AIR FORCE GUARD COMMANDER
Chris reported for National Service in 1979 straight after school. He was in the Air Force, and did a two-month guard commander's course at Dunnotar flying school, after which he was stationed in a forward observation post at M'pacha for four and a half months. He spent his last six months at Hoedspruit. After his initial two years, Chris was assigned to a Tactical Airfield Unit and he did camps at Uppington and Sodwana.
EXPECTATIONS PRIOR TO INDUCTION
I didn't know what I wanted to study when I had finished school. Like many others, I thought that national service would give me the opportunity to look around and get some idea. I was very young. I started school early so I came out of school at sixteen years old. I saw it as an adventure as well. I was called up to Valhalla Air Force Gymnasium. A lot of my friends had been called into the same unit so it wasn't as though I was going off into the big bad world alone. It was like going with my buddies on this extended adventure. I certainly didn't think about the morality or the rightness or the wrongness of the prevailing political situation.
I think I would have felt differently about it if I had been called up to the infantry alone. The knowledge that six people that I had gone to school with were going to the same unit certainly made me accept it without any qualms. Ironically it was six Catholic people that I had gone to school with, had gone to church with and had very close contact with, so this did influence me. It was a sense of `I'm not alone!' But that was soon dispelled. As soon as I got there, they were put in other bungalows, and I had to find my feet on my own. We were in the same squadron but they were all in different bungalows and had different NCOs over them so I didn't get to see them. But by then I was already in it. I couldn't get out of it. I was young and really naive. I didn't have the foggiest clue what the army was about, and I found out that, for me, the army was just people stuffing you around.
I can remember the night before I went in; waking up at about four in the morning and suddenly getting this feeling of absolute apprehension and dread coming on. It was the first feeling that I had of; `Hell! Control has been taken away from me. For the next two years I'm not going to be able to do things my way.'
Right from the start it was a case of being thrown on to one's own two feet. One of the biggest hassles I had going into the army was that I found myself with a very wide spectrum of people. I had had a fairly sheltered upbringing until then; going to a private school with a fairly high standard of education, and I think a fairly high socio-economic background. Suddenly I came across guys that struggled to fill in the forms at orientation week; when you fill in all those forms and they try to do some psychological testing. There were some guys who couldn't even understand the form. That frightened me. I thought; `Hell! There's a lot of people out here who could influence my life negatively.' Suddenly being thrown in with these people who couldn't reason. Okay, that's the negative side of it. There were very bright guys with us as well. It was frightening to have these guys with you who you couldn't predict how they were going to act. There didn't seem to be any control over that.
I can remember being very angry at the army's concept of; `If one guy didn't make his bed up properly, therefore you are all going to get straf (punishment) P.T. To me, this was the most unfair system I had ever come across in my life.
The very first evening we had all been allocated to a bungalow. We were all in very small bungalows - twelve in a bungalow, which I gather was not the norm in other camps. We all filed in there and we didn't know one another from a bar of soap. We looked at one another. There was a guy called Anton, an Afrikaans guy, and he was one of the leaders because he seemed a bit more confident. He looked around, and said; `Well, if we're going to be here for six months together, maybe we should get to know one another.' He broke the ice. He said; `My name is Anton.' What was even better was that he said it in English, which amazed me. We introduced ourselves to one another, and said where we came from. This was without any guidance from anyone else. He just suggested that we introduce ourselves. Then we sat down and said; `Are we planning to stay here or not?' Anton said that he wanted to fly, and this was just a temporary thing.
From that evening on, there was a sense of having built a little bit of a bond between the twelve of us in that bungalow. Having introduced ourselves and said; `My name is Chris and I come from Bloemfontein. I'm using this time to get an idea of what I want to do in life,' there was more of a closeness than in quite a few of the other bungalows that I came across, like those my friends were in. When I asked them, they said they didn't know the names of all of the twelve people in their bungalows. They hadn't had that sort of structure. We got to know one another. Out of that emerged roles, like my being able to run pretty good long distance helped them quite a few times, and we didn't get straf P.T. It was; `If you can get one guy in under this time, we'll let you off.' The guys would cheer me on for that sort of stuff. The smallest guy had some limitations in terms of the physical exercise so we always used to cover for him. He was good with figures, so he was given the job of keeping all the times when we had to keep a record of our P.T. times, how fast we had completed the exercises. He worked out all the statistics and he slotted in nicely. We became quite a close unit in that regard. The bigger guys protected the smaller guys. It was like a little family. This was just in our bungalow. I didn't come across it anywhere else.
Four months' basics training wasn't particularly tough in that I found that I had certain qualities. Okay, I couldn't do five hundred pushups or whatever - that is an exaggeration - that just wasn't me. I was good at long distance running. I can remember the whole squadron being punished and having to do 2,4s (2,4 km, the standard SADF exercise run) again and again and again, and that day I had gyppoed. I climbed into a cupboard somewhere. We had been painting a bungalow, and I thought; `To hell with this! About three of us climbed into cupboards and closed the doors. The rest of the squadron was out there running about ten 2,4s, one after the other. I emerged from this cupboard after a good sleep of about three and a half hours. Everyone was the hell in; `Where the hell were you?' I was one of the best runners in the squadron. I could remember a strange sense of `Hell! I've got power over these guys.' They actually needed me to help them through something, where previously I had been lead to believe that they didn't need me because I wasn't this big hulking brute. They had been promised the whole afternoon off if the squadron wins - can get someone to come in first with this 2,4. If not, you'll carry on doing it. It was one of those weird situations. I thought; `Hell! They actually do need me. I'm worth something to these guys.'
All twelve people in the bungalow were part of the same platoon, so we had six intensive months together. There were people from other bungalows in our platoon, and the friction often came in when we were thrown in with other people who didn't work in the same way that we did, and who were inclined to be reactive rather than proactive.
During orientation week I remember a lot of people looking very much the same. I can remember people storming into our bungalow, and everyone looked the same; no hair and bewildered.
All in all, the overall army experience was good for me because I had had a fairly sheltered upbringing so it exposed me to a lot of things and I learned to stand on my own two feet. I think it gave me something. When I say `something', I don't know if I can pin point it, but I think I'm better off for having gone through it. It was tough at times because of the type of person that I came across. Sometimes people wouldn't listen to reason. We would say; `Come on, lets talk about this. There is more than one way to do this task.' Even though I was young, my upbringing had been; `Here is a problem or task. What are we going to do about it? What do you think? And what do you think?' I wasn't used to being denied that option, particularly on a physical level. There were characters out there that it was hard to believe had mothers. They were just these hulking brutes that reasoned on a physical level. That was the tough part.
Every month we used to go to a place called Skurweberg that is just outside Pretoria and we would go shooting. They could take about twenty people on the range at any time and the rest had to stand at the back. While that was going on, the guys at the back would be shunted around, and every now and again you would hear some corporal shouting `Vlagpaal toe!' (Get round the flagpole!) and you would see guys running with ammo cases on their shoulders. They would be given a hard time while you were shooting. You would do about two hours shooting. For some reason, about half the people weren't any good at it, but everybody used to cheat the system. They used to have a buddy working in the skietgate (The `butts') who would take his pen and push holes through the targets. I was okay with shooting. I wasn't brilliant. I think I was probably average. They taught me the correct way to go about it, I'll grant them that, and they were very good with safety. There was no danger there.
What did scare me was the vuur-en-beweeging (`Fire and Movement') training. Having been exposed to chaps who couldn't fill in forms properly, I wondered how they understood instructions. We did it twice, and I was petrified. I knew what I was doing, but I didn't know what the guy behind me was doing when he came charging along. That scared me a bit, but, being young, I soon put that behind me. I did some shooting with pistols, Uzi machine guns, R1 and the LMG. That was it. The LMG was interesting because you had to work as a team. You had to have one guy feeding the belt through. If you were firing, he was your helper. If you had a storing, a stoppage ... It's strange how these commands come through in Afrikaans; `storing'. You never think of the word `stoppage'. That gives you the idea that the training was always in Afrikaans. Often people seemed unable to communicate, and you were lucky if you got a guy who could work with you. It was certainly an interesting way of shooting because the guy lying next to you had to be feeding it through properly. The moment you had a stoppage, he had to do certain actions and you had to do certain actions. It was quite a sense of achievement when you could get it done smoothly. The moment that it jammed, if you did the necessary procedures together, like you did steps one and two, he did steps three and four, you did steps five and six, and off you would go again, working as a team. It was quite a powerful feeling to lie behind this thing, just shooting bursts. I liked the LMG. It was better than pistol shooting. That was the only training that we had there, at that stage.
We had three days in the bush in the four-month basic training and which wasn't really bush. We were within five kilometres of Pretoria. It certainly wasn't roughing it, as far as I was concerned. I was a little bit embarrassed later if someone asked me, and said; `What have you done?' I could march very well. I could take my rifle apart and put it back together again. That was it. We had done some night shooting. I never went on a forced march or anything.
I had a good Catholic friend who used to come up with some neat observations. We were hanging from these beams one morning doing this balke (rafter) P.T. Quite irreverently, after hanging there for a couple of minutes, he turned to me and, stretched out across these beams, he quoted parts of the Bible, like `Forgive them. They know not what they do.' I just cracked up laughing. That got me through the day.
I've got mixed memories, and time also tends to smooth over the more jagged memories; the ones that were hard. I think I had it fairly easy by virtue of the fact that I have always been able to plan ahead; to reason ahead, and that would keep me going. Then I realised that I had something to contribute and we could work as a team. They needed me to do the running then I could do the running, and other guys could do the physical picking up of blocks. That helped me. I thought; `Okay, so I do have a role.'
At one point there was a sudden increase in the number of Jews in the camp. The first couple of really true orthodox Jews were told from the start of their training that they could be given kosher food. I used to play hockey and the hockey matches could go on quite late. We used to just fall in with the kosher guys, and just join their queue and we used to get quite good food. After about two weeks in the camp, from the original ten Jews in the camp, I think we had mushroomed to about fifty or sixty, as the word spread that the kosher food was quite good. It took the authorities time to cotton on that the conversion rate was something to be questioned, and then we were all relegated back as Dutch Reformed or Catholic or whatever you were. People learned to adapt quickly, and they learned to survive and try to get the best out of what they were thrown into.
The whole army's notion of bilingualism didn't work. It was Afrikaans all the way. They had to put in reports; one week English, one week Afrikaans. There were a couple of guys who were really bilingual, and they fell into that role. They were given a little less of the other duties because they would help the NCO to translate his report into English and brush up his grammar.
The NCO that was in charge of us also wasn't very bright and that frightened me a bit. I thought; `This is the guy who is supposed to give me training in military life-skills?' I didn't really feel that I could trust this guy. I could trust the guys in my bungalow, but not the guy who was actually doing the training. We learned to work as a family, which ironically might be what the army wants out of a unit; people working together. I think that it succeeded in our bungalow only because of the individuals involved. We were fortunate that we had guys who could think creatively; who could say `We've got to get through six months of this. How are we going to do it?' That had been my upbringing. It was only for those six months. After that it was once again trying to convince other people; `Hey, come on. We've got to think. We can't just sit here.'
Frankly, I was surprised that the army managed to have successes in military campaigns because they certainly didn't inspire confidence in the way they went about training people. I know other people had excellent training, but at the unit where I was, they were inclined to just stuff you around from morning till night. If it wasn't for those twelve people in the bungalow with me, I think I would have found it difficult to deal with. Knowing that I could contribute this, and that guy could do that for me, we managed to cover for one another, for weaknesses. By pooling our strengths and weaknesses together, and saying; `How do we get around this obstacle?' we managed.
BASE SECURITY COURSE
Then I went on to a two-month NCO course, for security training, as what they call a `Guard Commander'. There we were given training with the G3 - a Portuguese one, with plastic butts and cotter pins that go through, which rattled if you walked along. It was interesting that it could come apart like that. There were a lot of problems with it. The plastic butt and the plastic hand guard often shattered and it got really hot if you fired it for any length of time. We trained on that and then we were trained to use an ASTRID radar. This was a security portable radar system that could tell you if there was movement up to about two kilometres away, and whether it was a vehicle, an animal or a person moving in a systematic way. That was the sum total of my training.
I became very good at drilling people. I can bellow from the diaphragm! I was told that it is very important that you must not shout with your voice. If you are drilling guys across a parade ground, up and down, you are not going to last very long. You must drill from the diaphragm. To this day, I could probably drill a platoon up and down. The course primarily involved learning a lot of military laws and regulations; what you may and may not do, and looking at the security of camps; how to secure camps against attack.
At that stage, in 1979, there were a lot of bombs going off and they were worried about people planting bombs. Another bunch of guys who did an intelligence course, and they apparently were looking at infiltration. We never did that.
DUNNOTAR FLYING SCHOOL
Dunnotar flying school closed down at the end of 1992, and has been transferred down to Cape Town. It was very old fashioned. I can remember three of us corporals arriving, and we phoned from the station. Ironically, all our surnames began with `D'. I remember phoning and saying; `Tell them that `D-', `D-' and `D-' have arrived.' It sounded very lah-di-dah! A while later, this jeep came roaring round the corner full of `ou manne' (Old hands') and we were unceremoniously dumped into the vehicle. We thought that our stripes would protect us. We were soon taught otherwise. There was still some sort of initiation - very old school - run along old school lines.
There were these rotund portly people who should be retired, veterans of the Second World War, with handlebar moustaches out there who flew. There was even a Sunday club; I think 40 Squadron, and they used to get together once a month on a Sunday and fly Harvards for fun. They used to dive bomb the airstrip. It was one of these grass airstrips, and they would drop flour bags for the fun of it. They had been in Korea and everything, these guys.
It was `old fashioned' in that it was run the way that armies used to be run; there was a certain elitism because these were air cadets. They were guys going for training and therefore the whole establishment was run along old lines. For example, I had a batman. I'd really like having a batman. Crazy! I shared a batman with five other guys. He used to come in in the morning, bring me coffee or tea and make my bed. When I went to the NCOs mess, I would be greeted and asked what I would like for breakfast. Scrambled egg, fried, or poached? You would be waited on. This was after six months training. So I had it good. The officers' mess was apparently even better. It was good, and the quality of the food was good because it was a small place. They could afford to run it along the old lines and because the instructors were all these veteran guys. They ran it according to the way that they had been trained and what they were used to. It was good for six months. The training that we had had was never put into operation.
Basically we were glorified NCOs. We were put on a twenty-four hour roster. In the mornings we went up to the Adj.'s office, got all the keys from him, got the set of books to write our report in. We took the flag out and hoisted it outside, and then went out to the guard room, called in all the dog handlers and got all their reports in. We signed all the books and then we were in charge of the keys and security for the twenty-four hour day. There used to be one or two of us on duty. All security inquiries came through us and if there was a problem at any of the gates, they would call us and we would have to go and sort it out. We would have foreigners coming in, who were mechanics working on the aircraft and we used to have to get them to sign for keys and just watch them and see that nothing happened.
We were in charge of the dog handlers. In the evenings we would hold guard parade, and get them all out there with their dogs and see that everything is okay. It was very mundane, routine. We would send them out to their posts. I used to enjoy taking them coffee. I used to take the patrol vehicle and we used to have a big urn of coffee made, waiting in the kitchens. I used to take that out for them with rusks. We used to park somewhere on the airstrip, and see that they were all okay, and then radio them; say `I'm at this point. Come in as you come past and have some coffee.' There was quite a nice sense of camaraderie.
Occasionally there would be night flying. Then we would have to check that the security was okay because we would be having to open gates in the middle of the night. It was very very laid back.
After I'd been there for about six months, a memo arrived at our base that said; `Provide us with two security personnel for border duty'. We were told it would be for between four and six months, and I volunteered. I've always been pretty open to new experiences. I was quite keen to go. I'm all for learning new things.
There were three of us, and because I had been there longer than one of the other guys, I said; `I'm game.' I left it to the other two to squabble about. Most people were wanting to avoid it. I had been at the flying school for about six months already, and I wanted a new experience. That was the closest that I was going to get to seeing this other part of the country that we were supposed to be defending.
We got there just after Katima Mulilo had been mortared from across the border (This was possibly the mortar and rocket attack of August 1978 when Katima Mulilo and Wenda were attacked from Zambia in which ten South African troops were killed when their sleeping accommodation was hit. This provoked retaliation in the form of Operations Safraan and Rekstok. See Snyman (1989), p. 15.), and there had been casualties, so everyone was a little bit tense. We heard; `Listen. We've just lost some guys up at Katima. We don't know if it's going to happen again, so keep your eyes open.' I was hyped up when I got there, and I got progressively more relaxed as the days went by. Except for two incidents, nothing happened.
I had flown before. There were guys who had not. This was their first time they had ever been in a plane. They were petrified, which showed me the diversity of the people that were thrown into a communal experience. There were guys there that had never been away from home, and they were thrown on to a plane with their rifle and all their kit and they didn't know what was happening to them.
When I arrived up on the border, they said we needed to go on a two-week `refresher' course. Then we were exposed to more infantry-like training, which was more about observation. We had done a little bit of it, but it was more about actual survival in the veld. This was more geared to discipline and getting the guys to react. This was my only experience of actual infantry training. I was disappointed. I've always wanted to go on a survival course, and the army didn't give it to me. I know that sounds weird but I had always wanted to do one. I was also in the Scouts and I remember having more fun in the Scouts, and enjoying being out in the veld more than I did in the army.
We did training with mortars, primarily because, from where we were placed we had to be in contact with the mortar crews. As the Forward Observation Post we had little signs in front of us - we would call up the mortar guys and say; `Teiken nommer vier, twee honderd meter' and they had all their grids and they would shoot out from the middle of the camp. That was the sum total of our training.
That's another reason why I was a little disillusioned with the army. I thought; `If someone attacks this base where I'm at, God help us, because anything could happen.' My training wasn't very good. There were some very good units that I know of, that my friends were in, and I take my hat off to them. I know that they were given brilliant training and were really crack guys, but my experience was that I was lucky to come through unscathed.
M'PACHA AIR FORCE BASE
M'pacha was right on the border, just to the West of Katima Mulilo. It was a very laid-back base per se. I can remember the siren going off one night and hearing that some guys had jumped into the trenches with their whiskies in their hands. They had run out of the bar, with their rifles in one hand and a whisky in the other, waiting to see what's going to happen. It was a false alarm; it was just to see how quickly they could clear the camp, how fast they could go through the drill. All in all, it was a very nice base. Very well run. Very well planned. They tried to look after us at M'pacha; we had two movie sessions a week on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
There was a black infantry unit undergoing training at M'pacha. I think if anything had happened, they would have coped okay. Their training was good, and I think my over-all impression was that I was safe. Among the Air Force guys that I was with, our general feeling was that we didn't know what we were doing. I don't think that we ever admitted it to people. I didn't, for sure.
Helicopter-gunships were available from M'pacha, and we were told that if there were problems, they would be sent up immediately. The gunships were converted Alouettes. I'm not sure how many there were. I very seldom got on to the air strip. The gunships went out fairly often. They would go out at least every second day.
There were Impalas based there - about four if I can remember, but it could have been more. There were two Pumas that were used. The rest were transport planes coming in and out, who would provide Katima with some stuff, and provide us with some stuff and provide supplies for the infantry guys. They would bring in fuel. The transporters were the C160s and C130s that used to fly in about three times a week. At that time they still used avoidance techniques; They would come in at a certain height and then just drop like a stone down on to the runway.
There was a small Recce base attached to M'pacha. Once or twice I can remember getting a call on the radio saying; `Three guys are coming in. Don't stop them. Don't do anything. Just let them through.' I remember sitting in awe, watching these guys coming through. I suppose that your imagination plays tricks with you. They looked the real `manne'. I spoke to one chap who asked for water when he came through. He had been on a two-man patrol for something like eight days, and that was all he said, and then he was gone again. They used to come and go. The recce guys were totally separate. We were actually warned to keep away from them. `Don't go near them. Leave them alone'. This just fuelled the legends; `Those guys are real killers.'
THE FORWARD OBSERVATION POST
The Forward Observation Post was about a kilometre in front of the perimeter fence. There were other observation posts, but they were all on the perimeter fence. Ours was a big post, and there were six of us, all corporals. All in all, the duty lasted four and a half months with the same six guys, bored out of our skulls.
If the base was attacked, being on the forward observation post, we were supposed to relay information as to strength of the enemy if we could determine it, direction, firepower. We had to relay that information in to the command-post and to the mortar base, and to co-ordinate their firepower out to what we could see. That's why we had these direction signs in front of us to guide them and to give them feedback and say `Okay. You're falling short or whatever. Amend your fire.' Basically to provide a report on the activities of the local population as well. We were an information relay centre where we were based, observing and pushing information back. We never got attacked.
Two of us had to be on duty at any given time. The other four could do what they wanted. They could even go into the camp. We were told that we could arrange our duties as we wanted, so we chose that two would be on duty throughout the day, and give the others the whole day off. At night we had two guys on as well. At night time between eight o'clock at night and six the next morning, all six had to be in the post.
No-one would come and check on us because they were scared to go out into the bush on their own because we were actually some distance outside the main camp. They would have to walk through the bush in the dark. They never came and checked up on us, so we could do what we wanted to. We would sit and tan in the afternoons.
I had to walk two kilometres into camp to go and shower. We didn't have those facilities, so every day I would walk two kilometres in and two kilometres out. The guys who were off duty would say; `Hey, I'm going in to shower and do some washing. Are you coming along?' We would go in, go into the bar, get some cokes and a couple of beers, and take them back.
The observation post itself was an underground bunker, about three metres deep, filled with barrels of concrete and there was a tent roof, two LMGs facing different directions. We had in the region of about forty hand grenades, ammo, rifles, enough to keep us going, presumably, until help came. We had constant radio contact.
Believe it or not, there was a little brothel down the road that the local population used to go to. Periodically the black infantry guys would climb the fence and go and visit the brothel. They would get drunk and create havoc on the way back. Three soldiers came back one night and they saw a light at one of the perimeter observation posts and they opened fire.
I can remember being on duty at the time. Our radios were constantly switched on so we were in contact with everyone. I heard the shots and realised that this wasn't normal. We were always warned if there was going to be any activity in our area so that we didn't open fire. We hadn't been warned and there was just gunfire all of a sudden, and I had a friend in the next observation post and I heard him coming over the radio screaming. It was frightening. He was just screaming; `My God! My God! We're being attacked!' I wouldn't say it was embarrassing for him. It was humiliating. It made me realise that we hadn't been equipped or trained to deal with an eventuality when it happened. He opened fire blindly. He just started firing into the bushes. He didn't know what he was shooting at.
Meanwhile, there were a couple of guys who had been going for a jog around the perimeter fence and they dived into his observation post as well. They were elderly staff sergeants, about forty-five years old, and I could clearly hear them screaming over the radio. The guy had the microphone on; he was holding it on, with the LMG shooting. I could hear these guys screaming at the back saying; `Show us how to work this thing.' They didn't know how to use an R1 Rifle. These were guys that were based up there; Admin. guys. They had no training, or if they had had training, it wasn't kept up. It was frightening hearing this going on.
Then it all quietened down within about one minute. There was just this deathly silence. We were all hyped up. We were sitting behind these LMGs, like the films - Hollywood style - with belts of ammo and grenades and everything. We were just waiting and waiting. Then they sent out a patrol and warned us that a patrol was coming through, and it turned out that these guys were drunk. They thought it would be a big joke if they fired on this guy. That was the one incident that made me think; `I'm not ready for this.'
The other incident involved intelligence alerting us that people were moving through the area. It was about two in the morning. I just remember sitting in the pitch-black behind this machine gun in my underpants wondering what the hell was going on, and being very scared. Nothing happened. Those were the only two incidents. I was in a fairly stable sector.
ORDINARY LIFE IN THE FORWARD OBSERVATION POST
Passing the time was a problem: A lot of people used to do carving. It was a very old-fashioned way of passing time. They would get a block of wood. They used to sit and carve little ornaments.
There was a trend to decorate yourself, to have written on your bush hat where you had been and what action you had seen. This would be sewn very diligently on to the side. The stitchwork that went into there would make your grandmother curl her toes in envy. Guys would sit there for hours sewing `Ondangwa'. It would be perfectly written out.
Keeping pets was not allowed. There were three guys in the ammunition dump who were as bossies as hell. They had been there for nine months, and they were scared that they were going to get a direct hit after Katima Mulilo had been mortared. They actually slept amongst the ammo, and they had pets. They kept little monkeys, and they trained them.
Some guys got into fitness, and they would go for long runs. They actually instituted a road race between M'pacha and Katima Mulilo, which was about ten kilometres. This became an annual race that a lot of people entered.
I read a lot to keep myself busy. We had a little library system going; we would pass books around. They weren't really good reading material; it was more like a well thumbed James Hadley Chase novel. I wrote quite a bit while I was up there, and I did quite a lot of thinking about what I wanted to do. Not that I had a very good idea when I finally came out, but I did a lot of thinking.
We told a lot of stories. We used to pass the time sitting around telling anecdotes. It was very difficult to pass the time now that I think about it. Very very difficult. There's a limit to how many stories you can tell, and then, of course, the guys started exaggerating and lying just to pass the time.
I remember `Scope' magazine very vividly. If you ever saw classic sexual problems coming out, it was there. The guys used to mutilate the pictures and paste them up. There would be no face, no arms, nothing; it would just be various female parts pasted up all over the place. You never saw a Scope magazine that was whole. It was full of holes. It was the lack of female company.
People actually got really strange; the Dominee and his wife baked a cake for the guys in the observation posts because we had rather a raw deal. The food that we got was loaded off in hot boxes and we were left out there, so they thought they would bake us a cake. They brought a cake to each post. I think there were only about four women on the base. The Dominee's wife was one of them. The commanding officer's wife, and the Adj.'s wife and there were one or two others.
So this woman arrived with this cake. They trudged through the thick white sand and brought it to us. I can remember my immediate reaction was to rip these pictures down, or to try to cover the pictures that the guys had put up, myself included. This woman spoke to us, and it was hard to talk back to her. We had got into a habit of talking very crudely. We weren't used to female company. We didn't know how to relate. That was scary. We could talk to any guy that walked in, but suddenly we had this woman in front of us, and we were almost stammering. We didn't know how to address her, or even hold a conversation. That was after about three months. I wondered what we would be like if we had stayed there for nine months. Then we had the cake, and we all got gyppo guts because we weren't used to the richness.
Again I came up against the fact that we came from varying backgrounds. In the evenings we used to lie on the top of the tent roof and look at the sky and just talk and reminisce. I can remember one night we were talking about galaxies, and we had a very good conversation.
We were talking about stars, and the one guy said he wondered how big it was. We commented that it probably didn't exist anymore. What we are seeing is not there. We got into this big argument, and it nearly got physical, because he said; `That isn't possible!' Then we said `What do you think that is? How long does it take to get here?' It was strange being with people who had a totally different educational background.
We did some crazy things just to pass the time. A lot of things seem to go around stupidity. We had a little fire and we were often given meat and told; `That's your ration for the day.' We would make ourselves a little braaivleis and a guy would throw an R1 round into the fire. We would just scatter. People dived into the bunker. `Ha ha ha! Big joke!'
Guys used to throw Thunder Flashes in toilets just for the fun of it, so that you could see the shit fly. We had one of those long drops. This was just for the six of us, because we were outside. We always had a lot of flies in the toilets. It was this little `go-cart', a little seat in the middle of the veld that we had dug. We used to throw lime in, but it always used to have flies in. You used to open it, and kick it, and get all the flies out. The guys put smoke grenades down, so that they could see all the red flies come out, or all the green flies come out. They felt that bored.
I can remember one morning, sitting in the middle of the bush on this toilet, and this whole column came past. These guys were going out on a patrol, and I thought that this was incongruous; I'm sitting with my pants down, with my rifle next to me, in the middle of the bush, and these guys are coming past, and they are all kitted out as though Armageddon had arrived. They are probably going to hit some action. It was incongruous. They looked at me and I looked at them, and I didn't bother saying; `Hey! Do you mind? I'm on the toilet.' I was in the middle of the bush. I remember thinking; `I wonder what is going through their minds? They are obviously going out on something very serious, and I'm sitting here. I'm getting a sun tan, and my biggest worry at that stage had been getting to the toilet before ten o'clock in the morning, otherwise the plastic gets too hot to sit on. That was my worry. There these guys were, fifty metres away, and they were probably thinking; `Am I going to make it back to the base?'
It was a very unfair system in the regard. I don't think everyone was exposed to the same sort of dangers. I was very much aware of that. Some guys seemed to be thrown almost to the brink. These were the infantry guys. They came from all over; I'm not sure what unit they were. They were one of the black units. Very well disciplined; never any problems in the actual camp. It was only if they went over the fence, and had been to the brothel. There was that sense of imbalance. For me it turned out to be a wonderful extended stay in the bush. Other people had a different experience. Other people had to take body bags and load them on to trucks, which couldn't have been good. We even went swimming in the Zambezi. Afterwards we were told that there were crocs and all that sort of stuff, but that was my experience.
It was very thick bush with white sand that you trudged through. If you walked barefoot, you would sink up to your ankles in it. Trucks often got bogged down in it, and had to be pulled out.
We were right at the point where Zambia and Angola and everything comes together. The bush was very thick. There was a little bit of a track to what they called the `cut line', which is where they went through. The first two buffels that went through would have railway track attached in front, and they would literally go `bundu bashing'. They would push their way through the bush. It was quite a slow tedious process. I actually went a little way with one of them just for the fun of it, and they literally battering-rammed through the bush. They would pull back, and then push again. Then these guys would be coming behind them. There were a lot of big acacia thorn bushes. You certainly couldn't walk in a straight line; you would be weaving in and out. It was a very beautiful part of the country.
There was a lot of wild life because of the Zambezi river close by. I often think that I saw more wild life there than in the Kruger National Park. In the evenings we used to watch a lot of wild life go down to the river; they used to come past our post. Not often big game, it was primarily buck, monkeys and a lot of bird life. It was beautiful. The sunsets were exquisite and in the evenings, all the stars were out and it was beautiful. It was very lush, which surprised me, because I thought it was going to be very arid.
The sand looked powdery, like desert sand. When it rained, it bucketed down, so that you would be knee deep in water in that post that we were in. The guys had to scoop the water out, but it would drain away eventually.
It was not the ideal place to build a base. The sand just got in the way of everything. I remember the two-week infantry course that we did, trudging through the sand. With having to go two kilometres in and two kilometres out for a shower, by the time you got back to the post you might as well not have gone for a shower.
We were all the same rank, so there was no question of anyone being in charge which lead to a few incidents, in terms of discipline. I remember the one guy getting us all into trouble. He just didn't bother doing anything. You would wake him up for his beat and say; `Come on. It's two o'clock in the morning.' He just wouldn't budge.
He was a chap who didn't see why he had to do anything. He was a contrary individual, and he just wouldn't bother doing his share. I'm talking about someone being on guard duty. As far as I was concerned, we were in the middle of the bush, in an area that had been mortared. We would all take a turn at sitting up at night. That's what we were there for, anyway. He just didn't bother, and the one time that they actually checked up on us to see if we were doing our job, and he should have been on duty, but he wasn't. One of these Gung Ho! individuals came into the Forward Observation Post, walked all around, checked the stuff out, and then came and woke us up, and so there was a whole big incident about it.
That turned sour because I was elected spokesperson to say what was happening, and I should have just kept my mouth shut. I found that what happened was we sat in the observation post, and they said; `Okay, Chris is going to speak for all of us', except the guy who got caught sleeping. So I said; `This situation has been going on for so long. We've spoken to him a couple of times. We're more than willing to swop him for someone else. Just give us someone else'. In the end, in typical army fashion, they decided to give us all straf P.T., which, once again, I thought; `Come off it. How do you reason?'
I found that all my colleagues actually turned against me because I had `split' on this guy. I remember being very bitter about it, and saying; `Hey. We actually discussed this. We said we were going to talk about it.' All the other guys in the observation post said; `Oh! You don't do that. You never split on an individual.' I replied; `I wasn't splitting. We said we were going to do it, so whose splitting? I was warning you that this was going to happen.'
I was very bitter about it. He was one of the individuals that struggled to fill in forms. He didn't understand instructions very well. Maybe he had a learning disability. He was the sort of chap who wouldn't think twice about leaping out of the trench and charging the enemy, and he would get a medal - posthumously, of course. He would be a hero.
They gave us all straf P.T., and they didn't replace him. It was very strained for a month afterwards, and I was threatened a couple of times. I was told that I wouldn't get through, but nothing ever happened. They put us back in, and when I had been threatened a couple of times, I said to the guy involved; `Look, I've got nothing against you, but if you do it again, I'm going to do the same again.' I'll be very honest; I was very scared because this guy was capable of pulverising me. I don't know whether sense prevailed. The other guys in the post were fairly supportive, but only after I said to them; `Hey! Can you remember that we all agreed that we all had the same grievance? I was just the idiot who said; "Okay, I'll do the talking." I was one of the more capable people to put the case forward.' When I reminded them of the fact that they had all had the same grievance, then I got more support from them.
It wasn't seen to be the done thing. You don't talk about people's inadequacies or the fact that they don't want to do something. It never got resolved totally. I felt a little bit alienated afterwards, but that suited me because I enjoyed reading. I wasn't one to go and sit in the bar and down beers the whole evening. I was glad when the time came to an end.
RETURN FROM THE BORDER
We were just told that our border duty would be between four and six months. When we reached the three and a half month mark, people started saying; `I wonder when we're going?' Rumours started to fly, and of course, with army rumours, there were no grounds for them to be based on. I had saved up all my money while I was there, so I had a reason to come back. I could buy a hi-fi. Some guys were really counting the days. They had been engaged before they left. I didn't have any encumbrances. I just wanted to go and buy a guitar or a hi-fi. One of the two; I wasn't sure at that stage. Then we had that unpleasant incident. Then we were told that it would be in the next month that we would be going home, and guys started to count on a thirty-day calender. I got to the point where I had heard so many rumours that I just put it out of my mind. I just waited for the day that they actually told me.
When we were told, it was at eight o'clock in the morning, and the plane was due to leave at two or something like that. `Be on the airstrip.' It was the fastest that I'd seen guys pack and be on the airstrip, and we were there. We didn't want to leave the air strip. The plane was delayed, and someone said; `Lets go and get something to eat.' I had the sense of; `I don't actually want to leave the airstrip. What if the plane arrives and I'm not here? I might have to wait another three weeks if there's not room on the next plane.'
I never got my Pro Patria medal. We called them `Pro Nutro' (`Pro Nutro' being a popular breakfast cereal.) medals. When we were standing on the runway waiting for the C130 to arrive, some flight sergeant, one of the admin. guys, came along and said; `Oh! You guys must fill in this form. You've been here. You're eligible. I've only got two forms. Come down to admin. and fill it in.'
Everyone said; `Up yours! We want to go home. I'm not going to fill in a form.' I never filled one in. I never got one. I never thought about it again until my brother got one. He got one through the post.
When the plane arrived, there was a guy that was going home on a stretcher. I don't know what had happened to him. I think he had been ill; I don't think it was combat related. He had a drip, and two medics were going home with him. I can remember when the plane was finally ready for us to board, people just stormed to get on that plane. The two medics had to elbow it along with the rest to get a place for this guy. I thought; `Hell! That's what its come down to. We don't give a damn. We all want to go home now.' This guy on the stretcher was being jostled around.
We all got on, stretcher and all. It was a bit disconcerting to see that we had come down to a certain animal status. Personally, that's how I felt. I think other guys in my post weren't aware of the degradation, or the decline in our behaviour. I was, from the way that they had mutilated the Scope magazines. I just thought; `I can't believe this. I really can't believe this. Not standing back for a guy on a stretcher.'
ADJUSTMENT TO BEING BACK
This was difficult. People shied away from me. I know the reason that my stepfather shied away from me was that he had been a prisoner of war for three and a half years in the Second World War. I think he was scared that (a) it might either evoke memories in him, or (b) that I might have been through a painful experience. I know he had been through painful experiences - I know of some of them. I never checked it out, but he might have been respecting that experience, and saying; `Look, if you want to talk about it, talk about it. If not, I'm not going to push you.' Other people held me in awe. It was; `Oh, wow! The Bushfighter has come back.' Certainly, I know that a lot of people did nothing to dispel the myth, from some of the stories that I heard. People would tell stories of themselves, and I would think; `This sounds a little far-fetched. I don't think it's like that.' Often people seemed to assume that I would have been in combat. People would assume that I would have harrowing tales to tell. People assumed that I was hardened. There were a lot of assumptions made.
It was difficult to adjust because no one wanted to ask you outright; `So what was it like? What did you do?' I also felt that the people that did ask didn't understand what I was saying to them. I can remember talking about the guys throwing bullets into the braai fire. People didn't understand that. I found myself unable to explain why it was done.
I felt very alienated coming back. People didn't seem to understand it at all. For a while, I kept contact with one or two of the guys that I had been with. They had similar experiences, and then we lost contact.
Coming back was a strain. It was good to be back, but there was this aura about you; this myth that you had been through something that was special, which it was, but that didn't mean to say that people shouldn't ask you.
I can remember being posted to the next base and when you walked into the dining hall, you were accorded veteran status. People got out of your way because you had embroidered on the side of your hat `M'pacha' or `Katima'. The new recruits, or the guys who still had some way to go, would be a little deferential, which I also found strange. I've never been one to ride a position, and say; `I've been to the border so stand back. I must be in the front of the queue.' That's not me.
I don't think I ever got back to how I was before. I don't think that I ever returned to a previous level. Something had changed within me, and it changed as a result of some of the people that I had been in contact with; their inability to reason, their inability to act proactively, to think, or to plan ahead. I became a little bit disillusioned with people.
My next posting maintained that. I felt alone. I never actually settled again. I bought my guitar with the money I had saved, so I think in a way the whole border experience stayed with me. I never went back to the way I had been prior to it. It brought out certain things in me that I valued; I valued the diversity that I had come across even though it had been painful. I valued having been exposed to it, and I didn't want to go back to the main stream where I had been protected previously. Since then I have travelled a bit, and I think it has made me start to have the desire to see and to experience other things. Having volunteered to go there, I've `volunteered' in a strange way for a lot of other things in my life. All in all, I think that the myth that was built up around it, was exactly that; it was a myth.
What I got out of it was something uniquely individual. It didn't make me a hardened person. If anything, it made me more of a person to accept these diverse people. As I say, a painful journey to go through. I'm still going through it, I think. No-one ever asks me outright about it, which I think is a function of the myth still being there. They assume that they know that this guy was on the border, therefore he must have seen combat, therefore they mustn't ask about it. Sure, I know of guys like that. Certainly there were those who were at the core of the myth starting. They had had bad experiences. Mine was okay.
When I came back they gave me bush leave, and then I spent my last six months at Hoedspruit. Hoedspruit was considered an operational base as well because it served the Mozambique border, and there was quite a strict regime up there. You carried on with P.T. even though you were just about to klaar out. You continued with a bit of training, shooting etc.
There was no camaraderie at Hoedspruit primarily because it seemed to be a holding base for people coming back from the border. You would come back and you would all be split up and some guys would be sent to Pietersburg and other guys were sent to Hoedspruit. You were thrown in with a totally new bunch of guys that you didn't know, and not having had that shared experience, it's difficult to build up the camaraderie. If you all go through the same grill, it builds the spirit a bit. That is what the army has always been based on, theoretically, that if you all go through the same experience. At Hoedspruit you had nothing in common with the next guy. He had come from Ondangwa or wherever, and while you could talk, there was once again, this whole myth thing; `When we were in M'pacha this and this happened', and `At Ondangwa that and that happened.' It was one-upmanship. There was never any camaraderie. I was glad when that time came to an end. It was boring.
There was also a bit of demotion in the sense that everyone stood guard duty whether you were an NCO or not. You were all periodically placed around the base, which didn't appeal to me. I thought I had more to offer than standing around with a rifle. Then again, beggars can't be choosers.
I couldn't wait to get out, to be able to make my own decisions. I had had enough of people making decisions for me, particularly with my background of always being asked; `What do you think?' Having rank didn't seem to count for much. I was very `naafi' (Supposedly standing for `No ambition and fuck-all interest') primarily because I felt that they didn't utilise people's potential at that stage. During basics, the twelve of us had learned to use our potential together. That hadn't been drawn through to the end of my training. There were many people there who had a lot to contribute, who could have made it a much more worthwhile place to be. I understand the logistical problems involved. You can't just allow five hundred people to do what they want.
I couldn't wait to get out. But, having said that, I didn't have a definite plan of action in my mind of what I was going to do. I was thinking of continuing studying. I thought; `When I get out, I'll take a further enrolment for extra courses.' I didn't have matriculation exemption at that stage. I had my matric, but I didn't have university entrance. I had been very lazy. I decided that when I got out I would get my matric and my university entrance, which I did. I went and worked and did it.
Coming out was difficult. It was absolutely wonderful to walk out of that gate that day, knowing that I was finished. So now you've finished the army! So what does that mean? You get home, and the first thing that your mom says to you is; `Relax. Here is coffee. Take it easy. You've just come out of the army.'
There was this lull, this void that you entered into. You were glad to be rid of the army, but you didn't fit into the society either. There was no overlapping period. During your last few months in the army they should start saying; `Listen guys, you have one month to go. Maybe even three months to go. Lets talk about it. What are your expectations? What do you think it's going to be like going back home? You can't do what you want. People aren't going to allow you to do that. You are also going to be forwarded a certain status because you have `matured'. How are you going to handle that? What do you plan to do?'
There was no planning whatsoever. It was left to the individual, if he thought of it at all. I would have valued that, and I would propose it now. I think it's a good system, because otherwise it's a bit abrupt. It's like walking into a brick wall. I can remember sitting in my mom's home, and people saying; `What are you going to do now?' The army had taken care of me for two years. You mean I actually have to decide this? I wanted to study, so then I got a job, and worked towards getting my university entrance. I actually didn't tell my folks this until I had got it. `Okay, now I've got it. Now I can study.'
The first year after I had finished, I was called up and I went to Uppington. There is a civilian airport there, and the Air Force use it for about a week or two when they do training. I belong to the T.A.U. (Tactical Airfield Unit), which goes out and sets up an Air Force base wherever it's needed. The runway would be there, but we would set up the base so that these guys could come in and do their training. We would be monitored and assessed as to how quickly we could do this. We would move from our base in Bloemfontein up to Uppington and set up the base, and then dismantle the camp and get back again. Total boredom! We set up camp. I could now probably set up a tent backwards with my eyes blindfolded with my hands behind my back. Believe it or not, Uppington is not all sand dunes. It's very hard ground as well. We actually bent tent pegs trying to get them in.
I went to Uppington and I went to Sodwana, in Northern Natal. I got credit for two of my camps; they called me up and then cancelled, and gave me credit, and since then I have been deferred, because I have been studying. So theoretically I still have six or seven camps to do. I feel a little bit cheated because I did the two year system and I have to do all the camps. Now the guys are doing one year with half the amount of camps.
The camps are really boring. It's basically routine. You drive a truck somewhere, stop, and put up the tents. There are guys hiding behind bushes, much like speed-cops, to see how far the convoy is between one another and you get marks for that. To me it is pointless. I do understand the change in the military and political situation in South Africa means that they now have to find other things to do with their time. They should examine whether it is still profitable and economical to run the army along those lines.
It costs a fortune; there was a rumour that the army camp that I went to in Uppington was costing about one million rand a day to run, and we were there for thirty days. Okay, that was with Impalas flying in and out, and Avgas is expensive stuff. At the end of the camp you get marked for whether you budgeted right for your Avgas etc. There was aviation fuel left over and they simply pumped it into the desert so that they wouldn't have to go back to the base and say that we still have three thousand litres or whatever. The fuel cocks were just opened, and it just drained away into the sand.
Whatever that exercise cost, they had statistics that I don't think accurately reflected the situation. Certainly they had to look at the economics of it; whether it actually paid to do these massive operations. I personally think it is a waste of money.
There was this myth of how good we are. I was told on `good authority'; `Did you know that we never ever went into battle unless we outnumbered the enemy by at least five to one.' If intelligence came back and said that enemy strength was two hundred or even a small guerilla group of fifteen, if we outnumbered them by at least five to one, we would go in. Otherwise we would not. That certainly helps to build up the image that `We can wipe out anything that comes our way!' Apparently we had a very good intelligence service, getting information in, so we didn't go blindly into situations.
Personally, I don't think that camps are a good idea. The idea is to re-train you, but they guys are so demotivated. You're just not interested. I've got past the point where I will blindly accept people telling me what to do. It's different if you're going for a job interview, but when a guy of twenty-two comes up and tells me; `Put that tent up again because it's skew!', I actually get very angry and I tell him what I think of his capabilities, which does not endear you to the system.
I will do what they require of me, but they must leave me alone. If they want a tent pitched, I'll pitch the tent, but don't shunt me around. Don't then say; `Oh, no! Actually we want it over there,' because then I would turn around and say; `Would you like to do your planning first? I'm going into town. I'll be back at three.' You get into a lot of trouble, which just creates tension, and it's not productive for anyone. We seemed to be at loggerheads at times.
However, you can get the army to work for you. I had a Portuguese friend, Alcides, who is quite a sly guy and, while he's not an academic giant, he manages to work his way through systems. We went to this camp in Sodwana. They were training pilots to identify trenches on the ground; what a terrorist camp on the ground would look like; with a tree as its main base; how it would look from the sky. They connived to get the guys to go and do the work. They asked; `Who wants to go for a ride in a helicopter?' All the guys were going; `Me! Me! Me!'. Having flown, I wasn't really interested. Not that I want to sound blase' about it, but I smelt a rat. These guys got onto Puma helicopters, and the door was closed behind them. They looked around them and they saw that there were shovels and other implements of destruction lying around. They were taken out to the bush and they had to simulate little paths through the trees. It's all very well if the guerillas have done that for you, walking up and down, but they had to do this. They literally made the poor chaps walk up and down in single file through the veld until they had artificially created a `natural' path in a few hours.
They asked for volunteers for different jobs. Alcides, a friend of mine, he said `We'll do that latrine duty.' I thought; `Alcides, you're mad.' He said; `No, we'll do the toilets.' Everyone sniggered and, without being derogatory, all the Afrikaans guys tend to look down on that sort of work. They sniggered; `The shit house gang.' I didn't know what I was letting myself in for. Alcides said; `Watch.'
Everyone went off in the Pumas; they thought they were going for a flight and ended up digging trenches for the next four or five days. Alcides and I were in the middle of the humid heat of the north coast. We went into these mobile shower units. They guys were really pigs at times; I won't go into the details. We would go in with hoses and we would hose everything down. We had gum boots on. After this it was nice and clean. We would take a nice long shower for about an hour with this hot, hot water. We were in this unit, lock the door, hot water, soap. I would know there are no germs because I cleaned it. I had thrown Dettol all over the place. Clean toilets, the works! We would spend the day in these shower units. We would drink water and sleep, talk, read, and no-one would ever come and check on us because it was a `low type' sort of job. I thought; `I'm in the shade. I've got as much water as I want to drink, and I don't have to carry a water bottle. I've just had one of the best showers that I've ever had. Other guys get about five minutes in ice cold water and the drains don't work, standing ankle-deep in soapy stagnant water and the toilets don't work. This was working for me. Using a bit of sense, this Portuguese guy was showing me; `Volunteer and you see what you can do.'
RICHARD AND THE WAGGON
An anecdote from another friend of mine, who was a bit of a chancer. He was a good guy, good fun to be around. He gets into a lot of trouble, though. He was also a friend of Alcides. We all went to school together. He always volunteered for the `honey sucker', the truck that removes the sewage. He used to drive the `honey sucker' out to the nearest town to the sewage-works and dump it there. No-one ever questions where you are going. No-one ever comes too close to your truck either because of the smell, and you are basically free to do what you want. No-one really bothers. Richard likes to shunt people around as well. Richard was driving this `honey sucker' about, and every time he got to the gate of the camp, the boom would be down. Just to cause trouble, he said to the guard at the gate; `When you see this truck coming down the road, you must open this gate. You know who I am. You know the truck.'
This guy also put his foot down, and said; `No. I won't. You will stop and show me your papers every time you go in and out because I know you are going to loaf off when you get to Uppington or wherever.' They had a bit of a confrontation. Richard said; `Look, if you don't open it, I'm not going to stop.'
This guy said; `You will stop.'
Richard says; `We'll see about that.' He goes off and he empties all the toilets and he leaves the man hole covers on the top of the `honey sucker' open, and he closes all the windows. He comes barrelling down this road towards the gate, flashes his lights and he hoots. The guy stood there; `Bugger you! I'm not going to open.' Richard just keeps on going. At the last moment, Richard says he thinks he saw the realisation in the guy's eyes of what was about to happen.
Richard put his foot on the brake as he got there. The truck stopped, and needless to say, all the excrement behind him in the tanks didn't. It came up out of the man holes that Richard had `forgotten' to close. He couldn't see what was happening for the first couple of moments because it all came over the top of the truck and down the windscreen until he put his windscreen wipers on. Then he saw this very forlorn looking figure standing drenched. That was the end of that. Richard says that the gate was always open after that. Not my story. It belongs to a friend of mine, but I can vouch for its accuracy.
This happened on a camp. Because we are all older, we don't like being shunted around. When something does happen, the guys think up something very nasty to get their own back. I kept them busy on my Sodwana camp. They asked us to fill in forms; `Are we happy? Are we doing what we wanted to do?' Someone had made an attempt to try to gauge the level of adaptation of the people coming to do camps out of civvy life. I just kept asking for more forms and verklaarings (statements) detailing my university degrees and I listed everything that I had done. That kept me busy for about three days while they tried to find new forms. You can get the system to leave you alone.
Camps in general are a waste of time, and the only thing you can do is try to get through the time; make it work for you. Being a practising Catholic, on Sundays I would say; `I want to go to church.' I made sure that it also paid off for me, because the nearest town would be about fifty kilometres away, so Richard and myself and Alcides would have to get into a landrover. We would usually be the only Catholics in the camp. We would go to church, but then afterwards we would spend the day in Uppington. We'd go to the swimming bath, we'd have some tea, we'd go and buy the Sunday papers, just to get through that time.
Published: 1 July 2000.