Clive Wills was a doctor when he reported for national service in January 1986. He did basics and officers' course at Klipdrift, and then worked in the Department of Psychiatry, 1 Military Hospital. During this time he completed two border duties, one at Khorixas and the other at Ombalantu where he was injured during a rocket attack.
Basics was boring. It was quite fun because you didn't have to do anything that required you to think. It was boring because you did the same thing every day. It was irritating because they pumped you with all the propaganda. I used to get into trouble because I didn't agree, and vocally did not agree. I suppose that most doctors were still numb from their house jobs. It was quite nice not to have to think, and not be responsible for anything except what you were told to do.
We were in tents for six months, and most of the people with me were pharmacists. I have a photograph of me sitting on top of a box because someone was cleaning the floor. Errol Levine is a dentist whom I hadn't seen for four or five years. He was at dental school when I was at medical school. Then he suddenly reappeared when I was in the army, and we ended up in the same tent. He was always eating.
Clive had been to the nudist beech at Sandy Bay shortly before going into the army. His all-over tan was commented on in the shower. Clive learned to parachute while he was at Klipdrift, and this was done during the Wednesday afternoon sports parades.
FIRST BORDER DUTY AT KHORIXAS
After Basics and Officers Course, in June 1986, I was posted to 1 Military Hospital and I worked in the Psychiatry Department. The first time I went to the border, from November 1986 to January 1987, I went to a civilian style set up in a very small town, Khorixas, to the West, near the Grootberg, South of Etosha. Khorixas used to be called Welwitschia after the plant, Welwitschia Mirabilis. The welwitschia is very famous. They are more than a hundred years old. The leaves are thick and quite hard.
WORK AT KHORIXAS
There were two national servicemen who had settled there for the eighteen months remaining after basics. They had gone up there, and decided to stay there. It was actually quite a nice set up for them because they could work in the hospital, live with their families. They both had wives.
When I arrived, they hadn't had any leave, and they decided it was time for them to take their leave, which happened to be over Christmas. That left me rather isolated. I think that the worst part was that you seemed to be on your own for a lot of the time. I remember that from 20 December to about 6 January I was probably the only white person in the whole town. Time passed very slowly.
The job was to operate the hospital. The hospital was just like any hospital really, but small. There was an out-patients waiting area, and you had a cubicle in which to see patients. We used to do everything, `heroics', the lot! There were no other doctors, so the GP had to do everything. If you wanted to refer someone to a specialist, I think you had to refer them to Otjiwarongo. There was a sad lady who had a son with a broken arm. She wouldn't let us re-set it under anaesthetic so he is committed to an arm that will be skew for the rest of his life.
The psychiatry ward was the only ward with burglar bars, and they used to lock the patients in there. They used to sedate them and give them vast doses of things like etamine, until they could get them out. One person there was a true schizophrenic, but the local villagers thought she was either a witch or a prophetess or something. According to Western concepts, she would probably be classified as schizophrenic, and she used to come walking around with flowers on her. She would take off her clothes and start singing. You would ask the nurses what she was singing about, and they would say that she was talking nonsense. Then she would wake up after this trance or whatever, and being sedated and she would go home, back to the village. She probably made her living out of telling people what was going to happen to them.
There were a number of village clinics. We used to drive out through the desert and visit villages and the clinics and give out medicines. It was very much `primary health care', but there was often a health care worker or a nurse or somebody with some medical training - probably from the hospital. We would stop and look at some cases or consult.
The biggest clinic was at Sesfontein, which had fully qualified nursing sisters and had a few beds, and they used to dish out medicines and admit patients. We stayed there over night, as a half-way station. The desert that we used to drive through was very beautiful in its own way. The road totally disappears. We had drivers, because otherwise we wouldn't manage to come back from that desert. We had a 4x4 to ride in. The Sesfontein clinic was quite pretty; they had laid it out nicely. There was an army medic who stayed there as part of the set-up. At that time the South Africa Defence Force's medical service and the Government Health Service were so intertwined that you couldn't untangle them.
There were some pools near Sesfontein, natural springs, and we would go swimming there. It was incredibly hot, 40oC was normal. It's amazing that anything grows there, it was so hot and so dry.
LIFE IN KHORIXAS
There was a radio tower about two or three kilometres from the village. There was a recreation centre, a swimming pool, and there was a building that was used as a church and a hall and various other things. The main road went out to Outjo. There was a single hotel that served as a bar, and a few general dealer type stores. The general dealer was a total racist. Because we were in the army he used to give us meat at special prices. There was the hospital. There was a main street with a petrol station. There was a Standard Bank there, believe it or not.
Each person was given a house; sometimes you had to share. I started off sharing with a pharmacist called Philip, who was a very weird person.Philip Shellula. He was Greek. He was terribly untidy, and he used to leave food lying around until it went mouldy. His father owned a food shop - I couldn't believe that! Eventually another house became available, and he moved out and I stayed in, and that was fine.
There were standard two-bedroomed houses with a kitchen and a lounge area and a bathroom and a shower, and a parking area for a car if you had one. There wasn't much of a yard because there wasn't much vegetation there. You had to look after the house yourself. Some people employed local maids which provided employment, but there was so little to do, and tidying the house passed an hour or so a day.
The wife of one of the national service doctors who were up there for eighteen months was a teacher, so she taught at the local school. I don't know what the other one did. It was quite nice for them except that they never got back to South Africa.
There was a National Serviceman teacher there as well, and his wife was also a teacher. He came to teach at the local school, and his wife ended up teaching there as well. They had two kids. They were basically civilians, except that once a month they had to go to an army base and pretend to be soldiers. He was also there for almost two years. He was from Cape Town.
There was a gentleman who retired as a professor from Stellenbosch University and came to live in Namibia. He was a very nice man to talk to - very bright. I'm sure he's still there.
There was a nice swimming pool. One day we found a horse in the pool. [Dead?] No, it was just walking around. It was getting very excited because it couldn't get out.
We went to Swakopmund for one weekend. It is a beautiful town, almost like a movie set. It is very much a resort town. It has a natural spring. We stayed in some inexpensive chalets on the beech-front. It was very pretty. I would love to go back there. I got a weekend off because I worked on Christmas. One of the other doctors was actually going there for a weekend holiday with his wife, and they invited me along. It was very nice of them.
My first border duty was a totally different experience from my second one. In a lot of ways it was worse. Eventually I got back and didn't have a `traumatic' experience or anything.
CLIVE'S SECOND BORDER DUTY AT OMBALANTU
Here areSet 1 and
Set 2 of Clive's photos from Ombalantu in mid 1987.
Clive spent his second three-month stint of border duty at a small company base at Ombalantu, situated just off the road between Oshakati and Ruacana, 89 km from Oshakati. It was initially the base of Bravo Company of 101 Battalion.
He had been very involved in Church of England activity before National Service, which had included doing work in the townships, which was frowned on by the South African authorities. As a result of this, his security clearance, needed before he could be commissioned as an officer, was considerably delayed. He faced the prospect of doing his second border duty as a `Candidate Officer', which would put him in a disadvantaged position as he tried to work as a doctor in the military. With some influence from Commandants Potgieter and Mathey, his rank was rushed through so that he received it just in time to take with him to the border.
CLIVE IS TOLD HE WOULD HAVE TO GO AGAIN
In April 1987 we were told that we would have to go to the border a second time. All the promises of `I will make sure you get a reasonable posting' were forgotten. We had to leave around the first week of June. My social life was very complicated at that time, and being uncertain about where I would be stationed, I became very uptight about it. I was more worried about things being all right back in Jo'burg, than about what was going to happen. I had faith that things would be sorted out because you don't really believe that you're going to get screwed with a bad place a second time.
THE JOURNEY NORTHWARDS
I left on about the fourteenth of June, and a `Flossie' full of doctors flew up to Grootfontein. The flight was long and boring because you've got to fly around Botswana. We arrived at Grootfontein where they allocate people to the different Sectors. We assembled in one big room and a senior officer said; `Well these people are staying in Sector 50 [Five Zero], Grootfontein, and these people are going to 20 [Two Zero] or 70 [Seven Zero].' The most dangerous sector at that time was 10 [One Zero]. People obviously didn't want to go to 10. I got sent to 10. I taught; `That's not so great!'
Once they had decided which people were going to go to the different sectors, only the people staying in Grootfontein were allocated to a residence in Grootfontein. The rest of us were leaving the next morning. There is a First World War Prisoner of War camp outside of Grootfontein, genuine! They used this as an overnight transit camp. They took everybody to this place in Samils and said `Okay, we'll fetch you tomorrow morning'. There was no supper. There was no breakfast. There were no toilets. There were no mattresses. There was a shortage of beds. The building had not been attended to since about 1918. So this is how they treat their so-called `professional people'? There were lots of mosquitoes and flies. We slept or tried to sleep. There were no lights so we couldn't see. Of course we arrived in the dark. We had to try and find a bed that wasn't occupied. It was cold. People don't realize that Namibia can be very cold overnight. A lot of guys like myself had been up in summer, and it gets unbelievable hot in summer (38 - 40oC). They hadn't brought jackets, so they really got cold. I had brought my big overcoat for some crazy reason. It was one of the worst possible nights that anybody could endure. It was ridiculous!
The next morning we found some running water somewhere, and tried to wash our faces. They put us on Samils again. We hadn't eaten since breakfast the day before. That wasn't the big problem. The problem was trying to find a space to sleep because the road was bumpy and there was equipment everywhere and people were trying to ride in the back with their stuff.
We had to ride from Grootfontein to Oshakati on trucks and, of course, the military-minded types were in charge, the sergeant majors and what not. They were quite looking forward to some kind of ambush. The roads had been dangerous, so they were all thrilled. Of course the famous story of the doctor who had been killed in an ambush on that road had to be recounted. It was supposed to make us all feel great. Initially, doctors used to do about a month's induction and then go straight to Active Service, but they weren't `proper soldiers'. Then there was a mistake of some kind, and vehicle full of doctors was attacked and one doctor got shot. Of course this prompted all the militaristic people to make sure that all doctors do basic training and officers' courses; six months of doing nothing!
All I remember of that trip was that I thought it would never end. I did sleep. The wind came in, but I found a place under a seat and I slept. I'm lucky because if I decide I'm going to sleep, I will. We got to Oshakati on the Saturday afternoon.
We met Commandant Potgieter, the officer commanding the Medical Section of Sector 10, who turned out to be a total martinet. He thought that blacks were less than human and whites might possibly be human only if they spoke Afrikaans. He had to work out who was going where. I said that I had been promised that I would stay there. He said; `Ja, promises made down in Pretoria aren't promises here.' So I said `Thanks very much!'
Apparently he had requested somebody from Psychiatry because there were problems at one base. I was told that I'd go there; to Ombalantu. Ombalantu was an outer base of less than a hundred people. There was a base at Ondangwa which belonged to the same Battalion, 101 Bn.
We drove to Ondangwa on the Saturday afternoon. The guys who had just finished their three months stint were there. The doctor who I was replacing wasn't back yet. He was the last one to come back, which was ominous. Ombalantu was the Battalion's most remote base.
They had a braai that night. I was getting more and more anxious about the whole thing. I thought `this base is going to be at the end of the earth', which it probably was! I didn't feel very comfortable about staying there. I don't particularly like being told what to do, anyway, in terms of control. I remember that I was really very unhappy. I got to a point where I went to the sick bay and said `I'm not going! I don't want to do this.' The other doctors said I was being stupid. English was a foreign language. You can never generalize; there was one doctor who was Afrikaans and from the Free State, and he said `he understood' and he spent a long time being patient with me.
The next day the medic arrived, and they said that I'd better go back to Oshakati first and see what was going on. 101 Bn was incredibly military, in contrast to 1 Mil and the Medics; this was infantry. Those with `rank' were gods. A doctor that didn't have `rank' was unheard of. The medic took me back to Oshakati and Commandant Potgieter happened to be in the area. He said that there was nothing he could do, and I felt very betrayed by him. I don't think I have ever trusted him since.
I spent the night there and they tried to persuade me that I had to go to Ombalantu. When they saw that they weren't going to persuade me, they told me that I didn't have an option. Potgieter (Officer Commanding Medical Sector 10) and Charl De Wet (psychologist) were doing the persuading. They were so steeped in the army stuff that they couldn't see anyone else's point of view. Eventually I went. They took me and I went. I arrived at Ombalantu and the other doctor who was there happened to be someone who had been in my class at university. He had been married just months before he went to the army, so he was very chuffed to be returning to South Africa. I got to speak to him for about five minutes.
FIRST DAYS IN OMBALANTU
For the first two days I was in a total daze trying to work out what I was supposed to do, how I could handle it, and meeting a few people. I hardly knew anybody. Everything was just so unreal. You were literally 10 km from the Angolan border. You could climb the tower and see Angola.
The so called `problem' at the base was that the Captain was a total psychopath. I don't know what they expected me to do, but it only took me about an hour to work that one out. He used to sit in his room and brood. He used to recount stories of how he enjoyed killing people. Being in the army and up on the border legitimized an otherwise psychiatric condition!
The base was actually run by the sergeant major, who probably had a standard eight education. He was a reasonable guy.
THE FIRST REV
On my second night there, the base was attacked. I had been standing talking to the Dominee, and I went in to my room. Five minutes later a bomb exploded exactly where we had been standing. We didn't realize it at the time, but we found it there the next morning.
I was in my room in the officers' section when the first bomb exploded. Some instinct said to me; `You've got to go to the sick bay' so I just ran to the sick bay. There were wires and guy-ropes everywhere in that camp. I was tripping and I just about killed myself. I got to the sick bay and the medic, who used to stay in the sick bay, was pleased that I had actually made it. He had thought I might not actually make it there. We waited for things to happen. I think there was one shrapnel wound, and another minor injury, and that was it.
On the night of the first attack, we could have sold beds in the sick bay for about a hundred rand apiece. A couple of officers along with myself decided to sleep in the sick bay that night, because I think we all felt, rightly or wrongly, that the bomb had been meant for the officers' mess. It could have easily been hit. There was the Dominee and myself, and one other guy, Lt. Jonker, who left soon afterwards and Roland the Ops. Medic. Some troops came and begged to move in as well, but we didn't have any more space. I'm sure that the air in there wasn't the greatest because there was only one doorway. I think the Dominee was the most petrified; I don't claim to have been brave and not scared, but he was the worst in terms of being scared. He didn't sleep a wink that night because he used to snore, and we all knew it, and there was no snoring. He was scared out of his wits when that bomb hit. He, like me, was the closest to the spot, so I think that we both got shocked by that.
CLIVE'S EXPERIENCE OF BEING REVVED
Notes on Rev. of June 9, 1987 at 23H15.
The base at Ombalantu, Sector 10, was attacked at about 23H15 on Tuesday 9 June, 1987. These observations are the personal observations of the medical officer at that base. They by no means purport to be scientifically orientated.
1. Feeling of anticipation. Warning signs had occurred during the day - the `cuccas' were closed, as were the schools. I remember well the discussion about an hour before involved the possibility of an attack. We knew but we didn't know.
2. Immediate Reaction. The need to regain control - I quickly cleared my desk, locked my room and went to the sick bay (protected by sandbags.) The immediate reactions involved fear and an instinctive run for cover.
3. Need for safety. Almost everyone immediately ran to the HQ complex or a bunker. The sick bay was full.
4. Need to be busy/involved. For the medics this involved attending to one minor casualty. This probably takes the mind off the immediate threat and (?) away from your fear.
5. Need for company. During the rev and for quite a while afterwards people did not want to be alone. Excuses were often made to be accompanied. Noticeably, people volunteering to go with another person rather than let them go alone. "Buddy protection."
6. Feeling of togetherness/family. A shared experience definitely brought the unit together. A sense of having survived unscathed, such an event was very real.
7. A break in boredom. Something worthwhile happened. Excitement.
8. Worth - we were worth attacking. We are important enough to be revved. Very real in a unit which has an acute awareness of the isolation.
9. Running around and inspecting damage - very soon after the event, everyone had to inspect the sites of damage. Relief at having not been hurt, particularly for those who were nearby.
10. Need for information. Very important to know what has happened and is planned.
11. Need for a show of strength. The arrival of the helicopters and the enormous amount of ammunition loaded up gave us the feeling that we would beat `them'. The enemy always remained an elusive other although intense, raw racism coloured much of the speech.
12. Sleeping arrangements. Everyone slept in bunkers or the HQ complex (includes the sick bay). This continued for a few nights, especially a few days later when another attack was rumoured.
13. A general uneasiness at night for the last few days. What could have happened. We had a lucky escape. (Of 12 above).
14. In spite of a common insult, the black/white rift in the unit prevailed at all times.
15. GV stories. We had a story to tell and everybody should be interested.
16. The need, as far as possible, to carry on as normal. Very important and useful. Not the same as continuing as if nothing had happened.
2/Lt. C. E. Wills
During this `Rev', Clive suffered a 50% hearing loss in his left ear, for which he was compensated with two thousand rand (about £500). Clive would rather have his hearing back, but he is philosophical about it:It has its pluses because I can always sleep in a noisy room now. The downside is that I can't hear stereo sound. I have to watch when I'm driving.
It doesn't take a genius to work out that after any major life-threatening event, the `We've been through this together' - process will allow cohesion to develop much quicker than normal. They use it in any orientation training for any new system. I think this allowed me to fit into the system very quickly and find out who is who, adjust to the situation, and find a role for myself.
After the attack, I decided that I wasn't going to stay in the officers' mess, so I moved into the sick bay. I kept my room in the officers' mess as a study. I didn't sleep in that room again. I moved most of my clothes to the sick bay. The sick bay was surrounded by sandbags, and it was bunkered up. I moved there because I felt I would be safer there. The bomb had exploded only metres away from my room in the mess. It was a little bit too close for comfort! It was also where I was supposed to be if something happened, and I didn't fancy running across the field at night again. There was always talk of not enough space for officers in the mess.
There were three attacks on the base in total. One was just after I arrived, one in the middle of my stay, and then one just before I left. I was told; `This is a very safe base. We haven't had an attack in three years' or something. I thought that was a joke.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BASE
The base was about a kilometre East of the main road. It happened to be the thickest road in all of Africa to make it difficult for people to put land-mines in it.
Essentially the base was about 400 m by 400 m plus the helicopter landing pad outside to the West. The main road was parallel to the helipad. The sides of the base were made up of sand walls which had been heaped up to the height of several metres, over which there were paths going out. There was only one entrance which also served as an exit.
On the North side there was a kitchen and dining facility, and in the centre, in a cross shape, were the Headquarters complex and the sick bay which were reinforced. To the North East were the Officers Quarters and along the perimeters were tents for the troops. In each corner was a bunker where the troops would go in the event of an attack. There was a mortar pit in the middle, and in the North West corner was a signallers' unit, consisting of a truck. They had their own tent with a tower. Behind them was the water storage.
There were separate ablution facilities for the officers and men. Some guys got excited if they saw the wrong person in the wrong ablution block, but generally not.
I think that was the total sum of the buildings. There was a swimming pool, which was usually empty, and a volleyball court and that was the sum of it. We had a tower in the middle of the headquarters. We could climb up it although there were strict orders not to, but everybody did anyway because the Captain spent the whole day in his room. You could climb up and you could see Angola and you could see the school next door and the village and the local shops. That was all you could see.
1. Ablutions: Officers
2. Ablutions: Troops
3. Accommodation: Officers
4. Accommodation: Troops
5. Ammunition store
♣. Baobab tree
6. Entrance to base
8. Lookout tower
9. Mess: NCOs' & Troops'
10. Mess: Officers'
†: Mortar bomb exploded here
11. Office: Captain's
12. Parade ground
13. Recreation room
14. Sick bay
17. Swimming pool
The police base was above the top right quadrant of this diagram. The village of Ombalantu was to the right of the top right quadrant. The helipad was to the left of this diagram, and as long as the left side of the base. Further to the left of the base was the main road linking Oshakati and Ruacana, with Oshakati above the diagram, and Ruacana below. There was a dirt road linking the base with the main road. This diagram is orientated so that the perimeter sides would point towards the South East.
There was a civilian hospital about a kilometre behind the base. There was a police base very close to ours, not `Koevoet', just police. I had to be the doctor for them as well.
The dining room had three sections; on the West side was the Officers' dining room, in the middle was the kitchen staff, and on the East side was the Troops' dining room, and they were very strict about that. I'm sure the food was better on the officers' side. There was a big question about whether the Lance-Corporals were officers or not. Roland, my Ops. Medic was a lance corporal. This was a daily issue regarding which dining room he was allowed to eat in. He often ate in the officers' side.
There was a Recreation Centre, which was behind the dining room, with board games and some books. There were magazines there which were at least ten years old. Even `Landbou Weekblad' was interesting in that place. I think they were mostly `Personality' or `Radio and TV' or sundry Christian tracts which looked as though they had been published by the church in the 1950's. They were not relevant to the 1980's.
The windows were slanted to improve the circulation, and to keep the flies out. Flies and heat!
There was a small area that they used to use as a parade ground. In other places, there were little poles sticking out of the ground to stop vehicles from going in the wrong place.
The other interesting thing about the camp was that it had one of the biggest trees in the whole of Namibia. The tree had been hollowed out inside and you could seat twenty people comfortably in there. It had been used as a post office and as a relay station. It had also been used as a hide-away point at some stage in the distant past after a minor skirmish. There was a legend that a couple of people had been hiding there, and that their pursuers had thrown fire into it and all the people had perished. They were supposed to haunt the camp or something, but we never saw them. It was in one of the early wars in the last century.
It was a chapel while we were there, and I haven't a clue what it is now. It was interesting. There was a visitors book there, believe it or not, and people used to write remarks like `pragtig' and `beautiful' in it, and `God is hier!'. They used to get special permission and visitors used to arrive; so called `civilians' would come and look at this tree, which we thought was hilarious. After a few days you got used to it, like anything else.
We weren't allowed to go to the post office, believe it or not. Making phone calls was illegal. Some days we used to walk over the wall and go to the post office to make calls and send letters.
STAFF AT THE BASE
The Ombalantu Base belonged to 101 BN, which was made up of local Namibian troops. They were volunteers, mostly for mercenary reasons. They were trained in Namibia at Ondangwa, and most had seen action. The base had its own cook, a black guy from 101 Bn, and a couple of cooks assistants.
The troops were black Namibians, but the officers were mostly white South African National Servicemen; about five of them, who had been trained at infantry school. They went out on various escapades. The local 101 guys didn't seem to do much at all.
One of these Lieutenants was only there for about two weeks after I arrived, which was a pity because he was a very jovial chap. He was straight out of school. His father was a butcher or something. He was a very nice guy. His name was Duncan and he was Afrikaans.
There was a very cocky little Lieutenant who arrived when the other guy left. He stayed for a few weeks, but he didn't last very long.
Then there was another guy who wanted to be a PF pilot, but he had landed up in infantry. He was going to be a pilot the next year. He was English, believe it or not, and he stayed until I left. He was quite a nice guy, from Durban; a typical Durbanite. All he worried about was his suntan, and his hair that he could grow on the border because there were no haircuts.
There was a 101 medic, a black guy whose name began with a `k'. 101 Bn troops used to make a lot of money, and they were very wealthy relative to the local community. This medic wasn't like the others who would squander their money; he used to save it. He wanted to do further education in Windhoek, and I'm sure he did. He was quite a nice guy and very helpful. He loved giving injections, so I didn't have to give too many injections. He was quite good at it. He didn't have Ops. Medic skills.
I'm sure that the Captain was a genuine psychopath. I was ostensibly sent there with my `vast and extensive psychiatric experience' to see what I could sort out with him. I could diagnose him in the first twenty-four hours. So what were the other three months for?
He would walk around with a loaded rifle. I heard a story when I arrived, and I have no idea whether it was true or not, that the Captain had opened fire willy-nilly at one stage when he had been upset by something and had nearly hit a couple of people. This was apparently the reason why people back in Oshakati started worrying about him. In typically military fashion; if this story was true, and I'd been sent there to see what was going on, I had not been informed of this incident. I heard it via a grapevine.
He was an intensely brooding individual. I remember him brooding in his room for hours on end; just sitting there doing absolutely nothing. He had those Nazi blue eyes, and he used to stare at people or scream at them.
The Captain disappeared for days on end to go and shoot people. He used to go out with the police. He was very `in' with the police. He had very little regard for the base as such. Sometimes the sergeant would go with him, which was highly irregular. One night when there was an attack, and there were only National Servicemen in the base which was quite a joke.
I remember once at a braai how he used to carry on about how many people he had killed and how he had killed them. Most people take great delight in fixing cars or in their food; not about how many people they have managed to kill.
Then he disappeared. He left, and I never saw him again. I never heard what had happened to him. I wasn't informed, which makes me even more wary of why I was sent to that base.
You've got to have God onboard! When I first arrived there, there was a Dominee who was ultra-conservative. I had a few interesting chats with him. His name was Philip. He was a very heavy thickset guy - your typical lock. He was almost clumsy, uncoordinated; what in Afrikaans you would describe as `Lomp'. He was quite bright, but he didn't look it. His English was poor, so I spoke Afrikaans to him.
He was very `Paraat'. He thought `It's important that you get up and go to parade!' Roland used to bunk parade, and the Dominee used to think this was a mortal sin. He wouldn't understand `mortal sin'. It was just `bad!'. I used to think that it wasn't important to polish your shoes every day.
He used to drive another Lieutenant berserk, because he was actually quite an untidy person, and he used to leave his stuff lying around. The other guy was an infantry Lieutenant who was very neat by nature.
He was very conservative. I think in his own mind, although he only hinted at it, he was having a real problem with the war vs. what Afrikaans Christianity really meant. It was interesting to watch. He didn't question too much about what had to be done, and yet there was never a tension between him and me. I know that troops would ask him and me the same questions and obviously get different answers. I was probably very radical because I used to say openly to the troops; `I don't think this war is a good thing. You can see it. You've experienced it. You can see what the local people are like. They're rural. They're illiterate. They're under sway of whatever power, and when we go, SWAPO might do the same. I still think we're wrong.' Whereas the Dominee would tell them that if God created everybody, then everybody has the same rights and access. Then what was what was going on here, but this was is not true. WE had very different perspectives.
The chaplain had a few jobs. He had to do the `lees en bid' stuff at parades. We always had to have a reading. It's good practice taking your beret off. He was officially in charge of the recreation centre. He was technically the welfare officer, because we didn't have a welfare officer. He had to look after things that went wrong.
So that was the Dominee. He didn't stay the whole time. He went to another base. It was a bigger base, but it wasn't Ondangwa. I went there once with Roland, and saw him there, and he was in his element because they were all Paraat and did everything correctly, and he was exactly the same.
THE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER
This was a very important person. The first Intelligence Officer was an Afrikaans guy about to leave, and he was replaced by an English guy from Durban. They were funny, because they always had to make reports about `movements'. It was total horse psychology that one. It was very funny. I don't know where they got their information from, but they used to produce reports. A nice thing about intelligence officers was that they actually were intelligent. They had to have a `B' aggregate in matric to become Intelligence Officers. (With a 'B' in matric, I don't think I would have made it?) Then you couldn't have been an intelligence officer! They were generally not idiots. They wore black berets, and they had access to state secrets.
THE SERGEANT MAJOR
CLIVE: I know you have little interest in rank, but can you remember whether this chap was an ordinary sergeant, a staff sergeant or a sergeant major?
With the Captain brooding in his room most of the day, the task of running the base fell to the sergeant major. His wife and family lived in Oshakati, and we would often be visiting them. I didn't have much contact with him.
There was a scheme; I don't know whether it was funded by a welfare organization or whether it was an army scheme, but the outer bases used to get vast quantities of delicacies like tinned muscles, crab and salmon meat and bakers biscuits and such things. We didn't ever see it because the sergeant major used to have it. He used to eat all this fancy food. At first I thought that it was his private food that he bought, because he was local. Then I saw it arriving and I put two and two together and I realized that it was actually supposed to be for the whole base.
I traced where he kept it, which was in his room, and one day he made the foolish mistake of leaving his room open. Roland and I took vast quantities of this food and put it in a box and took it to the sick bay. We gave it to its rightful owners, namely ourselves and a few selected people. We were treated to rare delicacies.
The sergeant major never said anything because I think he realized that if he had asked, we would have said `It wasn't yours anyway!' I did notice that he kept less of a stash in his room than he had in the past.
ROLAND, THE OPS. MEDIC
When I arrived, I inherited Roland, an Ops. Medic who had been at the base for a while. Ops. Medics have to be matriculants. It's quite a sought-after course. It's a practical course. Some of the applicants have aspirations of medical careers. They get a rank (Lance-Corporal) eventually, so they won't be treated like absolute dirt. They can do any basic and advanced First Aid. They can suture, they can do resuscitation, they can do evacuations from scenes of action. They can do more first line stuff than the doctors can, because they are trained to deal with a war injury as it happens. The doctor is often not allowed there, and has to wait in a medical hospital or sick bay type situation. They are trained in all the military skills; they are trained to go on Ops., which they do. They are issued with medical bags, which are very similar to doctors' bags. Doctors' bags have a few scheduled drugs in them, and that's about the only difference.
Ops. Medics also do something which nobody trains them to do, but which everyone tells you they do. They keep doctors sane, partly as reasonably intelligent human beings in a place where that's quite scarce, and partly because they can at least talk a bit of the same medical language as you. A lot of Doctors will tell you that. I didn't have much in common with Roland. I know that now, but when in that situation, you rely heavily on your Ops. Medic for moral support. You look after him, because you're an officer and you can get away with murder, and you protect them from things that corporals can't get away with; it's a sort of quid pro quo.
Roland was perpetually absent from parade, and I always said he was `busy', because I didn't think it was important for him to attend. He was sleeping late, because it got cold; it was Winter now! He was a very anti-military person anyway. It was a trade off; he would make sure that I wasn't losing my mind, and I'd make sure that he didn't get into trouble.
Roland had to go out on an Ops. He disappeared for about three weeks. I wasn't allowed to leave the base, which was one of the advantages of being on a minute base; they had to have a medic at the base. I wasn't allowed to go out on Ops. at all. Roland went right up into Angola, and when he came back and he said it was quite good. He found it interesting, but he didn't like the psychopathic Captain. It was then I realized how bored I was without him for some kind of company.
He had his twenty-first in August. By then I was well established so I got them to organize a proper twenty first for him; we had a braai. We used to have braais every now and again, which was a great social occasion. It was quite nice, except that all the officers used to have their own braai, which I hated because I didn't know many of them. The National Service officers used to end up going to the troops' braai anyway.
Roland and I both lived in the sick bay which was one room. Roland's end was where the medicines were kept, and I used to sleep next to the `procedures table' on the other side. He had a curtain in front of his bed, and I had a curtain between my bed and the entrance, and we put a gate there.
There were between eight and twelve mortarists, all white National Servicemen, straight out of school. They had no rank, and they were just dumped on the border. They and the signalers spent the longest period of time on the border. By virtue of being an officer or an Ops. Medic, you had spent more time in your training. Even an Ops. Medic is a corporal. You stood out from the rest. Your beret was different and you were different. These guys really sat it out, and they had no privileges. They were much younger. They bore the brunt of it in a lot of ways. Maybe they weren't old enough to comprehend and maybe that's useful. They certainly had the worst deal.
The 101 officers sorted out their welfare. I don't think they had their own officer. They were a quiet bunch; they were typical polite little Afrikaans boys. It's probably very cynical, but they had probably never worn shoes or grown their hair before they came to the army. They were nice guys.
There were two signalers. Signalers were always Portuguese because they could understand radio signals that they picked up from Angola. They had a signals truck and thought they were different. They kept themselves very separate.
There was another attack on the base on the night one of the signalers, Georgie, celebrated his twenty first birthday. He got soundly drunk. The attack was mild, but he decided to run up the wall and start shooting randomly. Somebody was very brave and went up after him and pulled him back and took his rifle away. I sedated him and told him to lie down and shut up, which he did. We kept him in the sick bay.
He either had a lot of Hillbrow sluts as girlfriends, or he made them up. He was always writing to various girls who lived in various parts of central Jo'burg. He was a true `southern Jo'burg special'. He was very entertaining, and he was a very nice guy. He used to drive the other signaler mad because he never worked, but he was actually very competent. What do I know about signalers? He seemed to do his job. The signalers didn't fall under the discipline of the camp, so they didn't do anything else.
There were some Sappers, who used to go out every morning and sweep the road between the base and the tarred road, and then they would come back and be bored for the rest of the day. That was their job.
THE ROLE OF THE DOCTOR AT THE BASE
My job officially was to run a clinic and hold a sick parade for the local unit and to maintain the sick bay, and that was it really. The sick parade lasted from 8 am to 10 am and that was the end of my job for the day.
The kind of complaints that we would see; 90% of the local troops had syphilis. There was a prostitute in the local village who obviously had it. She wouldn't come for treatment. I would treat them, and they'd go and catch it again. Some got so clever they would come in for a prophylactic dose on Friday night. We also saw lots of aches and pains, sniffles and upset stomachs, and acne, and tooth problems that we always had to refer to the dentist. We were the sole supplier of sun tan lotion, lip ice, Gill shampoo and soap, and that was a perennial excuse for people to come to the sick bay. We had to casevac one person because he broke his arm.
We used to hide people in the sick bay because the army rule is that only the doctor could say who was allowed in the sick bay. If someone didn't want to do a duty or didn't want to see the Captain, they could come and sit in the sick bay. If the Captain asked me if they were there, I'd say `No!'
SAMS policy left it to the discretion of the individual Doctors as to whether they would offer their medical services to the local population or not. I did this at first, and everyone in the local village and surrounding kraals would come in for something, whether they needed any medication or not.
The clinic we ran was subjected to ridiculous security precautions. Every local person who was brought in was blind-folded and taken through the base and only had the blindfold taken off in the sick bay for so called `security reasons'. The same procedure was followed on the way back. 90% of the problems were ridiculous, and didn't need a Doctor.
After the base was attacked a second time, the decision was taken not to run a clinic for the locals. We were convinced that the locals had cooperated with SWAPO, and had not warned us of the `Rev'. I was involved in making the decision, but it suited me no end because I couldn't stand to see patients anyway.
The other function that I had was looking after the sick bay, so I turned into probably one of the best untrained pharmacists that exists. I cleared everything out of the sick bay. I got some troops in and we dusted everything off. We reorganized it, me being an obsessive compulsive. We swept out what probably hadn't been swept out in ten years and decided to get cracking on the order book. We reordered medicines that we were short of, and just generally got a very jacked-up sick bay. I checked the scheduled drug book which was a problem because there were some errors and I phoned in with that information and that was about it.
Roland and I reorganized the sick bay, tidied up the cupboards, threw out a lot of rubbish, and generally made it more sensible. We put a lock on the front door; it wasn't a door, it was a gate. We put a sheet over it so that we could sleep without people coming in, and that was the organized sick bay. We put a notice outside saying `Sick bay'. We really had to find things to do. That was where we lived.
The other great source of pride and joy was when the major of the medics, whom I liked, did his inspection tour. When he came to my base, he said that he had never seen a more organized sick bay so far from civilization. I said, `Ja, it took a lot of work.' Everything was in order. Everything was exactly as the book said it should be.
Then, unofficially, I had another job. The average white troopie was about nineteen or twenty, far away from home, totally lost, and he couldn't really relate to the PF guys, because they were older and had a total different mentality. They used to look to guys like the Dominee and the Doctor for some kind of support and maintenance and help to sort out their problems. We used to do a lot of that. It wasn't part of the so-called `job description'.
THE DAILY ROUTINE
There was always a parade at 7 am every morning, which was quite hilarious. Being a medic, I didn't want to, but I had to take parade sometimes, which was quite funny. Otherwise the sergeant major or one of the other Lieutenants took it.
Then I used to have sick parade from 8 am to 10 am, and the trackers used to go out, and the signalers used to do their work. There was food at ten; eating was a major thing to do because the day is long. The other meal of the day was at five. We only ate twice a day.
Then we'd literally have nothing to do from 10 in the morning until the next day. There wasn't any activity, because the clinic that we used to run from 11 to 12 stopped.
The base was quite slack in terms of discipline. You could get into civilian clothes after 11 am. `Civilian' meant army PT stuff; PT shirts and black shorts instead of uniforms. I had a medics track suit, so I used to wear that all the time.
Roland and I made a rule; `No sleeping before twelve' - that's before midnight and before twelve noon. We used to have massive sleeps from about twelve o'clock until about four o'clock in the afternoon. I suppose that's one way of passing the day. I normally can't sleep in the day.
At sun down, there was a brief period during which all the soldiers were required to stand, fully visible, on the wall surrounding the base for ten minutes. This was supposedly so that they could `look for the enemy'. Was this as a show of strength? It sounds bizarre - almost temptation to SWAPO to sneak in really close with a machine gun, so that they could just mow down the soldiers when they were so exposed. When this was over, the evening was officially started.
At night, after supper, some people used to make a habit of getting drunk every night. I used to go to the signalers' tent and listen to Radio 5 because they could only pick it up at night for some reason. It was a way of keeping your sanity.
A lot of people used to walk to the police base and spend the evening there, but I didn't like the police. They were `real heavies'. They used to play darts and drink. It was about 500 m away. The police would show off all their weaponry; the different size bullets and whatnot that they used to collect. It was not very interesting to me, but I did go there a few times. Then I decided no company is better than that.
The medics and the other officers used to drink thousands of litres of coffee and talk and read. Then we discovered some board games, Monopoly and other exciting games like that and packs of cards. I think we had Risk, which was one game that I didn't like. We played Monopoly every night in the recreation centre behind the dining room.
Another thing we had was the so called `Fire Plan'. This was like a giant fireworks display. They used to shoot out a couple of thousand rounds of blanks, including from the mortar pits. They used to create wonderful fireworks; they used to shoot up in the sky, and sent out trails and everything. It cost about four thousand rand a time, and it was done on a monthly basis, so there goes your tax again. This served two purposes; basically to check that all the weapons were in working order, and secondly it would scare off all the so-called `terrorists' in the area. I don't think it worked because we were attacked one night when there had been a `fireplan'. It helped everyone to locate our whereabouts.
Devising ways to prevent ourselves from getting bored was the biggest activity. I took eight novels up with me, which I read, and I had another eight sent up to me. Post started arriving after about three weeks, and friends sent me newspapers and letters and a whole lot more books and my folks sent more books. I used to read then, so reading was important. I used to get through a novel in two days. I had purposefully taken a typewriter and I learned to move from two fingers to eight finger typing, which I used to try and do for an hour each day, just for something to do. I was doing a computer course through UNISA and I used to try and work on that for an hour or two a day. I wrote a lot of long letters. I kept a diary for a while, and then I didn't. It just got too repetitive after a while I suppose.
Lt. Joubert was a very serious bloke, but very pleasant. He was allowed to sign letters, so he signed all my letters. We had a censorship system, until I got a number and then I signed. I got his number when he left. Signing letters was quite boring because you had to read all the troops' letters, which always said `Things are well here and I love you very much and I'm bored!' I think somebody taught them to write the same letter.
There was a malaria parade. Everyone had to take malaria tablets. This was a big thing because the myth went around that the tablets stopped you getting a suntan. One of the things that everyone virtually had to do was to get a suntan, as close to naked as possible. The signalers used to climb on top of their vehicle and have an all-over tan. Malaria was real! Towards the end, one policeman got severe malaria, and I was asked to go and see him. He was sweating, he had a high temperature and he had all the symptoms of a severe case. He hadn't been taking his malaria tablets. I really got incensed was when I heard that it was the second time he had contracted malaria. He knew what it was like, but he still ran the risk of killing himself rather than do a `sissy' thing like taking tablets. We actually had to casevac him; wasting thousands of rand on a helicopter to take him to Oshakati because we couldn't treat him there. That was such a waste.
We used to raid the kitchen and get milk. Once we must have had about 30 l of milk in the sick bay. We had noticed an abandoned cold drink dispenser in one of the rooms. Roland and I carried the damn thing to the sick bay and set it up under the auspices of looking after the penicillin, which I suppose technically you had to keep frozen. We also kept cooldrinks and milk in there, so we had a second bar. I didn't allow them to keep beer in there, which I suppose was stupid.
There was no hot water on the border. There were no showers. You had to make showers with piping and buckets. We used time to create shower systems. You had to fetch water from a tap far away to wash your clothes in the sink, all in cold water. People used to fade their clothes, and this became a permanent activity.
We filled the swimming pool, which was another one of my bright ideas. The water became dirty because we had no chemicals, but we swam for about three days. Then we emptied it and filled it up again. Swimming was another thing to do. The frogs grew faster than we could change the water, and nobody would give us chlorine. We had vast quantities of certain chemicals in the sick bay, and we tried various combinations, but none of those worked.
I started a running club because nobody did any exercise. We used to run out of the base and run along the tarred road for about four kilometres and then turn back. It was very very hot, so we used to wait until about 4 o'clock and then it was only very hot. One day some big officer came along and saw us running along the road and he nearly had a heart attack because we weren't armed. We said that we'd never been attacked yet. He was going to stop it, but I don't think he was there long enough to do so.
We also played volleyball. I was no good at it, but I played anyway. That was the day routine.
I hadn't been there very long when some SWAPO troops were brought in dead. It seemed to be the local tradition to gloat. I said that this wouldn't be allowed. They had to be put in proper body bags, and put away properly, and the vehicle would come in the next morning. This caused a bit of an upset, because the people thought that the spoils of war were being ruined. I maintained `He's a human being, even if you don't like him.' That happened once or twice, but the next time that they did it, they did it properly.
Once a SWAPO guy was brought in to the base, and they really treated him badly. They used to put them under armed guard, in solitary, on their own, and wait for the transport to come through.
We started getting videos, but they were all old movies that you'd seen five times before. They were better than reading a book twice, so I watched them. There was one video shop in the whole of Oshakati for the army and everybody. As we only went in to Oshakati once a week, we had to keep them a whole week, and return them the next trip. We used to watch about three a night.
I remember I quite enjoying watching a film with Jamie Lee Curtis, Perfect (1985) although I had seen it before; an aerobics type of thing. One night they got an Agatha Christie and we watched it and I actually enjoyed it. I remember the sergeant major muttering something about `He didn't understand these intellectual movies'. I really was amused because I don't consider Agatha Christie `intellectual'.
There was a cat in the base that took a fancy to me. I used to feed her. I think that she liked the salmon, and she used to sleep in my room in the Officers' Mess even when I wasn't there. Eventually it left. I don't know where it went. It used to amuse me because I'm not really a cat person.
I had my birthday there, of course. I turned twenty-seven. I felt very strange on my birthday because nothing happened. Nobody phoned or anything. Normally people will phone. Presents, cards - nothing arrived. The cards were all late.
GETTING OUT AND ABOUT
The system used to be that medics at the Sector HQ would organize our stocks of medicine and it used to be sent on the truck with the medic when he went to get supplies. He got the wrong stuff, so I went in and moaned. Because I had done such a good job in sorting out the sick bay, I was given permission to go in myself. So we used to go in once a week on the road, a hundred k's away, leave in the morning and come back in at night, collecting medical supplies. This was absolutely wonderful because every Thursday I could go to town, and visit Warwick and visit Barry, and go shopping. The post was free but slow. We used to take it in to Oshakati. We had our own little vehicle; a Kwêvoël. I couldn't drive it, which was why I used to have to take the medic with me.
Oshakati was a relatively major town. Shopping was like the corner cafe, but there was a Barclays Bank. The Captain was highly irate that both the medic and the Doc went, so he stopped us both going eventually. Then he left the base, so we went anyway. One week we managed to stay the whole weekend, from Thursday to Monday. One Thursday the truck broke down and it got dark and we got stranded. Then we realized that we were all of about fifty metres from the base so we just walked. We hadn't seen it.
Dental appointments were another way to get into town. A lot of people created dental problems to get a day in town. We took it in turns with a roster of who to send in. Then the dentists got cheesed off, so I had to take names and get appointments, which screwed that system.
I didn't have any dreams or nightmares after the rev. I'm the world's best sleeper. I actually slept through a rev. I went to sleep one night, and in the morning they said; `Did you hear the rev?' They didn't hit the base, but it was very close. It was about 3 ks away. Apparently everybody had woken up, and run to get into their positions. I was sleeping in the sick bay and Roland said I was sleeping, so he didn't wake me up. I didn't hear it.
The following anecdote was written at the time, when Clive told it to me on one of his visits, as I recall, but Clive does not recall the incident. `Considering that he had been dead for two weeks, Clive looked in the best of shape, but it had been confirmed that the base at which he had been stationed had been flattened, and there had been no survivors. Well, that's what SWAPO said! Clive personally subscribed to the South African version, which made no mention of the incident.'
We even made the `Star' one night. I saw it in the paper. We were famous. `Under heavy attack' or something. I'm glad it didn't make the Port Elizabeth papers, or my father and mother would have had a fit.
Koevoet were the most violent people I have ever met. I had no time for them. Koevoet units used to come into the base just to have a rest, not with wounded people. That generated quite a bit of friction. We had a petrol tank there, so that was one reason for them to come in. We had to supply them with water and medical supplies. They were very demanding of medicine.
Often people used to come in to the base from outside, and if they had a problem, we would treat them out of hours. On Sunday there was no Sick Parade unless you had been attacked. Roland and I used to sleep on Sundays until the first meal, at 10 o'clock. Sometimes we used to sleep past that if we weren't hungry. We had our own food supplies. We both had very generous parents who used to send us vast quantities of sweets. When we closed the sick bay, people couldn't tell whether we had closed it because we weren't there, or because we were sleeping. The troops used to use a standard whine to call the doctor. They used to stand at the door and shout `Medic! Medic!' as though this was a magic word, and you were expected to appear.
I remember one Sunday morning, a Koevoet truck arrived, and we were still sleeping. I heard these guys arrive, and I said to Roland; `Look, we're not answering this call.' I knew it was them. I knew they used to come in with nonsense. They used to demand vast quantities of medicines. So we just pretended to sleep, and this guy literally stood there for half and hour, and he wasn't even sick. He just wanted lip-ice or something like that. This guy was just whining. There was nothing wrong with him. If there was blood or whatever, I would have helped. He was just demanding treatment.
Eventually I saw him, and I said; `There's nothing wrong with you.' I actually refused him any medication. I said; `Forget it! This is Sunday, and it's not an emergency, so forget it!'
He said; `Oh, we don't get in to a base every day.' It just proves my theory on Koevoet. We weren't supposed to give out medicines to non-base units. Roland didn't even get up. He just stayed in his section, and he thought it was very funny. It was just that my bed was neared the door.
THE PARABATS ARRIVE
Then, after six weeks, there was great pandemonium. 101 Bn weren't leaving the base, but more people were coming in. We weren't sure who, but then we were told `the Parabats' were coming. We heard all sorts of rumours; from how dangerous they were, to how safe they were; from how terrible they were, to how nice they were.
They turned out to be 2 Parachute Regiment. They had a major who was English speaking, and a sergeant major who was a Rhodesian War Veteran, and about a hundred parabats.
They were very organized. The came with a huge truckload of their own stuff. They suddenly had PT poles which were non-existent before they arrived. They had their own supply of everything from board games and cards to gym equipment. I think they had portable kitchens. From an organizational point of view, it was great! The Major came in and the psychopathic Captain was withdrawn. They might have sent him to Weskoppies, (Notorious Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria) but he was never seen again.
The Major took over the base, and he ran a good show. In the morning we would have a full meeting, not a parade, and then an orders meeting. The guys would sit there before breakfast, and get a run-down of what was happening that day. What's good and what's bad; who is going out and who is staying. It was very organized. At night, there'd be an officers' meeting to which I was invited. They would go through what the next day was going to involve, and situational reports had come in, and what was happening etc.
The Major also loved monopoly, which I do. I discovered that he used to cheat. The other people who used to play with him used to let him do so because he was the Major. He used to lift up his piece, move his eye seven points and put the thing down on number eight. I was either too intense a monopoly player or not aware of the discipline, or the reverence given to a major, and I'd say `No, that's eight. Go back and I'll count seven on the board.' I was the only person who ever beat the major, and it was obvious why. That turned out to be quite funny because he used to love playing. In the beginning he looked at me a bit skew, but I think he just realized that he wasn't a god. I'm not a big rebel, but I wasn't going to let him get away with that.
The major used to flagrantly ignore the rule about the sick bay. He would just walk into it, but I didn't really mind. He hurt his finger once. He didn't believe in the `Signaller's rules' either, and when he discovered that they weren't going to parade, they got hell and a lot of extra PT, and a lot of extra duties, so they weren't impressed. They had been slack before. He forbad visiting the police base which upset Roland no end because he was very pally with the police. Roland hated the Bats, because he didn't like discipline. I loved it because everything was now organized.
They work as a self-contained unit. Within their unit they have their own signaller, their own medic, their own cook, their own sappers. When they came to a base like ours, they would slot in with whoever was there, but they were fully independent. They didn't need to operate with another unit. They would just come with their own system.
They took over the kitchen and the food suddenly improved. They relegated the 101 Bn. chef to an assistant cook. They had their own cook who was a restaurant owner's son. He had worked in a restaurant before he did National Service and he knew what to do with food. He was a Parabat, but he was their cook. They had their own medic. He would go with them when they used to go out on their recces. There were no attacks when the Bats were there.
When the Bats were there, the discipline got very tight, but I never thought unfairly so, and organization improved a lot. I don't mind discipline when it creates a kind of order. I was quite happy while they were there. The days were shorter. Morale went up. Even the local troops liked it because they had something to do in the day. Volleyball was organized, and they actually got pool chemicals.
They had their own PT instructor. They had gym equipment too, which was nice. They were very in to tanning as well. When they could, they would lie around tanning from about 2 to 5 in the afternoon.
The Bats were very vain and narcissistic. They were the biggest hypochondriacs you've ever come across. They were in to taking pills. I've never treated so many sore knees and minor gashes, slight acne and hypochondriacal conditions than I did with them. They were the funniest because you'd think they were these big macho boys, but they were the biggest sickies - not real sicknesses. They liked having medical attention. They'd been living on rat packs, and I'm sure that rat packs are deficient in vitamin B and a few other things because they are all tinned. There was no green vegetables or anything fresh. They developed vitamin B deficiencies and came out in rashes. We used to have rat packs when we ran out of food. This was before and after the Bats, but not during their stay. They used to have enough food.
The local hospital, which was a kilometre away, had no doctor. We weren't allowed in this hospital, because in Owamboland, unlike Khorixas, the local government had said that the SADF should have nothing to do with their health care. They would not utilize our personnel, so we used to hear of horrendous things happening there and we couldn't do anything. Conversely, if we had a serious case, we couldn't take them to the local hospital. We had to fly them out.
There was a big Operation that went on just above us, and there were some casualties that were flown into our base. That was quite interesting because I had to liaise with Oshakati to get the guys airlifted and they sent a Puma out to fetch the guys. I did the emergency medicine. They were South African guys. One had been shot in the eye, but I believe that they saved his eye. They other guy got shot in the arm, but that was fine. That was the first time that our heliport was used. We had Pumas flying around, and I learned to use the radio.
Then the Bats suddenly upped and off'ed within two days. They packed and left as quickly as they arrived. The 101 sergeant major was trying to run the base after the Parabats left but it was a bit of a shambles. Then the rumours flew; `The Captain was coming back.' `101 was going to stay', and then `101 were going to leave', which they ended up doing. Another Battalion was coming; 52 Battalion, which was essentially an extension of the Cape Coloured division. They had a reputation for stabbing each other. I now had two and a half weeks left officially before my relief was supposed to come. I was beginning to see the end of the time.
ALMOST TIME TO GO HOME
101 expected us to go with them, but I pointed out that we weren't 101 men, much to the distress of the sergeant major. I pointed out correctly that I could not take orders from him to move. I could only take them from Potgieter. This resulted in me being allowed to go in to Oshakati the next day.
Before I went in to see the Commandant, the other unit arrived with their Doctor and their medic. I thought this Doctor and medic had been attached to their previous base. I said to the doctor; `I don't sleep in the room I was supposed to have in the officers quarters, so you can have it. I'll move all my stuff,' which I did. I said; `Your medic can stay with you. There's an extra bed for him. We sleep in the sick bay and I'm not leaving there!'
We got very cocky; it was an `us' and `them' thing. I suppose this was natural. We were both feeling insecure, both not wanting to move. The other doctor had just been shoved around, and he was also due to go home in two weeks.
I went in to Oshakati the next day to get instructions from Potgieter. I explained that we were now distressed because Ombalantu was our home. Roland, after eight or nine months, and me after two. `After eight or nine weeks you can't move me for two. We are now ready to go home. We've been good boys so we should be treated nicely.'
Potgieter said `You're absolutely right. Medics belong to the base. Medics don't belong to units.' I'd stay, and the other doctor had to go back to where he had been. He had not followed protocol. He had taken orders from the unit leader, which he shouldn't have. He should have taken them from Potgieter. We thought we had won a major victory.
SAKK `South African Coloured Corps'
I only had two weeks of the Coloured Corps. They were a pretty unpleasant bunch. They did stab each other regularly. I got to do a fair amount of sewing and stitching. They had one or two corporals and that was all. They had no commissioned officers. Its not inside its on top. They had one or two decent guys.
One night they got into the mortar storage, and just started fiddling around which was highly dangerous. They were taking things out and looking at them and seeing what was stored.
NEEDED AT LAST!
I was told about a week before that the relief was coming, and I wasn't sure exactly when. About two days before my relief was due, a civilian light duty vehicle arrived at the base with a distressed man saying that there had been a road accident about a kilometre up the road. We were told that we couldn't handle civilian cases, not even whites. He said, `No, it's an army vehicle.'
I said; `Lets' go!' I got permission from Oshakati, and Roland and I went to the scene. A truck carrying ammunition had overturned. The two drivers were both really young National Servicemen of about nineteen. The truck was overloaded. They weren't drunk or anything. When I got there, everything was lying in the road.
I don't know how it happened, but one of the troops had been flung out on his back and he landed with his face literally jammed between the driver's part of the truck, the cab, and the actual back; a gap of about 15 cm. If he had turned his head, he would have squashed his skull. He couldn't get out because his arm was under the one side of the truck. The rest of him was free. He was in terrible pain because his arm was fractured and his shoulder was dislocated. His friend who had actually been driving was just suffering minor injuries. The other nearest base also sent their doctor, but they went back and didn't stay long.
It wasn't possible to turn the truck. We radioed to get a helicopter out with a hook to come and hook up the truck and then we would pull the guy out. In the meantime we gave him sedatives and analgesia.
After I had spent three months there trying to work out what I was doing there, and really getting no answers and getting very frustrated, all of a sudden, I was doing something useful. I wasn't just patching up dead from a war. I somehow knew that it was fate or whatever. I don't want to sound a hero or anything, but if I hadn't been there, things could have been different.
We extracted him. The helicopter with the hook couldn't fly him out because it was not a medical one, so they sent another one and we took him through to Oshakati. I was very lucky. Because of my `heroic efforts', I got into the helicopter and flew with him. His friend also went back on the helicopter.
Later, they flew him back to 1 Military Hospital. I can't remember his name, but I remember when I got back I went to find him and he was fine. He probably had a few days pass in Durban as well. He broke his arm.
I had a day in Oshakati and I heard that the new guys were coming in two days or so. I spent the night there in Warwick's Air Force base. Then I went back to Ombalantu, and I packed. That day we were playing cards and this vehicle arrived and there was this other doctor, my replacement.
STARTING TO GO HOME
Poor Roland had been at Ombalantu forever and a day. He actually finished his National Service there. My predecessor, a totally militaristic person, didn't like him. He said; `I just want another English speaking doctor, because this next Doctor will be the last doctor before I klaar out'. My replacement was a doctor from Cape Town. I didn't know him. Roland said at least he had two English Speaking doctors in a row now.
Before I knew it, I was back in Oshakati. A plane was scheduled for two days time. Then all of a sudden a plane arrived unexpectedly. They brought an entire company or whatever of guys up, and the plane wasn't scheduled to go back with anybody. We just said, `We're due to go back. We've got all our papers. Can we come back?' They just took us back that afternoon. It was also a Flossie. They have two seating arrangements; one is just a shell with hammock type seats along the sides, and the other kind has the proper jet seats like a normal SAA flight without the trimmings. We had one of those with seats. It wasn't a military one, it was SAFAIR. There were only about twenty of us on the plane.
There was something sad and strange about the flight back; with us we had a Sapper whose father had died a day before I got back to Oshakati. They were trying to get him home. He was an only son. His Mom was on her own now, and he was going back to that. I had spent a lot of time just chatting to him about it, and asked him how he was feeling. He wasn't from a very well-off family. He was trying to be quite tough. He was quite a nice kid, a sensitive sort of chap. He had been given special leave not to come back to the border, so in a way he was pleased, but it wasn't much consolation.
I remember flying back as one of the ten happiest moments in my life! The pilot said; `We're due to land at Waterkloof, but Jan Smuts is free if we want to go to Jan Smuts.' They just did a head count of who preferred to go where. There was a preference for Jo'burg for some reason, so we landed at Jan Smuts. I remember it absolutely clearly. I was sleeping on the plane, which is normal, when he announced that we were descending to Jan Smuts. I woke up and I looked out of the window and you can see the `Johannesburg at night' lights. I was just so excited! I was like a two-year-old! I hadn't seen anything like it for three months. I had had a feeling that I would never see it again. Just landing in Jan Smuts, and flying over my own home turf. I hadn't been that excited for a very long time.
BACK IN THE RSA
It was a total weird feeling to be back. You used to hear about people coming back from the border, looking strange and acting strangely. You thought you would be different, but you probably were totally bewildered by familiar places. You were dirty, because what you thought was clean, wasn't. You had had to wash everything by hand in cold water.
I got back and I phoned, but I couldn't get hold of anybody so I just caught the bus into Jo'burg. I didn't have a rifle. I actually walked. I had this huge bag of junk, and I had a case as well, and my typewriter. I walked to Parktown because the bus terminal ends in Braamfontein. I just put all my clothes in a pile and washed them. I had a bath. I had thought that I was clean because I had bathed the day before to come home, but I was filthy. I've never seen so much dirt in a bath. It actually gets to a point where being dirty is normal. And that was that!
On the border there are certain more sought-after drugs or commodities available than anywhere else. We had loads of sun tan lotion and loads of lip-ice. We used to throw out all the bandages because they never check them, and fill up your medical bag with these medications and bring them home. Before you had to hand in your kit, you would take them to your room or something and you'd just say that you'd used all your bandages, and they'd never queried this. That was quite a fun thing. I've still got suntan lotion from then. It's a joke because the sun tan lotion was made by Boehringer Ingelheim, so I don't know why I kept it all.
BACK TO 1 MILITARY HOSPITAL
I had a lot of leave. I had about nine days bush leave, and I hadn't taken any of my fourteen days, so that stretched out to about thirty days of total leave. I only worked for about six weeks, so I could unwind and get rid of my patients and not take on new ones.
There were certain things that you would never feel the same about. I have chatted to quite a lot of people about this. I think that the biggest issues were professional; working with the unit I was, and adjusting to the misfits getting away with the best deal, and adjusting to the fact that we were justifying an unwanted war.
I was very bitter about the fact that people could create or have some psychological or psychiatric deviation and end up wasting thousands of hours and rands worth of taxpayers money in so called `therapy' when really they were just malingering. If you had done what you were told, and reported for duty, gritted your teeth when you didn't like it, run when they told you to, done what they told you, what did they do? They put you on a plane any send you to the border and give you the really lousy stuff to do. So the reward for good behaviour was going to hell. That seemed crazy. The reward for bad behaviour was lying on a bed trying to outwit the medical people, and that to me was a total farce! I never came to terms with that. I got back in September. I finished in December. There was no point at which I came to terms with that.
I never resumed the same tolerance of patients again, or understanding if I felt in any way that the person was not genuine. They became almost presumed guilty until proven innocent, which isn't good, but when I spoke to Potgieter and I spoke to Mathey about it but I didn't get answers.
I always said that the war in Namibia was wrong. I always said that the people should be left on their own and those three months proved to me that I had been right. But to explain that to anybody was either being `holier than thou' or `I told you so', which you don't want to be. I was reluctant to say; `I've been there and that's why I know.' You were not talking out of ignorance. `The war up there is terrible'. I knew first hand that the war that I went up to, and that I was part of, was terrible, so that was quite a positive thing. I became much less tolerant of the Defence Force, and of those in South Africa who were glorifying or justifying what was happening. I thought the Namibian people were being robbed, and I think that subsequent events have proved that. The withdrawal was just later than it should have been.
I think it put a perspective on what was going on in Pretoria, and that ancient adage about `War is a game old men play with young men's lives' is true. Everybody in Pretoria thought that it was a good thing. Nobody up there thought it was a good thing.
The loss of control was probably one of the worse things; other people were telling you where to go and what to do. I'd spent my whole life, as I still do, really valuing independent choice. If I want to go to Timbuctoo next weekend, that is my decision, and if it turns out to be a bad one, then that's my bad decision. In the army, someone could tell you; `You will spend three months where you don't want to be, and do what you don't want to do, and what you don't agree with.' Either you didn't have the guts to say `no' or just doing it for whatever reason; it teaches you something about yourself.
You do go through the whole experience that Vietnam documented very well about how you expect things to be different but you expect things to be the same afterwards. But they are not. They're not either. They're different or the same when you least expect them to be. It took me a long while to trust anybody again; not that I've ever been highly trusting, because you've been let down so often. The head of psychiatry, Commandant Potgieter, couldn't do anything. He was just another human being. Your parents seemed far away and they had not been able to be there. For a long time only other people who had `been there' made sense to you. Then you integrate again. You just start doing normal things again. You get back into your unit. You know you're not going again because you've now got such a short time, so there's just a lot of things that you've got to do. You're just adjusting, and a few years later you don't even think about it. You do, but it's far off. It becomes less important because the immediate prospects are now more important.
In a way, you do expect to be thanked, but nobody's going to thank you!
On a personal level, there were some things that I didn't have a problem with. I wouldn't wish anyone to go to a war, but there are certain things that you can only learn by seeing what happened there. Your own fear and horror. I think I realized that. It doesn't make sense for most people, but simple things like being back on a flight with somebody that you had spent a lot of time with, and they'd lost their Dad, and being on the site of an accident where you actually did the `heroic doctor' thing; being able to organize for your medic's twenty first; poor compensation that it was. These things had much more purpose than anything else that I did there, and allowed me to get into perspective what was important.
It made me think about what I thought God was about, and I think that's a good thing. I realized that He's about putting you in places where you don't want to be, so you could do things that only you would be in a position to do that day, or at that moment. That was an important, valuable phase, even about things you don't like at the time.
PERSONAL NOTE: The material above was given to me by Dr. Clive Wills. He was killed in a road traffic accident in November 1999 in Wellingborough, England. He had always been a keen cyclist, and was knocked down by a heavy goods vehicle during what must have been quite a dark English Winter night. The truck rode over his head, so his death must have been instant. He was 39 years old, had qualified as a consultant psychiatrist in South Africa, and was in the process of registering as such in the United Kingdom. He had also done a Master of Business Administration along the way as well.
Clive was one of the two best friends that I made during my SADF days. He had always been a committed Christian, and had been regarded with some suspicion by military intelligence for his activism in running medical clinics in the black townships, which delayed his receipt of his rank, as mentioned above.
Published: 1 July 2000.
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