Let’s enjoy some ‘old school’ South African military humour. “Boetie gaan Border toe” doubtful that it’s still on Arnold Vosloo’s top 10 now (he’s made a great Hollywood blockbuster “Mummy” since his debut as Boetie), but still, it’s a firm favourite amongst the old South African military veterans.
Filmed at Personnel Services School (Personeel Diens Skool), affectionately simply known as ‘PD School’ situated in Voortrekkerhoogte (or Roberts Heights or Thaba Tshwane, take your pick … we like renaming stuff depending on who is in charge), Boetie Gaan Border Toe is a 1984 comedy satire set during the South West African (Namibia)/Angola Border War.
Funnily many of the old SADF national servicemen during the time would not have made head or tails of the insignia used in the movie as it was basically restricted to Personnel Services Corps (PSC) whose graduates were often placed in administrative positions within the Command, Training Unit or Regiment structures and more often than not adopted that particular Command, Unit or Regiment’s insignia once deployed.
In terms of role, Personnel Services officers were usually posted to various units as Sports Officers, Operations Officers – handling SITREPS (Situation Reports) and often dealt in operation areas with mobilisation and demobilisation of troops in terms of number management and administration. They also dealt with troop morale – mail and entertainment, public relations and at times they were also involved with the more sinister side and oversaw Prisoner of War (POW) registration, death notices and grave registration.
In general, the Personnel Services Corps (PSC) was also responsible for conscription and National Service call-ups, personnel in PSC Reception Depots in various commands often found themselves as convoy security moving fresh national service recruits around the country (see Conscription in the SADF and the ‘End Conscription Campaign’).
As mentioned, the SADF often used PSC members to manage troop morale and public relations projects, arranging press and PR stunts such as various Miss South Africa pageant winner visits to troops on the border etc. so it made sense that the PSC training base would be opened for filming something like Boetie Gaan Border Toe and the actors provided with the necessary kit, insignia and military advise.
As an active training base it also provided a great backdrop with a number of unwitting extras undergoing current training seen marching up and down the parade ground (it would be of interest is any of them were paid – doubt it).
The movie expresses a time when national service was part of South Africa’s national fabric, so much so the movie industry could find profitable satiric comedy in it and make popular culture out of it.
It has since come into criticism (there’s no surprise there), literary analyst Monica Popescu described Boetie Gaan Border Toe and its sequel, Boetie Op Manoeuvres, as works which essentially romanticised the South African Border War and devoted a disproportionate amount of emphasis to the “chivalrous conduct of SADF soldiers”. Whereas the University of Johannesburg recently criticised the film as “propagandistic”.
However, the truth be told, it would have been a stretch of the imagination then to see these movies as ‘propaganda’ pieces. At the time, conscription for white South African male youth was normative in society and satire was often drawn from it which would extend across all sorts of media. This satire included, amongst others, cartoon strips and caricature books, photo-story books (like Grensvegter), television commercials, Forces Favourites radio (see A soldier’s dedication to Pat Kerr), mainstream music and music video recordings and movies like the two ‘Boetie’ offerings.
In short a movie covering the funny part of conscription was a popular proposition, which made it commercially viable and therefore profitable – and that would have been the main driving motive behind the Boetie movies, not propaganda.
To illustrate the satire and vast amount of ‘material’ available for humorous lampooning have a look at this snippet of the movie. It certainly brings out that unique humour that only the ‘old’ South African Defence Force (SADF) had to offer.
This short snippet lampoons the extensive use of Afrikaans in the SADF which the English-speaking recruits simply did not at first fully understand, and even when they ultimately did get it they often used ignorance purposely to drive their Afrikaner instructors crazy.
Here Corporal Botes – played by Eric Nobbs, steals the show as the hapless and rather over zealous “paraat” instructor charged with training a bunch of misfits, facing just such a situation from a fresh English speaking recruit.
Enjoy this snippet from an old 80’s classic, it’s a bit of time warp to period not many fully understand now.
Editors note: I’m loving the ‘Kapoen’ Personnel Services Corps beret, so named because it is orange/brown in colour and sarcastically referred to by those who have worn it (including me) as a cross between Kak (sh*t brown) and a Pampoen (pumpkin orange).
Written by Peter Dickens: Boetie Gaan Border Toe Director: Regardt van den Bergh. Writers: Johan Coetzee, Cor Nortjé. Stars: Arnold Vosloo, Eric Nobbs, Frank Dankert and Frank Opperman. Distributor and copyright Ster-Kinekor Pictures.