Matthew Field reported to 5 SAI in January 1978. When he arrived at the station from where he would be taken to the army base for basic training, the army brought all sorts of stuff along, radios, etc., just to impress.

Before basics started, recruits were told they had a brief amnesty during which they could hand in drugs or weapons that they had brought along with them. After this expired some searches were made. Matthew was surprised at the range of things surrendered under the amnesty.

The idea of transsexuals and imitators reporting for basic training in drag, high heels and hand bags has been described in '1 Mil'.

During kit issue, Matthew found himself standing on a parade ground, with an impatient instructor shouting at the new recruits to check that they had each item that he called out. He called out something, which Matthew didn't understand, and he put up his hand to ask. The instructor stormed over, hauled out Matthew's balaclava, which the word apparently meant in Afrikaans, and pulled it over Matthew's head. The instructor called Matthew a 'kiem', which Matthew didn't understand. He was very embarrassed, standing in the parade ground wearing his balaclava. Later he found out that 'kiem' means 'germ'.

A former Cub Scout of mine was a very athletic eighteen year old when he reported for military service at Palaborwa. His younger brother reported:

My brother is now in the army and is not finding it too harsh. (Palaborwa). He has been medically classified so that he is not able to drive a vehicle or handle a gun. When he went for his medical the doctor said that he could not find my brother's heart, as it had a feint beat. He called in doctor after doctor and none could get a string heart beat. Yet our home doctor says that it is just because he is very fit!! He is hoping for a transfer but I do not know what will happen.

Letter from Sean McI-, 19/08/1989, p. 3.


The Army was overwhelmingly Afrikaans; certainly the vast majority of Permanent Force members were, especially in the Infantry.

Officially the army used English one month and Afrikaans the next. Theoretically, that was! Some troops were told; "You've had English for the last eighteen years, so you're going to have Afrikaans for the next two."

Afrikaans - English antagonism, an undercurrent in the wider society, was particularly evident in the army. 'Soutpeil' was a term referring to English speakers with close links to Britain; and therefore suspected divided loyalties. It originates from having one foot in South Africa, one foot in England, and one's willie dangling in the ocean ('Sout' - salt, 'Peil' - prick.) The implied length of willie was probably not noticed by those who developed the phrase.

Another name for English-speakers was 'Rooinek' [Red Neck], which originated during the Anglo-Boer War, where the English soldiers got the backs of their necks badly sunburned.

The English terms of abuse for Afrikaners tended to assume they were at a lower level on the evolutionary scale; 'hairybacks', 'rockspiders', 'rawballs', and FUDS [Fucking Useless/Ugly Dutchmen].

British conscripts, drafted after the 1984 'Citizenship Amendment Act', had an option; when they decided that they had had enough, they could show their passport, renounce any claim to South African citizenship, and walk out of the gate. They made themselves liable to be deported by doing so.

It was explained to us that the Army was totally twee taalig (Bilingual). In all the training manuals the two languages were split 50/50; All the words were in Afrikaans and ALL the Numbers were in English. What I battled to absorb in all those years of school Afrikaans classes the Army taught me in the first 3 weeks of basics, and some words that had not been mentioned at school.....!

[Ivor R-: 4 Nov.1996]


I was amazed at how little planning some recruits had put into their national service, especially the basic training. I had been worrying about it since before I started high school.

Recruits were not allowed to walk anywhere outside the unit; they had to be transported by military transport, even though they might be going to a hospital ten minutes walk away. I suppose this was to prevent recruits from going AWOL. Sometimes recruits would have to wait hours for the transport to collect them - not that they were complaining!

The army's philosophy of basic training was; "We are going to break you down so that we can rebuild you as we want you to be (to our specifications)."

A friend of a friend suggests that during basic training, instead of giving troops rifles, they could give them a heavy iron bar that rusted constantly. It would be about as useful as having a rifle during basics. All you had to do was carry it around, march with it, and clean it.

Jonathan Buys [from `1 Mil'] who did infantry basic training tells of several recruits sharing the use of one rifle, so as to cut down on the number of weapons that needed to be cleaned.

Eddie Conradie was a vegetarian during his national service, and he probably still is. The army was accommodating, and he found that he and the other vegetarians were provided with salads from the officers' mess. His instructor was very puzzled by him, and apparently called his mates over to 'watch the vegetarian run'.

Former class mate of mine, Ludwig Gericke reported that he had been doing guard duty one night with a group of others. He didn't trust the chicken part of the meal that was brought out to him, so he went without. The next day, the people who had been with him, but who had eaten went down with food poisoning. Ludwig said that there were occasional rumours that food poisoning was sometimes spread deliberately.

Recruits would wear their steel helmets as low down on their heads as possible, so that there would be minimal jolt if an instructor hit them on the helmet. In spite of the protection offered by the helmet, which might prevent a bullet penetrating one's skull, a hard blow from a heavy instrument, like a rifle butt could still be very uncomfortable, especially if it happened repeatedly.

Corporals would make troops do push-ups in order to get their letters. Perfumed letters, or ones suspected of having come from girlfriends required more push-ups than ones apparently from parents.

One exercise for recruits to the intelligence school was that they were required to camouflage themselves, but were not allowed to leave the parade ground in order to do so. Not the most intelligent exercise I can think of.

'Black is Beautiful' was the nickname for the cream with which soldiers blackened their faces. It was also called 'cammo'.

There was a rumour in circulation that it was possible to 'fail' basic training, and that if this happened, recruits would have to repeat it. I never heard of this actually happening to anyone.

There would be exams from time to time, but these were usually seen as a farce, and to ensure that their troops stood a chance of passing, corporals would apparently hand out copies of the exam papers the night before.

Now atomic warfare is covered briefly in basics - what to do in the event of a thermo-nuclear war. Put a brown paper bag over your head? Die?

The length of basic training seemed to vary constantly, and this was a continual source of rumour amongst recruits undergoing basic training. In 1986, basic training was 3 months. There was the idea that a definite time was needed in which to complete basic training, but so often it seemed that the instructors were making up the programme as they went along.

There was reputed to be a ploy to get a temporary light duty, and this was to complain of pains in one's legs in the hope of getting an X-ray. If one managed this, the idea was then that one would somehow stick a small bit of wire amongst the hairs on one's leg, which would hopefully show up on the X-ray and be interpreted as being a hairline fracture. This sounds very far fetched, but it was a story that I came across.

There was another gippo, which I seem to remember was suggested by Andrew Lawler was that, to get a couple of days off work or basic, if you were to eat a great amount of biltong, this would show up as blood in one's urine, and would get you a couple of days light duty while investigations were conducted, and when nothing was found, there was not really grounds to get people who pulled this trick into trouble.

During basic training, recruits were not allowed to have any alcohol. After basics, they were allowed to have two beers per night, but no spirits. Some soldiers got around this by taking it in turns to drink, and handing over their ration of beer to the person who's turn it was to get drunk.

There was a fashion of wearing reflective sunglasses, and there was a rumour that you were only allowed to wear them if you had medical proof of one's need to wear them. Similarly, no one was allowed to wear moustaches during basic, but they were allowed to be grown afterwards - possibly with permission.


Orders came down that nutria uniforms were not to be ironed because this damaged them in some way; made them shiny. But non-ironed clothing would not be tolerated in an army, especially not during basic training. Troops were told that their uniforms had to 'look ironed', which meant that the troops had to iron their clothing, but could be punished if they were caught doing so.

At one stage people, National Servicemen were going to bizarre lengths to make their inspections acceptable to the inspecting corporal or whatever, and would go to the extent of putting cardboard in their underpants to make their underpants stack nicely on the shelf. They would also put shaving cream the edges of their made up beds so that it would look as though the sheets were actually making ninety degree angles over the edge of the mattress.

Another ritual involved 'boning' one's boots, which means putting considerable effort, spit and polish into getting the toes of one's boots to become completely reflective, so that you could shave using this reflection. Then some high up official decided that this was ridiculous, and the ruling came down that now such things were illegal, as was sleeping under one's bed so that one's bed is perfect for the morning's inspection.

This was no longer allowed, and 'boning' was out! But these policies have to be implemented by the instructions to whom these old traditions are very important, and the instruction as it reached the troops was that "Your boots are not allowed to be boned, HOWEVER they must look as though they are boned."

So the soldiers continue to bone their boots while at the same time denying doing so, and everyone (well, the instructors anyway) are happy.

English translation of Afrikaans anecdote: an inspecting corporal looks down the barrel of an inspected recruit's rifle.

"There are little green men down there," he declares to the troop to imply that it is not as clean as he would have liked it to be.

Recruit: "Little green men - Atten - shun!"


Training seemed to involve racing through a lecture as fast as possible, mumbling as much as possible. Instructors would then find that the recruits had not understand, which was grounds to punish the whole platoon. (Medics RSM at Sector 10 didn't advocate this approach!)

Soldiers spent half the night preparing for inspections or getting fucked around. They battle to keep awake during the so-called lectures the next day. It was often only when their helmet hit the desk in front of them that they woke up again, and the noise would attract the instructor's attention, and there would invariably be some punishment to follow.

Imagine the absurdity of sitting down for a lecture wearing a steel helmet on your head.


There was a rumour that instructors were allowed a certain percentage of deaths among their troops.

A story I remember from, I think, Potchefstroom Engineers. A young instructor fired some shots at his troops while they were resting after a PT session. He shot one of them through the head - a qualified person, an engineer or architect as I recall. The instructor was charged, and given a prison sentence to be served over his weekends. He served one weekend, and then was pardoned during one of the State President's mass pardons. This story must be pretty well documented.

I remember the scandal where older national servicemen (previous intakes) got hold of new recruits and were making them screw animals and each other before this was stopped. There was an investigation into this, and the report concluded that such activities 'were bad for the morale of the army.' After this, recruits were separated from 'ou manne' except for the training staff.


During basics, any perceived misdemeanour was always punished with some form of physical punishment, usually involving running. The phrase 'Sien jy daardie boom? Is jy al terug' [See that tree? Are you back already?] indicated that the recruit or platoon was required to run around a specific tree.

A slightly more sophisticated version of this was to demand that the offender fetch a leaf from the tree. When the offender returned, panting and sweating, he would be told that he had brought back the wrong leaf, and he would be sent back for the 'desired' leaf, which was the one next to it.

A sweating recruit staggered back to his corporal, snapped to attention, and presented the corporal with a leaf.

"Not that leaf," the corporal roared. "The one next to it."

"I brought that one as well," said the recruit, producing another leaf.

A recruit preparing for inspection remembered to wash the tooth paste out of the inside of the toothpaste cap, but forgot to dry this out before the morning inspection. The penalty for this 'offence' was having toothpaste smeared all over his face. He was twenty-four years old and held an honours degree in economics.

In 1979, I remember that the Government vetoed plans to introduce corporal punishment into the army. Just imagine it!


A story has it that one young recruit took serious offence at the general abuse the platoon was receiving from a corporal, and he took some of the instructor's comments about his mother personally. He brought himself to attention, marched forward, knocked the instructor down, and then marched back to his place in the squad. The story goes that nothing disciplinary was done about this soldier because the instructor was at fault for using abusing language.

Another story concerns an instructor who used to sneak into his recruits bungalows and give them a hard time. A 'balsak' [duffle-bag] was filled with heavy objects and set up so that it would come crashing down on whoever opened the door. The instructor was struck by it, and was taken off duties, away from the platoon he had tormented.


Some recruits had difficulty going through their section heads to see the welfare people. Young 19-year-old corporals would urge troops with possible difficulties to confide in them, and refusal to do so might mean that the person did not get to see the Social Worker. Hopefully it was not the same with sick parades.


A popular myth is that 'The army will make a man out of you!', but this is seldom the case. If the army, childish behaviour is the norm, and the best way to cope with a childish situation. There is an emphasis of physical strength, and bullying that most people leave behind them in primary school. Heaven preserve us from men made by the army!

Eddy Conradie's Sergeant sketch:

FX:Knock knock.

Sarge:Kom binne. [Come in.]

FX:Door opens

Intellectual: Sergeant, ...

Sergeant:Wat is dit, ou? Praat met my.

Intellectual: Sergeant, I have come to lay my complaint about the workings of this whole military institution. I consider the whole situation to be barbaric, humiliating and a direct contravention of human rights. I wish to bring to your attention that this opinion is not only held by myself, but also by many other human beings who are likewise being subjected to this mindless indignity aspiring to be for the welfare of our fellow man. We wish our complaint to be noted, and acted upon for the mutual benefit of all concerned.

Sergeant:Ag ... er ... fuck ... er ... you're not asposed (sic) to ... ... Ag, man! Vok uit my kantoor uit!


PARATUS March 1990, p. 42 - 43 (New Intake)

PARATUS July 1990, P 44 - 45 - Prepare for National Service

PARATUS January 1991, p. 52 - 54 (As Above)

PARATUS February 1991, p. 12 -15 January 1991 Intake

PARATUS March 1991, p. 12 - 13 Basics

Published: 1 July 2000.

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