Philip was a qualified Health Inspector when he reported for national service in January 1986. He started out at 2SSB, and managed to get on to the July 1986 Officers' Course at Potchefstroom. After this he was posted to Natal Medical Command, where he was stationed at Josini for six months, and then spent three months at 121 Bn, Mtubatuba. Then he was sent to the border where he spent six months at Eenhana, Owamboland.
BEFORE REPORTING FOR INDUCTION
When I was about sixteen or seventeen they registered everybody at school, and gave them their force number. They asked; `Did I wish to become a South African citizen?' I promptly said `No' because I realized that I would have to do two years army service. Subsequently I got a letter back saying that I would not have to do army service because I wasn't a South African citizen. I got on with my life. I spent three years at Natal Technicon, and I was virtually graduating when this law came about. At first it didn't touch me because I hadn't received army call up papers or anything like that. The first batch of immigrants went in were on the July 1985 call up. I thought that I hadn't been touched; that I'd got away with it. A friend of mine who is living in Jo'burg somehow managed to get away without getting army call up papers. He never had to do his two years. I don't know how he managed to escape that, but good luck to him! I certainly wouldn't want to name him, or get him to do a year's army service anyway.
I qualified from Natal Technicon. I received nothing. Suddenly I received this call up paper saying I had to report in about a week or two. I didn't know whether it was a joke. I didn't know what to do. I panicked. I hadn't made alternative arrangements. Before I knew it, I was suddenly at Natal Command. I had to report on a certain day. I think my mom was told that if I did not report, I would be liable for prosecution or something like that. One minute I was looking forward to a couple of good job possibilities, nothing totally concrete, and the next thing I was down at Natal Command, with a suitcase or haversack of stuff, and I was on the train going up to Zeerust where I did my initial basics.
BASICS AT ZEERUST
Your initial three months' basics is certainly your worst time in the army. In many camps, the three months training after that can also be quite bad. Doing basics at an armoured camp opens up your eyes. Some of the instructors, the corporals at Zeerust 2 Special Services Battalion (2SSB), which is the armoured section of the army, were pretty brutal. Some of the ways they used to try to break people down were deplorable.
I was classified medically as G3K2 which meant that I was not supposed to do strenuous training. A G1K1 was supposed to be physically fit, and in our bungalow we were stuck with a bunch of G3K2s. Luckily, I managed to get a `light duty' card and I became quite adept at getting myself out of doing a lot of rigorous training. I was classified G3K2 because I suffer from asthma and allergies. They made a lot of the G3K2's do exactly the same as the G1s had to do, and these were people who were certified by medical doctors as being not fit to do full physical training.
I would say that some people were affected mentally by it. We had one or two suicides in the camp. The army's callous attitude to people who committed suicide was shocking. The Commandant said to us; `You're not to worry about it. It didn't happen to you. Just carry on as normal. The guy obviously wasn't normal anyway.'
The further you get away from Pretoria, the more the official army rules are not kept to. That's one of the things of the army; they make rules which they don't keep. The army regulations state that you shouldn't swear at subordinates, that you shouldn't make them do physical training after five o'clock, and that punishment training is outlawed. During basics it was the normal thing to be sworn at, to be degraded and to be humiliated. All these laws are broken in the SADF. They don't obey their own rules.
As I was `light duty', I managed to get out of most of the strenuous training. They tried to break us down psychologically by degrading us as though we were less human than the G1K1s and the other G3K2s who were being put through the full rigorous training programme.
A Catholic priest in Pretoria told me about a guy in Grahamstown, Cameron Lyons, who was at Personnel Services School in Voortrekkerhoogte. He had applied to be a conscientious objector, but strangely he was transferred to 6 SAI in Grahamstown. Why would you send a pacifist to Grahamstown? He told his platoon lieutenant that he wished to be a C O. They refused. He appealed to the Camp Commandant, and the Commandant simply turned him down flat. The Commandant threatened to put him in DB if he didn't carry on training with the ordinary `troepies'. He was forced to carry a rifle. I think the guy virtually broke down. Luckily the Catholic Chaplain, who was a Permanent Force Chaplain, and also a Lieutenant National Service Chaplain, Father Peter Switala managed to sort this problem out. This shows some of the abuses that existed at the time that I was in the army. They flagrantly disregarded their own regulations.
I wanted to get out of Zeerust at any cost. I tried to get out on welfare grounds. I gave my application to my platoon lieutenant who didn't bother to submit it to the welfare officer. It lay on his desk for about two months. I blame that Lieutenant Wallace for being responsible for not simply passing on something he should have passed on. The army has various channels, but if communication between you and the top guy breaks down half way through there's bugger all you can do about it. That's one of the problems of working through the correct channels. If they allow you time for your grievance, which they virtually don't anyway, it gets squashed while going up the pipeline.
After basics, I was lucky to be transferred to Pretoria, as I told them that I wished to be a medic. I managed to get to Pretoria to the South African Medical Service school on the basis of being trained as a medic. They were hoping that I was going to come back to Zeerust, but my plans were to get out of there, and to hopefully get rank, or get transferred to Durban. I stayed in Pretoria for a few months, during which I trained as a medic; not an operational medic but a sick bay medic. During that time, I managed to get myself on to the officers' course at Potchefstroom which was held for the July 1986 intake.
One of the ruses which I used to try and get myself on to the course was to try and fool the `powers that be' in Pretoria that I wanted to join Permanent Force. I went to a couple of interviews in Pretoria. I got V.I.P. treatment which was quite humorous now that I think back, sitting having tea with the Major, very polite and everything. There are some very polite people in Pretoria, especially in the medical services. I remember when I first came to Pretoria, this woman Major passed me. From Armoured School I had been used to anyone with rank speaking to us in an abusive or derogatory manner, and treating me like dirt. This woman came past, so I stood up as we had been conditioned to. She spoke to me very politely, and I remember that it almost blew my mind; she was a major and yet she spoke to me like a human being. It was something incredible, something I'd never experienced in the army before in about four months. The Medical Service is so different, as well as the Air Force and Navy; you're treated more like a human being. It's mostly in the combat outfits that you were considered less than a dog. This could explain why, to some people, human life in the border area had become so cheap. This was mostly with the police units, but that's another story.
After the medics course, I was lucky enough to work for a couple of months in the library, which was very enjoyable. I was able to read books which would have been banned; books on the ANC point of view. These books were used by the military, for them to be able to combat the `total onslaught'.
OFFICERS' COURSE AT POTCHEFSTROOM
That was a bit of a disappointment. It was an Officers' Course in name only. It was a real waste of time. We still had corporals, and it was a little like going back to basics, but certainly nowhere near as bad. The Armoured School is really the pits.
During that time I met Doctors, Dentists, Veterinarians, Psychologists, Health Inspectors, Social Workers; basically people who are registered with the South African Medical and Dental Council went on this course. I was a Candidate Officer then. Before that I had just been a private. The course lasted ten weeks altogether. I managed to get through that, and I was transferred to Natal Command, which was my first bit of real happiness in the army.
Things seemed to be going fairly well. I thought that I would spend the next year in Durban. It was not to be. One of the problems with having rank in the army, if you are a National Serviceman, is that you can get transferred anywhere. You can get sent anywhere at the drop of a hat. Your position is not always secure.
I spent my first few months up in Josini. I was told by Captain Kloke, my superior; `You'll just be sent up to Josini for a few months, and the rest of the time you'll spend down in Natal Medical Command'. So, after getting over the initial shock, I went. I spent three months up in Josini, and when I came down to Natal Command, Captain Kloke told me; `No, well, look, we're going to keep you on for an extra couple of months.'
I said, `Hey, look, when am I going to spend some time in Natal Medical Command?' He said that we might be due for a border call up. If this came, he would send Nico because since his basics and officers course, Nico had spent the rest of his army service in Durban. Since I hadn't spent any time in my home town, he would be eligible for a border call up if a border call up came. I said; `Okay, fair enough.'
So I spent virtually six months in Northern Natal, and I spent another three months in Mtubatuba with 121 Battalion. This was better than Josini; better living conditions, and a nicer atmosphere. Josini was a bit isolated. At least Mtubatuba was a bit closer to Durban, which was good. I was going to finish off at 121 Battalion towards the end of June, and I had looked forward to spending my last six months of National Service in Durban. It seemed that I had more than my fair share of bad luck in the army.
PHILIP'S BORDER EXPERIENCES: EENHANA
A border call up came while I was still at Mtubatuba, and I was told that I would have to go. Captain Kloke had gone off on a course, which they do quite often in the army. He'd gone on a three-months course to get promoted to Major. He said, `I'm going away so I'm going to leave Nico in charge.' Nico was the other Health Inspector, and he was the Captain's favourite. He didn't care that much for me, so I was the guy who got sent up to Northern Natal. He quite liked Nico, so Nico stayed in Durban. I don't hold that against Nico; he was quite a nice chap personally, but he was lucky he was in the Captain's good books.
By that time I'd got my Lieutenant's rank. My rank was a bit delayed, I only got it around March. I was a CO for quite a while which wasn't very nice.
I went down to Natal Medical Command. I saw the Commandant, and I said; `This is not fair. Nico's been here the whole time. I haven't had my chance to be in Natal Med.'
I was told that I wouldn't go up to the border, but I might as well have put my head against a brick wall. If you're a national serviceman, they are not prepared to listen to you unless you're a good sportsman, and then they give you priority.
So I got sent up to the border. As it turned out, Nico was called up as well, so I couldn't say `Send Nico instead of me.' Nico went up to the border. Apparently he only spent about two or three months up there, and Captain Kloke arranged for him to come down early, back to Natal. He didn't bother to try and get me off from Eenhana early. I was told at Natal Med. that I would be spending only three months up there. I spent basically the rest of my National Service up on the border.
When I got up there, Commandant Hoorn, who is the chief health inspector of the South West Africa Medical Command told me; `You're going to be up here for the rest of your National Service; for six months.' I didn't look very happy about that. I remember him saying to me; `Waarom lyk jy so bekommered, Engelsman?' because I think I looked as though I was about to cry. I certainly felt very very unhappy about it. But I had to accept it, and I was starting to get that `Min Dae' feeling.
To a certain extent, I got a bit of a raw deal when I was in the army. Some of the guys spent most of their time at home. I didn't get much time in Durban, sleeping at home every evening. I spent most of it in the army camp, except for the times when I was able to arrange leave; long weekends and that type of thing. I spent about five months on the border, but I was lucky I was able to take my fourteen days leave plus a bit of `bush leave' during my time, so I was off for two or three weeks.
My base, Eenhana, was the base of 54 Battalion. Our commanding officer was a Commandant. He had a major as his deputy. We had an RSM as our most senior NCO. There were three outer bases; Elundu, Nkongo and Okankolo. Elundu was very small (I never went there) because it was in the process of being abandoned. It had a Lieutenant as OC and had a small staff. The other two bases had Captains as OCs. The senior NCO was probably a WO1 or WO2. There were about 2 or 3 Lieutenants under the Captain, and each outer base had a doctor and one or two medics.
There weren't many people at the outer bases. Besides the doctor, the outer bases seemed to have their own Dominee. I can be more specific about the skills mix at Eenhana. At Eenhana we had a doctor, a Health Officer (myself) and three medics. The medics were Ops. Medics and were lance corporals, the standard rank of the Ops. Medics.
The kitchen was under the supervision of a Sergeant or Staff Sergeant, who was a PF. The general cooks were NSMs. We had a platoon of mortarists, and they seemed to be under an NCO. The stores was under a short, sour-looking Captain. We had a sapper Lieutenant, and there was a Lieutenant in charge of transport and vehicle maintenance. He appeared to be genuinely very busy, in contrast to most of us.
EENHANA BASE LAYOUT (1987)
1. Ablution facilities
2. Accommodation: Commandant
3. Accommodation: Guests
4. Accommodation: SA Coloured Corps.
5. Air Force section
6. Bar: NCOs & Troops
7. Conference Room
8. Doctor's & Health Officer's tent
9. Games area: Table tennis & Pool table
10. Gym tent
12. Landing strip
13. Medics' tent
14. Mess: NCOs' & Troops'
15. Mess: Officers'
17. Mortarists & Infantry
18. Offices: Commandant & Major
19. Ops. Room
20. Parade area
21. Paymaster's Office
22. Sick Bay
24. Vehicle workshop & storage
I think we had an intelligence lieutenant, though he wasn't intelligent at all. We had a CO (Candidate Officer) who was in charge of finance. He got promoted to 2nd Lieutenant soon after I left. He had a corporal as paymaster and two privates, one of whom was Kevin O'Grady - a non-combatant, who didn't carry a rifle. Our base had a Chaplain; a Dominee.
I don't know too much about the patrols. Patrols were mostly of platoon size. Patrols would last for a few days and the soldiers would take tents and live on `rat packs'.
Transport between Eenhana and the outer bases was mainly by plane. The Commandant of Eenhana flew out to the outer bases periodically and the OCs of the outer bases flew to Eenhana at least once per month. I was flown out to Nkongo and Okankolo once a month for inspection of outer bases. While there, I would acquaint myself with the dart board and pool table. Road convoys between Eenhana and the outer bases were rare. There was the `rum run' between Eenhana and Ondangwa twice a week.
There was a daily `Order Group' meeting from Monday to Friday and most Saturdays. It was held at 7 am and lasted for 20 to 25 minutes, sometimes longer, depending on the topics and whether there was a crisis etc. The officers and senior NCOs attended the order groups. At first I didn't attend, letting the Doctor represent the medics. Unfortunately I was `roped in' to attend and couldn't sleep in the extra half-hour. This was probably the reason for my attendance as I said very little at the meetings.
At 7.30 am there was the morning parade. It lasted 10 to 15 minutes and news was read out of SWAPO and South African casualties. I believe these were accurate statistics. Often there was not much difference in SADF/Koevoet and SWAPO casualties. A different picture was given on SABC-TV.
Work, what little there was to be done, started after Morning Parade. We had brunch at 10 or 10.30 am, a combination of breakfast and lunch. There was a late afternoon or early evening parade at 5.30 pm, which lasted ten minutes. After that was supper. There was a weekly Chaplain's period.I can't guarantee that all my info is totally accurate. It is to the best of my memory.
One has to realize that the border was in a semi-war situation, unlike to a certain extent, `the States' (South Africa). You couldn't really question the army or its role in anything. I remember when I was at Mtubatuba, at 121 Battalion we used to have a chaplain's period which was very interesting. We had one guy there who was a member of NUSAS (National Union of South African Students) when he was at university and he was quite liberal. He was probably UDF (United Democratic Front) orientated. Some of the other lieutenants thought he was a bit of a communist. It was more open than the border.
When I was up on the border, and obviously being at a small camp and talking to a few of the officers and a few of the troepies, a few of my personal and political views became known. For that reason, I suppose, some people suspected me of being a neo-communist; a threat to the law and order of the country.
One of the problems that led to that little search by the MPs was that a letter which was supposed to be censored wasn't censored and in it I mentioned something negative about the army. I got to Oshakati expecting to go on pass, but I was taken to a small room in which my belongings were searched. At first I thought this might be standard procedure but then I thought that this couldn't be.
They undid my `balsak'; that big canvas bag they gave you for your belongings. They emptied everything out; they took the cap off the tooth paste, they checked through the books, they rummaged through my personal belongings. I have a Trivial Pursuit set which was damaged in that search; the box was half torn, and is still a bit bent and buckled. The game is intact, but the box doesn't look good now after being subjected to being rummaged a bit. They certainly didn't go about deliberately breaking anything, I must be honest, it was just the search. Taking the cap off the toothpaste was no exaggeration! That's what the MPs did. It was an MP Corporal and a private. They took some letters sent to me by a friend. In it he had sent up some ECC (End Conscription Campaign) pamphlets. I was not part of the ECC then and I didn't know that much about it. But certainly I sympathised with a lot of their ideals, as did a lot of national servicemen I spoke to. It wasn't just an isolated thing; dissatisfaction with being in the army was widespread.
They confiscated these pamphlets, but luckily they didn't read the letters. The letters, from a friend called Kevin, were tongue in cheek stuff. He wrote `The smell of teargas wafting over Howard College ... Having a nice time fighting the police barricades ...' It wasn't subversive, it was more humorous. He was quite `left wing' in his views but not more so than myself. It was written in good humour. If the Commandant had read it, he would have thought it was subversive, because at the end Kevin wrote a whole lot of `Viva Mandela! Viva Slovo! Viva Sisulu!' It was just humour, but the SADF and a lot of Afrikaans people generally don't have a sense of humour. Luckily the guy didn't read the letter. Maybe he couldn't read. I managed to tear up the letters and flush them down the toilet.
Anyway, Commandant Potgieter, the OC of the Medics at Oshakati, called me into his office. He was not a nice chap. He said; `Why are you so anti-SADF?'
I said, `I'm not. These pamphlets were sent up to me. I'm not anti-SADF or anything like that.' He gave me an affidavit to write, giving my point of view. I got rather panicky because for the first time in my life I faced being interrogated; not a pleasant experience. Luckily I didn't go through an interrogation. In the affidavit I said that they were sent up by a friend of mine. I had to give his name and address. I said that these pamphlets in no way represented my beliefs. I said that I was not a member of the ECC and I had no dealings with the ECC. I didn't believe in their ideals. It wasn't very honest, but I was scared. I was very scared.
Luckily I was able to speak to you [Barry] and give you my diary, which I didn't want them reading. I had a bit of moral support from a Padre Bethke, who was a Permanent Force Chaplain, a Methodist minister, who happened to be up there at the time. I wanted him to come and speak to the commandant with me. Apparently they were going to cancel my fourteen-day pass, and the commandant said that he was going to come up and have a look and see if everything was all right regarding my work at Eenhana.
It really looked quite bleak. I thought my pass was going to be cancelled. I thought they were going to start interrogating me. I certainly prayed about it. It was on Friday that the search and pre-interrogation happened. On Saturday the commandant said that I could go on my fourteen-day pass. I was overjoyed at that, and I thank God for it. I was able to catch the `Flossie' from Ondangwa to Waterkloof in Pretoria, and I was able to go on my pass. That was quite a close call.
When I went back from my fourteen-day pass, we had a Formal Dinner. We had some commandants and some people come in from outside the camp including a commandant from Ruacana, also part of Sector 10. They had a brigadier there who gave the speech at the formal dinner. What was interesting was that he very often used the term `Comrades', or in Afrikaans `Kamerade' in the strict sense of the military term; `Comrades in Arms.' This was interesting seeing as how it is often used by ANC and SWAPO people.
During that formal dinner, the commandant from Ruacana came across me and he said; `I hear that you are one of those left-wing flag burners. Did you study at Wits University?' He looked at me with hatred.
I said; `No. I'm not a flag burner. I've never burned any flag in my life.' Then he looked at me, and he said; `Ek is AWB.' He was rather crude. He said, `If you ever come to Ruacana, I'll string you up there, I'll string you up by the balls.' He also swore at me. `You left wing flag burner ...' I was humiliated by this. Obviously he thought he could do this because he had rank. I think he was trying to goad me into a reaction.
He admitted to being AWB, which is quite dangerous considering that he was the commandant of a camp, and if anything, by today's standards, I would say that he is more subversive than I am. I believed in the ideals of a registered legal political party, and for that, to him I was a `flag burner', a communist, or whatever. I remember him giving me the look of absolute and utter hatred. Of course I glared back at him, but I just tried to avoid him for the rest of the meal.
One experience left me cold. Some civilians were shot from a helicopter. The pilot thought there were some terrorists hiding under the tree, so he opened fire. A woman and some children were killed. I remember that the bodies were stuck outside the sick bay for about a day before they were taken away. They were wrapped up in plastic. Others were badly injured. These people were brought to the sick bay. I went to help the doctor and the medics stitch them up. That was a nasty experience.
While we were busy, Major Els, the second in command of Eenhana with the glassescame in and he laughed; `Ha Ha! Hulle is vokken geskiet, né?' He thought it was quite a joke that some poor civilians had been shot. That amused him to some degree; that life had been lost; that people had been butchered. I saw this with my own eyes. There was no commission of enquiry about those deaths. Nothing was said. There was no reprimand. It was black life, and they were Owambos. They died. Life was cheap up there. In Southern Africa it seems that black life is cheap. SWAPO might have been as bad, I won't deny that, but that doesn't make some of the things that happened in the SADF right.
It was commonly known that `Koevoet' didn't take prisoners. When they came across SWAPO, their intention was to hunt them down and to kill them. We heard stories of `Koevoet' tying people on to the front of Casspirs and driving them around through bush, and beating up people for information. This was known. This was commonly accepted.
Once I challenged the doctor who was staunch NP (National Party), and he, like myself, was a Christian. He believed very strongly in the Dutch Reformed Church. He used to do bible study during the day, because we did have a lot of spare time. I said to him, `Adrian [Zeeman], You're a nice guy. How can you condone what `Koevoet' are doing?'
He said; `It's a war situation. Sometimes these things happen. What can you do about it?'
I asked; `As a Christian, how can you accept this? Can you condone this?' Apparently was prepared to sweep it under the carpet. Many people believe that `the end justifies the means'. I don't believe that. I still believe now that there is no excuse for barbarism. There's no condoning anarchy. Blowing up shops, terrorism, killing innocent civilians to obtain information on guerillas is all wrong. It is evil. It can't be condoned, whoever perpetrates it. That's what I believe.
From letter of 19 March 1992:I must admit that I never really felt any fear or sense of danger on the border. Somehow, I never seemed to think that I that I'd get `revved'. We came very close to a `rev' at Eenhana; Red Alert stuff; sleeping with my rifle next to my bed. I never saw any real action.
When I came back to Natal, I didn't bother going to Natal Command, and working for the next two weeks. For over a year I had been stopped from working at Natal Command, and now that I had come back from the border, I thought; `To hell with you. I'm not going to Natal Medical Command for two weeks.' I simply decided to abstain. I took a bit of a holiday. When it was `klaaring out' time, I went there and `klaared out'. No one asked questions anyway.
Kloke, who was by then a Major, was on leave. By the time I finished my National Service, I was still a `one pip' lieutenant; a second lieutenant. I could have gone to Pretoria before the end of my leave and got my second pip, but I had about three months to go, and I thought "What the hell? I'm getting the same pay. It's not going to make any difference. I'm counting the days until I get out of here." I didn't go and get my second pip, although I received correspondence afterwards from the SADF in which I am officially recognised as a first lieutenant. If I was ever so unwise as to join Permanent Force, I'd automatically get the rank of Captain. No chance of that, though! I `klaared out' at the end of 1987.
After I left the army, I was on the committee of the ECC in Pietermaritzburg, until it was banned later in the year. Now I am actively involved in the Democratic Party.
PHILIP'S TOWNSHIP STORIES
Time in the townships might in some respects be even worse than going to the border. Harry told me that when he was in the townships, the army used to instigate some conflict situations. They used to push the people and insight them to start throwing stones, and then they would take action. He said sometimes they were over zealous; they used to go at the people, and whip and beat up people in the townships.
He refused to obey one order. A corporal or sergeant told him to start shooting rubber bullets or use `sjamboks' on the township guys. He protested and he was put in DB for that, simply for refusing to obey orders. They actually thought he was a bit mad, so he got psychological treatment. I was never there. I can't substantiate what he said, but certainly it appears that the army was not totally blameless. The `State of Emergency' meant that you weren't allowed to report what was going on, which gave the army and the police carté blanche in the townships.
Only a few months ago (in 1989), while dealing with the police for the Democratic Party in Port Shepstone, I was talking to a police constable. He was telling me; `Things are changing. A few years ago it was common to `panel-beat' suspects.' Beating up in the prisons, according to him, was quite common a few years back. He said; `We're stopping all that now.' Well, that's certainly an indication that this used to go on.
Doornkop is a military establishment near Baragwanath hospital. As medics we were at Baragwanath for a week or two as part of our training. I was in Doornkop around the time of June 16 (Soweto Day). There were rumours that they were going to bring in a lot of the township guys for questioning. They had erected a little barbed wire enclosure, and one of the campers there told me that this is where they were going to interrogate these people. By `interrogation', he meant using a bit of force as well.
Published: 1 July 2000.
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