NATAL MEDICAL COMMAND (1988)
I was on the strength of Natal Medical Command (Durban) from the start of January 1988 until the end of June 1988. Actually I only spent about a month there; from early February until May I was at 5 SAI (Ladysmith), except that couple of weeks in March when I was in Angola.
I had requested the transfer to Natal Command, as I had heard a very strong rumour that the Natal Medical Command was going to be moved to Pietermaritzburg, the town where I studied, and where my main social network had been based (apart from the PPC in Voortrekkerhoogte). My parents lived there, and I would be able to live in their house. On one of my casevac trips down from the Border, I found that there was virtually no one left in Pretoria that I was friends with - apart from Fred and his relations, but Fred was starting to live with the lady who became his wife, and he wasn't around much. Most of my friends in the department had moved on as well.
The Directorate of Psychology was looking for someone to send to Natal, due to some perceived need. I applied at the right time, but it was only after I had been told that I would be transferred that I heard that the plans to move to Pietermaritzburg had been shelved due to lack of money, and so my work base would be in Durban. I didn't like Durban!
THE MEDICS AT NATAL COMMAND
Psychologists and other welfare staff like social workers were based at Natal Command, the military headquarters, situated in a historical building complex on the Durban beech front. Most of the medical doctors were based at the Military Base Hospital, which was also located on site at Natal Command.
The Natal Medical Command was located in a high rise building some kilometres away, near the City Centre.
CAPTAIN QUINTIN CHRYSTAL
The other two psychologists were good people. Quintin Chrystal was the acting HOD, and had been in the SAMS for six years. He was talking of leaving and accepting a job at a state hospital. He was over conscientious, and didn't seem to be able to say 'no!' to anyone, with the result that he works himself to death.
He had a great sense of humour - taking a situation and developing it until it is bizarre - Monty Python type humour. We were joking about starting the 'Extent Conscription Campaign' (as opposed to the 'End Conscription Campaign'), and he suggested a bizarre situation where three hundred seagulls reported for duty at Natal Command. (Maybe you had to be there to have found it funny!) He is a very pleasant and considerate person to work with.
Quintin reported that he was very obsessive, and he would sometimes drive all the way to Natal Command from his home near Pinetown just to recheck that he had locked the department properly.
After my sojourn in Angola, Quintin was apparently also sent there. He reported many transport problems, and suggested that he spent a week travelling around Namibia by train.
LIEUTENANT KEVIN DUCRAY
Kevin Ducray qualified the year after me. He seemed to be slightly more cautious when taking decisions about patient management than I was. Was he less confident then? Or was I just `Gung-ho!'?
He also had a good sense of humour, but you had to watch for it as he was very subtle. During one after-lunch stroll along the beech we noticed a rather strangely designed dog on the 'No dogs allowed' sign, and we decided that it meant 'No armadillos', and extended the fantasy to finding a row of disgruntled armadillos waiting in the parking lot.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am aware that this is the third 'Commandant Potgieter' that I am introducing in my SADF Trilogy. Others were the Head of the Department of Psychiatry, 1 Military Hospital, in '1 Mil', and the other was the Officer Commanding the Medical Section of Sector 10, in 'Grensvegter?'.
This 'Commandant Potgieter' was a woman, and close to an archetypal social worker; she was a large woman, around 50 years old, and quite a motherly figure. She was single, and had apparently had a rather unhappy life.
As a commandant, she was the senior officer at the building at which we were based at Natal Command. She was always very pleasant to me.
There were two National Service social workers; Mike was close to finishing his military service. He was a jogging fanatic, a keen photographer and fisherman. Carlos was of Portuguese origin, and fairly fresh from basics and officers' course. Carlos was very quiet, and I didn't get to know him well. Mike was much more extraverted, and we had many conversations over sandwiches during coffee breaks.
Our receptionist was a large caftan-wearing 'earth mother', wife of an army Colonel or Brigadier. She suggested that her husband's rank had no effect on her interactions with junior officers. (Oh, yeah!?)
Her daughter was in long-term psychotherapy with a psychologist in private practise, and the army picked up the bill. This was while there were three SADF psychologists on hand. Could the SADF psychologists not be trusted with a neurotic teenage daughter of a Colonel?
Our receptionist was certainly well connected around the command, and helped to arrange for the Quartermaster's Store to be opened specifically for me on one occasion. She said her husband's rank carried no clout, but I have my doubts. I also had no complaints when she used her influence for my benefit.
COMMANDANT POTGIETER'S PROTEGE
Commandant Potgieter considered a PF female clerk to be her 'special project'. The girl showed strong traits of a 'passive aggressive personality' (She was very 'stroppy'!). She could not be relied on to do work which she was required to do, and she had to be checked up on. She would always have moans and groans to pour out over morning coffee and sandwiches.
I asked why she was kept on if she failed to do her job, and was told that she was `now better than she used to be'. It appeared that the Commandant saw her as a 'special project', to be worked with and encouraged and nurtured.
I had difficulty with this idea, as she was a hindrance. There were many national servicemen who would give their eye teeth to do her job, and who would be much cheaper to the organisation than this pain.(Also see 'Grensvegter?', Chapter 3, and '1 Mil'.)
We had a national serviceman clerk, whose name I can't remember. He was a pleasant enough chap, probably an ex-patient kept in a comfortable environment. But, of course, he started to take liberties, and was put on orders by the RSM and made to weed lawns and other chores as punishment. I think he was arriving late (from his sleep out pass!), and not shaving and other terrible crimes. He was ignoring standing orders. I think Quintin and Kevin rallied round and tried to get him back to his clerical work, but I don't remember details.
I met this clerk at a Cinema one evening, when he seemed to be very high on something, and mixing with someone that would be considered 'undesirable' in military circles.
NATAL MEDICAL COMMAND
COLONEL LANDMAN - THE OFFICER COMMANDING
The Medical Command had a new Officer Commanding, who was trying to be a new broom sweeping clean. In so doing, he seemed to have antagonised almost all of his subordinates.
One of the social workers in my section, Mike, was summoned to see the new OC. He worried what the reason for the summons was. In the army one always imagines that one is in trouble when one is summoned in this manner.
"Don't worry about it," Kevin advised. "He probably only wants to talk to you about fishing."
Mike told afterwards of how he was shown into the Colonel's office. "I'm very angry with you," the Colonel began. "I've been here for two weeks and you haven't invited me to go fishing with you." Mike was not very amused, as he had been called away from his work to see the colonel.
I had my first contact with the man a few days later. I was told that the Colonel wanted to see all the 'living in' officers, but by that time I have been commuting for a week. I was instructed to lead the assembled officers into the Colonel's office. The officers present included one of two school leavers who had done the Junior Leaders course, but most of them were professional medical people; doctors, dentists, social workers (Average age probably twenty four). I hadn't thought of marching the group of officers into offices, so we walked in smartly in.
Isn't it typical? We had been waiting outside until the message came that the Colonel would see us now. We went in and there was the Colonel, sitting at his desk, ignoring us as he looked into a file. That must have been for effect. If he had really been busy, why didn't he keep us waiting a while longer until he had finished what he was doing?
The Colonel spoke: "I have already formed an opinion of my junior officers, and I'm sad to say it is a negative one. It has been reported to me by other branches of the services that you have women in your rooms at the officers mess (how unusual for young professional people, in the only accommodation the army had provided for us - no implication was made than that the women had been 'entertained' there!) and that you fight over them in front of members of the public. If you do not start to behave yourselves, I will have you sent to places where your behaviour does not matter!"
I could not believe it!!! The man was about thirty-five, and qualified as a dentist. Now here he was speaking to professional people, such as himself, as though we were toddlers. The man could benefit from a course on how to 'win friends and influence people'!
That was it! He might have said 'That is all', or something. Then he looked back down at his all-important file. If he had given the command 'Dismiss', we would have known what to do. Nothing happened. I was the senior officer present. I think the others were waiting for me to say something military like; "Detail, left turn. Marker, open the door. Detail, by the centre forward - march!" (Would it have been 'by the centre, forward march' if we were in single file?)
What a potential disaster - eight medics officers standing watching a colonel looking at a file, because I wasn't sure how to get us back out of his office. We got out somehow. The man was an arsehole! I remember thinking at the time what a Mickey Mouse operation his command was after 1 Mil and the Border. Some people seem to measure their personal power in terms of the number of people they can be nasty to with impunity.
"One of my reasons for wanting to be a psychologist was to work with children. So far the army has given me virtually no opportunity to do so. In January, with the idea of being in Ladysmith (The nearest psychologist is in Pietermaritzburg), I made an official request to my military superiors to be allowed to offer my services voluntarily and after hours to Child Welfare societies in Ladysmith. In the army you have to ask permission to do anything like this, although it has nothing to do with the army. I sent a copy to my Officer Commanding, and one to the Directorate of Psychology in Pretoria."
"The OC called me in to his office - which takes about half an hour to get to from where we work in Durban - where he spoke to me for all of two minutes, during which he said; "You will not have time to do after-hours work so I consider the matter closed." I quietly thought nasty thoughts about the man and let the matter rest - complaining, of course, to anyone who would listen about what a swine the man was."
"About a month later, out of the blue, when I was in Ladysmith, I had a call from one of the OC's henchmen asking if I had gone behind the OC's back to pursue my request, because a letter had apparently arrived from Surgeon General (higher than the Directorate of Psychology) in connection with my request to do after hours work."
"The OC was apparently all set to explode at the possibility that I had not accepted his word as final on the matter. I said that I had written no second letter, and I could only assume that Major Dolf Odendaal at the Directorate (My direct boss for almost two years at 1 Mil) had forwarded it on to the Surgeon General. I did not think it was prudent to ask what the letter said."
"Then I went to Angola, and then I came back, and after phoning in sick (claiming an 'empathy deficiency') for two days, I returned to 5SAI (Ladysmith), and in a day or two I noticed a document lying around in the clerk's office with my name on it. It was a copy of the Surgeon General's reply to my letter forwarded by Dolf. The letter gave me much more than I had asked for - it gave me permission to open a private practise after hours, and to be able to charge money for it. I think Dolf was doing this as a farewell favour, as he has recently left the army to be employed in a very cushy post with an insurance company. I'm not in the position to start a private practise at present, even if I wanted to, but its nice to know that I'm allowed to if I ever want to - there's no time limit on it."
An official ceremony was organised for the formal transfer of command from Commandant Fouche to Colonel Landman. My attendance was compulsory, and I was invited to bring my partner. I was stationed at 5 SAI at the time.
I reported for the occasion wearing my smartest uniform, and for some reason I had damaged my shoulder, and I was in considerable discomfort throughout the evening.
The ceremony was rather amusing, considering that the participants were grown men. The hall in which the ceremony was to take place was packed with high ranking military dignities and such people as the Lord Mayor of Durban.
Colonel Landman marched in, flanked by the two national service intelligence officers, who halted and stood motionless for an hour or so. One of them, Wayne Growden, told me that they had rehearsed all this for a couple of days. Then Colonel Landman and Commandant Fouche faced each other on the podium and almost in a chant, each said the appropriate version of "I, 65789045PE, Colonel Pieter Wilhelm Dingbat Landman hereby accept command of the Natal Medical Command from 57897643PE Commandant James Albert Xavier Fouche." (I've made up the force numbers and first names, but that was the gist of the `transfer of command' speech.) I think Commandant Fouche handed over a symbolic sword of command to Colonel Landman.
Colonel Landman then made his policy speech, in which the phrase 'total commitment' was said frequently. He spoke in absolutes; He totally committed himself to the command of the Medical Command (Natal), and totally committed his staff to the total support of the Military Personnel in the Natal area and to the wider society." It seemed somewhat reminiscent of Captain Queeg's speech in 'The Caine Mutiny'.
After his speech, there was a social, with cheese and wine, during which the name of the game was to make sure that you were seen, but to try to avoid conversation with anyone with a higher rank, or any of the important guests. My shoulder hurt!
Commandant Potgieter, the social worker asked me why I had not brought my girl friend along. I wondered what sort of girl would be interested in attending such a function. Also, would I want to subject someone I cared about to the scrutiny of the senior officers?
As with most military functions, one had to ask permission from the Officer Commanding to leave, and it would not be diplomatic to try to leave early, so most of the junior staff stayed until the end.
Landman relaxed as the evening wore on and the important guests departed. He started to play with his son, of about five years old, which amused me. He had taught his son to say 'Min Dae' [A national service slang term meaning 'It'll soon be over'] and the accompanying hand gesture. I saw Landman marching along behind his son, which was quite sweet. I caught his eye, and he seemed pleasant. I would love to have read his mind at that moment - I almost felt friendly towards him - I think seeing him with his kid added a human dimension to him. Could we have been friends if there hadn't been the abyss of rank difference? Was he a pleasant person under all the military bullshit and desire to be a new broom sweeping clean. I would never know!
I think about that time his charming young wife came over and introduced herself to me. She was friendly and very pleasant. I wonder why she married a shit like him?
The Durban Empire seemed to be very threatened when I was tipped off by Commandant Jansen that I would be sent to the Operational Area (Angola).(See 'Grensvegter?', Chapter 1) They moaned and complained, but were ineffective. They gave me only a very off-handed notice of this deployment when it was finalised. At the time I was supporting the new intake at 5 SAI - the most needed person is the one who goes, and the person concerned is the last to know what will be happening to him.
There were a variety of fairly senior officers at the Natal Medical Command Building. There was a Commandant Whitehead, who had apparently spent several years planning the move of the Medical Command to Pietermaritzburg, only to have this project dumped because of the non-availability of funds.
There was another Commandant with a name like Quartermaine or Scanlan or some name that I would love to use for a character in a novel except that it would be too kitsch to do so. This chap apparently abused alcohol quite seriously, and threw his weight around at an official social function. Quintin asked to be excused, but this commandant said something like 'You can go when I say so and not before'. Quintin's wife was present, and Quintin felt very humiliated by this. Rumours around the medics suggested that Landman had reprimanded this officer for his obnoxious behaviour.
There were also two young national servicemen intelligence officers. I had known one of them, Wayne Growden, when he had been a schoolboy in Pietermaritzburg. They boasted about spending mornings lounging around a swimming pool, accountable to virtually no-one, while the rest of us were working. Maybe they were using their intelligence!
THE SET UP AT NATAL COMMAND
Within the SADF, Natal Command was nicknamed 'Surfboard Command', and considered to be a 'cushy number'. The complex had probably been used when Natal had been a British colony in the last century. The main building, called the 'The White House' was now used as the Army Officers mess - or had it been a hotel?
The prefab in which the psychologists and social workers worked was less than a hundred metres away from the beech, and only a little further from the Indian Ocean.
I was there in January, in the height of the South African summer. It was very hot, and I sweated through shirts by eight o' clock in the morning. I had a fan in my office, which was very rusted from the sea breezes.
I think there was a parade each Wednesday morning at which the medics' attendance was compulsory. Colonel Landman's policy was that his medics should be fully involved in the activities of the units at which they were stationed - in spite of the doctors and some others having to do call duties when most of the army unit staff were home.
Natal Command was well guarded, and sentries challenged most people who entered. Our department was locked each evening, and it was about twenty-five metres at most from where the sentries stood. Once the Military Police used a key to get into our department and look around. Apparently they found a file which had been left in a desk and not locked away. They left a note saying that if this happened again, the officer in question would be charged. I think it was aimed at me, but no such file was ever produced.
Quintin was very annoyed with this, and complained that he should be present if such a search was conducted, because the material was medically confidential, and as such, not solely under the jurisdiction of the Military Police.
"In Transactional Analysis terms, the army is run very much on an Authoritarian parent to naughty (guilty) child relationship. When I was down at Natal Command (Durban), we heard that the Colonel was coming on a surprise inspection, and we all stole back to our offices like naughty school boys who had been bunking because we had stayed an extra few minutes at tea."
"I reported for duty in Durban fully expecting to live in the officers quarters, and return to Pietermaritzburg once or twice a month. That was before I saw the officers' mess. There is some friction between the Army and the Medics (except when they need us!), and the army do not want medics officers staying in their mess, so we have quarters with our troops ('other ranks') in what used to be a prison."
"I was shown to a large room which was to be my home - 'large' was the only decent thing about it. The walls had been freshly painted about forty years ago, and were coloured a pale green, and appeared to have slime running down them. (Geckos suddenly found that the suction cups under their feet were useless on the slime as they plummeted to their deaths!) The curtain rails were deformed, and the curtains were not wide enough to cover the window. There was a large window without any burglar bars looking out on a jungle of a non-maintained garden."
To get to the showers and toilets one had to walk out of the building and along an open veranda. The washrooms were shared by the officers with the gardeners and other labourers, and were very run down. The wash rooms were also used to store gardening tools and bags of fertiliser. We were also about four metres away from the privates and NCO's quarters; most of whom were about nineteen, and they enjoy all night parties and play their music loudly. (Maybe it was their parties for which the Medics officers received the dressing down from Colonel Landman?)
I stayed in the mess for about a week, before deciding that it would be better to commute from Pietermaritzburg each day, and joined a lift club of others to do the 1 hour each way journey. That was much better, but the two hours' travel made it a long day. After about a month I moved to 5 SAI.
The mess was supervised by an NCO who must have been in his fifties, very British; a relic of long ago? He insisted on carrying the officers' suitcases, even though he was in his fifties, and some of the officers were still in their teens. Bizarre!
I met a very interesting national serviceman who was a driver, and was so well organized that national service didn't seem to interfere much with a couple of businesses which he was running, including one making surfboards. His father was 'Lencil', the famous artist of saucy magazines like 'Smile Awhile'.
"January is not generally a busy month. Things are busiest for the mental health/welfare people from February to April and from August to October, during which time basic training is on the go. I have seen some interesting and disturbed patients, but generally January has been boring, with me doing a lot of administrative work for the department. We've seen a large number of people who are trying to find psychological reasons why they should have sleep out passes, which is rather a waste of time for psychologists with six years of university study. The bottom line so invariably being 'I don't want to have to do guard duty any more!'"
I was unsure of the severity of one chap who presented with what might have been a depression, and I wanted to get a second opinion from a psychiatrist. There were no military psychiatrists in Durban, so I made arrangements to have him seen by the ordinary psychiatry department at Durban's Addington Hospital. I think the feedback suggested that the patient was 'depressed about being in the army, and having to stand guard duty etc. etc. etc..' I'd heard it all before!
Quintin had apparently started conducting pre-intake assessments on patients who anticipated psychological problems. This included some histrionic gay patients, posing as transsexuals. I think I saw a charming young thing who was in the process of having a sex change operation.
I have vague memories of having seen a mysterious figure who was feeling very fatigued after doing many years of 'fieldwork' in the Natal Interior. I think he was Special Forces or intelligence or something, and I decided to focus on his symptoms. I wish I had asked more at the time, though it was prudent not to do so.
A father of a young family was referred to me. He developed arterial sclerosis, and his memory was badly effected. The family had newly been transferred to Durban, and the patient was in the process of being invalided out of the SADF. His wife was experiencing a great deal of frustration, and the three children were also effected. I knew my limitations in being able to help the family, and it was with a sense of relief I handed them over to Quintin when I moved to 5 SAI.
ANOTHER CHILD MOLESTER
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am aware that this is the third 'Child Molester' case study I am presenting in this SADF Trilogy. Also see 'A boy called Cobie', in '1 Mil' and 'Mrs. Colonel and the Mole', in 'Grensvegter?' (Chapter 8) It happens a lot!
An 18 year old national serviceman was brought in to see me, escorted by a couple of Military Police, and accompanied by an middle aged man, a friend of the boy's mother. He had been arrested for having sexually abused the young daughter of a family who had considered him to be a family friend. I think the girl was about six.
When I first saw him, the youngster was fairly open about what he had done; he admitted that he had fondled the girl, and he later admitted to having performed cunnilingus on her. He told me that he had been alone with her in a bedroom, and had got her relaxed and pulled down her panties. He was interrupted when her little brother walked into the room. He stopped, pushed the little brother out of the room - possibly slapping him to prevent his return - and returned to continue his abuse of the little girl. In view of this reaction to the interruption, his actions cannot be considered to be impulsive.
During the full clinical interview, I asked him whether he had had any early childhood sexual experiences and he replied 'no'. At the second session, he bounded into my office and told me that he had 'remembered' that he had been sexually abused when he was about 12. An adult friend had introduced him and one of his friends to another adult. They had then split up, one adult and one boy each going to a separate room where sexual activities (unspecified) took place. He remembered that his abuser had told him; "Everyone's doing it these days." I was suspicious that the patient had not remembered this the first time around.
I was besieged by the patient/defendant's lawyer, who while professionally wanted the best defence for her client, was the mother of young children and strongly condemned what he had done. I remember trying to avoid appearing in court, saying that this would not be appreciated by the military authorities (I had something to base this on). But this was not a problem for her and she had me summonsed! I also had some discussions with the patient's mother's friend, who represented the mother's distress.
The patient was held in the local DB, and I thought I would be doing him a favour if I arranged to have him transferred to a civilian prison, but his lawyer hastily contacted me and told me that conditions in DB were much pleasanter than a civilian prison. That surprised me.
The trial occurred while I was stationed at 5 SAI. I contacted the OC of Natal Medical Command, Colonel Landman, for guidance. Instructions came back that I could attend the trial (I doubt that Landman wanted to be charged with 'contempt of court'), but that I must keep all references to the SADF out of the trial, and that I should wear civilian clothes to the court. (Did I protest?) Landman must have been pleased to see the back of me!
This attempt to keep the proud name of the SADF disassociated from the case was knocked on the head when I was called as 'Captain Fowler'. The patient had been found guilty before I was summoned, and my evidence was to be taken into account in mitigation of sentence. I don't think I did the chap any favours, but expert witnesses aren't supposed to. I mentioned that the patient was immature, and while he knew that he was doing wrong, I doubted that he realised the severity with which his actions would be regarded. I think he might have expected corporal punishment rather than a couple of years in prison.
The prosecution were content to charge him just for that offence, but there were suspicions that he had interfered with the little boy as well. The boy had apparently complained of having a sore bottom, and indicating that the patient had had something to do with this. He was sentenced to prison, and I'm not sure how long he spent there.
While I was waiting to give evidence, one of the medical witnesses commented that there were several other people that they wished to question regarding the sexual abuse of some children, who were at present stationed on the border. My informant suggested that they would be apprehended when they returned.
In my last days in Durban I saw the wife of an Asian Navy NCO. She seemed to be very neurotic, and told me of a variety of black or white magic spells to which she had been subjected by various malevolent sorcerers. It was interesting to differentiate whether this was delusional thinking, or sub-culturally acceptable. I think I opted for the latter.
There was a medic at the Military Base Hospital (Durban) who reckoned he was going to 'crack' because he wasn't getting time off to practise his admittedly high level sport. He would abuse his position to bring this to the attention of the psychologists whom he encountered in the nature of his work.
Published: 1 July 2000.
Here is a shortcut back toSentinel Projects Home Page.