South African Ops Medic (1988-1989)
`The Nine Days of War'
OW01: That's me with my Operational Medic emblem.
The Photo Collection
The school I was at was a very Afrikaans school and every Friday was cadets. For those six years, my twin brother and I, we dominated the rifle range at the school; as well we were the best natural rifle shots. For the last two years I was also a drill instructor, that was great fun, also with the cadets, we went on a cadet camp each year, in which we spend a week living in the bush. That was the highlight point of each year. When we arrived in the bush we would be split up into alpha and bravo teams then our captain (teacher) would point out an area in the bushes and say alpha company that is where you set up camp, and he would do the same for bravo camp. And the teachers would set up the H.Q. camp overlooking the area. Each company had to organise its own guards threw the night, and some of us were selected as HQ guards, generally the more senior guys of the camp. I was HQ guard at the last camp I went to, I woke up one night with a bang, they threw a thunder flash under the back of the truck I was sleeping in. We would spend week out in the open just in our sleeping bags. We occupied the same camp each year. During the days we jot intensive training on using compass reading contour maps setting up ambushes camouflage and reading the terrain by spotting things that were out of place, and I cant forget the op-forks if someone wasn't listening. There is this moderate hill to the side of our camp possible 50 meters high, to the top and back about 1 km. They would say, see that hill. you have 6 min starting now.. And we would run our asses off. The evenings were the best, there is no sleep. As soon as it is dark the fun starts, we sneak up to bravo camp and ambush them or H Q revs us with thunder flashes, some of the guys shit themselves but for me and my brother, these were the highlights of the camp. I enjoyed mostly having to navigate at night by compass we would be spilt up into about 5 small groups, each given a map and compass between half hour intervals between each team each team would have to pass 5 beacon/check points and the fastest team won a prise generally a tin of condensed milk. We would start at 9pm and reach the end beacon at 1am then we sit around until all have completed the course, now we have to walk back to camp another 5 miles down this main road. We all knew the turn off into our camp site so the fitter few , we decided we would run back. I used to do cross country running as a hobby, ran 10km 3 times a week then so I was first back at the camp, well the teachers had a little surprise waiting for us that night as we came along that dusty old road up to the camp. I ran straight into an ambush, and all hell broke loose, thunderflasshes, flares and the teachers firing R1 automatic (blanks) in my direction. From the running motion I just fell on my all fours and leopard crawled probably as fast as I was running. For a few moments there I shit myself and the teachers all had a good old laugh about my reactions. Well I was a good 15 min ahead of everyone else so I didn't screw up the surprise for the main body, some of the guys cried with fright. We also had live shooting up into the hills with tracer fire and a smoke grenade demonstrations with 1000 ft flares. I remember they threw a colour blue smoke grenade, waited for the air to be filled with smoke then told us all to run threw it. This was great fun. They threw a red one, we ran through it , they went through all the colours and we were having great fun. Lastly they threw a white smoke grenade waited for the air to be filled with smoke and told us to run through it, well we all could have run into a brick wall by the looks of things. It was tear gas, some were lying on the ground gasping others were walking around with there hands in there faces totally blinded by the gas I got the worst of it because I was closest to the canister. But half hour later we were all laughing at the experience. Two of our teachers, which headed the cadets, were very military orientated; they belonged to a local military camp and had all the connections. One of them, if something was black and it moved, he would want to shoot it.
We were very poor. Our parents left us most of the time to our own devises. We were the dirty kids on the block and created havoc everywhere. We used to build our own catapults and make traps for people to fall into. This all in the approximately 500 hectare of bush behind where we lived, we would spend lots of time playing in the rivers, catching fish, frogs and tadpoles hunting for spiders and snakes, building rafts out of anything we found building tree houses. We enjoyed being outdoors in the bush, we never harassed people or intentionally irritated people we were a generally polite and helpful bunch to the public that is my twin brother and I. In summer there were always plenty of bush fires, as soon as we smelt a fire we would go running off into the bush following the smoke often we got to the fires before the fire brigade and we would be beating back the flames when they arrived. We would come out of there black as the ace of spades. With big smiles on our faces, gee those were big flames hey. the fires never did much damage with us around. I remember the last year before we left that place, it was Christmas day, a whole section of bush was on fire we ran out to direct the fire brigade, when they got on site, they were all suffering from hangovers so we took over there truck, rolled out the hoses and put the flames out while they sat and watched. That was just the best for us. Big sections of the field would flood every winter waist high about the size of a football field. It would stay flooded through into summer. In the middle of a storm we would be out there sailing our rafts and having war shooting each other with our catties. We also had two other friends who we would meet regularly in these bushes.
WE MADE A GUN
My father worked in an abettor and I remember many years ago he had one of these twin barrel point 22 hand pistols. He obviously brought some blanks home from work to use in his gun to scare people. I only recall seeing the gun once so he had probably got rid of it at some stage. As a result he had loads of these blanks hidden away over the past years. We found these blanks and thought .we could put these to use. I was the best at metalwork at school distinctions every year and my twin brother dominated the woodwork class with distinctions each year. We were on the shooting team at school so we knew what we had to do. We built a gun to take these rounds; we used a spanner for the trigger. We now had our gun and loads of ammo. Off into the field making lots of noise. listening to the echo's of the blast off the nearby buildings. If there was a fire we would throw rounds into the flames and run away before they exploded. We later learned how dangerous that was, not by an accident, but by a near miss. One Sunday we went into the field as usual shooting off a few blanks, as we got home to replenish our stock we turned to see a police van patrolling the bushes, I still made a joke. Yes, they are looking for us.
An hour later we were back in the bush and before we knew it the cops were behind us. They took our make shift gun and ammo and put us in the back of the van, went past our house to question our father and all our friends came out to see us in the back of the police van, saying yes. We warned you, now they are going to lock you up for a long time.
I was a little worried but not scared. They took us down to the police station where further enquiries were made into where the ammo came from. After about 3 hours they came to us and said we are free to go the charges have all been dropped. As we left the police station we heard the sergeant chasing his police officers through the police station shooting at them with the blanks. Shouting and making lots of noise, they probably had lots of fun that afternoon. The gun we made is apparently now in the Pretoria's arms museum.
My brother and I were big on experimenting loud noises and big bangs. I once stripped down this old adding machine, which was discarded in the bush we ended up with this sealed unit, which had in it a series of cogs/gears. The one side was two round flat magnets on an axel they were spaced about half a centimetre apart. On the other side was this steel wheel. For each rotation of the wheel, the magnets would rotate 50 times. So when we pushed the wheel on the floor, the high speed of the magnets would give of a loud whining sound. The faster we would turn this wheel the louder would be the hum. We eventually got it to get as loud as a bowings engine on takeoff. We achieved this by turning a bicycle upside down my brother would turn the peddles in 12th gear and I held the metal wheel tight onto the rear tier. We spun the magnets so fast that the outward forces on the magnets exceeded the bonding forces of the magnets, and they exploded with a loud bang.
The entire lounge was filled with magnet dust and for a split second everything was quiet. Then I looked down and it seemed as if my hand was gone. A fragment of magnet cut my brothers neck. And a large chunk of magnet made a hole in the ceiling directly above my brother just missed him by inches. Having extensive first aid knowledge by then, we weren't too phased by the injuries and went calmly to the hospital for treatment; I still have magnet dust visible in my right hand today.
How I got into being an Ops Medic. I had a good friend who I have known through from junior school. While in Secondry School we joined St Johns Ambulance. We would stand duty at every possible function there was. From the Kyalami race track for racing and drag racing all the rugby and cricket matches at Newlands Stadium and the local clubs swimming galas, the Cape Town theatre watching ballet and helping the old ladies down the stairs, horse racing. The most ridiculous duty I have ever gone to was the national life saving championships in Milnerton, Cape Town. And the best Duties were the weekend night shift at the Woodstock hospital. We would latterly fight over that duty. They were short staffed and needed help in the emergency section. We would spend the night stitching up patients and doing minor operations setting up drips and giving injections. My friend got his call up papers before me; we decided to fill in our applications for call up the same to see if we could end up in the same camp. Due to the fun we had at St Johns we both decided to go into the medics. I had my eye on doing the Ops Medics training because I wanted to be on the front line and do some fighting. I didn't want to stay back and be a TAMPAX TIFFY at some hospital, I wanted to live it rough.
We both ended up in Klipdrift together which is where the Ops Medics do their basic training. We spent 3 months there. Started in January 1988 by April all the Gay guys were separated from the Men believe me there were many Gays. Then we had forms to fill in of where we wanted to go from there. I managed to persuade my friend to join the Ops Medics. I said to him; `We got this far. Come lets go all the way!' I wanted to fight; I wanted to be in the bush. He eventually agreed and we were both accepted onto the course.
Our first 3 months at Klipdrift was really stupid, but fun. The size of the camp could really only accommodate about 400 people, but they pushed about 1600 of us into that small camp. As a result of this the rear of the camp was decked out with tents that were hurriedly put up and we had mobile units set up for toilets and showers. There was a massive storm one evening in whish about 4 tents were blown away and many others damaged. I had great fun that evening running around in shorts and t-shirt trying to help save some of the tents people were hanging on tent poles trying to keep them down with tent flaps blowing all over the show. Our tent was fine. We were the Kapies.(Cape Town ions). There was a small area directly in front of our tent i.e. the through road dividing different companies of tents. Directly on the other side of the area were the Transvaalers. Oh there was lots of swearing and insults and jokes about each other flying continuously across that piece of ground. We had the best position in that camp wit regards to entertainment. We played national cricket matches on that piece of ground. Always beat the shit out of them with plenty of laughter and fun.
OPS MEDICS COURSE AT SAMS COLLEGE
BUSH PHASE IN THE BUSH
From there we went to SAMS College in Pretoria the Ops Medics Course is a six months course, which is split in half. One half is called bush phase and the other is Medical Phase. When we arrived at SAMS College we were split into two companies, namely alpha and bravo companies. I was in Alpha Company and hence we started bush phase first. Just as we started, news was that the fighting on the border between S.W.A. and Angola was changing from guerilla to conventional warfare. So the two weeks we spent in the bush we would have done a survival course on how to live off the land, eating locusts worms and berries etc. At the last possible moment, the brass decided they would train us up on conventional warfare. They brought in loads of trucks; Samil20s, Samil 50s a Ringhals and a Unimog. We spent most of a week training to shoot from moving vehicles and driving through rough terrain. We spent two weeks starving our heads off because they weren't prepared as far as it came to feeding us. The food they dished up for you, you would be lucky if you found a piece of carrot or meat in it. Stew with nothing in it. We basically starved for two weeks. Once the water tanker never came fro 3 days. Some of the guys drank the river water and got real sick from the water. Other than that, the driving of the trucks was great fun and entertaining. A truck would disappear for half an hour and then re appear dragging a small tree under it. The Ringhalse we had, had a leak in its power steering system so as you kept driving the steering would become increasingly difficult to operate, then you had to stop and fill up the hydraulic fluid. They set out this fantastic obstacles course we had to drive through with this massive hole in the middle two meters deep 4 meters long and 3 meters wide. I had to drive the ringhalse through this hole and the steering had half gone. Obviously in 1st gear low range with 4 by 4 and diff locks in place.
There is a shooting range two miles down the road where we were going to shoot for our baltjies. We were the last team on the range and were just about to set up when we were kicked off by a bunch of Recces who were going to have a shooting competition there the next day. I never got the chance to shoot for my baltjie; I would have got it because I am a damn good shot. We were trained it the handling of many different weapons and explosives, setting up ambushes with the use of claymore mines and anti-personnel nines etc.
BACK IN CAMP
The remainder of our bush phase was op-vok after op-vok even P.T. (physical Training) was an op-vok each morning. One op-vok I distinctly remember. We pissed the Sergeant Major off, we were ordered into our step out uniform (like suit and tie) and we had to report to the parade. They made us crawl in them through the dust, run and fall run and fall, pushups this, for more than an hour. Then we were told to get back to our barracks and there would be an inspection in an hours time in which time our cloths were to be washed and ironed and dry hanging neatly in our cupboards. We all raced back like crazy washed and ironed our cloths in one hour. We passed that inspection. We also done lots of marching and guard duty and further courses for which we had to write tests for, to pass we had to achieve at least 80%. Plenty of AWOL we would hitch hike down into Pretoria and go to the nightclubs there. The next mourning we all on the field doing PT with hang overs, the corporal included. Everyone groaning and the corporal telling us to look alive because we are being watched. I was super fit then.
In the afternoons I would go for a jog, in fact it was a fast rundown to the Afrikaans Taal Monument [This would have been the Voortrekker Museum near Voortrekkerhoogte, surely?] up all those stairs to the front doors and then back into the camp. I broke the fastest time, which was 31 minuets, I done it in 27 minuets. At the end of the bush phase they have a cross country relay type race in which each team has to carry move or role a 2 tonne trailer a tar pole a bed frame a 500 kg truck tyre and 4 small tyres along 5 miles of gravel road. The firs complete team to cross the finish line wins. I fucked my knees up on that course. On the halfway mark I stopped to have an injection for the pain and my knees bandaged up. A further 100 meters down the road I took the bandages off, it was too saw. I pushed the 500kg tyre the last 2.5 miles and finished way ahead of everyone else.
Then we were moved over to the medical phase, which is broken up into two further sections namely practical and theory. We done theory first which included; pharmacology illnesses and diseases documentation as necessary for working in a hospital nursing skills + hygiene and anatomy and advanced emergency 1st aid and minor operations. We were all given these thick A4 size photo copied books and told that we write exams on them in 4 weeks time and we have to get at least 80% to pass. We attended various classes each day in which we had very knowledgeable doctors lecturing us on different procedure and at night I studied like crazy. We didn't have any more inspections or op-voks we were left alone to study in all the free time we had. While out of our windows if we wished we could watch Bravo Company being pushed and shoved around and drilled into the ground. I passed all my exams but the results were all kept secret until the end of the 6-month course. Everyone found out on the same day who passed and who failed. Surprisingly few failed.
The practical or Hospital phase was the best. We worked at three different hospitals; Thembisa, Philadelphia and Baragwanath hospitals. I enjoyed this part of the course more than the wrest. We had to work in the emergency side of these hospitals. Them being on the outskirts of very dangerous coloured and black settlements meant that after 8pm casualties streamed in, one a minute ranging from gun shot wounds to axes in the head whole legs or arms cut open. Loads of car accidents. This would carry on through the night into the early hours of the morning. There was this man who worked at Baragwanath hospital and for the last 20 years, all he did was the suturing. A lady came in that night with a cut on her fore head, she needed beauty stitching. The nurse came around asking if anyone could do it and the guys pointed her my way. At SAMS college we had some real good doctors teaching us, one of the doctors was a specialist in stitching/suturing and he taught us all the different suturing techniques including a specialised technique for stitching up an abdominal wound. This required the use of your fingers instead of forceps to tie off the knots, this being because on stitching up an abdominal wound you need to keep constant pressure on the nylon whilst stitching up and it is virtually impossible to do it with forceps. This man who had been doing all the suturing at this hospital over the past 20 years was so impressed with my stitching that he came to talk to me. I told him of all the types of suturing I was taught and found that he didn't know the abdominal suture so I sat down and taught it to him. It was nice to be able to teach someone something.
These are the medics of different platoons of different sections of the military who come to do the medical phase of the Ops Medics course. Once they have completed the 3 months, they return to the regiment they belong to. Each wore the colour beret of his regiment hence the smartie ops medics. They will be responsible for the medical care of the platoon they belong to.
Me as a Ops Medic I don't belong to any regiment or company hence I could choose as to where I want to be up on the boarder. We were generally assigned to base camps or hospitals in the front line.
MY TWIN BROTHER
He started his military service a year earlier than me, and due to the fact that he is registered deaf in his right ear he got branded G1 K4 restricting him to an office job or a store man. His branding stops him from being in any fighting zone or close to any weapon firing and obviously he may not carry or fire a weapon. We are not office material or pen pushers so he chose to be the store man for 61side mechanised infantry. Three months after there basics were over the stores were loaded onto the back of two Kwe 100`s, as he was the store man he ended up being the driver for more than four months in Angola, being bombed regularly by 1000pounder bombs. He still suffers from shell shock today. He said they would hear over the radio. VICTOR. VICTOR and they would all drive off the path they are travelling on stop the trucks and chop some trees down to camouflage the vehicles then they had to dig fox holes about 5 foot deep to lye in as protection against the blast. An hour later they would hear a feint hissing noise in the sky. They then would see the MiG flying around at about 30 000 foot looking for the convoy of trucks below. Then they would see a white Para shoot open up directly above them, it was the 1000 pounder. For the next 1110 minutes they would pray as the wind carries the bomb away from them. When it exploded about a kilometre away, the shockwaves would rock the trucks and the ground would shake like an earthquake. He said that the first time they encountered the MiG`s they were ordered to camouflage the trucks and then to dig fox holes, he said that they each dug shallow little holes just deep enough to lie in, about 2 foot deep. He said that when the first bomb exploded some of the guy's went mad, a Sergeant started digging and wouldn't stop; they had to send the medic down into the hole after him to give him a relaxant injection. He went down about eight foot and refused to come out. One of my brothers friends were coming back into civvy land on a pass so my brother gave him a letter to send to me, which told me what base he was at so we could be together. I chose sector one zero and then Itale base. I was about a month on the base when 61 Mechanised infantry arrived out of Angola. We were about three months together in the same camp before they moved on to return to Bloemfontein
GOING TO THE BORDER
As we finished our ops training we had a two-week pass, when we arrived back at camp we had to attend a funeral of an Ops Medic who was killed in action. The hardest part was to stand there seeing the parents crying and knowing that you are on your way up there and how your parents would feel if you were killed in action. It was really sad. This helped many of the guys realise that the border was not a ball of fun and games. We flew from Waterkloof air base in Pretoria to Grootfontein in South West Africa; then we drove in convoy up to Ondangwa air base. This was a four-hour journey one of the Casspirs was involved in an accident on the way up and a friend of mine in the Casper broke his back and is now paralysed in his legs. I feel that he was being a total idiot and that he could have prevented his injuries had he strapped himself in. I have visited him since first in Pretoria then in 2mill hospital Wynberg Cape Town.
We arrived at Ondangwa base and slept in a hanger the first night, we were also led to believe that we were in the thick of all the fighting. They always talk shit to the guys. The next morning we were called onto the parade ground and were issued with our first niviquon tablet, it's small and white. We were ordered ho only swallow in when commanded. When everyone had a tablet we were told to chew it. It is the most foul tasting, sour tablet ever; they had great fun watching the sour expressions on our faces. That was an initiation. Every camp you go to people want to initiate you.
ETALI BASE SECTOR ONE ZERO
Etale base is approximately 60 miles north of Ondangwa and about a mile from the main tar road leading to the border which is a further 10 miles on. The sand road leading to our camp had to be mine swept every morning before it could be used. It was also always full of potholes so you couldn't ride very fast on it. The camp was approximately the size of 10 rugby fields with 3-meter high sand walls pushed up around it to protect against direct fire.
Outside the perimeter of the sand walls is a 50 meter clearing of flat ground then outside of that is a 30 meter wide mine field which totally surrounds the camp with exception to the narrow entrance wide enough for one truck to pass at a time. The minefield housed about 80 000 antipersonnel mines. At various intervals in the sand walls are bunkers, which faced to the outside in the event of an attack.
My first night in the camp I woke up suddenly to a massive explosion, only to find out that a dog had jumped over into the minefield and triggered a mine. This was a regular occurrence. The next morning we would arm up and shoot the injured animal in the head to put it out of its misery. The next morning I found that my brother wasn't there, he arrived a month later. To see the mechanised infantry arrived in all splendour and power, it was an awesome sight. Hundreds of vehicles; Ratel 90`s; 80`s; 60`s and 20`s Kwe 120`s and100`s water bunkers and various supply trucks it was a seemingly never-ending stream of vehicles rolling into camp. The whole camp suddenly sprang to life. It was just buzzing from that day forward. My brother was nicknamed JIPPO due to the fact that in spite of his G1 K4 rating he managed to be in a fighting zone fire almost every weapon available and he could organise anything you wanted within the camp. Because I am his twin I was automatically called JIPPO number two. For the time that he was there it was total bliss, he controlled the stores and I controlled the medical supplies. Between the two of us, nothing was impossible. My sick bay had a nice piece of lawn in the front of it, which I kept well watered so it was always lush and green. The main entrance of the sickbay was divided in two by steel cabinets and a curtain divider the closed off section was our theatre and operating bed. In the front of this room we had a table and two chairs and a long bench oh our radio and most importantly the ice water machine. Off to the right of this room were two bedrooms, the back one was mine, and the front one was for the other medic. Then off to the left of this room is a further two rooms, the back one was our pharmacy and the front one was the doctors bedroom. If anyone in the camp was ill or was injured we would see to them there, we were open 24 hours a day 365 days a year.
The piece of grass it the front of the sickbay, I regarded it as civvy land anyone coming onto the sickbay premises was exempt from saluting or standing to attention. If troopies came and done the honours we would inform them of the rules. Generally they would come into the sickbay and stomp to attention and say;. KORPORAAL! Then I would say "WAT DIE VOK DOEN JY? (What the fuck are you doing?) DIT IS CIVVY LAND! (`This is civvy land!') Get down and give me ten." And they would do 10 push-ups. All the guys pretty much knew that our sick bay was civilian land. Once a month I would do a stock check of the pharmacy and then either go into Oshakati or Ondangwa to replenish my stock. At the main medical stores I always went into the stores acting dumb like I know what I need but I can't remember the name. Then I would go through their stores with a fine toothcomb looking for all the newer drugs and fancy equipment. This way I was always up to date with what was new and got a little extra on the side
There is more to come, the complete interview has been transcribed, and the contributor is continuing to edit and expand it. What follows is the unedited transcript, for those willing to risk it, which will be replaced by the edited version, as that becomes available.
All the guys in the camp pretty much knew that when they crossed that line there, they were in civilian land. This pharmacy here was racked out with different shelves at different heights with all the different medicines. Every month I would make a list of what I was short of, and then I would climb in the Unimog - we were supposed to go with the convoy down to Ondangwa and then from Ondangwa I could go by myself to Oshakati where I used to load up my stores, and apply for new stores. Most of the time this camp was controlled by the SAKK (South African Coloured Corps). They had these buffels which they had/hate, and every time you want to go to Oshakati or Ondangwa, you had to drive with their little convoy of three buffels and then your unimog. Their convoy speed was about forty miles an hour, and that was just too slow for me. When ever we got the chance we would nip out of the camp by ourselves and just chase down the road by ourselves at eighty or ninety miles and hour with that little thing.
The Captain of Etali Base didn't like us very much because we were `untouchable' and we didn't give a shot for them or their rules. We showed them the middle finger many times, especially with my second doctor. He was fabulous. He was a party guy.
The first five months at Etali base - that was absolutely living in a tropical paradise - not `tropical' - its desert. It was nice because we had a swimming pool, and we had nice quarters and we were getting to know the camp. The first five months was just totally relaxing. It was a laugh now and then when the major would come from Ondangwa. He would fly with the helicopter, and they would circle for about twenty minuets, making sure that there was no enemy on the ground, and then the helicopter would drop in like a flash. The guy would climb out and spent about ten minutes in the camp, then back in his helicopter and they would disappear. They would shit themselves to be up there because we were about five minutes from the border. I think he was the SAKK Major. In Ondangwa you had 2391 Bn, and then you had the airport. This Major was from 2391 Bn. I would imagine that he was a part of the SAKK; that he ran the whole thing. He didn't like us either, and I think for that reason I didn't get my second stripe on the border. I should have got it.
We used to kill ourselves. Hell, we were lying there relaxing. Nothing was happening. You would be lucky if someone gets shot by one of the public with a bow and arrow, and then you treat them as a casevac case and get them back to Ondangwa so that they can have an emergency operation. As for enemy in the territory - there was nothing happening.
We had one guy - a two pip lieutenant - I don't actually know exactly what his job was, but we was to do with communicating with the people around the area - COMPS or something. Many times I would go out and spend the whole day walking around with him - he would go and visit different groups of people, seeing how they live. We even attended one of their weddings, which was really nice. I really enjoyed my time up there.
Just after my brother left - he want to Ondangwa. My brother came down and he spent three weeks with me in the same camp, and then 91 Mechanised
After my brother had been in the camp a few months, 91 Mechanised Infantry moved out because they were now going out back to civvyland. I think they were 61 Mechanised infantry because they had all the ratels and the water bunkers. They also had a G6 battery with them as well. The G6 battery was based in the bush about twenty miles from our camp. Each of those guns was aligned, and they could fire accurately to within one metre of a target over a distance of about 50 km. Then the blast would kill anything within a hundred metres radius. They were damn good. We had a battery of six or eight G6 cannons. I think that the vehicle that they were on was called a G8. The G6 cannon has four wheels on it and basically when you detach it from the vehicle you can drive the cannon to wherever it must be and then the wheels fold in and the whole thing settles down. You don't need any manual labour. When it fires no-one can be within fifteen or twenty metres of the cannon itself because of the back blast. It would just blow you off your feet. We had a whole G6 battery out there. They two medics that were in charge of that, they needed a little break. They wanted to go away for a week, so they went on AWOL in to Oshakati. The doctor that was with them, he had also studied law back in South Africa and he was very clued up on the law, and he was also very clued up on the military law, so with all his knowledge, he managed to get his two guys off. Then he came into Etali base and he arranged for me to be sitting on their Ringhals for that week. Would do anything to get out of the camp. I went to live in the bush for a week on a Ringhals.
I spent a week with that battery, and that was really nice. We would have spider fights and scorpion fights. In South West Africa we had spiders that we used to call the Red Roman. It was quite a big spider, and it was classed as the fastest spider in the world. It had two massive two massive beaks on the front and it basically sucks a grasshopper. It would grab a grasshopper about the size of my finger and it would suck it dry in less than a minute, and it would discard the body and it would carry on running around. It was very fast and they were quite dangerous.
On my little sick bay, and the back there they had a `donkey', which is a 25 gallon drum, and you would make a fire underneath there to heat the water up, or the sun bakes it enough so that you can have a good old shower. These idiots had taken it away because they had originally installed it into the camp. This was my sick bay; you don't just take stuff away from my sick bay. I can't shower without hot water. So I went back there to steal the thing back off one of their big old trucks there, and also to get a pipe replaced for my Ringhals. I was driving there, and I saw `That's where we need to be'. A Rinkhals is top heavy, so you can't take it anywhere more than 60 degrees when you are driving otherwise it will just fall over. I took it down the forty-five degree slope slowly - I was doing about twenty kilometres an hour. We were driving on a flat road, and then the dip was about two or three metres deep, and then you hit the level ground. I wasn't going to go all the way around because my engine was overheating and I was afraid that it would be damaged, so I turned off the road. Down we went off the slope, and as soon as we reached the level ground, we were fine again, because I went down at a steep angel off this road. I stole my donkey back and I just climbed on, and I took it back.
Once a week from Etali base we would do, not a sick parade, but the guys who could not be treated at our camp, for things like dentistry and other non-urgent stuff - we would take them to the Ondangwa Air Base where they would be treated at the hospital there. We had a group of about five or six. I think that at the time my Unimog was broken down so I couldn't use this, so I took this old ringhals, and we diced. I think I did 90 km at one stage. I think that my Unimog could only get up to eighty four or eighty six, so it was fast for me. When we got to the T-junction near Ondangwa air base, I think I blew the pipe in the main engine, and my windscreen was getting filled with oil and there was smoke everywhere. I couldn't see anything through the windscreen so I had my head out of the window, and I was driving the thing along. I pulled in by the air base, and at the entrance there they have a big concrete gateway. At that time there was some high ranking official in the front there trying to get entrance into the camp, and they were having some sort of a fight with him, and I came in screeching to a halt, shouting; `Get the fuck out of the way!' and I chased through.
Anyway I dumped all the crew off. Ondangwa Air Base is quite massive. You come up the main road in the centre and right at the end on your left hand side is the hospital, and on the way there it is quite built up. As you go in, and you drive on the dust road, you get to out in the field and around the airfield - you were in the marshes. 61 Mechanised Infantry basically parked all their trucks there, and they had their own little camp there. The main reason why I went around there is because my brother had told me …
I nearly got shot up in my Unimog. At six o'clock at night we had a curfew. Anything on the road after six would get shot at. My doctor and I didn't take much crap from the captain or whatever. We had a member of the public who was burned. I think it was a little girl of between eight and ten years old. She had to be taken through for emergency treatment or else she could go into anaphylactic shock and she might die, especially with the type of burns that she had. We went to the captain and we told him that we wanted a convoy now. This was five o'clock in the evening. He said; `No way. You have to phone Ondangwa first for authorisation.' They phoned Ondangwa. Me and my doctor were back at the sickbay and we were swearing; `Fuck this! We said that we would sign papers to say that we would help anyone even if it was the enemy.' I thought; `Screw this!' I climbed into my Unimog. I knew one of the MPs pretty well at the gate. `Cheers guys', and I just drove off. We had to take this child to Nchokwe Hospital - you go to Ondangwa and you turn left past 631 Bn, and you travel for another twenty minutes up that road, and then you take another left and you travel for another half an hour and then you get to the public hospital, and I took the kid to a casevac there. Then at seven or eight o'clock that night I had to travel back.
Coming back up to the water towers, you get Delta, Charlie, then Bravo tower was blown up, and then there was Alpha Tower. We passed Delta Tower and they were phoning around frantically; `There's a vehicle on the road. Do we shoot it?' They obviously phone Ondangwa; `There's a vehicle on the road. Do we shoot it?' `What is it?' `No, its an ambulance.' They may have phoned the captain at our base, and asked; `Is your ambulance there?' He said;` Yes, our ambulance should be here.' `Well, there's an ambulance on the road coming your way. What's happening?' So he was in deep shit because he didn't know where we were. We came up to Charlie tower, and they were also about to shoot, and that's when the captain found out that we were not in camp because he had sent someone to run quickly to ask; `Is our ambulance here?'
The second time we had to take a casevac was one of the police guys got shot and they brought him to our camp. He had been shot in the stomach and he was already going into anaphylaxis. We set up a drip and we gave him antibiotics to protect him and we put him in the back of a police vehicle, which was much faster, and we drove straight through. At that stage, luckily the Captain gave us transport to go with us, and we basically left the convoy behind us. They came racing up because one of them could ride very fast, and they overtook us and were in front again, and they slowed us down. When you get to Ondangwa you are supposed to turn into 2391 Bn, and they must now phone ahead to Ondangwa and say; `We are sending someone across. Don't shoot.' When we got there I said; `No fucking way are we going to sit in that camp for another half an hour. The convoy were all going that way, and I went this way.' As we got there - it was pitch black (What actually happened?) - ta-ta-ta- ta. Flares shooting up everywhere. It was total madness. I just put my light on and my siren on and I just kept going on. I got into big shit, but we just laughed it off.
None of the shit never rolled over our way. It was only that once when I came back from the casevac when the Captain wouldn't give us a convoy and I took that child to the civvy hospital. It was only then that anything backfired on our direction. The doctor and I were told that the next day that we had to go and have a meeting with the captain, and he knew the law, and I knew the law. We knew that he could do nothing to us, and when we walked into the captain's office we both had big old grins on our faces, and the captain knew that he couldn't do anything either. All that he could do was to try to contain his anger, and he talked nicely to us, and we just about burst out laughing to his face, and we turned to walk out and he couldn't do anything. We laughed at him. I think that's the main reason that I didn't get my second stripe, because everyone else before they left sector 10 got their second stripe. I only got mine when I went up to sector 70 which was three months later.
I didn't have much to do with any officers. I was like my own agent out there doing my own thing, and to hell with anyone else. And that was pretty much me and my doctor's attitude. We came here to do a job. We're going to do it, and screw anyone else.
When I first got there I had a Unimog, and I went around all the camps stealing everyone's wheels. I was going to have the best tires on my Unimog. If I saw a truck that had the best wheel for that, then I would come one evening, jack it up, taken the wheel off and swap it with one of mine. People would have to pay attention to notice. They wouldn't come along and find a bearing hanging out. I at least gave them a wheel - decent wheels, but I had the best grip and the best tires on mine. I called it `Bigfoot', but I put it in Owambo language. I wrote it on the side of my truck, what in their language meant `Big Foot'.
I went anywhere and everywhere with that truck of mine. The second doctor that in had - he's the one administering the alcohol by syringe. He was sitting in the drivers seat, and we had first gone to visit someone that was really ill. I think it was someone with Tuberculosis. We went and did a home visit. We had to drive off the road. Off the road you are going through bushes, and the front window you can drop down onto the bonnet, so I did that. I didn't lock it. We drove through to where we needed to be, and then on the way back - we were going to Ondangwa. Luckily he had sunglasses on, because when I got the main road and we started to pick up speed and we started doing fifty or sixty kilometres an hours, the windscreen suddenly camp up - whoosh! Because the wind caught it and lifted. It shattered and he had glass all over him. He shat himself then really.
Then, barely a week later we had a casevac to Ondangwa, and as I was driving to Ondangwa, the truck felt a bit light on the road - it kept bearing off the road the whole time, and I had to constantly correct it to keep it on the road. I kept quiet - I didn't say anything. I got to Ondangwa, and the doctor went off to visit his buddies in the dentistry section, and I decoded to just take a look under the truck to see why it was so loose oon the road. With four-wheel drive you have your front axel underneath and your back axel at the back. The front axel should all be bolted together, but there was one bolt only loosely attached, and all the other bolts had fallen out, and then you have your support beams which support the side of the truck, that hold everything steady under. Three of the support beams were gone, and the one was - how long would it have been? - the whole front of the truck was totally loose. As you steered it, it would have gone where it wanted to. I went to the Doc and I said; `Listen. You're not driving back in the Unimog. You're going to have to find your own way back to camp.' He says; `Why?' I shouldn't have told him, but he shat himself. He wouldn't drive in that vehicle again after that. I took it back into Ondangwa and they scrapped it instantly. They couldn't believe how someone could drive something like this.
About a week later I got a new Unimog out of Oshakati. This was nice. This one had a siren on it. The other one didn't. If you're driving up the roads there, you've got all these lazy cows there, who just drift over the loads. They are lazy, and they're half asleep. So if I was coming along doing 80 km per hour, and I saw this cow on the road, and I switched the siren on. This cow did wheel-spins to get out of the road. It was the best thrill I ever had on that trip.
Then at one stage the brakes had almost totally gone on this Unimog. I had 61 Mech there, and I was chasing these two ratels. You know that a ratel is a good 18 or 20 tons, and the Unimog - it would be lucky if it was one ton. I'm chasing this ratel, and they've got six wheels and I've only got four. Unimogs are very high up, but they are nit high enough to see over the ratels. We were chasing - we were doing seventy or eighty kilometres an hour. There was a cow on the road, and the ratel driver did an almost dead stop, and I was now struggling with my brakes behind this thing. I stopped my Unimog within millimetres behind the ratel. I shit myself there.
I was the one who fucked up all the unimogs. A Unimog can't get stuck in the sand. (difficult to hear on the tape.) I tell you, that is the best four by four truck around. It's a Mercedes, I think a sixteen cylinder. A fantastic thing. The only thing is that you have to be stationary to block. You can't be moving. So what I would do - you've got the road - it's a nice wide road. If you're looking at the normal wide road where you can have two car riding beside each other and still have space between to overtake while anyone else is driving. That's how wide those roads are, and they just go straight forever. You would come up to the tower - [draw a picture] If you've got the road coming past like this, then this will be the wall of the camp, and there you would have all your bunkers and stare-outs, and then you'd have your massive tower here. Now if you're coming in this direction, this road is about a meter and a half above this level ground here. It was all very soft sand here. Coming along here I would be doing about 80 km and hour, and I would chase off this road, and I would just take my foot off the accelerator, so I allowed the sand to stop me, and as I would get here, I would do a hand brake turn, and I would turn this way, and now the truck is stationary, and everyone had seen that it was the ambulance coming, so everyone was up on the wall to see what's going to happen, and as I get …
When I was in St Johns they were very strict on everything being clean and sterile, and up on the border, with all the dust and everything, there was no such thing as sterile anymore. We kept everything as clean as possible. That's where I learned a load of lessons.
Most of the problems that we had were members of the public beating up their wives. The men were very dominant, and when the wives didn't do what they wanted, then they would beat the crap out of them. That was always with a sjambok [whip] and over the head. We did stitches like crazy.
This one particular lady came in. Her head was smashed open. He probably wouldn't stop beating. She was lucky to be alive. I spent a good two or three hours busy stitching her head closed and putting in drains here and drains there. She had lost a load of blood. The camp rules were that no civvies were allowed to stay in the camp after dark. This was already after dark. The doctor wouldn't have her in there, so I basically had to kick her out of the sick bay and tell her to get out of the camp. This was after having done major stitching on her head. There were probably about seven or eight different areas where I was stitching. I probably put about thirty or forty stitches in her head.
I stitched her up nicely, put drains in, and told her she had come back four days later for us to remove the drains, so that you don't have blood building up. The next morning, when we woke up, we saw massive patches of blood on the ground where she had fallen and lain for about half an hour before she had got on and moved on a bit. We couldn't keep her in the camp. After I had stitched her up, she was fine. She came back four days later, and we removed the drains out, and everything was hunky dory after that.
Our next main thing was syphilis and gonnoreah. We were treating everyone for syphilis and gonnoreah all the time.
My doctor and I; we got terribly bored during the first five months doing nothing. We set our little surgery doing minor operations, and we did a few circumcisions. I think in about two weeks we did about five or six people. The doctor did the first two, and he forgot to tie up the artery which comes up underneath, and then there was a sergeant in the SAKK who was a giant. His hand could fit right over your face it was so big. He was the first one I did, and his wounds healed up within a week and a half, and the two that the doctor did prior, there were still bleeding. The had to come back and I had to cut all the stitches open and close up the artery first, and then they healed. So I was like the hero after that, and the doctor was hiding.
The first of April was 2391 resolution, and I would say that about a month before the resolution things started heightening up. We started to have a little bit more activity of militants in the area. In February and March we had a recce group.
We played a joke on one of the Recces. He was very clever, very bush trained, very with it, but intellectually he was a total idiot. He was like - you get one of these farm boys - they know how to do their job and they're good at what they do, but when it comes to common sense, they've got none. This one we totally screwed him around the whole day. We started early in the morning. We had him washing his hair with lice shampoo and washing his whole body with lice shampoo, and no-one would come close to you. ??? for the whole day. Eventually, when he found out what we had been up to, he wanted to shoot us.
What happened was you get this sponge mattress, and if you take a bicycle spoke and poke into the sponge, when you pull it out, it forms like a little worm coming out. Wherever you poke, it comes out the top, and it looks like worms. Ever time this guy would lie down, they would poke a few hole and a few worms come out. They would say; `Hey. Kyk! Daar's die vokken wurms now, jong. Bly weg van die man. Hy's siek!' So eventually his whole mattress was full of these `worms'. He believed it fully because every time he would turn over, there would be more worms. We had him washing all his clothes. He wanted to kill us at the end of the day.
A month before that, all the military was supposed to have moved beyond the 10 degree line. It was just myself and my doctor - we changed into civilian clothing. We had another medic, but I wasn't too concerned about him, because I knew what I was doing, and that was it. I think a month before the 2392 resolution came in, all the military had to move behind the ten degree line to comply with the resolution, and the police who were living in a camp between us and the border; they were being revved on a regular basis. They had a school there, and the school teachers would tell the enemy where the camp was, and they would rev the camp. There would be loads of shit there. When the military moved out, the police moved into our camp because we were much more secure. We had a mine field around our camp - more than 80 000 mines.
My doctor and I - we changed into civilian clothes and we stayed there. We used to go out on regular rides with police, with the SWA-POL. They were a really great bunch for piss-ups and braais every night. Once the military had left - all the stores in the kitchen. I went up to the chef, and I said; `Hey. Don't you need any medical supplies?' `He said; `Well, yes. What do you want out of the kitchen?' I said; `Well, I'll bring my Unimog around.' I reversed the unimog right up to the kitchen door, and we loaded box after box of tinned sausages and condensed milk and fresh milk, and fruit salad and everything. I just had loads of stuff. All the supplies in my pharmacy were moved forward so that I could hide the boxes of food behind them. I think that I had more food in my pharmacy than anyone else in the camp. I was really well stocked up when the military moved out. All the ammunition and everything moved out with them. We were left with minimal ammunition to comply with the resolution.
When the police were there, the kitchen was left pretty much open. Every morning you had a full continental breakfast. The chef would just cook shit-loads of eggs and sausages, and you would get a plate and you could just eat as much as you like. It was a big contrast from the army. With the army, especially with the SAKK it would be stews with beans, but really, at the end of the day, it was good food. I know it was a big load of slosh but you miss it at the end of the day. With the police we had braais we had braais, and thick steaks and sandwiches with cheese, onions and tomatoes. I think I became a pig in less than a month up there. Every night we used to eat like that. They just knew how to party.
Then I was also part of - I was the barman for a good few weeks there. The police were only a small group of people, and we were a massive camp. Koevoet wanted to move up closer to the border, but also without the United Nations knowing about it, so they came and they hid away in our camp. They were out during the day, but at night they would come in and stay in our camp. They were a bunch of rogues. They would shoot up the place, and I would have to lock up the place and run out and hide in my sickbay so that no-one would shoot me. There was one massive fight.
There was conflict between Koevoet and the army. Up at Oshakati there was a definite rift between the two. Koevoet had their own base camp, and their own hangout area there, and the military and them never mixed. I never saw them mix. The only time I ever saw them mix was at Etali base, and that was purely formal. It was military strategy - nothing else. The evening before the first of April we went and we slept out on the kaplyn because we were expecting trouble. The recce group that was with us, they were going over into Angola and seeing what was happening there, and there were pipes and guns, cannons and loads of RPG-7s - those sort of things. They were keeping a good record of what was happening. That was all supposed to have been moved to back behind their 10 degree line, and nothing was. That was why they were there, and the concern was great. The United Nations, as part of the peace treaty - as of the first of April, for the next ten days we would be confined to camp. On the first of April we could still reconnaissance in the area until eleven o'clock that morning.
"THE NINE DAYS OF WAR"
We woke up on the kaplyn. Everything was quiet . We drove around the various little towns (villages?) up there on the border. Everything was quiet and there was a light drizzle that morning, and we just wanted to get back to camp now because we were going to have ten days of piss up, lying on our beds doing nothing. I was really looking forward to this quiet time. We got back to camp at eleven o'clock. I immediately went to have a good old shower, and we were all going to meet in the bar by twelve o'clock. We had gone into the bar, and I think that it was about smack on twelve o'clock, the comps guy came running into the bar, calling for the police Kolonel, telling him that Koevoet had had a contact. There had been two hundred insurgents, and they had been hit quite heavily. The terrorists were now fighting a mixture of conventional and guerrilla warfare. They were setting up front lines, and they were setting up a back line, and they were fighting Koevoet that way. Koevoet were purely guerrilla warfare - they don't understand conventional warfare, so they were totally screwed. I think that the contact was just about twelve o'clock on that day. We all thought that it was a big old April Fool's joke.
We were having a good old piss up, listening to music, and then at about half past twelve, the guy came calling in again, saying; `You must come now. You must come now!' Now we figured; `There must be something happening', so I followed to the radio room, and we heard the shouting and the shooting, and all the swearing, and we realised that that it was happening. We heard all the reports that two hundred were coming over, barely ten miles from us, and there were another two hundred coming over on the West, so it was pretty serious. Immediately on the Kolonel getting wind of this, we started to scullte (? - is this the right word) the whole camp down. I started to get medical supplies together. The police had to find enough ammunition to defend the camp. Koevoet were out - they were the ones in the shit. Immediately we pulled out one staalkas of ammunition - rounds for the ** Maggie. I think we had about ten mortars bombs - the 81's - and that was it. We were pretty much sitting ducks.
About a week before this happened, we had an olifant tank that came around to our camp with anti personnel mine swings on the front to go and take out most of our mine field, so for a whole week we all had headaches from the mines just blowing up every ten seconds. They were like - doof doof doof doof doof. We would hear this for about twelve hours a day, and the tank just kept on going so we had had one moer of a head ache, and then when it was downwind from us we were covered in dust the whole time. Shit! Our minefield was exploded. I think there might have been maybe a coupe of hundred mines that were left there, but most of them had gone.
There was space for one vehicle to drive through like that, and there were indicators as to where this safe passage was. The minefield was about fifty or sixty metres wide. First of all, we didn't have a minefield, and second the police didn't give a shit about keeping watch at night. They just wanted to have a piss up and then go to bed, so we didn't have anyone looking after us at night, and thirdly we had no ammunition with which we could ward off the two hundred people that were coming our way. Luckily enough they knew exactly where our camp was, and they moved right around our camp, so we were now behind their front line. So that was the first of April.
Koevoet came in at night. I just wanted to get out there and fight, and I fought with my doctor. He was saying; `You can't go out. We need you here.'
On the second of April I had a big fight with him again because I wanted to go out. The whole reason that I had come there was for action. Now it was happening and I couldn't go out. I was highly pissed about this. They were casevacing the casualties to Oshakati. We would see the trucks coming in all shot up, and they would have the bodies of the enemy dead.
I was pissed off because we would see the guys leave, and you would see about half of the guys come back, and you would know them because they had been in the camp for the last month. Your adrenaline is racing and you are all tense. You just want to go out there and put a bullet in someone's head - that's how I felt.
Then on the third of April, 91 Mechanised Infantry came to our camp. I think it was the second or third of April that they arrived. Also one morning we had a load of 101 Bn parked outside our camp, and there was about eighty casspirs and ratels. We had 91 Bn in our camp - that was 91 vehicles in all, and most of them were ratels, and then we had the police there with their Casspirs and Wolwe, and Koevoet there with their Casspirs. We had a moer of a camp there. It was absolutely awesome just to see all of these vehicles everywhere. I think that all in all there must have been a good three hundred vehicles parking in and around our camp. There was no place inside any more, so they were parking outside.
On the evening of the second of April all the high ranking officers of the 91 Mechanised Infantry - we were told that all officers and people in charge were to attend a massive war meeting that night. We all went into the massive mess hall, and they had a big chart up there, and we discussed that these people were not fighting guerrilla warfare anymore. They were fighting conventionally.
I would say that by then about half of Koevoet were gone - vehicles and people. You had little dribs and drabs left. Normally Koevoet would go out with about seven vehicles at a time - they would have a group of about seven vehicles and they would go out there and track.
That wasn't happening because they were being shot to pieces. That evening, on the second of April we sat down and we discussed it. Instead of having little groups of people going everywhere and getting shot to pieces, we were going to make one massive force, and that would be a mixture or military, police and Koevoet. We would go out together, as one massive force and drive them into the ground. I have a photo of it there.
We set up a front line - you would have a ratel 90, and then a casspir and a wolf, and then you would have another ratel 90 - we had a whole front line like that and we would just go straight through the bush.
Flanking on the side you would have ratels 20, with the 20(21?) mm cannon on it, and also casspirs and wolve coming up n the flank to protect the flank, and then we would have a back line about 500m to a kilometre behind us which would have a ratel 80 with 81mm mortars and in front of that we would have the ratel 40 with the 40mm, and supplies would follow at the back. We went out on the third of April, and I was koevoet. I had been with Koevoet a few times before, when they were doing normal bush operations all the time. You had your `walk's [Tracker] in the front, the spoor-finders. They would be about 200m in front of us. We were chasing two large groups.
Only later we heard that these two groups had the story was that their commanders had told them that that 3391 resolution gave them a free way to move into South West Africa freely and peacefully. They would go in to South West Africa freely to a certain point, and they were to set up a camp there. That is what they had been told by their commanding officers back in Angola, so they did not expect there to be warfare, but when they were hit, they fought back quite strongly. We chased them. They set up a front line because they knew that we were coming.
Here is another conflicting issue of mine. The military were on a cease fire. They were not allowed to fire a round, but yet we had ratel 90s. They were obviously going to stand and do nothing?
We came to an area and our `Walk' [Tracker] said to us; `In that bush there ...' which was about 200m ahead of us the enemy were waiting. They were going to hammer us. In front of us was the death ground. So we all stood there in a line waiting now for two gun ships to come along. I can still remember the commanders swearing and cursing, waiting for the gun ships to come and shoot the shit out of them. The reason that they said that was because for the last few days the gun ships were flying over when they were having the shit shot out of them, and the gun ships would not firs a shot. They could have saved a lot of people. But purely because the military had a ceasefire. What were we going to do, anyway? We were just standing there.
As the helicopter gun ships arrived we saw a missile go up to meet one of them. Obviously they were out of range so the missile just missed and blew up. I was sitting right up at the top of a wolf. On a casspir the whole roof is open, and then you have the doors at the back. On the wolf the whole roof is open, but at the back you've got a nice big section that you could sit on. You could sit with your feet hanging into the unit, and you can look over the front. I was sitting up there, looking over the front line. Then some heavy fire came pout of the bush, and I could hear the bullets flying over my head. I dropped down. I heard a massive explosion, and our vehicles were rocking, and they were bombing us with mortars. I could hear all the swearwords under then sun. `Get the fuck out of here.' And then we all just chucked forward in one mad group. The ratel 90s next to us - they opened a scroot (?) that is the same as a shotgun shell. Once it leaves the barrel it opens up to a width of about 50m wide, and it goes two hundred metres long - it fires a whole lot of iron balls. Once they opened up with scoot, the bush just opened up and you could see the leaves fall. The trees just became bare. We weren't going to wait for them. We just shot everything that moved, and rode over everyone. The whole day was spent chasing two hundred, which then became fifty, which then became twenty five, and then became four, and then we were chasing one person. Imagine all of these vehicles chasing one person.
We had killed about fifty or sixty people that day. The best part of it was where we were driving through the bush. Koevoet had good eyesight. They could see something from miles away. They had twin 40mm browning on the turret, and as you were driving along, the guy would see some movement in a tree, and he would just hose the tree down, and you would two people fall out, and then you would move on to the next lot.
We drove right around until about six o'clock the next morning. Eventually we were only chasing one person. After that we decided to go back to the ambush zone to collect all the weaponry and the stuff that they had left behind. We couldn't leave it there for them to come and collect. There I got myself a nice bag from them, a full uniform, rounds of ammunition, clothing, the lot. Some of that stuff I smuggled back home to Cape Town. I've still got my bag with the bullet hole through it.
We spent the rest of the time until the tenth of April coming the bush every day, shooting whatever we could find. I think when 91 Mechanised Infantry came in, they brought all the supplies in with them, because they had all the supply trucks and everything with them.
I recall on the first and second of April, that a few police trucks were racing back to Ondangwa to go and get supplies. I myself raced through the front line back to Oshakati on my own - I just had my R5 with me, and I had about 300 rounds of ammunition with me, in magazines all over, ready waiting. If anyone tried to catch me, I was going to give them a fight. My doctor wouldn't go with me, and neither would my medic.
The shit happened on the first of April. On the second of April I was racing down to Oshakati by myself. No escort, no nothing! In my little tin plate Unimog. I passed by Ondangwa. Normally there was just the bare sandwalle [sand walls, what the Americans refer to as a berm] - that was all there was - when I got to Ondangwa, the SAKK camp, they had about ten layers of sand bags pack up above that, and they had triple their guard duty. I killed myself laughing because here we were - we had no minefield around our camp. We don't even have guard duty in the evening time, and we braaied until whatever time in the night, and we would just flake out with nothing around us, and these people had had ten sandbags on top of their wall, and double guard duty, with everyone shitting themselves. And here I was riding around in this paper-thin little Unimog going to fetch supplies - through the front line, may I add.
I drove through from Ondangwa one day., and because my Unimog had broken down, I wasn't going to wait for their convoy, so I walked to the T-junction of the main road that goes up North to the border. I stick out my thumb and I hitch hiked a lift back to camp - through the front line! I didn't give a hit for their ideas. I thought they were a bunch of arseholes. There was no threat - no danger - nothing! They had a mind of their own and they shit themselves for nothing. I found it a total Hoot - I was laughing. (Last sentence not clear on tape!)
The 2391 Resolution was broken. Immediately after it was broken there were new rules that if any enemy was running North, you may not chase them. You may not shoot anybody who was travelling in a Northerly direction. You may apprehend them if they are travelling in a Southerly direction. So there we were chasing two hundred which became less and less and less, and eventually you are chasing three or four, and they are running North, and all the radio conversation is `Ons beweeg in 'n suidelike rigting. Kan julle asseblief voorentoe gaan en hom afsny daar voor asseblief.' [`We are heading in a southerly direction. Pleace can you go ahead and cut him off?'] North was referred to as `South'. Anyone monitoring the radio transmissions would have been fooled.
On the first of April, 24 of the enemy were killed. We had a mass grave just outside of the Etali base, and after all the fighting had settled down, which was around the tenth of April was had a massive load of scientists and medical personnel come in to dig up the bodies to verify that the enemy that was shot wasn't shot from behind. There were all these stories of executions. That was quite gruesome.
[Observers happy combat deaths?] We heard nothing after that. They just came, did their thing, and then left.
After the first of April, the United Nations were in quite strongly. Me being out of military uniform, I was basically walking in black shorts and a khaki top. We had shot loads of reporters representing all different countries. (WAS THERE MORE THAT YOU WERE GOING TO SAY HERE?)
END OF NINE DAYS OF WAR SECTION
BACK TO SOUTH AFRICA
When I got back to South Africa after being on the border for seven and a half months, I pretty much had no respect for any rank. I treated everyone as an equal. And if I saw a corporal or a sergeant, I wanted to give him my fist because at SAMS college, the instructors there had all these stories of when they were on the border; this happened and that happened and when you get up there you find that it is all bullshit. You know that they were just a load of bullshitters. When I walked back into the camp I was very pissed off with the people. Luckily enough the sergeant major who was at the camp there; he saw what my intentions were, and he said; `Come here!' I went up to him, and I said; `Yes, Sergeant major?' He said; `You see that middle line in the road there.' (The one on the road in to SAMS College.) He said; `You stay on that line, until you get to the stores at the top, and the you hand your kit in, and you get right out of this camp now.' He wouldn't let me do anything in the camp.
The funniest thing was when I came back from the border I had my R5 with me, I had about 300 rounds of live ammunition. I had all my ammunition still on me, and that Friday night I was in Pretoria. I had nowhere to go, and it was the weekend and the camps were all closed. It was the weekend and I had no-where to go. I had been out of the country for seven and a half months. Luckily one of the guys I had met on the plane down from Ondangwa; he lived in Johannesburg and his mom was coming to take him, so I went and slept at their place that evening. The next day they gave me a lift back into Pretoria, where I looked up a friend of mine who had been with me at SAMS college, and I spent the rest of the weekend at his place. On the Monday I walked into Pretoria with all my weaponry and everything on me, not giving a shit for anything. I went back in to SAMS college and the next thing I knew I was on a Greyhound back to Cape Town. They kicked me out of that camp so fast I couldn't believe it.
You cannot communicate with people who had not been to the border. They cannot understand. They cannot understand that when you are in that vehicle and bombs get lobbed at you and you can see them exploding at the side of the truck, and the whole truck is being lifted. Your whole life goes ahead of you. You sit there and that split second becomes a moment of about an hour. That bomb could have fallen in here, not next to us. When one of the guys got shot outside, and you had to climb out of the back of your truck to go to him, and there are bullets shooting around you. It's a totally different world, and no-one can understand.
I can't even understand my brother who was bombed for more than three months with thousand pounders. He says that they were lying there, and a call would come over the radio; `Victor Victor' - onvriendelike vyand. [Enemy Aircraft]They would shit themselves. The MiGs could pin-point and shoot at their target 40 miles before they could see. They had all the infra-red equipment, but the idiots who were flying them couldn't use . All that they knew was to push a button. They would fly around in these high tech planes and they would look - they would be too scared to fly under 40 000 foot because we would shoot them down. They would fly around looking for tracks and tell-tale signs of where we were, and then they would drop their bombs with the buttons. If they had used their infra-red, we would have been fucked. He says they would hear `Victor Victor' and immediately their blood turned cold and they would start camouflaging their vehicles and digging their holes because they had barely half an hour. He said that the first time they were given `Victor Victor' his friend dug a hole one foot deep. He was going to lie in that hole, and so was the sergeant major, and there was a sergeant as well. They all dug shallow holes, and cut some trees up to camouflage their trucks. They heard this little whistling noise, and they would look up and they could see this small little spec high up in the sky - it was the MiG flying around there. Then there would be a little parachute - it had dropped a thousand pounder on a parachute, and its directly above them. But its still at a thousand foot. They lay there for about five minutes watching this thing, and the wind started to blow it away - then about a mile away this bomb hits the ground, and it makes this one moer of an explosion. When that first explosion went off, in a few seconds there was a ten foot deep hole. The one sergeant wouldn't stop digging, and he wouldn't come out of the hole for the whole day, and they had to send a medic in to check him. He was reluctant to come out of the hole. He wouldn't stop digging. Another one of his mates stuck to the truck. He wouldn't let go of the truck.. So as soon as that first bomb went off, there were two people who were totally screwed in the head. They couldn't do nothing after that. They had to be sent back. He said that from then onwards when they heard `Victor Victor', within twenty minutes they would have dug a hole eight foot deep, and they had camouflaged all their trucks so that they could not be detected. The hole that the thousand pounder made. They took a kwe 100 and drove it into the hole, and from 50 metres away you wouldn't see that truck above the ground. They shat themselves - they had three months of that. I could never understand that because I had never experienced it. I know that this is true because even when he got back from the border - he got back a year before me. In Cape Town when a jet or a Boeing flew over, you could see him hit the deck. Sometimes he actually fell to the floor. Civilian people couldn't understand what I've been through, and I can't understand what my brother went through.
2 MILITARY HOSPITAL
They gave me a month's leave, and then I had to report to head office in Cape Town. From that office they said to me; `Be back on this date', which was a month later. Then they let me work at 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg. In my first two weeks there I managed to piss off the major - the matron. She told me; `It will do this establishment good to get rid of you.' I told her; `It would do me good to get me out of this civvy shit. Put me on the border. Put me anywhere.'
MEDIC ON THE NAVY JL `VASBYT' [Endurance March]
Barely a week later - Simonstown Naval Yard had their Officers training up in the mountains in the Franshoek area. They sent me there for two weeks to provide medical cover. It was a total fuck up. I don't mean `fuck up' as in `mess up'. Those guys were screwed. I haven't seen training as wicked (is this the word you used?). Those guys march from morning to night, and then they had to build their own place to sleep under. Then the next day - they were living in the mountains. They were climbing up and down mountains daily. Most of them had blisters, and one guy had a really bad knee problem. At the same time I hit a massive ‘flu. I was running a temperature of 38 to 40 degrees Celsius. I was checking myself. I was the only medic there. I knew that I couldn't get out of there because these guys needed me. There were about fifty of them there. I made myself a cocktail which was a range of five or six different tablets. I would take them and for the next fifteen minutes I would go into total shivers, hidden under the blankets, and I would be totally out for fifteen minutes, and after that fifteen minutes I would start shaking an quivering and running a high temperature. Then my temperature would drop right back to normal, and for the next four hours I would be a normal person, and then I could deal with these guys. Then I would start getting all the headaches and the flu symptoms again; and then I would take the tablets again and go to my bed. I did that for four days until the flu kicked out of me. In this one evening I was the worst, and this other youngster came in and he said that he has a guy who had some problem. These guys had their own sort of medic who was with them. I said to him; `Have you given him this, and this and this?' He had done everything. The only thing that I could do was to bail him, because it was his knee and some intercranial pressure, but it was not a head injury. I was too sick because I was running a high temperature, so I showed this medic how to give him an injection. The next morning I got all the compliments under the sun because this guy had one fantastic evening after that. I had given him the strongest that I could give.
BACK TO 2 MILITARY HOSPITAL
I returned to 2 Military Hospital after that two weeks of camping, and a week after that that they put me on 72 hours standby, and because of the experiences that I had had before I came back expecting myself to be going back into battle. I was moody. I was swearing at everyone. I was out of it. Then the 72 hours became 24 hour standby, and by that time I was swearing at the Major and the Kolonel and everyone. My nerves were right at the end, and then at the end they said; `Right. You are going up.' And then I was calm.
I went up to 70 and they said that at first I was supposed to go up to the kaplyn to another camp - I can't remember the name of it - but it was four hours. It might have been Katima Mulelo. We were told that we were all going under cover so we had to go and buy karki clothes. We were not allowed to wear military clothes. We landed at Rundu - they've got the air base there. At that hospital we were being sorted out as to who was going to go to the `Arends Nes' and who was going to go to Katima Mulelo and who was going to stay there and who was going to go where. Me and a few of the other guys were going to go right up to the top, because I didn't want anything to do with the hospital. I'd had enough of military hospitals. I think my biggest problem there was that the patients in the hospital were coming in there for an operation or sickness when they had a headache. Being an ops medic on the border you were to treat people who - treat people - unless you know everything about their sicknesses - (not clear) - and now this idiot of a nurse. They will not give this person a headache tablet because the doctor did not put it in the prescription form. It was totally ludicrous. Just give the poor bastard some headache tablets. I didn't want to have anything to do with the hospital.
We went up to this place which was a four hour drive. We got there and the medic had signed on for another three months, so we weren't needed up there and they posted us right back to Rundu again. There they pushed us into the Arend's Nes (`Eagle's Nest) which was a police-Koevoet type arrangement there there was talk initiation; `We're going to kick the shot out of you and make you kak [shit] and make you puke.' We were there about a week and some people pulled out of the hospital down at Rundu and they called us and they said; `We need you here now.'
SECTOR 70 MILITARY BASE HOSPITAL
It was even worse being at the Military Base Hospital than it had been at 2 Military Hospital. They wanted us to work shifts; we could either work one to seven, seven to one, and then one to one. I'd just had enough. Their rooms weren't even marked, and it was a filthy old place out in the middle of nowhere. The big turn came when the sister in charge gave me a pethadine injection to give to one of the patients, and she said `Give it to Mr Mdenglovo in room 26'. Fuck the name. I'm going to be giving it to the person who was in room 26 today. So I went down the place and I saw that there was a big private ward here, and it was arranged from 1 - 25, and then you had the private rooms along the side here, and there was a sign saying `Rooms 26 - 40', so 26 must be one of these rooms at the back. It was not marked. I walked in; `hello Mr. M. Bend over. I'm going to give you an injection.' He bent over and I gave him a pethadine injection.
The sister went ape-shit. `He's just had hepatitis B and he's just recovered, and he was about to go home, and now you've given him pethadine. Now you've got to do pulse and temperature monitoring once and hour on this person. `Oh, fuck off. Don't talk shit to me.' Its just going to give him a high, and that's all. Nothing bad would happen. She went off to me and I went off to her, and I told her to go and read her books, and she went to the Major, and I went to the Major and laughed, and he said `Its cool'. I said; `Get me out of this place. I would rather be a driver.'
BEING A DRIVER IN SECTOR 70
So for three months up there I drove. I drove the ambulance and trucks. I drove back to Grootfontein to get supplies and now and then we drove all the way up to Katima Mulelo or wherever it was. As a driver you were left alone much of the time. You wouldn't have had all the people breathing down your neck. I was left alone. In the morning at about 10 o'clock we had to go in to town to take people for X-rays because there was an X-ray machine in the town, and there was nothing in this hospital. We used to take patients to have X-rays done, and at the same time we would go and pick up videos at the video shop where we had a contract. We would pick up the work staff and taken them to work, and then take them back again, and at about 2 o'clock you would go back to fetch X-rays or take more people for x-rays, and take the videos back or fetch more videos. In the evening time there were regular casevacs so I would drive a Samil 20 out on to the airbase, and there I got to know all the helicopter crew, so instead of waiting, if there was the chance when I went straight on to the airfield I would climb on the helicopter and fly with them and sort out the patient on that flight, and then fly them back and drive them back. These were mostly people who had been injured in accidents. Not many gun shot wounds, but mostly broken legs from accidents. The best part of that was doing a helicopter casevac. The river being the border, and the river varies around, and the quickest route was often straight over Angola to the site. Everything would be blacked out on the helicopter, and it would be in total darkness, and we would fly straight over Angola to fetch the people and fly back again. It was nice there. You would ly there and look down at the fires, where the people would have their home fires.
This was August, September and October 1989. We were still fully in Namibia. Everything was still there except that no-one was wearing military uniforms. I think that I've still got some of my khaki clothing from that time. It was pretty much like a summer camp, being back there. There was no fighting. I realised that all my anxiety and upset at being on stand-by was nonsense. They were really nice people.
I spent another month at 2 Military hospital in Wineberg before I klaared out. Klaaring out itself was very uneventful. It was just; you finished your day's work and then you went home. There was nothing special done. There was no parade or anything. When I was working a 2 Military Hospital, I didn't consider myself to be part of the military anymore. I worked at the hospital, but in the evening I would go and sleep at home. That, to me, wasn't being in the military. That could have been part of why I didn't enjoy it that much. If I'm going to be in the military, then I must be out in the bush, with a gun and fighting.
On the way home I was riding my bicycle, and a car pulled up to me. There were two doctors who I knew fairly well. They took off their epaulettes and threw them to me; `Here, have them.' In one of the photos I have one me is parading as a two-pip lieutenant. That was what they thought of their rank, because that was their last day in the military as well. `There. Take it. I don't want it!'
ADAPTATION TO CIVVY STREET
When I walked out of the military at Wynberg Military Hospital, it screwed everything for me. Being up on the border, and being an operational medic, from all that experience I wanted to be a surgeon. I wanted to stay in the medical profession. They sent me off the border and into Wynberg Military Hospital, and after having has a taste of medicine there, I didn't want to have anything to do with it anymore. I would say in my last months, even back to my time in Sector 70 - there were already signs there. I told them; `Shove it!' I didn't want it anymore. They screwed it up on the border.
I was going to be a tool maker while I was at school, because I enjoyed metal work and working with machines, and making things. A friend of mine said; `become an electrician', and I thought; `Why not?' I went to college and I spent the very next year doing intense practical and theoretical training in being an electrician, and after that, life just carried on.
I've got picture of me cutting on myself - I had taken my medical bag home with me. I had all the drugs and I had all the equipment and the tools and the stuff we worked with, and I was performing my own minor operations on myself after injuring myself. My girlfriend at the time was a nurse at 2 Military Hospital assisted me once in giving me an injection. I was working and I cut myself open. I was working with a hammer and a chisel, and a piece of metal shot off the chisel and embedded in my hand. I went home and I stitched myself up after that. About a month and a half down the line, every time I touched it, it was really sore because a piece of the metal had embedded onto my bone. One day I got really peeved off with the whole thing and I went home and I said; `Right! You are injecting me.' She injected me, and the medication wasn't working too well. It wasn't anaethesetising the nerves properly. I ended up cutting g myself open with all the pain there still, pulling the piece of metal out, and then stitching myself up again. I was puking all over the table because of the pain, but I did it.
[Exaggerated startle response:] The only thing that I've noticed is if I'm driving down a street at night, or if I'm walking down the street and if I see a black person, I want to pull out a gun and shoot him. Its not because I'm a racist or anything, its just from having been there in the war, and having seen my friends shot up. Especially when I arrived back in Pretoria, I just wanted to kill everyone I saw at the side of the street after dark. It seems to be at night - that curfew - after dark I just want to kill people.
To me it was an honour to work with the black people in Koevoet. The SAKK - I have no respect for them. A lot of the problems that we had with those camps was with the SAKK. They get drink and then they become rubbish kaffir on the side of the street. There were some very good people - some people who I would consider to be my friends today, but I would say that most of the black people, as soon as they had a drink in them, they turned into rubbish people. All their discipline would go right out of the doorway.
I can be grateful that I didn't spend too much time with Koevoet because they are a very big influence. When I was with them, I was extremely vulnerable. We knew some of the blokes, and they were very nice people. They would go out and fight, and then they would come back, and you would find that some of your friends were gone. That makes you vulnerable. (not clear on tape) Had I gone out more with Koevoet. The lucky part for me is when I went out with Koevoet into combat, it was conventional warfare, but had I gone out with them in the guerrilla warfare, I might have done executions myself, because of all the anger and frustration and everything. It's the way you feel, and I know that I felt that. I could easily have started to do things like that. Its like you see on TV after the September 11th bombings, and then you look over there (Palestine) and they're all cheering. I would have done that back at camp. That's the way I felt about it. But because we went out in a conventional style, with the military next to us.
Published: 20 July 2003.
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