“Christmas passes have been issued men and you need to organise a safe ride home. Here’s your reflective ‘Ride Safe’ band “Daar gat julle” (bugger off) … ”
Remember this – the ‘Ride Safe’ campaign? These Ride Safe signboards were posted all over South Africa at one stage so friendly motorists could pick up a “troepie” (troop or ‘troopie’ – English varient) hitching a ride home on ‘pass’ (leave).
The sign boards where distinctive showing the SADF ‘Castle’ emblem with a trooper and his ‘balsak’ (duffel bag) in the centre.
‘Ride Safe’ was a national campaign instituted by The South African Legion of Military Veterans (SA Legion) and co-ordinated across all the various municipalities and the roads authority. It was designed to give a safe pick-up place for members of all the country’s armed services to stand and wait for motorists to stop for them and give them a lift.
It was a campaign which came about in an age when service in the SADF was part of South Africa’s socio-cultural make-up this was a very normative practice.
The campaign included relective orange bands sponsored by Sanlam so motorists could easily spot a servicemen day or night as an added safety measure. Generally not enough of these bands were available and not everyone used them, but it was a great gesture and added safety measure. Motorists also had ‘Ride Safe’ number stickers which showed their support of the program.
To think that at its height this system was the primary shuttle for literally thousands of national servicemen on any given weekend heading to all parts of the Republic of South Africa, near and far, remote rural towns and farms as well as the big cities.
On a point as to the intensity of the ‘struggle’ and threat it posed, on a weekend tens of thousands of troops would be hitching on the highways, the majority where unarmed (you had to leave your weapons safely stored in the base) and here’s the hidden truth – the vast majority of National Servicemen never felt under any sort of threat or in any form of danger by ANC Umkhonto we Sizwe (Mk) forces or any other ‘struggle’ forces for that matter – a softer and easier target than an unarmed and isolated soldier you could not get and it never really posed an issue.
Such was the degree of ‘low key’ resistance in South Africa during the critical Apartheid ‘struggle years’ when it came to confronting the SADF directly (the ‘sharp end of a military confrontation), that thousands of unarmed national servicemen and permanent force members could freely roam the country and stand on the national roads without any real worry, and nor was it a concern of the military establishment.
In fact it was enthusiastically supported by the public at large, literally thousands of motorists and it was assisted by private corporate sponsorship, so much so it even became a media sensation and many will remember the ‘Ride Safe’ song by Matt Hurter (and here it is if you’re in need of a ‘blast from the past’).
Waiting in the middle of nowhere for the next lift was not unusual – and sometimes for troops who lived remotely the entire pass would be spent on the road trying to get home and the idea abandoned. There is a rich tapestry of ‘Ride Safe’ stories told by many a veteran on the quest to get home and the characters they would meet along the way.
Many veterans will immediately understand this image of a signaller, Stuart Robertson on his way home in the middle of absolutely nowhere hitching a ride.
Unfortunately by the late 80’s they became exploited by any hitch-hiker wanting a free lift, so motorists avoided the stop. By 1990 the ANC had been unbanned and the country spiralled into a political dog-fight, so by this time it was also deemed dangerous as it placed troops in a vulnerable position as the unrest intensified between an array of different political factions trying to power grab during the CODESA negotiations. In Afrikaans the campaign was called ” Ry Veilig” (ride safe) and by this stage national servicemen started to sarcastically call it “Ry Verby” (ride past).
By 1994 the ‘Ride Safe’ program and national service conscription was all but gone. Still – the good old days in South Africa when it was safe for national servicemen to hitch rides and safe to pick up a hitch hiker, especially when you did your bit for the country and gave a happy ‘troepie’ a ride home to his much-loved and missed family for Christmas.
Written by Peter Dickens. Copyright and thanks to Stuart Robertson for this great memory, the “Ride Safe’ song copyright Matt Hurter and Gallo Records.