch a medic. We did not see him again after the ambulance took him away.
After kit issue, Blommetjie ordered us to wash and dry all our clothes before the following day. We had to iron them dry, of course. He then showed us how to iron them. We had to use starch. That night, as on some others, a Coloured volunteer came to our bungalow. He gave us much information on what to expect. He also expertly ironed the clothes of two of the guys, for which they paid him. When Blommetjie came to inspect us the next day, he was not satisfied with "their" ironing.
As recruits, we were not allowed to wear blue uniform at all. We detested the bushats, as we were not allowed to wear the blue flight cap, like the instructors.
Blommetjie left us after a while, promoted to squadron HQ. In his place we got a more junior instructor, Cpl. Strauss.
We were issued rifles on the 13th of August. It was H&K G3's, called the R2 by the SADF. The butt of the rifle is fixed to the receiver with two pins. When one of the pins is removed and inserted halfway, from the wrong side, you can hook it into your trouser pocket to take some of the weight when carrying it shouldered.
Basic training started on the 17th of August. On this day we received some instruction on rank and saluting (salueer en eerbewys), some on gunnery (skietkuns), and our first drill training. 'Tree aan in drie geledere, beweeg! Na die kant van die paradegrond, beweeg!' for two or three hours.
On the 18, during morning parade, the OC gave the floor to a commandant from the Army. He was the 2IC of 6SAI, Commandant Boshoff. He told us about the needs of the Defence Force, more people being needed in the Army than the Air Force, and that 400 of us were to be transferred from the Air Force to the Sixth South African Infantry Battalion. He then read out the names from the list. It was a cruel list. The names was ordered alphabetically, but in sections; it went form A to Z several times. I think my name was called out in the second section, and after that I didn't listen any more.
During the next few days, there much hustling. During the day we were separated from the airmen now undergoing training, but still lived in the same squadron. (We still had to run around the bungalow in 20 seconds when Cpl. Strauss was not satisfied with our inspection.)
The list was shortened somewhat; Jews were excused, as there was no Kosher kitchen at 6SAI; recruits with family in high places were reprieved. (One chap in my flight was much disgusted when his transfer to the infantry was cancelled, because there "is much more chance to get rank.") Everybody who could, tried to get out. On the second or third day Cmdt. Boshoff gave us a talk on how Grahamstown was a normal town, and the facilities the base offered.
We had to give back all our blue pieces of uniform. During the last day or two we walked around without belts; we had been wearing our blue belts, made for the "step out" uniform, with our browns, for web-belts had been out of stock when we were issued.
We left Valhalla on the Saturday the 21st of August and travelled to Grahamstown in Elwierda's buses. We were accompanied by corporals and lieutenants with strange insignia and strange rifles: this was the first time I saw an R4-rifle. It was a long journey, and I slept all the way. We arrived at the base after dark, got supper, divided into platoons and were issued our trommels. I came to sleep in a cubicle, one of four small rooms apart from the main hall of the bungalow, which I shared with a black-haired guy, Shane Burger.
Sunday was devoted to getting settled in. We were shown how to make a bed. We were all allotted to C-company. I landed in Platoon 2, with Platoon Commander Lt Muller, and Platoon Sergeant Cpl Swart.
Monday was kit issue day. We had to exchange the few things we still had from the Air Force for real military stuff. Our AF kitbags were of cotton with a drawstring at the top: the Army ones were watertight with a metal clip closure. Our AF browns trousers were exchanged for the Army style with leg pockets and a double seat and knees. The Army bushjacket had a set of four patch pockets instead of the AF two let-in pockets. Webbing was now a personal issue, not loan issue.
We were forbidden to wear headdress of any other kind than doibies, the plastic liner of the staaldak, and we mourned our bush-hats.
Our rank was changed from Airman to Recruit.
Some differences between Valhalla and Grahamstown:
Food: the food was not as good. The Air Force gave soup and dessert with every lunch (and supper ?); the Army dessert only on Sundays, and infrequently during the week. Only two slices of bread in the Army; unlimited in the Air Force. On the other hand, each company had its own mess, so queuing was not as long. Washing up facilities were variable in the Army, but excellent in the Air Force.
Training: I had a definite feeling of greater professionalism in the Army. We came to be trained, and there was much less shunting around for no apparent reason. You were always punished for something specific, and mostly reasonably.
Clothes: We were not allowed to wear civvies at all. The Air Force issued white towels and underclothes, while in the Army everything was brown.
Ironing: The Army, very sensibly, did not require starching of clothes.
On Tuesday we started training. In three weeks we had to fit in all the training the other platoons did in five. We did it, but it was hard. Reveille was at 5:00, as for the other companies, but PT, the last training period of the day, was after hours. After supper, we often had a lecture. 'Orders' in the evening lasted from some time after the lecture to close to bedtime. Lights-out was at 22:15.
After three weeks of this, we had our first evaluation. Our platoon sergeant was very good at parade ground drill, and our platoon's drill squad got the best score in the unit for drill. We had caught up with the other companies. After that it went easier, but no less strenuous.
Shortly after our arrival at Grahamstown, a call was sent to the company for volunteers for H-company. This company was used as a selection course for Junior Leaders. The recruits in this company had a hard time. Training was never stopped for rain, as ours was. The successful candidates were sent to the Infantry School at Outshoorn. As I was still very confused and very unhappy, I did not even think of volunteering. The dark picture sketched by our platoon leaders of what awaited them did not help much either.
After our first evaluation, volunteers for Section Leader training were called for. One evening during orders, when the Platoon Commander again told us what Section Leaders did, and about the advantages, (Louis) Kruger made the remark that 'the best rank is no rank.' Lt. Muller immediately pounced on that, and told him all about ambition and things. Kruger volunteered. So did I.
On Saturday 12 September all volunteers for section leaders were taken to the mess. There we were told, in "army language" how hard the course was going to be. All who were not interested was asked to leave, and the remainder were given questionnaires to complete.
On Tuesday we had no training. The first thing that happened was that each volunteer got a number written on his staaldak. For the duration of the selection we were referred to by number. The idea was, I think, to remove favouritism and prejudice from the selectors, rather than to dehumanise us. Next we wrote HSRC tests and were individually interviewed by the course leader, Capt. Kelly-Gliddon, and doctors. During my interview I clearly let the Captain understand that I wanted to study, and that I was not sure that his course would leave me enough time for that. I also told him that I did not think I was fit enough to pass the selection. Then he asked me "Are you a Christian?" I said; "Yes, Captain." "Do you believe?" "Yes, Captain." "Then, of course, you don't have a problem." I had no answer to that. Late that evening we were taken to the mess, and wrote tests on the theory that we had done to date. People who did not want to participate were again asked to leave, but this time NOT 'with no questions asked.' The one or two who did want to leave were made to stand on chairs, so that the others could see what a loser looked like.
Later the evening, back in the company lines, Staff Ferreira, C-company's training NCO, told us what to take along when the physical part of the selection started. I am not sure if he meant us well or ill. We took much more than we needed, weighing us down. If everything he thought we needed was necessary, we would have been sorry without it.
Wednesday morning we went down to the A-coy parade ground. We were given "black-is-beautiful", with which we had to cover our hands and faces. We were divided into syndicates of 21. Each syndicate was given a staff-sergeant selector. (These were to be the SL course platoon sergeants.) The blackened faces and numbers were more to disguise individuals from the selectors than to bother us, I think.
As first task, each syndicate was given 2 tarred poles, an outer tyre (Land Rover, I think), and a 44 gallon drum with three firebuckets of water in it and no plug. These we had to take to Springs, 7 km down the road out of the north gate. We were under specific rules: all the water had to be in the drum when we got there; the first and the last members of the syndicate were not to be more than 50 metres apart. All this was to be done by a group of people that had met each other not more than fifteen minutes earlier.
The first step was to seal the drum. That was easily accomplished with some spare bootlaces and a plastic bag. We then made a contraption where we carried the drum on the two poles, but abandoned it soon. In the end we carried the poles and the drum separately, making extensive use of our toggle ropes. It was definitely not a well thought-out plan.
I think a photograph of myself during this task was published in the unit magazine. Because of the black faces, I am not sure.
At the end of the task we dumped the drums, poles, tyres and 'grootsakke' on a truck trailer, and were sent on the next stage, a 4 km march to the shooting range. The water remaining in the drums was not measured. Arriving at the shooting range, we shot five shots from the standing position on 'valplate'. Lunch was a single tin of food, without a label, shared among three; it turned out to be meatballs and spaghetti. We also had a chance to fill our waterbottles.
After lunch we were chased to the far end of the shooting range, and put two to a pole, which we had to carry 6 km to the Leopard's Dam with webbing and rifle. (Apparently there still are leopards in those hills. The unit's beret badge features a leopard.) Again, I had not seen the guy I shared the pole with before, or after. After a first short distance he started moaning, and would not carry it on his shoulders like a man. In the end we dragged it with our toggle ropes.
The next task was per syndicate again. We were given 3 drums, 6 poles, 1 paddle and two lifejackets, and told to build a raft to carry 6 people (4 on the raft and 2 swimming) and their webbing across the dam. The officers had a inflatable boat, with which they tried to wet the passengers on the raft.
By now it was late afternoon, and the next task was, simply put, to go to bed. Bed was on the other side of the mountain, at Penn Rock. It was a 6 km forced march in full kit, again per syndicate.
It got dark along the way.
Here I almost got a black mark against my name: At the dam, before we started, we had to get our 'grootsakke' from the truck. Things got mixed up, and I ended up with a grootsak that was not my own. (I did complain, but to no avail. Lesson: Mark your kit!) The real owner of the bag, the sod, had not yet learned that you rolled the sleeping bag differently for going to the field than for inspection: wider than the bag, rather than the same width. During the march, the roll progressively collapsed. There was no chance of stopping, no chance to fix things up. When the whole thing finally collapsed, I cursed the man loudly and wholeheartedly. The staff-sergeant attached to the syndicate immediately wanted to know who it was. (Cursing was a sign of 'cracking'.) I didn't say, and nobody split on me, and it was dark, so they never found out.
Supper at Penn Rock was unidentified tins again, this time three men to two tins. Fish and bully beef, this time. We went to sleep without washing at all. I took only my boots off. In the meantime the evaluators took it as an evening out, sleeping on beds in tents with gas lights, having a braai, drinking beer.
Reveille the next morning was at 0430 and at 0550 we departed, going back across the mountain to the dam again. Here we breakfasted on bread and coffee.
Here I suffered an embarrassment; small, but it stuck in my memory. We got the coffee dished out into our 'firebuckets'. This was the metal mug that went around the kidney-shaped-cross-section waterbottle. The pouch in which it came was a little too small, and it stuck every time I wanted to take it out. This morning, there was too little time to wiggle it out, so I took the coffee directly into the firebucket, without taking it out of the pouch. With the coffee in the firebucket, I tried again to get it out, spilt some coffee, wetting the pouch, shrinking it. In the end I drank from the pouch. I don't know if anybody saw me, but I felt very small and stupid with sticky hands and chin.
The next task the syndicate was set was a theoretical exercise, to develop, within a set time limit, a plan to destroy a weapons factory given certain resources. A selector sat by to evaluate each member's participation.
The last test I took part in was a run back to base, individually, carrying a waterbottle and rifle. By this time I was so tired that I did not even try running. When I walked past a Samil parked on the road, the staff-sergeant on it called out my number, and told me to get on. I was pulled off the selection. `RTU', the bats would say.
The only consolation was that there was left-over food from the selectors' breakfast on the truck, which the others shared with me. I missed the obstacle course bit.
The rest of the day we, the failures, were employed in cleaning and packing away the equipment used on the selection. I found my grootsak again, but this time my webbing was gone. I never saw it again, or the electric shaver my father had lent me. When I told Cpl. Swart he just said; "Don't make your problem my problem." C Musso, the chap's whose webbing I ended up with, came with his platoon commander into our bungalow, and exchanged the webbing he had with his own.
The selection had also made me miss the night-shooting exercise, and the first chance we had to exchange faulty equipment and wrong-sized clothing.
The hardest part of Basics, for me, started now. Since so many men had gone for section-leaders there were now empty places in the main hall of the bungalow, so I also lost the cubicle, and what little privacy it offered. Most of the friends I had managed to make were gone, Shane Burger, Van Zuydam, Smit.
By the time I came back to platoon 2, they were almost ready for the company commander's inspection, which took place on the next Saturday. My stuff had been packed away for the duration of the selection, so I had to unpack it all and get it ready for inspection.
Inspection is here used as a noun.
The inspection is the one thing you, as individual, platoon or as company, can never get quite right.
The basis of the inspection is the bed.
There is a ritual to making a bed for inspection. First the mat of the bed (made of steel strips or expanded metal) is bent flat by using a broomstick or by turning the bed on its side and kicking it from the underside. On the flat mat, the mattress is put in its cover. Using an electric iron and a clothes brush or dixie, the cover is ironed smooth with sharp edges. Next the bottom sheet, is laid down tucked it in with hospital corners, and ironed. The top sheet is then laid on the bed with the seam at the head edge of the mattress. The blanket is laid on the top sheet, the two parallel lines straight, in the centre of the bed. The seam of the blanket is two towel-widths away from the foot edge of the mattress. The exposed part of the top sheet is now folded down over the blanket, and the unit of top sheet and blanket is tucked in. The coverings are now pulled tight from underneath the bed. All the edges are ironed square. The pillow, in an ironed pillowcase, is laid on the exposed bottom sheet.
I never put floor polish or shaving cream on my blanket to make its corners square.
On the foot end of the bed one of your towels was laid on which your Bible, eating utensils, and razor were exhibited. Between the towel and the pillow, your skeleton webbing was laid out. On the pillow stood your bush hat and beret.
Your trommel stood open at the foot of the bed. Some cardboard or Fig11 target hardboard, covered with your balsak, filled the mouth of the trommel. On the right half of it was laid the working parts of your rifle, in order of length: piston group, return spring, gas tube, body cover and breechblock. On the left half was your single magazine and cleaning kit. Your rifle body leaned against the centre of the trommel lid, its butt on from the edge.
Above the bed was a small shelf. On the shelf stood your other pair of boots, your PT shoes and your sandals. Below the shelf were two hooks, on which your grootsak hung by its shoulder straps. Your rolled-up blanket was strapped on to the top, and your rolled-up sleeping to the bottom. Your staaldak was strapped to the front of the grootsak by threading its chin strap under the flap straps of the grootsak.
Your cupboard was filled with your clothes. On hangers hung your duffle coat, browns, and extra overall, its legs draped over its shoulder. On the top two shelves were your underclothes and PT clothes, made up into packets. In practice, to make it square, pieces of cardboard were covered with the particular piece of clothing, or a piece of the particular piece of clothing. On the bottom shelf of the cupboard stood your squared patrol bag. During inspection, your doibie stood on the front left hand corner of the cupboard.
Your inspection had two private places: the area behind your patrol bag, and your trommel under the balsak.
I got almost no sleep the night before the company commander's inspection.
A week later we had OC's inspection. This was a much greater affair. For this we got a television set, and a table and benches. Everything had to be painted. The standard of the inspection was much higher.
Here I suffered a delusion that I had only experienced once since then. It is the feeling that the world is the wrong way round. Our bungalows each had two doors, one to the north, and one opposite, across the width of the bungalow, to the south. These doors were to the eastern end of the bungalow. Normally we used only the south door, to save time when locking and unlocking. During preparation for the inspection this door was locked, and we used only the north door, to polish the more heavily used floor on the south side. Only on the morning of the inspection was the normal uses of the doors resumed. Due to lack of sleep I became very disoriented, and to this day, when I picture this inspection, I see Cdmt Boshoff coming in through a door on the north side, but at the west end of the bungalow. For this reason I will not trust any memory completely.
The Monday morning after the OC's inspection we were meant to go to the shooting range, but it rained Late the afternoon it cleared, and we marched to there, did some revision, ate and went to bed. (Bed being a sleeping bag under a bivvie.) It rained during the night, and we got wet, but we had 11 hours' sleep. The next morning they decided that it was going to rain again, or that the range was to wet, and we marched back again, taking a shortcut. Two days of mud.
The rest comes from memory, for I have not written any letters after this.
We had the following two weekends at the sea. The first was with the company for VTB (vryetydsbesteding [Leisure time utilisation]). We went down to the sea in Samils, and camped in an enclosure, using military equipment. Saturday evening we could each buy a hot-dog or two, and a maximum of two beers. I sold my two beers: The first for a hotdog, the second for R5.00. The bonus of this camp was that all my friends that had left for section-leaders also attended.
The next weekend we went with the chaplain on a Bible-study camp. This was the first time that we could meet people from the other companies, as this was not a Company-sponsored event. This time we slept in bungalows, and ate non-military food, prepared by women volunteers. We slept a lot. I remember sleeping on the beach, and tanning the outline of my hand on my stomach.
Sports parades on Wednesdays were always a drag for me. We had to dress in shorts and T-shirt and, as I was never on any team, 'support' one of my company's teams. The only event I could support with any enthusiasm was tug-of-war, probably because it was usually the last event of the day.
It is very interesting to see the differences between platoons.
Platoon 1 had a terror of a Platoon Sergeant. After section leader's selection it was almost drained, and the other platoons had to transfer people to ensure that the platoons stayed of equal size. On occasion he would chase his platoon until someone collapsed and someone in command made him stop.
We in Platoon 2 had the most professional leaders.
Platoon 3 had Lt. Visser and Cpl. Marais. The platoon was always singing, on the cpl's instigation. I still remember how I cursed him when he made us leopard-crawl on a rainy Sunday, with us wearing our only set of browns. Lt. Visser made me run about 3 kilometres once, for being joking with him after I let my rifle fall. The problem with this is that he was funny with me first, so why couldn't I also be?
Platoon 4 was probably the most mediocre, under Cpl. McColm.
Platoon 5 had a Cpl. Smith, so relaxed that he was sent to the Border, and replaced by someone more enthusiastic, a PF or short service corporal. I remember doing rifle drills in a bungalow with Cpl. Smith in command. He would order a certain weapon state, and then check. If your rifle was in the wrong state he would 'punish' you with 5 push-ups.
I can't remember anything about the other platoon commanders.
Passing out was a great affair. There was a whole week of preparation.
The whole affair lasted two days. On the first day, there was an inter-company competition of 'battle athletics', featuring events such as hand grenade throwing, buddy carry, and a full-kit marathon. For the evening there was a boxing tournament. All parents were invited to these events. The passing-out parade was on the morning of the second day. As usual I was not selected to take part in the parade, and had to help with smartening up the place, under Cpl. McColm.
My parents drove down from the Transvaal to come and see the parade and fetch me. They also brought Ludek's girlfriend with them. They came during the evening of the boxing tournament. Here I had two amazing strokes of luck. The whole intake was in the main transport hangar, which housed the event, a thousand or more young men in brown overalls and green doibies. There was no way that my parents could find me. I was sitting in the last row of seats, as there was no more place on the stands. An MP came and asked us to vacate the seats, as there were visitors standing at the back. I got up, and saw that these visitors were my parents! They had just arrived. Ludek's girlfriend was with them. I went to look for Ludek in C-coy's stand, and found him right in front of me as I came round the back of the stand.
The parade went without a hitch, and we left soon after that.
I remember, during the ten day pass that followed, that I found the cutlery very long and slender.
After the ten days' leave was up, on the 26th of October, I flew from Jan Smuts to Port Elizabeth by SAA. In those days National Servicemen were offered 40% discount on SAA and SAR tickets, which made it affordable. The army made the travel arrangements before we went on leave.
It was a morning flight, and only late the afternoon did the Samils arrive to take us back to Grahamstown. Fortunately my luggage was packed with biscuits and stuff, so I did not go hungry.
That evening in the bungalow we were back together as a platoon. A few guys were late from leave, (technically AWOL), of whom one was later declared a deserter.
We were told by Lt Muller that the next day would be selection day, and that we had a choice of becoming a Mortarist, an Assault Pioneer, a Rifleman or a Driver. I tried to believe otherwise, because the OC had told us that we would all have a chance to become some other kind of specialist, and I could not face another three months of rifleman training. The prospects looked bleak. Matric maths was a recommendation for becoming a mortarist, and a civilian driver's license a requirement for becoming a driver.
On selection day we had a selection parade. It is similar to a sport- or church parade: The companies fall in on the parade ground, and when participants for each sport or church is called, they fall in on the designated spot. When everybody interested has fallen out, the next sport or church is called. The only difference with the selection parade was that 2IC read out descriptions of each post, and that you fell in a queue at the selectors' table. My memory fails me in exactly what happened there, but I somehow found myself last in the queue at the QM's table, and was applying to become a storeman. Cpl Swart was around, and he called me to the front, and made sure I was chosen as a storeman for C-coy. Some prayers are answered.
The truth behind the story of being only allowed in the fighting musterings came out on this parade: The Chief of the Defence Force had decreed that people who had been transferred to 6 SAI from the Air Force would not be allowed to become infrastructure personnel. I think this was to avoid hard feelings in the Air Force, who did not want to be robbed of good people who then went to do trivial tasks, when they had been told they were needed in the more active parts of the Defence Force. This rule was bent a little: Douglas-Henry, who had the bed next to mine during Basics, turned out to be a graphic artist, and was snaffled for the unit's media division.
We could become storemen, cooks, drivers or clerks, but only to fighting companies. A buddy from platoon 2 was ahead of me in the queue, and I feel sorry for him that he was not selected, all the positions having been filled when he got there.
However it may be, I was selected to be trained as a storeman, and I had to stand a good deal of ridicule because it: storeman is one of the less honoured musterings. B-company was the courses company for the non-fighting musterings, A-company, (the largest,) the rifle training company, and C-company, the support (mortar and assault pioneer) training company. D-company was a company of SACC that was deployed in urban COIN-ops in Grahamstown.
The life in the new company (B) was not much different. We (the students of the General Storeman's course) lived in two small bungalows, similar to the ones we had in the Air Force. We shared an ablution block with the Pay Clerk's course. They lived in one bungalow, and used the remaining one of the set of four as a lecture room. Our lecture room was a bungalow about 50 metres from our bungalow.
Other courses in the company were Driver's, Admin Clerk's, Signaller's and Chef's.
The course was well structured. At the start of the course we each got a timetable of what would be happening. The course was mostly about stores organisation and requisites. Practical work was mostly the filling-in of forms, although we did get training in maintenance and storage of night-vision equipment, and visited the magazine. On some Saturdays we did some labour in the QM-stores.
Military training did not stop. Every morning there were two or three periods of drill before lectures started. The last period of the day was devoted to PT. Once the Company's fitness test showed a problem in the 2.4, so that for a time a run around the base after breakfast was included. Occasionally there was 15 minutes or so of rifle PT before drill. This military training was conducted by our platoon commander and platoon sergeant, cpl. Whyte. I don't know what they did during the rest of the day.
Cpl Whyte was going to join the Navy after clearing out, and was already declared fit for submarine service.
Our lecturers were all very experienced NCOs of the Ordnance Service Corps, and most of them were Coloured. The lecturer that impressed me the most was a (white) sgt Reynolds, an ex-infantryman, who had been wounded by a tripwire landmine. His one leg was shorter than the other, so that he had to wear a built-up boot, but he was one of the fittest soldiers I ever knew.
The experience of our lecturers gave us insight into some very interesting trivia:
All animals in the Defence Force have to be accounted for, except cats: they breed too fast.
Since it is illegal to use phosphorus weapons against personnel, it is stored under pyrotechnics. The store in which it is kept can be identified by the container of water outside the door.
Despite a policy of bilingualism, all stores paperwork is done in English.
The people on the course were much different from those in C-company. In Platoon 2 was one of the youngest. On the course there were quite a few younger than I. There was no minimum academic qualifications for being on the course; in Charlie the lowest qualification had been std 9. On the other hand, Hugo Vaughn, two beds from mine was a qualified mechanical engineer, who had worked at Koeberg nuclear power station. It was here for the first time that I met people from the area; most were previous members of Bravo company, and had been called up to the unit nearest home, which was usually Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage or Despatch.
Weekends were a bit of a trial to me. The last inspection was on Saturday. For the rest of the weekend, everything that was thrown away was thrown on the floor, so that by Sunday evening there would be piles of trash on the floor, 'because we are going to sweep it later anyway.' These people apparently did not understand that clean living is for nobody's benefit but your own, and the ones who did were outnumbered.
I once saw an MP search someone's belongings. Apparently some money had disappeared one day during sports, and Koorts, who had the bed next to mine, was suspected. It is difficult to describe the slow, patient, methodical and thorough way in which the MP did the search. He went to the length of unrolling socks, and feeling inside them. And he left everything the way he found it.
He didn't find the money, but that does not mean Koorts is not a thief. I know that he stole from the QM stores when we worked there for practical experience.
At one point, shortly after the lectures on ammunition, our platoon leaders searched the roofs of our bungalows, and found there a plastic bag with some tear-gas grenades in it. We were given a pole-PT session when no-one would admit to putting it there, but it did not yield more information. Relations with the leaders were a bit strained for a time, especially because half of the platoon, who lived in the other (my) bungalow, could not possibly have known anything about it. I believe that the grendades were possibly left there by previous inhabitants, who had forgotten about it.
[Another ancedote about a roof. On the section leader's course, during our basics, some of the students hid in the bungalow's roof to avoid lectures and get extra sleep. They were caught, and later, with the whole course fallen in, were called out. They were sent to fetch all their belongings. Most of the other students expected to see a nasty bit of physical exercise, but when the offenders came back they were simply sent back to the companies they came from. End of lesson.]
During this phase I wrote my matric examinations. I wrote a verklaring soon after the start of the course, asking for leave to write exams. This got lost, so after rewriting it, I was called to orders before the captain, 0500 on 6/11/1987. I woke up very late, about 0430, shaved, ironed my overalls's sleeves, and accusing my buddies of neglecting to wake me, left my bed unmade. I stood waiting for more than an hour before I was called.
Being on orders is a frightening experience, and I am glad that I never had to do it for receiving punishment. You stand at ease outside the commander's office. On the command from the CSM (Staff de Wet) you come to attention. 'Mark time!', 'Forward March!' into the office and 'Mark Time!' in front of the desk. 'Orders ... Halt!'. When the business is finished, 'Orders, About Turn!', 'Mark Time!, and 'Forward March' out of the office.
The company commander, at the time capt Roux, read my verklaring, and asked me which subject was the hardest. I fumbled for an answer, at which my platoon commander came to my rescue and said Natural Science. In the end he gave me leave for the three days of the examinations, the morning of the day before my first paper, and the whole day before the Natural Science paper. I was very grateful for this, but only later found out that I was entitled to a full day off the day before every paper.
For two of the papers cpl Ter Haar, platoon sergeant of the Pay Clerks, took me into town. For the other one I went to the main gate, and had the MP's ask people leaving the base to give me a lift into town.
To come back after writing the second paper, I was told to go to the railway station and telephone the duty office, who would send the duty driver to pick me up. I found the station, but the number I had been told to call did not exist. (It was the internal number.) I the end I tried to walk back to base, but got hopelessly lost. Fortunately some officer saw me walking where I shouldn't, and asked me where I was going. I told him my story, and he gave me the correct number. The next time I was much more careful to watch in which direction we went.
The examinations made me miss an opportunity to go to De Aar (97 Ammunition Depot) to fetch ammunition for the unit. The four students with the best score in our first major progress test could go, but when the call went out I was busy writing a paper. Booyens and Louw (who later got the shield for 'Best Student') went, and, when they came back, made us jealous by telling us of the living conditions of the National Servicemen who did duty there.
During this phase we (Booyens and I) discovered the base library. The hours were awkward, but we joined and could take out books that we could read in moments off. I remeber that I read a Tintin comic there. I think I managed to read two or three other books that I lent from this library.
The chaplain started a choir, which I joined. All the members were of B-coy. It was not very professional. Our leader, Heunis, had sung in Nabucco once, but I don't think he had any formal music teaching training. Singing in the choir had one advantage: it gave me a chance of escaping from sport. Towards the end of the phase we had our only official performance, in the Christmas service. This earned us a Saturday afternoon and evening pass.
Grahamstown on a Saturday evening is very quiet for a young man from the platteland. I had a (microwave) pizza at a small place in a mall, went to see a children's movie, and called my parents on the telephone. I did not have to queue, and it was quiet.
Each company had a telephone night. This meant that each company could use the public telephones behind the duty office, after hours, on only one night of the week. Sunday nights were open. The queues were always long and it was always a noisy place, but there were some phones for incoming calls only. I usually called my parents only to ask them to call me back. In this way you didn't have to face the wrath of the queue for calling too long, but it was always a long wait for the phones to clear so that your call could come through. Not very convenient for the people at home.
At the end of this course we were still four weeks away from the end of the phase. We now started our crash course in weapons training. (A crash course means breakfasting at 0500, and having lectures after hours.) The course started off with a new issue of equipment. We got a second issue of browns, the new brown pattern of webbing, and additional magazines and water bottles. I believe we were the last intake ever to do basic training with the old green canvas webbing.
It was a condensed version of the rifleman's course. The greater part of the day was devoted to weapons drill, and the rest to lectures on patrols, vehicle movement, helicopter drills, etc. We were given a demonstration of a section attack, and during our day on the rifle range demo's of hand grenades, grenade launchers, rifle grenades, smoke grenades and -generators, and could fire a burst with the MAG. We were taken to the rifle range by Samil, but marched back the next day. For the day's shooting I got the best score of the course!
On the rifle range we were introduced to our new platoon leaders. Our old Junior Leaders were clearing out in time for Christmas, and were replaced by new ones fresh from Infantry School. We were much amused when somebody reported that he had seen a new lieutenant cleaning his new pips with a piece of tissue paper. Ours were cpl Bessinger and lt Du Toit.
When we had come back from the rifle range, I went to the shower or somewhere and left my kas wide open, and when I got back my rifle was gone. Fortunately I had followed orders, and the working parts were locked in my trommel. This was a disaster. It was one of the worst thing that could happen. (During basics the MPs would come into the bungalows at night and steal rifles, sometimes by extracting keys from the pockets of clothes lying around. The victims were severly punished, but it taught us to lock things up and guard the keys.) That night while the others we were cleaning their rifles I had to tell cpl Bessinger. He was not excited, but made me sweat a little by pretending that he did not know where my rifle was. In the end he let me have it back, and told me not to do it again. I was very grateful for his leniency.
When we went on pass, it was very close to Christmas, and all public transport was fully booked. In the end they organised us a bus to take us back: a very luxurious air conditioned bus from Springbok Atlas Safaris. This turned out to be quite lucky for us who had decide to go on leave bus: we were doing the 25km full kit (extra overall, sleeping bag, six magazines, four litres of water, extra pair of boots) route march as part of our final fitness test, when the bus company's officials came to sell us the tickets. All who were going on leave by bus were picked up along the route, and driven to base by Samil. A simple, early end to a rather strenuous exercise.
We went on leave on the 18th of December for ten days.
I got back from leave on midnight of the Monday 28th of December 1987. On the Tuesday morning the platoons were reorganised. This was necessary because the courses platoons had been of unequal sizes. Drivers and signallers were transferred to A & C companies, and there was some transfers to the HQ company. (Hugo Vaughn, who had been applying to become a conscientious objector, was one of them. This shows that the army is not as insensitive as it is usually portrayed, on condition that you approach them in the right way.) The platoons were not arbitrarily grouped, but we were allowed to group ourselves so that friends could be together. I ended up in platoon 2, which contained most of the pay-clerks. The platoon sergeant was cpl Ter Haar, who had joined Short Service, and was very good at his job
By Tuesday afternoon our training in urban counter-insurgency started. It was again a crash course. Three weeks' training was condensed into two. Lectures started at 0600, and lights out was at 2300. On Saturdays training went on until 1600.
Training comprised riot control, patrols, traffic control points, cordons, and lectures on legal aspects. Despite the nonsense spoken today about the violence of the security forces, there was a continuous, almost religious, hammering in of the concept of minimum violence.
Somewhere during training I was transferred to platoon 4. Platoon 2 had gained a signaller, and I was transferred because cpl Ter Haar did not want me, because I had needed to much persuasion to jump off a Buffel the first time. (The fact that on subsequent jumps I did not hesitate did not seem to matter.) Pl 4's platoon sergeant was cpl Bessinger, and the platoon commander Lt du Toit. Bessinger had black hair, and loved having fun, even if it was at the expense of others. Du Toit was upright in carriage and character, spoke slightly through his nose, and tried to do a good job. Platoon 4 was know as the G4 platoon; of the whole platoon only ten or so were classed G1K1 (the top medical classification.)
A new feature during this training was section leaders. They had completed their training during the previous phase, and were promoted on the final parade before we went on leave. I was in section 2, I think, under l/cpl Louw. These section leaders were much too enthusiastic to our liking, and the most amusing thing I heard about them is that somebody said he would rather "stretch"[`strek' - brace] to his bed, because it had more lines than the section leader. (The grey army blankets had two blue lines down the middle.) We had to treat the lance corporals with the same respect as the full corporals, our platoon sergeants, and that made the possibility of much trouble, as there were four of them to a platoon. Fortunately they were quite insecure and mostly kept together and to themselves.
Our section leaders were l/cpls Moore (section 1), Louw (section 2), and Du Toit. Moore was blonde and blue eyed, Du Toit smaller and with a weak chin. Louw was the tallest and had a dark brown hair on a smallish head.
(During COIN Urban training we had four section leaders per platoon. A, B, and C-coys did this phase of training simultaneously. C-coy, being a support company, had a higher proportion of section leaders than the rifle companies. To give them proper experience in the operation of a platoon in an urban COIN environment the surplus were farmed out to the rifle companies for the duration of training. They left us after training.)
On Wednesday the 6th of January we were evaluated. The evaluation took the form of a night operation in a black township. The base was used as a model township. Each platoon was given a different task, and had evaluators attached. Our job was to patrol the 'married quarters', which was like a little suburb of blocks of flats and houses next to the base. I wrote home that we had learned more from evaluation than from training, and in view of my later experiences the exercise was quite realistic. The bungalows simulated houses to be searched, and many illegal items, e.g. cameras, were found.
After training we cleaned the company lines, so that it could be ready on our return.
A-company was to deploy in Wits Command, and we in the Northern Transvaal Command. C-coy was to continue training in conventional warfare.
On Monday the 11 of January we deployed. We were driven with Elwierda's buses from Grahamstown to Voortrekkerhoogte, Pretoria, where we stopped and the officers hunted for someone to tell us where to go. We got a guide or directions of some sort and went somewhere north of Pretoria. We got there in the middle of the night, and there was no accommodation for us. Neither had we any kit, for we had left the Samil that carried our 'grootsakke' far behind. (The only luggage we were allowed was a 'grootsak' and a neat 'civvy bag' each.) I had a towel in my civvy bag, and with that as bedding went to sleep in the grass.
The next day we found that our arrival was unexpected. We had arrived at Rietgat, a platoon base near Soshanguve, where we were to work, but there had been no preparations made for our moving in. There was no proper accommodation for us, and no food. Our leader element spent the most of the day away to sort these things out and left us to spend the day in the sun. We had our first meal since the previous day's food pack only at 1600. It was a kind of chicken-offcut stew with pap, both burnt, as it had been prepared on a fire. Morale, that evening, was very low.
We slept in the available tents that night, at about one platoon to a tent (16 x 32). We ate our first ratpacks that night, our section leaders with their greater store of experience showing us how to prepare it.
We lost Goncalves that night. He was a small Portugese signaller, and a signal had been sent from Grahamstown for him to return, as Portugese-speaking signallers were needed elsewhere. He left that night, and I heard later that he spent the rest of his National Service at Rundu with some specialist (EW) signals unit.
The core of the base was a south-facing farmhouse surrounded by a wire fence. The ops and signals rooms were inside the house. Behind (to the north of) the house was the stores, and in a lean-to behind that, the showers. The showers had hot water, heated by a wood fire outside the entrance. To the east of the house was the kitchen, with the mess and TV room north of that, and east of the stores. To the west of the house was the transport park, the swimming dam, and the mobile shower (reserved for the officers and senior NCO's.)
The rest of that week we spent in preparing the base for operations. We pitched (brand new) tents for four platoons, outside the fence, to the Northeast. A number of portable toilets (called "kickstart rockets" because of the mechanism of flushing and the shape of the unit) were delivered, and set up to the east of the fence. We cleaned the place of all vegetation. Only on the 14th of January were things so organised that we could start eating wet rations.
We of platoon 4 got the tents inside the fence, to the south of the house, as living quarters. This placed us rather close to the leader element, but also close to all the amenities.
Capt Roux, our trusted company commander, was sent to the border, and he was replaced by a big major, whose name I cannot remember. The replacement of Capt Roux meant that we started patrols immediately, instead of waiting for the beginning of the next week. This major also scared the wits out of us by asking, one evening before supper, where our rifles were. About half the company had theirs with them, and the others not. Ours was locked with a chain to our tent pole. A punishment session was organised for the next morning, but the platoon commanders squashed it by telling him that it was left there with their consent. For the rest of that trip we lived with our rifles always at our sides.
We were very much still a company under training, albeit operational training. Before we left on patrol, we each received 10 rounds of ammunition, which we had to hand back when we came back from patrol.
On the eastern part of the base, outside the fence, were a couple of tents that belonged to camper sappers. Their only duty, it appeared, was every morning to sweep the untarred road leading to the base for mines. Contact with them was discouraged, as their discipline was not up to standard. They managed to overturn a Buffel on the end of that road, probably out of sheer boredom.
We started work on the 15th of January. We lost our section leader on the first day. We were issued A55 radios with whip aerials for all platoon communications. These tapering whip aerials consists of a number of tubes, the head of the first fitting into a socket at the tail of the second, and so on for about six sections, held together by a spring-loaded cord down the bore of the tubes. This arrangement makes it easy to break down the aerial and store it in a small space. Due to inexperience, l/cpl Louw carried the radio on his back, instead of letting it stand by itself on floor of the Buffel. Late in the morning, we looked for a secluded place and stopped for a break. While we stopped, Louw wanted to fix the top section of the aerial, which had come out and dangled at the end of the rest of the aerial. He, of course, was using the front left seat of the Buffel, behind the driver. He took hold of the aerial and bent it over to Ian Card, who used the right rear seat, to put the end section back. The moment Card let the aerial go it swept up and touched the high-tension wire under which we had parked. I had watched the aerial sweep up and saw the blue sparks where the wire and the top section of the aerial touched. Rheeder, the driver, hit the aerial away from the wire, and he and Lindsey took the radio off Louw's back, after catching him before he almost fell backwards off the Buffel. They made him sit down in his own seat, but he was almost unconscious, although he was able to sit upright, and groaned intermittently.
Lindsey, a signaler, called cpl Bessinger on that same radio, who heard that someone had been shot, instead of shocked. Without leadership, and being on our first day's patrol, we were somewhat lost, but we managed to find our way to the Technicon Northern Transvaal's main gate, where cpl Bessinger met us. I cannot quite remember how we got Louw off the Buffel or to hospital, but I imagine that the medics, that I faintly remember we had in base, took him in their ambulance. I understand that had rather deep burns to his buttocks, where he had stood with his back to the side of the Buffel. We didn't see him again for a month or two.
After this incident we religiously pulled down the aerials when we had to pass underneath any kind of power line, even though it was rarely necessary.
During the month or so we spent at Rietgat we had three company Commanders, and each had his own idea of how things should be run. I therefore cannot give a clear description of our routine. Our main task was patrolling the township of Soshanguve, preventing intimidation, arson, rioting, and crime. We had a company of five platoons, (with a sixth patrolling the township at Grahamstown), much more than usual in a rifle company, so that we could do all the work and not work too hard. In general, we had a platoon on patrol, one on OP duty, a platoon on base duty, and a platoon in rest. (I know this does not add up, but I cannot really remember.)
The platoon on base duty had to clean and maintain the base, do kitchen duty, and supply loaders for the Samil that went to fetch the rations.
The platoon on OP duty supplied guards. There was one guard at the gate, and two, later three OP posts to be manned. The first two OP posts were the two immense water towers in the township. (Somebody, Rohr, I think, managed to drop his rifle from the OP, bending the barrel. It was officially explained by the universal explanation for anything broken, 'it was dropped from a Buffel'.) The third OP was a larger-than-usual tree to the north of the base. It was not a very good OP, because from it you could only see more bushveld trees. It was intended as a contribution to base protection. The guard platoon later also did a security patrol around the base just before sundown. I think that the guard platoon commander had to help man the JOC (Joint Operations Centre) at the Soshanguve police station.
The platoon in rest usually had a night patrol the night before, and were therefore sleeping.
There was little to do by way of entertainment. There was the swimming dam, and the video. We had a spider that lived behind our tent, whose web stretched from one of the guy ropes of the tent to the fence. We used to feed him by throwing moths and small insects (abundant in that bushveld area and climate,) into the web. It is quite an experience to see the speed with which the spider can wrap the insect. The last meal we gave him was a large praying mantis. This insect attacked the spider, even though it was partly entrapped, and bit off two of the spider's legs. The web was deserted soon after that, and we assume that the spider died. The mantis could not free itself, and also died.
Romans (sunspiders) were also common. These are huge, hairy, red ground running spiders with an enormous pair of jaws, and a matching aggression. Somebody put one in a red firebucket with an 'oorkruiper' (earwig), and made them fight. The earwig is, despite the enormous pair of pinchers it carries at the end of its tail, not an aggressive insect, and the roman soon had it cut to pieces.
We had some Visitors' Days, the first being on Sunday the 23rd of January. I wrote to my parents to come, and to bring my UNISA registration papers. (I had passed my matriculation examinations with enough success to be admitted to studying in the sciences.) Before the day came there was a change in schedule, and we were to patrol on that day. Lt Du Toit, very accommodating, let the few of us who had visitors coming stay in base that day. My parents came, and brought my papers. My youngest brother was much impressed by my rifle, and had a ride on the sappers' Buffel.
A few days later my father went to register me, and brought the books to the base. We were on patrol that day, so that I did not see him, but I was called to HQ that night, where s/sgt De Wet gave me the briefcase that formed part of my luggage for the rest of my National Service. I had another visit from them, but that was not during visiting hours, so that all we had was a chat at the gate. It was very nice of them to do that, especially since they could not know whether I would be in base or not.
After one or two more visitors' days there were no more, because three people had gone AWOL (and one had become drunk) with the assistance of their visitors.
At some point platoon 1 was detached to do some guard duty somewhere. It appeared that they had to guard some resort where a number of high politicians were holding a summit.
Our main task, patrols, was mostly uneventful. We would leave base in early in the morning, and drive around the township, looking for anything untoward. At around 1000 we would return to base for brunch, and then go back to patrolling until about 1700. The night patrols left soon after supper, and returned after dawn.
We evolved a system of single vehicle patrols. Instead of operating in three sections and a platoon HQ, we operated per vehicle. The platoon commander collected his own section, so that we had four independent vehicles patrolling. They were commanded by the platoon commander, the platoon sergeant, and the two remaining section leaders, respectively.
I soon migrated to driving in the lieutenant's Buffel and in the morning he would visit all the schools to collect the attendance figures. In practice, our main occupation was ordinary community policing. We would patrol the area, and then someone would stop the patrol and say, "Somebody broke the window of my house". After a brief look at the damage we would then oblige the complainant with a lift to the police station.
We regarded as policemen by the community. We sometimes surprised groups of gamblers, who would scatter at the approach of the Buffel. At other times men would try to show out shebeens to us, as if we had the power to do something about it. (Even then, during the state of emergency, the Army had no such powers.)
I cannot remember that we ever manned a road block.
We were once called to supply a cordon, I think in support of a police search. We were just in bed when we heard lt Du Toit call the platoon to fall in. We were ready for action in about 5 minutes, and we piled on the company Samil, as all the Buffels were on patrol. We were dropped off and formed the cordon. After standing in the cordon for a while we got on the Samil and were driven back to base, where we went back to bed. We never heard about the results of the search.
Once, on night patrol, we heard some shooting not far away from where we were patrolling. We drove to the area, and found that policeman had shot at a suspect, but that he had escaped. There was something of a blood spoor, but not something we inexperienced few could follow, and soon the police left. Lt du Toit was not satisfied, and he limited the patrol to that area. He soon stopped the Buffel in front of a house, hopped off with no explanation, leaving his bodyguard on the Buffel, and went inside. The suspect was inside the house, wounded in the hip. The lieutenant had seen a woman wringing out a cloth outside the house, and immediately realised that nobody does washing at 0100, and that something suspicious was going on inside the house. Just ordinary good police work.
Once we had just visited a secondary school, when we noticed a group of ten or so children behind the school. We dropped the section on one side of the school, and then the driver and I (as vehicle guard) went around to the other side of the school. The two units, the section on foot and the vehicle simultaneously 'attacked' the group from opposite sides. They scattered, running into the veld, and the section on foot gave chase. A few were caught, but Jannie Ras couldn't catch up with the one he was chasing. (Which is a credit to the child, as Ras was a great sportsman.) Ras then brought his rifle up and shouted a warning. The pursued stopped dead in his tracks with his hands in the air. I cannot remember what we did with the children, but I think that one of the ones we caught were not in school uniform, and that we took them to the police station.
Another incident that concerns Ras: Late one afternoon we crossed the busy feeder road to the township, where a bakkie had just collided with a PUTCO bus. The lieutenant went to look at what had happened. Ras, who sat next to the lieutenant and therefore answered the radio when he was not on the Buffel, called the JOC to report the accident, claiming two dead and some injured. When the lieutenant returned, he said that nobody was even hurt! Ras would always do such rash things, but fortunately nothing serious ever happened because of it. Ras had had the bed next to mine on the storeman's course, so that I knew him fairly well by that time.
Due to a lack of time, not all people trained as drivers could get their all their licences during the previous phase. One of the drivers allotted to our platoon, Wepener, was one of them. Fortunately we had drivers in our platoon that was being deployed as riflemen, who could take his place. A SM came up from Grahamstown to do the final training and to issue the licences. Wepener got his Buffel license, but on returning from patrol on his first day as driver he misjudged the turning circle at the gate, and hit the right gatepost with the fender. No damage to the Buffel (of course), but the post was dislodged. The CSM, s/sgt De Wet, immediately revoked his licence, and Wepener spent the rest of the trip as a rifleman.
Because of a crackdown on the violence in Pietermaritzburg, we were suddenly placed on 10 minute standby to go there. Platoon 1 was away in Voortrekkerhoogte doing some guarding, and platoon 5 was to stay behind and carry on with the work, so that only platoons 2, 3, and 4 were to go. All patrols were called back, and we spent the day or two we had to wait in refresher training. I wrote a short letter home to say that we would be moving, which was dated 4 February. We had a fair number of Natalians in the company, which made the idea of the move popular, and some others were very eager to see more action, but I was very reluctant to go. After a day or two of waiting we were sent back to normal work, but on 30 minute standby for departure to Pietermaritzburg. On the 8th I wrote another short letter to explain that we had not moved, and might not.
On a rainy Wednesday, the 10th of February, we of pl 4 were on OP duty. At about 1000 a rumour went around that the lt Du Toit had recalled the OPs. This caused some excitement, as it was thought that we were at last going to Pietermaritzburg. Because I had heard on the radio news that morning that there had been a coup in Bophuthatswana, I tried to tell the people that we were not going to Pietermaritzburg, as Soshanguve was on the Bophuthatswana border. At about 1100 the platoon was called to orders. We were told that we were going to go on standby in Zeerust, to assist in any action the SADF might be involved in. We were not allowed to take any civilian kit with us; we were allowed only a grootsak each. At 1130 we were ready to leave. After the hurry up there was some waiting for the vehicles to come; we left in 5 Samil 50s, with the baggage on a Samag 120.
It rained all the way. The canvas cover of a Samil is reasonably watertight, but nevertheless there was a constant spray or dripping of water inside. The benches became very hard, and the noise was constant. A tiring journey.
We stopped at Swartruggens to buy some food. There were public telephones on the street corner, and I quickly phoned home to say where we were going. At the same time I looked in the map in the telephone directory to find out exactly where Zeerust and Swartruggens are.
At 1900 we were at the military base in Zeerust, the home of 2 Special Service Battalion (2SSB), an Armour unit. We were given coffee (in styrofoam cups), and afterwards we retrieved enough magazines from the baggage on the Samag so that the we had one each, and were each given 30 rounds to fill it with. After a long wait we were told that the President had been freed by the Special Forces. There was some helicopter activity, and we were told that a General Turner had been shot in the foot, and was being casevaced. We were to sleep in the VTB hall on the base.
[What had really happened was this: A part of the Bophuthatswana Army was security troops, used exclusively in guarding sensitive places. They were a kind of 'second class' soldier, and were paid less. The leader of the coup, Rocky Malebane-Metsing, used this difference to get them to support him in taking over the government of Bophuthatswana. The President, Lucas Mangope, and his senior ministers and the leadership of the army were held hostage in the Independence Stadium. The members of the cabinet that remained free asked the South African government to intervene. The doors to the stadium were forced open with a Ratel, and the hostages freed. Jannie Geldenhuys, Chief of the Defence Force, went up to one of the rebels, disarmed him, and said "Take me to your leader."]
As we unpacked the grootsakke from the Samag, lt du Toit saw how many people had kit tied to the outside, making the company very rag-tag. "Julle lyk of julle van die oorlog af kom," he said "en julle is nog op pad soontoe." [You look as if you are coming from the war, and you are still on your way there.] He ordered us to have everything packed inside the grootsakke when we traveled again. I wish that he had done it earlier, for by the time we went to bed that night, I realised that my poncho, the only 'waterproof' garment in our issue, had gone adrift.
We unpacked the Samag, cleaned our rifles, and by 2400 were asleep. At 0230 we were woken, and told that we were leaving at 0300. We were soon packed, on the Samils, and on our way to Mmabatho. Our drivers were driving Buffels in the same convoy as we were. Along the way one of the Buffels broke down, and was abandoned next to the road.
We stopped at some place with a huge hangar, transferred to the Buffels, and loaded ammunition and ratpacks. In the gloom we were able to see a helicopter and armoured cars.
We each loaded another 60 rounds in magazines. On other Buffels the people loaded up to 270 rounds. Used to carrying 10 rounds, this seemed like tremendous firepower. We wore our normal patrol kit of chest webbing and water bottle.
We stopped at a collection point in Mmabatho. Here the company commander gave instant orders: our task was to clear the Molopo military base of the rebels. We were to search the base for men in grey uniforms, arms and ammunition. From there we left in a convoy: 1 Ratel (90 ?), 18 Eland armoured cars, 2 Samil trucks, 2 Ambulances and 10 Buffels. As we drove through Mmabatho/Mafikeng, we were given the order "Weapons State 3", meaning a round in the chamber. Immediately there was two shots. It was fired by Barry, a weak little boy in platoon 3, who must have got his drills wrong. He succeeded in missing his platoon commander. These were the only shots fired that day. We drove past the Molopo Sun Hotel to the Molopo Military Base of the Bophuthatswana Army.
We drove straight into the base, and stopped the Buffels in a row on the road, widely spaced. The platoon debussed, formed up in a line on the edge of the road, and swept northward. I was left on the Buffel as a vehicle guard, and watched the proceedings from there. I could see the prisoners being collected on the parade ground, made to lie face down. Lt Du Toit showed his qualities in command here, directing the platoon very well. At the end of the operation we got the radio message "Well done, two four."
After the sweep we had time to eat something from the ratpacks, during another long wait. It started raining again, and we got a little wet. We were jealous of the armour guys who could close up in their armoured cars. [This rain caused extensive floods in other parts of the country.] The whole company then went to the assembly hall in the base, a large hall with a large stage and a balcony, where we dumped our kit.
Platoon 4 was just then called. We hurried to the Buffels, and buckled up. When the lt said "Drywer, ry!" [Driver, go!] we found that we had no driver. The driver we had used that morning was not of our platoon, and when we were called he had not come with us. Our own driver was on one of the other Buffels. This confusion was cleared up in a minute, and we then went on patrol around the Independence Stadium, where the ministers had been held the previous day. We later learned that this was an outside cordon for a search. By that time it was raining steadily, and I got soaked to the skin, and very cold. I probably had slight hypothermia by the end of that action, I simply sat and slept in my seat, with no interest whatsoever in what was going around me. After a while we stopped under the massive stands of the stadium, which gave a little shelter. Back at the hall we found that beds and mattresses had been carried in, and we slept there that night.
On Friday morning at 0600, our section went to guard the magazine. We manned the four bunkers at the corners of the magazine, and had two roving guards on the walls. At 1430 half of us were relieved, and I went straight to bed. At 1700 we had supper, and after that I relieved the vehicle guards so that they could go and eat. After that I had my first shower (at the back of the stage) since the Tuesday afternoon. Shortly after that I went to the HQ building to guard the room in which a prisoner was being questioned. (Earlier Volschenk had had the privilege of guarding the prisoner while he was being questioned.) Crause and I stood outside the door, but later some of the officers brought us chairs. I seem to remember that there was somebody guarding the window as well. The prisoner being questioned was sergeant-major Phiri. Some members of pl 4 was present when the senior officers involved in the coup attempt were stripped of their rank. The pips disappeared.
I was relieved at 2300. At 2400 I was woken and sent to guard the weapons safe. Ristow and I stood there until 0615. We had some coffee in the middle of the night, for I had packed the leftovers of my ratpack in my chest webbing.
On Saturday morning, after parade, we went to bed. We slept the whole day, waking only for lunch.
After supper on Saturday 13 February the whole platoon went to guard the magazine. We stood guard according to the normal routine (three hours on/six hours off) sleeping in the guard tents in the magazine, until 0200, when somebody saw something, and we all stood ready in the bunkers. A investigation showed nothing, and the rest of the night went without incident.
When the 0900 beat started, we were told that the rest of the company was going to withdraw. By 1130 we were relieved by members of the BDF. When we got back to the hall, all the beds but our platoon's had been removed, and there was nobody left. We were now on standby, a reaction force for any sudden occurrences. There was also a BDF reaction force, that also spent most of its waking time hanging around in the canteen.
This description of Operation Adding, up to here, was made from a few pages of notes I made on this Sunday, after everybody else had left.
We had one or two meals with the BDF. It was prepared more in the traditional way, and not the way we were used to. It consisted of a large serving of pap, a small one of a sheba, a thin gravy with bits of meat, and a helping of vegetables. It was the best pap I have had before or since.
Once we were alone, activity suddenly stopped. Our platoon was on standby, with nothing to do but wait for orders. We guarded our Buffels, two at a time. We had a small Toyota truck, driven by Marx. We had a medic with us, especially detached for op Adding, and I think he had an ambulance.
We had the whole hall to live in. Our beds were arranged around the hall. Mine was right up front, under the stage. I found a small table on the stage, and a chair, and set it up as a desk next to my bed, and got out my books to do a little studying.
One section guarded the houses of two brigadiers of the BDF. This made us one very stretched-out infantry company: We had platoon 6 in Grahamstown, platoon 5 at Rietgat, platoon 1 in Voortrekkerhoogte, platoons 2 and 3 on the "farm", platoon 4 in Molopo Miliary Base, and one section in Mafikeng.
We no longer ate with the BDF. Our food came by Buffel from the "farm" where the rest of the company lived. After we had eaten we washed our dixies, dished up for the guards at the brigadiers'. Marx then took it to the brigadiers' guards. This was a constant source of aggravation, for there was no roster for the use of the dixies, and the house guards had no washing-up facilities and sent the dixies back unwashed.
There was an immense trade in kit between our guys and the BDF. The most popular item of the BDF was a parka-jacket, for which the SADF had no equivalent item. When we finally left, Marx had a BDF backpack full of kit. I got hold of some flashes and the identification plate of the truck as mementos. Somebody stole the poncho I had borrowed from Volschenck, probably for such a trade.
Boredom was our greatest enemy. To combat this we had the normal morning inspection parade, followed by a period of drill. (We became very good at it.) In the afternoons we had PT of power exercises in the hall and a run around the centre of the base. We once had a concert. Schwartz gave an imitation of a Zulu dance, Marx and Groenewald gave a long, rambling story in the style of Jan Spies. Then the medic gave his show: he was a ventriloquist, so he made a puppet out of a sock, and gave us a long show with all the usual gags.
On the 20th of February we withdrew from the Molopo base to the "farm". It was not actually a farm, but an agricultural showground on the north side of the road between Zeerust and Mafikeng. There were a number of large steel barns (hangars), in two of which we lived. The E and F squadrons of 2SSB lived in the larger hangar, and we in the smaller one, that was actually being used by the farmer. The rows of livestock pens made it smell like a farm. Behind the hangars there were stables and a riding school.
In the open space between the hangars and the road stood the vehicles, our few Buffels to the west, 2SSB's Elands and Ratels to the west.
Before we could move in, we first had to remove a layer of manure from the concrete floor. (It is not as bad as it sounds, because it was hard and dry, and fairly easy to shovel up.) Some of the other platoons actually slept on heaps of maize chaff. When the farmer removed his truck we had more space. The implements that stood in the corner made a good place to hang up clothes.
Our duty was to be on immediate standby in case of another disturbance in Bophuthatswana. For this the vehicles were kept ready, and we had to lay out our emergency kit in readiness in one section of the hangar: chest webbing, staaldak and waterbottle. In case of action each could grab his kit from the appointed place, and no time would be lost in preparation.
A kilometre or two down the road there was a game farm. The first Sunday after our arrival we went game viewing, riding on the Samils with the canvas removed. I remember some days later sitting and cleaning my rifle one morning at sunrise and hearing the lions roaring. Wonderful Africa.
After a few days like this we got into a routine. Reveille at 0600, Inspection at 0700, breakfast at 0800. Movies until lunch, movies until PT at 1600, shower at 1700, supper, news, movies. This routine was often interrupted by rain.
Television and video became very important. Morning parade started when Body Beat had finished. After breakfast there was a video, and two videos after lunch. The evening show started at around 2100, after the news at 2000. Booyens, one of my friends from the storeman's course that was now in platoon 2, had his mattress right in front of the TV set, so that I always had a good seat to watch from when I wanted to see the movie. I actually started following the soap opera 'Santa Barbara.'
We had a trailer shower for washing, parked on a cattle-loading ramp. The unit had a petrol engine and gas water-heaters. We had a daily shower parade. After PT, at 1700, we fell in outside the hangar, dressed for shower. That is, with very little clothes, towel, and washing gear. We then marched the little way around the hangars to the shower, where we fell out, undressed and queued in two rows on the shower ramp. Once inside the shower, the water was switched on for 30 seconds, and you had time to get yourself wet. The water was then switched off for 30 seconds of washing, and then switched on for one whole minute of rinsing. To save time you usually rubbed shampoo into your dry hair while still in the queue.
There were no facilities for washing dishes. After meals we washed our dixies and stuff with cold water under a running tap. With a little experimenting I found that the best way to remove grease was with a handful of the lush Kikuyu grass that grew in the fences. For washing clothes there were a number of large galvanised steel tubs. There was a row of chemical toilets (rockets) behind the stables, and `lilies' [urinals] scattered all over. There was no sewerage, and all the water we used for washing, including the shower outlet, was dropped on the spot. This created huge pools of mud that was daily churned by the vehicles that drove through it. Normally the Army would dig suitable sewers and drainage, but I presume that because we were on private property we could not do that. And in any case we were there only temporarily.
We had more injuries during this waiting time than during the action. Our company commander, at that time a Captain Van Rensburg, tore ligaments in his foot from playing volleyball. Lt du Toit was thrown from a horse, and injured his shoulder.
At this stage I must recount an incident that people find amusing, although it was quite painful for me. I had lost a button from my shirt one morning, and with inspection cpl Bessinger noticed it and told me to sew it back on. By the next morning I had not yet done it, and I had no other clean shirt to put on, so in a flash of invention I stuck the button on the buttonhole with Prestik [a sticky kind of poster putty]. Alas, it was not good enough. The Prestik held the button on the shirt wonderfully, but the corporal noticed. The excuse that I did not have a sewing kit was too thin, and day or two later I had a good session of running around for punishment.
Communications home was very poor. Mail went to Zeerust daily, but our mail still came via Rietgat, once a week or less. There was no telephone available, except when we went on bank pass. Some of the guys found a way to telephone. They would slip away at night and walk up the road to the game lodge, where there was a public telephone. This soon caused trouble; a VCR was stolen from the lodge, and a witness said one of the suspects had carried a rifle. To find out who it was they made us run up and down for a bit, but nobody squealed. We were not impressed at being singled out, for there was no similar action taken at 2SSB. In any case, the police or MPs never turned up, so I supposed it was not taken too seriously.
We had a number of visits from high officers. The first was general Kat Liebenberg, then Colonel Stroebel, OC of 6SAI, and then general Turner, chief of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force. They were full of praise, and explained what had happened, and why we were still there. Genl. Turner presented a sword to 2SSB, and a shield to 6SAI. Earlier on we had each received a little card with a message of appreciation from the commander of North West Command. We were also each issued a personalised certificate of participation in Operation Adding from the commander of 2SSB, and a copy of the commendation certificate awarded to B Company, 6SAI.
There was a continuous expectation of our imminent departure, but it was postponed time after time. At one stage we got as far as loading our luggage on the Samil, cleaning up the hangar and wiring up the doors, when we got the message that we were to stay, after a day of waiting. [I was to remember this on the border, when the men complained that they had to maintain a base that was going to be abandoned soon.]
Our next period of leave was also postponed by two weeks. On getting this news, the married men were each given a weekend leave. I am not sure that this was a good idea: afterwards I spent hours walking around the riding school's track with Groenewald, when the excitement of his visit had died away, and he had become very unhappy at being away from home.
One thing I remember from this time was the draadkarre [toy cars made out of wire.] There were amongst others, a copy of a Samil and an articulated truck. The fact that the R4 have a built-in wire cutter must have had something to do with this.
At long last we finally left, permanently. A mixed convoy of Army buses came to pick us up one morning, and we traveled back to Pretoria and Rietgat. We arrived at Rietgat during the evening, and found ourselves in darkness, as all the electric lights in our tents had disappeared during our absence. The next day or two we spent packing up, and having our hair cut, and getting the base ready for hand-over.
We were impressed by the return travel arrangements: 28 Squadron SAAF would fly us from Waterkloof AFB to Port Elizabeth. We were a large company, and it would take two flights of the C-130 Hercules to get us all down. It was arranged that platoon 1, 2 and Coy HQ would take the first flight, and platoons 3, 4 and 5 would take the second flight. Our platoon commander was a two-pip lieutenant, and commanded the second flight. The first flight left early in the morning, and the remaining flight finalised the base arrangements. In the middle of the morning we (the second flight) arrived at Waterkloof, only to find the first flight still there. Not "still there" but actually "back again"; the flight had taken off, and had landed again more-or-less at the appointed time. When they disembarked, they found themselves back at Waterkloof. Apparently the aeroplane had developed engine trouble, and had turned back to base. When the problem was fixed, the first flight re-embarked, and took off again. Now we had to wait the whole time it took the Hercules to fly to PE and back. I got tired of waiting in the terminal building, so I took the chance when somebody was needed to guard the luggage on the apron; it was more interesting to watch the airport activities. A long while later we were again loading the Samils: the aeroplane had developed engine trouble again, and we would not be flying at all, but some buses would be arranged for the next day, so that we could drive down. Very dispiriting, especially to one who had spent the whole afternoon looking at a Hercules sitting idly on the apron.
We were taken to Voortrekkerhoogte, where supper and accommodation had been arranged. We queued into a white-plate mess; and queued out again when we found we needed our own cutlery, which was packed away in our luggage. Instead we loaded the hotboxes of food, and was taken to our sleeping quarters (13 Reception Depot, if I recall correctly), where we had supper. I was nice to be back in civilisation, even if it was a converted jail. We had hot water to wash our dixies in, normal showers, a room with brick walls to sleep in, and telephones. I recall that the spirit was very good that evening.
The next morning at around 0900 the buses were there to take us to Grahamstown. (The buses were not from Elwierda, as usual, but from a small company, Bus Henk) It was the quickest bus trip I every had between Pretoria and Grahamstown.
As soon as the whole company was together again in Grahamstown, we were introduced to one of the nice 6SAI traditions: if a company returns from operations, there is a meal waiting. Not an ordinary meal, but a mixed grill eaten from white plates, with wine or beer. The OC or 2iC is there to welcome you back, and there is a speech or two. The best thing about it is that the food is waiting, no matter what time of the night you arrive. It makes you feel appreciated.
The journey for going on leave was not very nice. The army was paying for the transport, as the leave included the "seven days" guaranteed leave of the first year of National Service. They got us two huge Railways buses, which were not very comfortable. The driver stopped in Bedford, the first town outside Grahamstown, and many men bought alcohol. The result was that a bunch of good guys turned into a lot of drunken bums, and behaved very badly. The bus had to stop in every town to allow the guys who did not pee in the bus to go to the toilet, so that the journey dragged on. Nevertheless, we got safely to Johannesburg, and had a wonderfully long leave of 23 days, starting on the 2nd of April.
On our return from leave, B-company was disbanded. It was now late April and the previous intake would be clearing out soon and it was time for take-over training. All this meant was that the infrastructure personnel of the old intake (oumanne) and the new intake would work together, for a transfer of experience. We spent one morning in the transport hangar, where the appointments to the posts were finalised. There were some rude surprises. Barnes, who had been slated for the post of Conservationist, was made an ordinary admin clerk, because he had applied for transfer, and while it was pending he could fill this rather long-term post.
As I expected, I was appointed C-company storeman, along with Jan Ras.
Once we were appointed, we were immediately whisked away by the Charlie CSQM, and taken to the Charlie lines. It was a bit like coming home, for I got the same cubicle I had occupied on first coming to 6 SAI.
For the first few days there were little to do. Charlie were still on leave, and the most we could do was a little orientation.
Almost immediately there was another transfer: the 'ROO' course started a day or two later. (ROO: Regimentsonderoffisier. RNCO, Regimental non-commissioned officer. They are the 'section leaders' of the infrastructure personnel.) All the pay clerks went, Chris Orr, and Ras. I was a little disappointed in not going: as 'runner up' to the 'Best Student' award for the storemans's course, I thought I had this chance of gaining rank.
Our three chefs, Fourie, Collatz and Greyling, had no work to do and worked, on their request, in the Battalion kitchen until the end of training.
Once the rest of the company came back from leave, they went straight to work, training in COIN (Rural) operations. We (or I, at least) were shocked at the poor discipline of the company.
For me, the work was not hard or difficult. It took some time before I got used to the way things worked, for I had nobody to train me. Jan Lottering, who had been storeman before me, had started basics with us, but for medical reasons never completed it. He never had any formal storeman training, and as there was a course presented at this time, he went on it. All I had was a short introduction. Mealtimes were a pleasure. I no longer marched to meals with the company, but usually grabbed a plate and cutlery from the store and went when it suited me. I often never bothered with meals at all. We had a kettle and all the appliances for making coffee in the store, and I found that black, sweet coffee makes a fine substitute for a meal.
Being in the company HQ now, I had to get used to working with officers and NCOs. As a rifleman I had learned that it was best to avoid them, but now I had to work with them every day. I had to learn the way softly-softly, and had a close shave with Lt Von Holt, when I barged into an order group he was conducting and with unsuitable banter demanded a signature from one of the platoon sergeants (cpl Botha) attending.
The three platoon commanders in the company were very different in the way they worked. On a day that lectures were scheduled, the three platoons would have identical needs from the store. Lt Von Holt would come the previous evening and bring me a list of what he would need the next day. Lt Heydenrich usually came in the morning and told me what he needed. Lt Hangelbroek would rush into the store at the last minute, and beg me to help him with a few things.
There were enough desks in the store, so I brought my briefcase to the store, and spent most of my time there, working and studying. I must admit that the relaxation of discipline also affected me, and I often let the store grow rather dirty and untidy while I studied. I was rather offended one day when the CSM (WOII Van Rooyen) accused me of reading paperbacks instead of cleaning.
During this time I also discovered a different kind of species: the NSM sportsmen. These were men who excelled in sport, and were therefore excused from operational duty, and stayed in base to play for the unit. The two in our company were the Mortar and Assault Pioneer storemen, respectively. I never saw them do any real work.
After a week or two I moved with the company to the bush. We lived in bivvies, in a temporary base. For the final evaluation of the company practically my whole store went to Penn Rock, a small simulated base on the far side of the training area. (We even took the kitchen, and a chef!) It all went out, and after a day or three it all came back, and a few days later we had to clear out. Lots of work for the lonely storeman.
The company's ill-discipline paid off. They failed one aspect of evaluation, and had to squeeze in a day or two of retraining and re-evaluation. (I should say that I contributed to their failure. An evaluator asked me at what time klaarstaan was, and I answered, at random, "7 o'clock." As the time was wrong, it surely detracted from their points, as everybody in base is supposed to participate in stand-to.)
We were expecting to go to the border after this phase of training, but when the orders came we heard that we were being sent to Vryburg, in the Northern Cape Command, for "orientation and acclimatisation" before going to the border proper. During the preparations for deployment, I saw how much sense it made for the company HQ to have experience in deployment before they start with the first deployment themselves.
On the Monday we left for Vryburg in the famous Elwierda busses, with a brief stop at Kimberley, for some reason. We arrived at a sports club in Vryburg, where we were given a welcome and introductory briefing by some commander.
We slept in the hall of the club, and were ready to go on to our base the next morning. It was freezing cold that morning, with ice in the Buffel seats. We had been issued newly reconditioned vehicles, with nothing on the clock.
We took over from a company of a CF regiment wearing black boots and white web-belts. (The Cape Town Highlanders?)
Our base at Mosita was a clearing in the almost-Kalahari bush, with a few tents in neat rows, and one or two huge camel-thorn trees.
It got very cold, freezing at times. Frost on the inside of the tent roof was a common sight in the mornings. Fortunately the water-bunker (a Samil-50 with a water tank) froze only once.
There was very little to do at Mosita. I put myself in charge of the tent store. After that I had got it in order, I put myself in charge of the kit store, where the men came to store their kit while they were on patrol. I got a touch of flu at one time, but I didn't even bother reporting sick. I just spent the day or two it lasted on a stack of mattresses in the store.
The company's job was to patrol the SA/Botswana border and areas inland, and to prevent ANC insurgents infiltrating beyond that region. Some patrols went out on foot, but others moved by vehicle and put up roadblocks.
By all accounts the people on patrol had a very good time. They slept late, had no parades, tanned in the sun, and had almost no check on them. But that is their story, not mine.
The farmers in the region were very friendly, and often entertained the troops. The captain also made use of their hospitality, and al least once we had a potjiekos as a result of one of his poa hunting expeditions. At another time he made use of the offer of a flight in an aeroplane to inspect his troops from the air, and found them tanning in the sun. His response was to put them on a forced march back to base. They traveled the greater part of this on a farmer's trailer. (This is anecdotal, and probably a combination of two stories.)
One section of Assault Pioneers patrolling close to the Botswana border caused an International Incident. I do not know the exact location of the incident, but the patrol wanted to get to a shop close to the border. They looked at the map, and saw that there was a bulge in the border between them and the shop. They took a shortcut. When the women and children that saw them ran away screaming, they knew that they were in trouble, and made haste to get back to the SA side of the fence. After an incredibly short interval they were removed from their patrol, and interrogated by senior Army officers. In the end nothing happened to them.
On that evening's news there was an item about a complaint of South African commandos operating in Botswana. In retaliation the Botswana authorities arrested a South African tourist for "possessing military equipment", and the SA Government warned tourists not to go to Botswana. (You're only guilty of what you're caught doing. The authorities did not know about the times they hung tin cans on the border fence and used it for target shooting. This is very close to an act of war.)
A horrible accident happened at the end of our tour. A farmer had invited the patrol on his farm to a braai. At the end of the party, the host took one of his civilian guests home in his bakkie. Four of our men went along for the ride. On returning from the drop-off, the (civilian) driver took a wrong turn-off in the farm road, and drove at speed along a disused track, and into a donga. All three inside the cabin (two NSM and the driver) were killed instantly, and the two NSM on the back were thrown out, and seriously injured.
I cannot remember the feeling in the company after the news came out, but I remember that when Capt. Nigrini summoned us to the VTB-tent, we were very subdued. I have never seen him more tired than that night. He explained to us what had happened, and told us to forget it as soon as possible.
Two officers came up from Grahamstown to form part of the RVO ("Raad van Ondersoek": `Board of Inquiry').
We were relieved by A-coy, 6 SAI. We had been operational for about a month, but there was evidently some pressure to get us to the border. There were many reports about people being called up for camps. One of the pay clerks said all the Parabats at his father's work had been called up. A cousin of mine was called up for a camp, and their only job was to pitch tents for an enormous transit camp at Wallmansthal.
After relief we went to the other base of the company, in a disused school hostel in Bray, on the border with Botswana. This base has a tradition that everybody must jump in the pool on the first night. We were ordered to dress in PT clothes, informally marched in single file around the pool, ordered "left turn!" and then "one step forward, march!" Splash! The rest of the evening the "Bray oumanne" searched for people who had evaded this initiation.
In Bray I drank soda water for the first time, because there were nothing else left in the canteen.
On way back we slept at the same sports club in Vryburg, but in a different, and much smaller, hall. There was a lot of disorder, and as we carried our mattresses in it appeared that not all of us were going to fit in, and some started preparing beds outside. At this point the captain took over direct control of the company. Only now that I look back do I realize that the morale/discipline in the company was so low that he could not trust anybody to carry out his orders without supervision. He ordered everybody out, and supervised the repacking of the mattresses and kit, and when he was done everybody had a (small) place inside to sleep in. Afterwards he personally inspected us, and ordered haircuts where necessary.
When we were back in Grahamstown, Ras and I had to return the store the kit of our two casualties, as part of our job as storemen. The kit came in two boxes, and included, to our surprise, the clothes they had been wearing at the time of the accident. Ras had to rush out and be sick outside, but I felt little more than than disgust at handling dirty clothes. Months later I heard the rumour that the deceased had not been killed instantly. Having seen those clothes, I think it very unlikely.
We went on 10 day's leave, returning on the 17th of July, 1988.
This account will not be complete without a reference to Antjie. Antjie (die rooi-bruin hen) was a chicken obtained by one of the patrols, probably traded by the locals for a blanket or two. Originally her job was to relieve the tedium of rat-packs, but by the time she had spent two days riding on a grootsak a bond had formed between her and her handler that could not simply be cut with a knife. She joined the platoon, and went on leave with us.
The first thing that happened when we got back from leave, was that we got a new CSM, a s/sgt (de Wet?). He quickly shook the company from its lethargy, simply by insisting on the usual punctuality, orderliness and respect.
On 20 July 1988 we left 6 SAI by SAMIL and bus for PE airport, flew from there to Grootfontein in a SAFAIR Boeing 707. From Grootfontein we drove by Wit Olifant (white-painted open articulated trucks) to Oshivelo, sitting on our kit.
At Oshivelo the company did re-training: this consisted of general orientation, instilling Operational Area SOPs, and evaluating the company's ability. Apparently our mortarists had the highest ever score for evaluation at Oshivelho. The assault pioneers departed a few days in advance to Ondangwa/Oshakati, to have hearing tests for qualification on the mine detectors, and special mine training: there they apparently scored 100% in mine identification.
We shared the training time with a company from 7SAI. We felt much superior to them, especially after a rather amusing incident: When the propelling charge of a 81 mm mortar fails to ignite, the projectile sits at the bottom of the barrel, rendering the weapon useless. There is a special device, called a bomb extractor, which can be lowered down the mortar muzzle to grab the bomb and pull it out. During the training or evaluation, the one 7 SAI mortar crew had just this stoppage. They put their bomb extractor to use, but without following their drills exactly. Because they had failed to retract the firing pin of the mortar, the bump with the extractor was enough to ignite the charge. Boom! went the bomb, carrying the extractor with it. Nobody was hurt, but the instructors made the company sweep the ground from the mortar to the strike point, searching for the extractor.
An interesting experience was when they introduced to three ex-Plan guerillas, who had joined 101 Bn. They demonstrated their skill in anti-tracking, and planted a dummy landmine. They then challenged the company to lift the mine, and was duly impressed by the way our CSM did it.
Life in Oshivelho was in tents, and eating ratpacks. We lived inside the walls, not too far away from the central complex: apparently the usual accommodation was outside. A lasting first impression was the amount of sand: including the ease of pitching tents. The company HQ had the worst time, I think: we had little to do, and were made to pitch and re-pitch the tents until the company lines were a neat as could be. I became the CSMs batman, after a fashion, and spent long hours in the cool bathroom washing clothes.
Our first anniversary of starting National Service (3 August) was during this time. Not a festive occasion at all, but lots of reminiscence about how nice it was in the Air Force: a very large proportion of C-company stayed on after basics.
Every time we spoke to the Oshivelho base personnel, they asked us where we were going. (By that time we knew we were going to Eenhana.) Every time we were then told how close Eenhana was to the border, and how dangerous it was. One rumour had it that the water tower had been hit by a mortar, and that we base now depended on the swimming pool for water. The SACC were particularly prone to distributing these kinds of stories.
On our last day at Oshivelho there was a rugby match between 6 SAI and the local rugby team. A game for tough people: there was not a blade of grass on the whole of the playing field. Jannie Ras succeeded in breaking his jaw during this game, and had to go to 1 Mil for treatment. He was one of the three storemen in the company.
We left Oshivelho again by Wit Olifant, to go to Ondangwa. There we were received in the transit camp: not much more than tents and a permanent bathroom block. The Ondangwa transit camp was on the terrain of the Ondangwa air base. The airport terminal was just a little down the road from there. Again the lasting impression is of white sand.
There was quite a war-atmosphere at Ondangwa: the C-130s spiraling in from altitude before landing, the Alouette gunships going on patrol before every take-off. I was particularly impressed by the Tigershark AA missiles mounted on top of the reservoir behind the transit camp. Also interesting were the three layers of netting suspended above the strongpoint for the fighter aircraft, although we believed it to be an ops room of some kind at the time. The nets are supposed to ensure that mortars that fall on the hangars detonate in the air, and not on, or under, the roof. There was also an obviously Soviet AA missile carrier driving around the air base.
After a day or two in the transit camp, on 3 August 1988, the bulk of the company went by convoy toEenhana. Most of the company HQ stayed until the Friday, and went with the Rum-Run. We flew in a C-160 Transall, the first and last time I saw one land at Eenhana. The plane flew in a cargo of sandbags and a generator.
The flight was less exciting than I thought it would be. It was very hot, and the view very limited, with the windows so high up the fugselage, and under orders to stay seated. Only when the aircraft banked steeply did some trees and bush become visible, and in any case the flight lasted only ten minutes.
Getting out of the plane at Eenhana was a great relief, after the heat inside. We were met at the plane by our CSM, and taken to our sleeping place: we walked along concrete walkways, the ring road, little bridges over the drainage ditches, past tents and buildings until we came to a ridge of sand: here the Staff stopped and said "Hier is julle slaapplek." That is where we lived for the next week or two, in the little bunkers on the eastern wall. Later we got a tent to live in, but very often we had a 'rooi klaarstaan', when we had to sleep on the walls.
There was tremendous activity going on. Around the whole base a second wall was being built, and outside of that a minefield being laid. A contractor was putting up the 90 meter high radio mast. Shortly after us there arrived an AA contingent from Regiment Oos-Transvaal. The base was crowded to the limits. Outside the base was the armour of 63 Mechanised Battalion. Their infantry came from 8 SAI. At first the they were lightly dug in outside the base, but as soon as the new wall was finished they moved inside that, where the Ratels were parked hull-down, and the riflemen dug their trenches on top.
It was pretty noisy for newcomers. I remember lying in our little bunker at night, being shaken awake by the noise of a landmine going off: this usually meant that a goat had wandered into the minefield. One night on guard duty, I heard a mine go off, and the goat bleating. Then there was a second explosion, followed by quiet. A disturbing reminder that the minefield was very dangerous. As usual, newcomers were welcomed with a fireplan, a regulated live fire of weapons on the base. It was scheduled at night, and at you got a great fright when the shooting first started. After the second or the third time you just watched the fireworks and went to sleep again. One of the enduring memories I have is the beautiful sound of a Ratel idling in the night, charging its batteries.
One of the sappers that was employed in laying the minefield wanted to know if it was possible to trigger the mine detonator by finger pressure alone. It was, and he was casevac-ed, leaving some of his fingers behind.
We had two little mongrel dogs in the base, Rev and Lootie. One night a mine went off, and the next morning two Intelligence corporals went to look what had triggered the mine.
"Dis Rev daai"
"Nee, dis nie Rev nie. Rev het vier bene."
After that only Lootie was left. I don't know what happened to him, but there was no tragic ending.
It was obvious enough that all this activity was for nothing. Often enough the pipeline bringing water to Eenhana was blown up by the terrs, and we had to go without running water, until the pipeline was repaired. (The pipeline supplied the civilians in the town, and the military base was only one of the users.)
We had enough water stored up. All over the base there was "s-tanks", large rubber dams like pumpkins, dug into the ground. Before you went to the toilet, you got a firebucket of water from the s-tank, and you flushed by simply emptying the bucket into the toilet.
I was soon obvious that we were superfluous. The base was still supplied with plenty of manpower by the incumbent SACC Support Company. We had arrived a month too early, and it was only by September that they left and we fitted into our normal slot.
Only with time did the operations Moduler, Hooper and Packer become common knowledge, and it was only much later, when I read Römer-Heitman's "War in Angola: the final South African phase", that I came to realize how close we came to a full-scale war between FAPLA/Cuba and the SADF.
I started work in the QM stores. One of our first jobs was to send back all the MAGs in the unit (40 in all), I presume for replacement. They first had to be cleaned, and I can well believe that they needed replacement, most of the gas ports on these MAGs were so blocked that I'm sure they could not operate properly any more.
Our Quartermaster was Captain Strydom. A bitter little man, but pretty capable.
From what I gather from my letters, I quickly rose in responsibility. When the lieutenant in charge went on leave I had to submit the daily requisitions, which were sent out by radio.
Supplies reached the unit by road and air. 54 Bn had five bases: Eenhana was the Battalion HQ. There were two bases on the tar road south of Oshakati, named Okatope, Okankolo and Miershoop, and one to the east of Eenhana, called Nkongo. Each of these stationed a rifle company and an 81 mm mortar section. Stores for Okatope, Okankolo and Mieshoop were easy to deliver by tar road, and because they were on the other side of Oshakati/Ondangwa from us, had their own supply system. But Nkongo and Eenhana could only be reached by unpaved, "red" road, often mined. Every second Wednesday a convoy, lead by minesweeper vehicles, departed from Oshakati, and came to Eenhana, and passed on to Nkongo. On Mondays and Fridays the SAAF flew a number of sorties to Eenhana and Nkongo, known as the Rum-run. On these flights were passengers, frozen food, mail and other light cargo.
At the time we had the mine threat under control. In all the time I spent at 54 Bn, I can remember only two incidents: a Buffel with a SACC section hit a double mine next to the pipeline, (Notnagel, the diver, was burnt by the detonation) and a 32 Bn Kwêvoël hit a mine on the road to Etali.
I got to working quite hard, and I've heard a rumour that I was nominated to be NSM of the month. But this had a price; I had no more time to study. The only decent working place I could find was the coffee bar, and this had plenty of distractions; not the least of these were the games of Trivial Pursuit with Chris Orr, Ian Card and others. I was pretty happy then, when our company commander, Lt Köhne asked me, to become the chaplains clerk. This would mean a much easier job, with much more time to spare. This happened while Capt. Strydom was away. When he came back, he was very much upset when he came back and found the best of his storemen taken away. He let me choose what I wanted to do, and I chose the chaplain clerk job. The choice was made easier, because during the discussion he had called my Company Commander 'boetie.' Lt Köhne was a 1-pip lieutenant, he was very young and not very bright, but he was my commander, and I respected him.
At that time there were two chaplains at 54 Bn. The first was actually the EP Command chaplain, on a border trip, attached to 63 Mech. The other was a NSM lieutenant Van As, the 54Bn chaplain. They had exchanged roles, Lt Van As serving 63 Mech, and the other an older man, staying in the base.
The coffee bar at Eenhana was an extension to the chaplain's office and bedroom. Like most of the buildings at these bases it was built of corrugated iron and shadow netting, with a concrete floor. The chaplain's office and bedroom itself was built of concrete blocks, and it was obvious how the place had grown from that in stages.
I can't remember how it came about, but after a while I was not required to stand guard any more. My working hours prevented me from being on my post as required by regulations. I was also limited to standing guard only third beat, which was not deemed fair. The only other mustering with this privilege was the signalers, who worked to their own schedule.
Because the drivers were always a ready body of manpower, it was decided that only a limited number of drivers could stand beat at one time, and that these were chosen by the drivers themselves. Mortarists did not stand guard, because they had to man the mortars in an emergency. What this meant was that when there were no SACC platoon in base, the HQ had to do very regular guard duty.
Dress during working hours was browns, boots, bush hat, rifle and loaded magazine. (For safety's sake rifles were carried at 'state 0' inside the base: 'state 3' outside, i.e. with a round in the chamber.) As alternative to the bush hat we were also allowed to wear a baseball cap with the unit emblem, which was sold in the canteen. After hours it was anything you like, although dinner was only served to people wearing closed shoes and a shirt with a collar. This requirement was applied relaxed enough to not really improve dress quality during meals, in my opinion.
All the little specialist jobs in the base had "tiffy"-titles. There was the pool tiffy, the water tiffy, and then there was me, the coffee-tiffy.
The daily routine must have been something like this:
Reveille 6:00, parade 7:00, brunch 10:00, knock-off 16:00, supper 17:00, parade at 18:00. At first we had no siesta. The OC was against it because he said after siesta there was no work got done. As the weather heated up he relented, and a siesta between 13:00 and 14:00 was instituted.
Saturdays: work until 13:00
Sundays: no work.
At morning parade we had the dominee 'lees en bid', and after that we got the orders for the day. The OC would read to us all the incidents of the previous day, and an Intelligence officer would read us the news, which he got by listening to the shortwave broadcast of the SABC. After an "uittree" we would break up and go do the job for the day.
Evening parade had no news, only a short intelligence warning of what we could expect, and after parade we had a 'klaarstaan' (stand to). Here we went to our designated defence position on the walls, while the radio nets were tested. In theory the most likely time for an attack is at dusk, when there is still enough light, but the coming darkness would hinder the pursuit of the fleeing attackers. Wall commanders have to assign you your arc of fire during this time, and all wait until darkness. In practice we sat down on the wall, chatting and smoking, until the stand down came. Not a bad way to end the day. After stand down we would change clothes and start the business of the evening, until lights out at 22:00. Sometimes we had a 'rooi klaarstaan' when, after lights out, we would go back to the walls, and sleep there.
After parade in the mornings there was a hiatus while the base was cleaned up, and the officers had their daily conference. Then there usually were a number of junior officers and NCOs drinking coffee. The rest of the day I spent cleaning up, washing the mugs, sweeping the floor. In the afternoon I usually had some time to study. The coffee bar came into swing after supper, and went roaring on until lights-out at 22:00. After that I had to clean and lock up, to be ready for the next morning.
We once went into Eenhana town to sell bibles and hymn books. The bibles sold quickly, only problem was that there were not enough bibles in Kwanyama, the local Owambo dialect. The others were in Ndonga. The hymn books were obviously coveted, but were much more expensive than the bibles.
The other memorable incident was that I lost my rifle on this day. I knew I had brought it back from the town, but I was very scared of being accused of losing it there. I reported this immediately, but it was found only the next day in the Admin office. I suspect that one of the SACC troops took it by accident, and when he found himself with two, quietly dumped it in the office. Nothing much came of it, though I would have been on a sticky wicket if Coetzee, our clerk, could not confirm that the rifle had not been in the office when he locked up.
The coffee-bar was open at all hours, for all comers, but coffee was only served in the mornings and evenings. My job was to ensure that the coffee-bar was always stocked with provisions, that there was always hot and chilled water, to keep the place clean and neat, and to assist the chaplain in any way he requested: which was not often since so much of his work is confidential.
Because I had a supply of condensed milk, I sometimes traded the signalers for penlight batteries for my Walkman.
Ds Van As had asked visiting delegations to send us books, and in this way he had built up quite a library, very catholic. One of my jobs was to ensure that the companies that cleared out gave back the books they had borrowed: in this way I always found that the library grew a bit, as the borrower often donated books he didn't want to pack. On the rum-run we always got the week's papers, and for these we had a real inclined newspaper table, of the kind found in public libraries. We also received popular weekly magazines but I never could keep them for more than a few days before they disappeared.
I also had to take care of the board games: Trivial Pursuit was popular among us, while the SACC played chequers and fingerboard noisily.
We also had a sound system in the coffee-bar, and I had to keep the tapes playing.
On Thursday evenings there was a Bible study, conducted by the chaplain. (It was my regular attendance of this that qualified me for the job, and the successor I recommended was also a regular.) During the Bible study the coffee bar was open only for participants. Afterwards, before the rush started, the Dominee brought out the home-made biscuits, that were sent by the women from churches in the States. These parcels were often not addressed to us, but to places like Ruacana and Oshakati. The distribution was handled by the Chaplain's Services, and I'm sure they knew what they were doing. Anyway, I hope that by writing this, the ladies get to know that their biscuits got to the troops, and that it was truly appreciated. The only alternative was the army-supplied rusks.
With all these things going on, the coffee bar was always a busy place in the evenings, and I'm sure we gave the canteen good competition: which was the idea.
On Sundays I had to prepare the mess for the church service, by taking the lectern there and assisting with folding the tables and putting out the chairs and benches.
One Friday after brunch, I got a shock when I walked into the coffee bar, and found a woman in my coffee bar, chatting to the chaplain. It was a Captain van der Merwe, a welfare officer from Oshakati who had flown in for the day, to review some cases. After serving them coffee I went and sat quietly in my office until she had left, shocked by the sudden smell of perfume.
On the 20th of September, my birthday, we had a unit evaluation. One of the aspects being evaluated was the coffee bar. It was not an inspection, but a true evaluation of the facilities, but nevertheless the base was made spotless. I remember that one of the questions in the questionnaire was whether the coffee bar had a roof without leaks: this was the level of the evaluation.
Another aspect of the evaluation was shooting. Volunteers were asked for shooting, and I stepped forward because, despite poorish eyesight, I am a fair shot, and enjoy it. On Sunday we went for a practice shoot, and we had some fun on the shooting range. Staff Belalie, the rifle company's CSM was our range officer, and he let us do interesting things, like shooting at tins without looking through the sights. I learned a lot about practical shooting on this day. During the actual evaluation, the Sector Sergeant Major was present, but still things were only slightly more formal, and a good time was had by all. The scores were not taken individually, only the aggregate for the detachment. Despite the 'informality' all the safety drills were strictly adhered to.
PLAN had advertised a cease-fire, to start on 1 September. On this day there was enough action, but as the weeks passed by there was a gradual decrease in activity.
Somewhere during September we had a day of training on chemical warfare. (Not on waging it, but in defending against it.) We were shown a video, and what a NBC suit would look like if we were issued one, and how to put it on. We were told that South Africans had not had to face chemicals in Angola, but that Unita had. All Soviet weapons were supposedly designed to be able to deliver chemicals. The most important thing we were taught was the 9-15 second drill. When the alarm for gas was given (either by the shout of 'gas! gas!' the ringing of a bell or the sounding of a vehicle hooter), you had to shout 'gas! gas! ...' while putting on your gas mask within 9 seconds. Your then had another 6 seconds to get your skin covered. The shouting 'gas! gas!' had the double purpose of passing on the alarm, and blowing any gas you may have encountered out of the mask. This training we fortunately never even nearly needed. The young SAMS lieutenant that presented the training was English-speaking, and some of the poor SACC riflemen had a hard time following him. The video, incidentally, was in Flemish, so most of us Afrikaans guy could follow it, but the English again, could not. A glorious mix-up, but I think the message got through.
On Saturday 1 October a Curry-cup final was played between Western Province and Northern Transvaal. The whole war came to a standstill, so that people could listen to the broadcast. Evening parade was postponed by half-an-hour. After the parade the RSM asked for a minute of respectful silence for the losers (WP). During klaarstaan two Alouettes circled the base. On their sides were painted "N.Tvl" and "Naas is Baas". (Naas is Boss: referring to the brilliant fly-half Naas Botha.) On Monday a signal from the Divisional Commander was read on parade: "Naas en sy 14 pêlle doen dit weer." (Naas and his 14 pals do it again.)
At some point 63 Mech went away to practice a brigade attack. During this time the base was revved, which I didn't even notice. There was some bombardment to the north east of the base, but I couldn't figure out what it was. This was at 23:00 or thereabouts, while I was drying the mugs in the coffee bar. I heard shooting in the distance, and wondered if the gunners that were stationed outside the base were shooting a fireplan, because soon enough our own mortars opened up. Walking past the mortar pits on my way to bed, I asked the mortarists what they were shooting at. Then I found out that we were actually under attack. No bomb fell inside the base: the terrs had not added booster charges to their mortars, and all the bombs fell short. Nevertheless, we were much relieved when 63 Mech came back.
(On seeing this column drive in I understood for the first time something the glory of war. It's got something to do with this huge number of powerful, expertly crafted machines, and men, superbly trained and melded into an organization, all going somewhere for a specific purpose. You have to admire it, no matter its destructive nature.)
The time for the yearly UNISA examinations came on. I had made arrangements to write my examinations at Oshakati. I flew to Ondangwa one Monday on a rum-run, and drove to Oshakati in the supply Samil. Although I wrote only three papers, I had to stay in Oshakati for four weeks, the rum-runs being spaced so inconveniently
I'm not sure what the official status was of the place I stayed in. There were a number of medics there, and a platoon of mortarists. Meals were served in a mess not far from the sleeping quarters. I remember that they had some Navy chefs there. The buildings were prefabricated structures. The bathrooms were on concrete, the bungalows elevated.
My reception there was very friendly. When I arrived there I only had a bare iron bed to sleep on, but within the first day a mattress and a steel wardrobe appeared. I shared quarters with some members of the SACC company at Eenhana, and cpl Gavin Scott, one of our own signalers. They were all under the command of 54 Bn's liaison officer in Oshakati. Scott acted as signals specialist, ensuring that the right signals equipment were sent to the 54 bases. They had a very good life. They worked on Mondays and Fridays, when they had to help load the Daks for the rum-run. On alternate Wednesdays there was a road convoy to Eenhana and Nkongo, but I'm not sure if they were involved with that or not. I'm sure that they knew how good their wicket was, because they kept their quarters spotless, even though there was no inspections, like the medics had, but only the casual eye of a sergeant. They also handled the mail. (One of the SACC guys was a "postiffie".) We'd get together on a Monday, when the post had arrived, shake out the mailbag on a bed, and start sorting the mail for the different bases. This way you got your own mail very quickly, but I'm sure skutter Snoeks would have frowned upon this casualness. Scott also had a censor's stamp, with which he would stamp our sealed letters.
Fire plans at Oshakati were much more impressive than at Eenhana, mostly because of the 35 mm AA artillery. The drill would be the same: while the mortars shot their fireplan, they would put a flare in the air, which the AAA would then try to shoot down. They didn't often succeed, though they sometimes set the flare swaying beneath its parachute; I suppose this is close enough to be counted as a hit. The AA rounds went up into the air, seemingly slowing down as they drifted up. At altitude the tracer would die, and nothing would be seen, until few seconds later faint flashes and crackles would come from the projectiles self-destructing.
I still have a Koevoet T-shirt I picked up under the washing line in Oshakati.
I had very nice routine, get up at 06:00, breakfast, walk to the public (air conditioned!) library, sit and study there until lunch. Walk across to the Driehoek Kafee for lunch, and wait for the library to open again. Study from lunch until 16:00 or so, walk back to the bungalows for supper, study a bit, chat with Scott and play a game of chess, until bed at 22:00.
I remember seeing Chris van Eeden at Oshakati. He was one of our pay-clerks with whom I became friends, and had one of the more interesting HQ jobs. Once a month the paymaster had to visit all the units, and pay out the "danger-pay" in cash. Usually one of the clerks went with him, to help with the mechanics of the job. (The paymaster was one of the people wounded during the last rev of Eenhana, before our time.) I probably saw Chris over a weekend, while he was waiting for the Monday rum-run, after working at Okatope and Miershoop.
The mosquitoes ate me alive while I was in Oshakati. My feet, especially, were covered with bites. I religiously kept taking my malaria tablets. I'm sure my body evolved some sort of resistance, because mosquitoes have not bothered me much since.
When I had written all my papers I had to go back to Eenhana, but I could not get a seat on the Friday rum-run, so I had a leisurely weekend in Oshakati, swimming and washing clothes and relaxing. When I got back to Eenhana, I was made to feel very wanted: The guy who had been my replacement at the coffee bar had not performed very well.
When the time came for us to go on leave there was suddenly a hitch: nobody knew that we were due for leave. For a week or two we were much disturbed by the uncertainty, and I myself got so NAAFI that the Dominee had to ask me if I were still interested in working in the coffee bar. But after a while some troop movements were made to cover for us, and we could leave the Operational Area.
The mortar platoon from Nkongo brought a steenbokkie [antelope] with them. A corporal was in charge of it. A bushman had found it abandoned, its mother probably eaten, and brought it to base. The little antelope went with us, all the way to Grootfontein. We wondered how the corporal was going to get away with it on the 707. He simply put it in a cardboard box, and carried it onto the plane as carry-on luggage. Unfortunately the box was to big to go under the seat or in the overhead bin, and the stewardess got suspicious. The crew didn't bother too much; they simply stuck it in the cargo hold, where it survived the trip with no problem. The SAA were not so sympathetic when the corporal tried to fly it from PE to Johannesburg. Fortunately a policeman offered to take the little creature to his farm.
Going on leave we drove to Ondangwa by wit olifant, and from there flew in two flights to Grootfontein by C-130, where a 707 picked us up for a flight to PE. On the 21st of November we were in Grahamstown and on the 23rd we went on leave. I went by bus. After the previous bad experience most guys chose alternative modes of travel, so that only a normal-sized and relatively luxurious bus was needed. Our leave ended on the 11th of December.
SECOND BORDER TRIP
Clearing in and Retraining
The second border trip could not have been more different than the first, given that we were people from the same unit, going to the same base.
To start with, we got new junior leaders, corporals and lieutenants fresh from Infantry School. We were not much impressed with them at the start, especially because we had to stay a few more days in Grahamstown for 'retraining' to show them how to shoot mortars and to sweep roads. We quite enjoyed being 'grensvegters'. One often-repeated story was how the new junior leaders were overheard discussing who should wake the platoon up. But on the whole we were well-disciplined, and forgave the young ones their mistakes.
This was a bit boring for me, because I had to do two consecutive days of baanpatrollie (range patrol), which consisted of standing guard next to a road, and warning passing vehicles that there was shooting going on and that they were to keep to the roads. In this way I met the new OC, on his way to the shooting range in his Golf. He asked me how I liked Charlie Company, and I could say 'very much' honestly. I only found out a day or two later who he was, when he addressed us before we deployed.
Our company commander was capt Nigrini, and our CSM s/sgt Swart, both well-known to us from training.
Going to the border was a nightmare. Because of the large-scale movement back to the states, they could not get a plane to fetch us from PE, but we were bussed up to Waterkloof. From there we flew in a 707 up to Grootfontein. I was so tired from the night on the bus that I fell asleep before the plane had taken off, and only woke when we landed. In Grootfontein we slept in a transit camp, of which I can remember only the rudimentary toilets. This was also the place where our section leaders and ROO's received their second lines. From Grootfontein we were trucked to Ondangwa. I suppose we slept in the transit camp that night, because I had a long conversation with a platoon commander of 103 (Ovahimba) Bn, and he told us many stories of his soldiers and their time with the JMMC, and he showed us a Cuban ratpack. He was on his way home, and it's probably the best time for a conversation like that. From Ondangwa we went in a convoy of 53 Bn buffels to Eenhana.
We were shocked at the state of the base. It was the middle of the rainy season. It was obvious that the base had not been properly looked after. The drainage ditches were full of mud, and poles and walls had fallen over. We were especially critical, because the place had been inhabited by parabats in our absence.
The 60mm mortarists awaited us there. When 6SAI became part of Group 7, it turned into a basic training unit only. The 60mm mortar platoon that had been part of A-company were not needed any longer, and they were returned to us. It was a surprise to meet Shane Burger, who had shared my cubicle in basics.
Apparently we were the only company in the base at this time, and I write that we had to stand guard every second night, because of a lack of manpower. This was no doubt due to the clearing out of the oumanne in time for Christmas.
I got the same job in the coffee-bar, without even trying. The first time I got to the coffee-bar, the incumbent coffee-tiffy collared me and introduced me to the chaplain, and there I was.
My job changed in another sense. Instead of a permanent National Service chaplain for the unit, we were now suddenly dependent on a series of campers, experienced ministers who left their congregations for a month or two to tend to us.
We arrived the week before Christmas. It was the rainy season. Everything was muddy.
The coffee-bar was located just behind the ops-room. The ops-room was sand-bagged, and during Tuesday night, the rain-soaked sandbags pushed over a retaining wall, and a load of muddy water flooded the coffee-bar. On Wednesday I dried and washed the floor, and again later the evening, and again on Thursday afternoon, and once more later in the week. Thanks to hard work by the assault pioneers the drainage was corrected, and we never had that problem again.
We had continual electrical problems, associated with the wet weather.
Christmas day was a Sunday, so already it was the most relaxed schedule we could get. We had a Sunday service, and a huge buffet lunch. On the Thursday before Christmas the deputy-minister for defence (Wynand Breytenbach?) came to visit, and before that day we worked hard to get the base back into shape.
It rained through January, and everything got wet. Fortunately the tents were pitched on concrete floors, but the wall were so sun-beaten that anything left against the side got wet. It was a totally tropical atmosphere. Our rifles rusted easily and when the sun shone the humidity became oppressive.
Working Towards Peace
Meanwhile, the implementation of Resolution 435 went ahead. Contacts had stopped, and comops became the only activity. General George Meiring, then chief of SWATF, came to visit, and all that he wanted to know was what we were doing about comops.
Slowly the easy-going of the war-time base life was turned into a regular-discipline peace-time routine. We had to start wearing berets, flashes and stable belts again. Afternoon PT became regular and compulsory. All the modifications that made tent life easier were done away with. Camouflage nets (used more for shade than camouflage) had to be returned, and the well-ventilated incline tent-walls were banned.
We asked the question why we should maintain the base if we were going to give it away, and there were three reasons: Because of hygiene, pride, and finally what if we needed it again?
"Loss control" (verliesbeheer) became important. The idea was to limit injuries due to accidents. Every injury had to be reported, however small. In this way one of the chef's parents were informed when he cut his finger with a carving knife. All the stays and guy and ropes that littered that base were marked with two-by-fours, so that they could be visible at night.
In January I spent another two weeks in Oshakati to write another set of three papers, mathematics. (For the record, I failed one miserably, one was a near hit, the last an easy pass.)
The 54 Buffels each had its own name. I remember Asterix, Obelix, Super Slyper. It was decided that these names should be removed, and the battalion coat-of-arms substituted. One of our medics, Alan, was appointed to do the artwork. Each Buffel now had the 54 insignia on the bin and on the cab.
The curfew was suspended, and the local people could now move freely at night.
Early in February we sandbagged the new sickbay. The old sickbay was a corrugated iron shack next to the western wall. The new one was built of brick, with a semi-cylindrical Armco roof, located nearer the entrance to the ring road. During two days of intensive work we removed all the sandbags from the north wall, where they were used in roofing the trenches there. Three thousand sandbags were moved in all, and we ended with a more bomb-proof sickbay. I too helped, but the chaplain fetched me back to my real work before brunch. Because it was the rainy season all the sandbags were soaked with water, and a heavy load to carry in the loose sand. It took three days.
Clinton Ross, one of our pay clerks, got chickenpox. He was the only person in the base to get it, and it remains a mystery where he got it from. The doctors must have feared an epidemic, because he was also the canteen-tiffy, and is probably the person to have physical contact with just about every troop in the unit.
One Saturday the whole base was assigned the duty of clearing the growth of plants outside the walls. This area had to be kept clear to avoid giving cover during a possible attack. One by one groups withdrew, and soon it was only myself and a pay-clerk left, hacking out the bushes between the wall and the minefield, although later some drivers joined us. By 13:00 it was knock-off time, and the area outside the minefield had not been touched. On Monday morning the 2IC, Major Piet Venter, made a big noise about it, and during siesta every man had to be out there. This time I declined, and kept myself busy in the coffee-bar sorting post. Our chief chef, sgt Schekierka, found me there, but he left me alone. (Maybe this happened during the first trip: I remember that there were a couple of 105 guns outside the west gate, with a camper crew. I think that by this time they had all left. The mortarists were also doing a practice shoot; one of the reasons for a lack of manpower.)
During March the Sector Games were held in Oshakati. A large contingent of 54 Bn participated, and it went well.
In a letter dated 25 March I wrote that the work had finally ran out. There was simply no more work to be done that could be called "base maintenance". Instead of trying to keep us busy during the day, from 14:00 every day we had a sports tournament. It was a round-robin tournament, with the results quite meaningless, because the number of teams decreases as personnel were withdrawn.
During this time we had a company of 32 Battalion in the base, working with the JMMC on the border north of us. One of the most impressive sights was this company marching to a soccer match. They marched in a relaxed style, but it seemed that they wanted to, and were not forced. I remember them counting at PT, "un, dos, tres, quatro", and one of their members jogging on the runway, and event with combat boots it seemed as if he was running on air.
In the QM-stores, all the U/S-equipment [U/S = `unserviceable'] were being discarded. It is a shame to see tents that were leaking, but deemed fit for issue, the next day condemned and dished out to the locals for nothing.
All our signals equipment was withdrawn, and by the end of the period our comms-room was a Ratel Command parked between the ops room and the admin offices.
All our group weapons were withdrawn. This meant all mortars and machine guns, and by the last days of March we were armed with platoon-level weapons only. The peace process was under way, and the implementation of Resolution 534 was to start on first day of the next month.
United Nations Transitional Assistance Group, or United Nations Terrorist Assistance Group, depending on your views. We were welcoming UNTAG, but there we were told that some things UNTAG had no right to see, which included the insides of armoured vehicles and ops rooms. Initially we had a few Pakistani officers as observers, there were a some British signalers around in their Land Rovers, and later there were Philipinos, with whom I had very little to do. We were told that the UTAG officers were to receive the same courtesies as the SADF officers.
These UNTAG officers were definitely ill informed. The UNTAG chief asked the sector 10 commander why there were road-blocks on the tar road. He was under the impression that the local people were not allowed to own motor-cars.
The first of April was a Saturday. As usual we worked a half-day. At noon, just as we were undressing, the call went out for klaarstaan. With a loud moan we grabbed our chest-webbings and rifles and went to the walls. It was a pretty poor April fool's joke. We sat and lay around the trenches, not knowing what went on. The wall-commanders, the only officers, could not tell us anything either. It went on for hours. I slept a bit, uncomfortably in the rough clods of the trench. At one point I was called from the wall. Kruger, the ops-clerk wanted me to open the cupboard so that he could make tea for the captain. I asked him if really was an April fool's and he said yes. The captain having had his tea, I felt disinclined to go back to the walls so I hang around the coffee-bar, probably reading a bit. Then Kruger came again, and this time he said 'daar is groot kak.' [There is big shit!]
Eventually, late in the afternoon we were called to parade. Then the major gave us the news. SWAPO had crossed the border in large numbers, and Koevoet had suffered severe casualties. Things were very unsettled. I was clear, however, that in these large numbers PLAN could easily attack our bases, and it could be that it was their intention. A captured Army base would be a huge propaganda victory. We were given a meal and re-deployed along the walls, for defense. Fortunately we had a company of 32 Battalion in the base. They were in transit from their deployment with the JMMC, and were still armed to the teeth. They were given the north wall, which was considered the most likely point of attack. We got the south wall, overlooking the runway. The east wall had a lone patmor as a support weapon. We were very hyped up, and quite scared. While we were getting settled in, the Alouettes came in from a casevac, and it was interesting to see them air-taxi in. Somebody (Van Staden, De Jager) had a buddy from school in one of those choppers.
On Sunday, with everybody very tense, there was suddenly machine gun fire outside the main gate. It stopped soon, but everybody expected more. Only later did we learn that it was Koevoet testing their guns without the courtesy of letting anybody know.
On Sunday we had a briefing by the intelligence officers on what was happening. This became a daily event, during which we would be told who had attacked where, casualties, weapons of enemy. The list of weapons sounded like a 'Jane's Soviet Infantry Anti-Armour Weapons'. RPGs, Strims, pencil-strims, anti-tank rifle grenades. Some insurgents were armed with only an SKS rifle and a dozen anti-tank rifle grenades. It was clear that they had come with the intention of killing armour, and the first two days' Koevoet casualties showed that they succeeded.
Sometime during the week we were given a lecture on 'what Koevoet did wrong'. Our captain gave it, and he pointed out the reasons why Koevoet were bleeding. Number one was that they had no way of operating dismounted. All their drills were vehicle based, and they did not have the instinct to dismount when the vehicle came under attack. Second was that they had no way of handling large numbers of the enemy. They were used to attacking groups of 10 or so terrs running away. Suddenly they were faced with groups of 30, 50, up to 300, sometimes entrenched. At least once the made the basic error of driving out of their TB on the route that they entered. All this brought to the fore the dislike of the Army commanders for Koevoet.
Many of those captured were very young, 13 to 16. There was some speculation that these were the products of 'breeding camps' set up early in the war, and now considered ready to fight. I saw one of them, locked up in one of the little ammo bunkers around the base. He was very young, dressed in his green uniform. Later I escorted a chef who took food to a prisoner locked in the cells near the main gate.
On the first day that 63 Mech was back in action, they towed back 13 Ratels, broken down. The next morning they drove 9 of them back into battle, an amazing feat of the tiffies. The Samils were parked in our vehicle park, and I remember all the smashed headlights and twisted accessories, evidence of a rough time in the bush.
For a while we had a burned-out Ratel 90 in our vehicle park. Quite a wreck, with the interior still filled with the twisted and split-open shells of the ammunition casing. I still have a detonation tube from a 90 mm shell, dented, burnt and bent.
The one day we were able to see dust from the aapkas, and we could hear, faintly the bangs of a fight south of us. Later we heard the story, how a group of 300 were discovered in their trenches, and how an air-strike was called, but in the 45 minutes it took to get it authorised, the terrs fled to the east and dispersed.
After a week, on 9 April, the new war was just about over. All that remained was the mopping up. By this time huge numbers of troops were being rushed in. All they could do was to sweep, look for bases set up by PLAN, and capture any stragglers.
The huge numbers of people in the base meant that the coffee-bar was packed every night.
Troops from our company also went out on patrol. There was much tension in the company, because we were by nature base-bound, and while the platoon was made up there was much discussion of who would go and who would stay. They were resupplied three times, once a week. They came back with stories of bushes so dense that you fell into the trenches before you discovered them.
As part of the negotiations, the SADF agreed to return to base for 60 hours, during which time the PLAN fighters were given the opportunity to assemble at given assembly areas. One night an 'air-shout' aircraft flew over the base, circling from west to east, repeating the instructions to whoever could hear.
With the 60-hour base-boundness, we were a huge number of people. As a show of force we held a parade on the first morning, which practically filled the helipad. We also held a sports tournament, which 6 SAI won, much to the pleasure of our captain.
After this things the implementation of Resolution 435 went on as usual.
Packing up and Signing Over
As the winding down of the base took place, we had a series of parties. The night to remember was when the troops and junior NCOs had their party. The officers and senior NCOs took over the guard, and gave us all the night off. It was, of course, a braai, and the 2-beer limit was not even nodded at. Despite huge alcohol consumption there were no incidents of poor discipline.
Official orders were that there was to be no arson, no destruction.
One could tell that this withdrawal was planned at a high level. We were supplied with enough cardboard boxes, and there was proper strapping material available.
Where all the stores went that we sent away, I don't know.
On an occasion or two I helped to burn official papers. We would dig a hole in the sand at the dump, chuck in the papers, pour diesel over them and set them alight. Once one of the drivers (Cuthbert) used avgas instead, and gave us all a fright.
As a measure to reduce things left behind, we got the order of sleeping at least 6 men per tent.
First go out of the coffee-bar was all the books, and the Chaplains Services stuff. That meant the organ, the hi-fi, the carpets, and the easy chairs. We were left with plastic chairs and folding tables, and no books.
On the last night, the coffee-bar was empty, except for some dishcloths and cleaning materials and assorted mugs. The few remaining nice mugs I gave away.
Swapol took over Eenhana base. It was signed over `as is': basically empty, but with the basic services intact.
Leave and Clearing Out
Our return was by Wit Olifant, directly from Eenhana, along roads that were once dangerous, past Ondangwa, south through the roadblock at Miershoop, now abandoned, directly to Grootfontein. We spent a night in Grootfontein, in a transit camp on a sports terrain. The one we had used on the way up was occupied by UNTAG. We had to hand in our ammo, and this was the biggest amount of loose rounds I had seen in my life.
At the airport we had to pack out our kit for a search, and before entering the airport buildings we were scanned with metal detectors. Not very successfully, for I brought back some interesting bits.
Here we enplaned on a 707 that brought us to Port Elizabeth. Here we were fetched by 6SAI drivers. That night, at the usual mixed-grill welcoming meal, the OC told us that they had decided to give us leave until the date of clearing out. The roof of the hangar lifted as we cheered. One of the reasons for this decision was the parade to be held on Republic Day, on which the unit was to receive the National Ensign. The parade was too soon for us to take part, because the practising for it had already started.
Klaaring out permanently was much the same as klaaring out for leave. The only difference was that we took our trommels to the main QM store, where we had to open it to show that we had in it
A sleeping bag
The only thing I had missing was a spoegbakkie, but I knew I had packed in on the border. I found it at home, tucked away in one of my boots!
Our rifles were examined before they were taken in, instead of just stacked in the racks.
All the clearing out took a few days. There was a lot of paperwork to be done, and we each received a nicely printed clearing-out certificate.
On one of these final nights we had a bomb scare! We were turned out of the bungalows, and had to stand around on the paraded ground while the base was searched. It was thought that it was a disgruntled camper, called up to do the parade that organized it.
I was quite heavily loaded after clearing out, for I still had all my books with me, and had acquired some extra stuff, for example some co-axial cable that I had rescued from an Eenhana rubbish bin, that turned out useful at home.
On the last day we had a final parade, with the OC himself attending.
At the short notice it was not possible to find bus transport for us who declined the expense of flying to the Transvaal, so we got booked on a train, my first experience. It was fun and relaxing. As the train pulled into the station, a pencil flare went up. Once we were out of the base, quite a number of troops removed their 6 SAI flashes and instead put on 54 flashes that they had bought at Eenhana. We traveled through the night, and arrived at Johannesburg station early in the morning.
As a final goodbye, we passed a train loaded with Buffels on a siding near Lyttleton. Clearly visible, in the middle of each bin was the 54 Battalion insignia.
At clearing out I was assigned Regiment Pretorius as my CF unit. During 1990 I was called up to do a short camp, and I asked for delay, because of my academic commitments. During this camp a parade was held, at which I would have received the medal, but instead it came by post.
TRANSITION TO SANDF & ABOLITION OF CONSCRIPTION
How did you learn of any/the change in your military obligations when conscription was abolished?
During my time at University I did three camps, one with Regiment Pretorius, the others with the University of Pretoria Military Unit. A one point there was a greater need for people in the Commandos, so I was transferred to Bronkhorstspruit Commando where my official address was. It was a paper transfer only, and soon after I got a letter from the commando, informing me that I was no longer obliged to do any service, but would I mind volunteering?
What factors influenced your decision about whether to continue to serve voluntarily, or whether to end your association with the new SANDF?
I've never really made a decision. I often think of becoming active again, but as the army will never be a career for me, it always comes second. Maybe one day, when I have a settled life ...
Published: 1 July 2000.
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