TOWNSHIP DUTY - RIOT CONTROL
A controversial aspect of national service was the use of conscripted white soldiers in the townships. This was seen as being police work. Policemen were the equivalent of Permanent Force as far as pay and conditions were concerned, so conscripts must have been much cheaper.
There was much opposition to a role in the townships from liberal whites, and a campaign of 'Troops out of the Townships' was launched. In 1987, it was almost expected that most infantry soldiers would do at least one tour of Border Duty and a stint of Township duty.
This was unpopular with infantry training staff, because they wanted to train their soldiers to use maximum force, rather than the 'restraint' which was needed in the Townships.
Troops doing Junior Leadership courses were often used for township duty while still on their course:
"Driving to work the other day I passed a whole lot of candidates on an officers course, who were running around with poles on their shoulders, and I got to thinking that they must almost be praying to be called out to one of the townships - standing around menacingly with a rifle must be infinitely better than running around with a heavy telegraph pole on one's shoulder."
Township duty was not popular with many conscripts, especially those who had been 'sensitised' before their induction. While I was assessing recruits at 5 SAI in February 1988 I heard many recruits requesting to do Border Duty rather than serve in the townships. There was nothing I could do to arrange this.
While I was detached to 5 SAI, their company deployed in Pietermaritzburg pursued and shot a terrorist. The powers that be decided to 'credit' this kill to the police.
There were many cases where soldiers making house to house searches in the townships helped themselves to possessions that they fancied. The legal mechanisms were in place to prosecute such offenders, when they were reported.
A friend recounts, while he was on a Junior Leaders' course being involved in house to house searches in the townships. One family was woken up, and an old man, very unimpressed, walked outside to have a pee.
"The townships are quieter now, thank God, and Lesh (Domestic Assistant) says that they can sleep at night now that the 'soldiers' are there. She and many other blacks are glad of the army's presence. In one instance the women lay down in front of the army vehicles to try to prevent them from leaving the area!"
- Extract from Mother's letter of 2/5/1990
Published: 1 July 2000.
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