Swart Gevaar …  Wit Gevaar 

This article has been a long time in coming because it’s really a simple soldier’s story … it’s mine … and I’m a real son-of-a-bitch to consolidate myself with and as such this has been very hard to put together. However, I hope it gives some insight into what it was like to serve in the South African Defence Force (SADF) from the unbanning of the ANC and release of Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990 to the landmark year for the transformation of South Africa’s democracy in April 1994. 

It’s also a testament and a cathartic exercise, as … ta da! No surprise to anyone who knows me personally and what I went through with Covid 19, but I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). So, no surprise on the Covid front, but it’s the root of the PTSD that’s the real problem, and it boils down to my time in the SADF from 1990 to 1994, it settled on ‘Trust’ or lack thereof really.

“Ag Fok man! No more PTSD G3/K3 Fucked Up Kak” some of my fellow veteran buddies may jump to, heck at one stage I felt the same. But bear with me ‘manne’, this is not a ‘outreach’ or a ‘call for help’ .. I’m solid, in good spirits and very stable (more on this later). What my therapy disclosed is in fact a very interesting bit of history not often held up in the narrative of 1994 and it possesses a load of inconvenient truths, that’s what this story is really all about. So, here goes;

Wit en Swart Gevaar (White and Black Danger)

In 1990 Whilst the now ‘unbanned’ African National Congress (ANC) was finding its political feet and locating itself to ‘Shell House’ near Bree Street in Johannesburg, I was located at Witwatersrand Command’s new HQ Building – also in Bree Street a block away – the nearby old HQ at the bottom of Twist Street called the ‘Drill Hall’ had been all but abandoned after it was bombed by a ‘lone’ ANC cadre – who oddly was a ‘white Afrikaner’ from a top Upper Middle Class Afrikaans school, Linden High School, and who had some serious ‘Daddy issues’ with his Conservative father and upbringing. With the building now declared ‘unsafe’ the HQ had moved next door. Here begins my problem in trying to define the enemy – as we had been conditioned by the old Afrikaner Nationalists and in the SADF that the ‘enemy’ was a ‘Swart Gevaar’ (Black Danger) and a ‘Rooi Gevaar’ (Communist Red Danger) – not a ‘Wit Gevaar’ (White Danger) with a Upper Middle-Class sense of Liberalism as the bomber in question, Hein Grosskopf, was.

So, here I am, a freshy minted National Serviceman ‘one-pip’ Loot ( 2nd Lieutenant or Subaltern) seconded to Wit (Witwatersrand) Command Operations (Ops) from my initial placement at D-Ops (Directive Operations) located in a underground circular shafted ‘nuclear proof’ building in Pretoria called Blenny, the building whose Top Secret Ops room looked like a scene out of Dr Strangelove had its entry bunker located near the Pretoria Prison. This underground building is now falling derelict as a SAAF HQ, in my time the personnel stationed there were known as the ‘Blenny rats’ for obvious reasons, and funnily I can count myself as one.  

My job at Wit Command (not ‘Wits’ Command mind – that designation was for the nearby University) was to provide Operation Support and send Top Secret daily SITREP (situation reports) from Wit Command to D Ops at Blenny, or just been a ‘Bicycle’ as my fellow senior officers called ‘one pip’ 2nd Lieutenants (you can ‘trap’ i.e. peddle/stamp on a bicycle), the lowest rung on the officer rank profile. 

Whilst parking in my cushy post in the Ops room in September 1990 processing a whack of casualties reported on Johannesburg’s railway lines as the ANC dealt with ‘sellouts’ by throwing them off the commuter trains, the Railways Police and Army Group 18 collecting the corpses and sending reports to me for the daily SITREP and suddenly ‘bang’ another bomb blast (more like a muffled ‘thump’ actually), this one a couple of city blocks away in nearby Doornfontein and the target is the old Beeld Newspaper Offices, the bomb later turned out to be placed by the Orde Boerevolk – one of the spin-off militant White Supremacist Groups. Swart Gevaar suddenly turned Wit Gevaar again. Luckily nobody killed.

This ‘White’ Danger did not end there for me that month. Being a ‘bicycle’, 2nd Lieutenant I was given the shift nobody wanted, the weekend shift in the Ops room, the ‘Commandants’ (Lt. Colonels – and there were loads of them in Army Ops), were all at home enjoying their braai’s and brander’s. It was a 24 hour on – 48 hour off gig with no brass around so I enjoyed it. Late on a Saturday night, its all quite and I’m stretched out on a cot behind the signaller’s station watching TV and enjoying my lekker time in the ‘Mag’ when a white Ford Cortina pulled up in Bree Street, four white men in the car, out step two, one of them wearing a AWB arm band hangs back standing watch and the other walks up to the entrance of Wit Command and calmy shoots a 21 Battalion sentry on duty in the reception in the head.  

21 (Two-One) Battalion was a ethnic Black Battalion – the SADF was ethnically funny that way, so this was basically a white extremist shooting a black SADF troop as a terror attack. I hear the gunshot, then get a frantic call from the guard room. There is no medic support and only one other officer on the base, so I grab a hand-held radio and the emergency medic bag and give instructions to the signaller to stay on the radio and relay messages. The troopie is fortunately alive, the bullet having passed through his jaw as he flinched away from his attacker’s gun. I patch him up with bandages from the medical kit bag and radio the signaller to call an emergency medical evacuation. I then issue an order to the 21 Battalion Guard Commander to double the guard, take note from witnesses as to what happened and then back to my post to disturb my senior officer’s weekend. ‘Wit Gevaar’ had struck Wit Command again.

Image : AWB Clandestine paramilitary

Given the general carnage in the country created by the AWB, the Inkata Freedom Party (IFP) and African National Congress (ANC) at this time it did not take long for the ANC version of ‘Swart Gevaar’ and it would hit me directly again about two weeks later in October 1990 when I received a desperate call over the Ops room phone from an ANC informant, his cover blown and an angry ANC mob had turned up outside his house in Soweto. I was unable to get an extraction to him in the time that it took for the mob to break down the door and the line go dead after I had to listen to his desperate pleading to me for help, the Police picked up his body later.  The dismissive and rather racist attitude of one of the other officers present to the whole incident  .. “just another kaffir.”

Shortly after that in October ANC ‘danger’ turned to IFP ‘danger,’ same scenario I’m sat on the weekend in the Ops room enjoying my cushy 24 hours on 48 hours off. This incident strangely happened on a Sunday afternoon, so again the Command is relatively silent manned only by a skeleton staff. Odd for a Sunday, but a small group of IFP supporters banishing traditional weapons (deadly spears and pangas in reality) had made its way down Twist Street from Hillbrow and was making its way past the old Drill Hall to Bree Street, which, as it was still a SADF installation had a group of 21 Battalion guards staying in it.  One troop was casually standing outside having a smoke, and I don’t know if it was a ethnic retaliation of Zulu sentiment for a Black SADF troop, but in any event, he got attacked – hit by a panga as he lifted his arms to prevent a killing blow.  

Same drill as previous – no medics around and only 2 officers on the base, grab radio to relay instructions, grab bomb bandages, immediately double the guard, relay instructions to my signaller. I get to the troop and start bandaging him up, however as the panga had severed veins and done other general carnage in both his arms it took some bomb bandages and applied pressure to get it the bleeding under control before an ambulance arrived. 

Image: Inkata Freedom Party member taunts a black SADF soldier

He lived, but the strange bit for me, next morning – Monday early, I had been up all night and my uniform was covered in blood. The Commandant, whose lekker branders and braai weekend I had once again disturbed, came in earlier than expected at 06:30am, called me in ‘on orders’, and whilst ‘kakking me out’ from high told me I was derelict in my duty for not wearing barrier gloves when treating a casualty, who, as he was a black man (and to his racially ‘verkrampt’ mind) he would likely have AIDS, thus I was endangering myself as government property. That there were no barrier gloves around was not an excuse – and as some sort of punitive measure, he then instructed me to attend the morning parade on the open ground on the Command’s car park (as Ops Officers we had usually been excluded from it). I objected on the basis that I could not change my uniform in time, but he would have none of it.  

So, there I stood, an officer on parade covered in blood from saving yet another lowly regarded ‘black’ troopie, watching the sun come up over a Johannesburg skyline on a crisp clear day (if you’ve lived in Johannesburg, you’ll know what this is like, it’s the town’s only redeeming factor – it’s stunning) all the time thinking to my myself “this is one fucked up institution.”  

There were more instances of the random nature of violence at the time, I was called to and attended to the stabbing of a woman (later criticised by a Commandant for calling a emergency ambulance for a mere ‘civilian’) – she had a very deep stab wound about two inches above her mons pubis into her lower intestines which looked pretty bad to me, so I called it and I have no regrets. I was also called to help with a off duty white troop who staggered into the Command late Saturday night with a blunt trauma to the back of the skull and subsequently pissed himself and went into shock.

Oh, and if the general populace wasn’t bad enough, then there were the ‘own team’ military ‘idiots’ which posed a danger all of their own, my first ‘Padre’ call out as an Ops officer was for a troop shot dead by his buddy playing around with his 9mm side-arm, and some months later on after a morning parade walking back to the Bree Street building I had to deal with an accidental discharge gunshot in the guardroom of the old Drill Hall which saw two troops with severe gunshot wounds (a conscript Corporal in counter-intelligence decided to check R4 assault rifles standing on their bi-pods on the ground, one discharged taking off a big chunk of his calf muscle which was in front of the muzzle, the bullet then entering both legs of a 21 Battalion guard standing opposite him).

One thing was very certain to me … everyone, black and white .. from white right wing Afrikaners to left wing English and Afrikaner whites .. to militant and angry Zulus, Tswanas and Xhosas and just about everyone in between was a threat to my life whilst in uniform. These instances whilst serving as an Ops officer would later serve as the basis of stressor trigger during my Covid experience. To me in 1990 there was no such thing as a ‘friendly’, extreme racism, danger and hate coursed in all directions and the old Nationalist idea of the ‘Gevaar’ was a crock of shit.

Wit Command Citizen Force

On finishing my National Service (NS) stint, I immediately landed up in my designated Citizen Force Unit, 15 Reception Depot (15 OVD/RCD) which was part of Wit Command and basically handled the bi-annual National Service intakes and call-ups (reserve forces included). It also provided surplus personnel to assist in Wit Command’s administration, and that included Operations and Intelligence work. By 1991, I was back doing ‘camps’ and had impressed my new Commanding Officer (CO) enough to earn my second ‘pip’ and now I was a substantiated Full Lieutenant, an officer good and proper. I had previously keenly jumped at a role as a Convoy Commander escorting raw SADF recruits to their allocated training bases. 

Images of Nasrec NSM intakes circa 1990-1993. Photo of Lt. Col Mannie Alho (then a Captain) and Miss South Africa, Michelle Bruce at an intake courtesy Mannie Alho.

These were ‘fully armed’ operations as NSM intakes were regarded as a ‘soft’ and very ‘public’ target, of much value for an act of terrorism. As such each convoy needed an armed escort with a lot of Intelligence and logistics support. If you need to know how dangerous – consider how many times a recruitment station has been bombed in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan conflicts. I volunteered for the furthest and most difficult escort as the Convoy Commander – the bi-annual call up to 8 South African Infantry Battalion in Upington (8 SAI). My ‘escort’ troops were made up of Wit Command reservists, some from Personal Services but most of them with Infantry Battalion backgrounds, Border War veterans in the main and highly experienced. 

1994

By 1994 I had really earned my spurs doing ‘long distance’ Convoy Command. In early 1993 my CO – Lt. Col Mannie Alho had seen enough potential in me to kick me off to do a ‘Captain’s Course’ at Personal Services School at Voortrekkerhoogte in Pretoria. At the beginning of 1994 Colonel Alho called me in, handed me a promotion to Captain and gave me his old Captain’s ‘bush pips’ epaulettes he had in his drawer – a gesture and epaulettes I treasure to this day.

Images: … erm, me – in case anyone is wondering why the ‘Bokkop’ (Infantry beret), I started off at 5 SAI, then PSC, then back in an infantry role in Ops.

At this time around Wit Command, a number of significant things happened involving all of us in 15 RCD to some degree or other – some less so, others more so. It was a BIG year. In all, these instances would really question who the enemy was in any soldier’s mind serving in the ‘old’ SADF at that time. 

The Reserve Call-Up – 1994

Firstly, the call up of the SADF Reserve in the Witwatersrand area to secure the country for its democratic transformation. Generally, in 1994 the SADF was running out of National Servicemen – the ‘backbone’ of the SADF, the annual January and July intake of ‘white’ conscripts had dwindled alarmingly. Generally, the white public saw the writing on the wall as to the end of Apartheid and the end of whites-only conscription program and simply refused to abide their national service call-ups. 

As to the ‘Permanent Force’ (PF), the professional career element of the SADF, many senior officers (and a great many Commandants) along with warrant officers and some senior NCO’s took an early retirement package. They had seen the writing on the wall as to their role in the Apartheid security machine and felt they had been ‘sold out’ by the very apparatus they had sworn their allegiance to. Some would head into politics in the Conservative Party, others would join the AWB structure and other ‘Boerevolk’ resistance movements and some took their Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) amnesty’s and quietly retired. Others would just bow out honourably, their time done. Nearly all of them totally fed up with FW De Klerk and his cabal and feeling utterly betrayed by them – even to this day, and I meet many in military veteran circles. 

As to the other part of the SADF ‘backbone’ of which I was one – the Citizen Force, then made up almost exclusively of ‘white’ ex-National Service members now undertaking their ten odd years of ‘camp’ commitments. In 1994, it was on the cards that a future ‘whites only’ conscription would be stopped, but the problem was a great many soldiers would be needed to stop the country falling into a violent abyss and continuing its journey to a free fully democratic election. To keep up with resourcing requirements, the government contested that ‘whites only’ conscripts who had completed their National Service and were now serving in citizen force Regiments and Commandos must continue to do so and attend their call ups (or risk being fined). 

Many were simply sick and tired of the situation; they had done their ‘Border Duty’ and ‘Townships’ and had seen the writing on the wall. They knew the Citizen Force structures would be toothless trying to enforce the camp call-ups and ‘fines’. Many just didn’t bother with a camp call up and just wanted to get on with their professional and family lives. A small few however split their loyalty on political grounds and made their way into the AWB and other Boerevolk Armed Resistance movements instead.

Images: AWB Training – note the use of parts of SADF ‘Browns’ uniform

However, and this is a truism, a great many of these active reservists (the vast majority) stayed on out of sheer loyalty to serve their country no matter what, and to serve their comrades (a powerful bond of brotherhood develops when you serve) and to execute their mandates as well trained and professional military personnel. It was to this element of the Citizen Force that the government would ultimately turn to for help and implore them to volunteer to steer the country to democracy. Even the old ‘End Conscription Campaign’ anti-apartheid movement moved to support the ‘camper call up’ for the 1994 general elections.

Personally, I found the SADF military personnel moving to join the AWB and other White Supremist groupings very disappointing as I honestly believe they were hoodwinked and misled. Whilst serving in the SADF, the AWB presented itself as a very distinct enemy and they had no problems targeting the SADF – of that I had first-hand experience, so very little doubt. I find myself often in military veteran circles in contact with some of these veterans and must say I still find it difficult to reconcile with them.  

The country’s military also can’t just ‘sommer’ fall apart when a new political party is elected, the loyalty and oath on my officer’s commission is not party political it’s to the State. As a soldier, acting against the State is an act of sedition and all it did was show up these SADF soldiers as loyal to political causes, in this case the National Party’s Apartheid policy and not to the country per se, the military, or their fellow comrades-in-arms still in the military. Having any of them on the ‘inside’ at this time simply qualified them in my eyes as yet another form of ‘Wit Gevaar’.

To secure the transition of the country to its new democratic epoch, CODESA (the Committee overseeing the establishment of a new constitution and transition of power) proposed the National Peacekeeping Force (NPK), a hastily assembled force consisting of SADF soldiers, some ‘Bantustan’ Defence Force soldiers and ANC MK cadres, to conduct peace-keeping security operations and secure the 1994 election. The NPK was a disaster, SADF officers complained of the very poor battle form and discipline, especially of the ANC ‘cadres’ and pointed to basic cowardice. All this materialised in the accidental shooting and killing of the world renown press photographer, Ken Oosterbroek by a NPK member nervously taking cover behind journalists advancing on a IFP stronghold. The NPK was finally confined to barracks in disgrace and quietly forgotten about (even to this day).

Images: National Peacekeeping Force in Johannesburg and surrounds

So, it was the old SADF that would have to do the job of taking the country into democracy. I was at the Command when this news came in on the NPK, and I must say I was very relieved, I felt we had been held back ‘chomping at the bit’ literally, and this was our opportunity to shine. It was the opportunity for all involved in the SADF at the time to redeem its image so badly battered by its association to Apartheid and the controversial decision in the mid 80’s to deploy the SADF in the Townships against an ‘internal enemy’ (protesting South African citizens in reality) as opposed to the ‘Rooi Gevaar’ enemy on the Namibia/Angola border (MPLA, SWAPO and Cuban Troops). Added to this were the emerging confessions of political assassinations by Civil Co-Operation Bureau (CCB) members, a SADF clandestine ‘black-ops’ group off the hinge and operating outside the law. 

The decreasing pools of experienced SADF soldiers, the increasing violence between ANC and IFP supporters, the substantial increase in attacks and bombings by armed ‘Boerevolk’ white supremacist movements like the AWB and others, and the disaster that was the ‘National Peacekeeping Force’ and its disbandment; all forced CODESA and the FW de Klerk government to call-up the SADF’s National Reservists. This was done to boost troop numbers and inject experience into the ranks, take over where the NPK left off, and secure the country’s democratic transition and elections.

A Reception Depots primary role is ‘mustering’ and this does not matter if it’s a citizen recruit for Military Service – conscript or volunteer or the mustering of the country’s National Citizen Force Reserve. The mustering of the SADF Reserve in Johannesburg took place at Group 18 (Doornkop) Army Base near Soweto and as 15 Reception Depot I was there with our officer group to process the call-ups, see to their uniform and kit needs and forward these Reservists to their designated units to make them ‘Operational’. 

Operational Citizen Force members in Johannesburg and surrounds during 1994

Swaggering around the hanger rammed full of reservists, as a newly minted Captain and trying to look important, I was tasked with dealing with a handful of reservists who had abided the call-up but turned up wearing civilian clothes and no ‘balsak’ kitbag and uniforms in sight. The Army regulations at time allowed National Servicemen to demobilise but they had to keep their uniforms in case they are called back. I was to send them to the Quarter Master Hanger to get them kitted out again but had to ask what they did with their uniforms. Expecting a “I got fat and grew out of it” or “the gardener needed it more” I got a response I did not expect. They all destroyed or disposed of their SADF uniforms – three said they had even ceremonially burned their uniforms when they left the SADF they hated serving in it so much. All of them said; despite this, for this occasion, the securing of a new dawn democracy, for this they would gladly return and serve again, they just needed new browns. It got me thinking, and I felt we were really standing on the precipice of history and as ‘men of the hour’ we were going a great thing.  We were the men who, at an hour of great need, had heeded the call to serve the country, and we were to advance human kind and deliver full political emancipation to all South Africans, regardless of race, sex or culture…. heady stuff indeed! 

Images: SADF Citizen Force members guarding polling stations and securing ballots during the 1994 election.

A very ‘Noble Call’ and I felt very privileged and excited at the time that I was involved in such an undertaking, I felt like my old ‘Pops’ (Grandfather) did when the country called for volunteers to fight Nazism in World War 2. We were most certainly on a great precipice.

I don’t want to get into the “look at it now” as I type this in 2022 during Stage 5 loadshedding. That was not the issue in 1994, the ANC miss-management and plundering of the country of its finances decades later was not on the cards then, what was on the cards was the disbandment of an oppressive political regime looking after a tiny sect of Afrikaner Nationalists and in the interests of a minority of white people only, and one which was trampling on the rights of just about everyone else. The idea of a country, a ‘rainbow nation’ with one of the most liberated constitutions in the world was paramount at the time, and I’m very proud of my role in this (albeit small), my UNITAS medal for my role in all this still sits proudly on my medal rack.

Newspaper at the time capturing the mutual confidence in the future of a ‘new South Africa’ and avoiding ‘the abyss.’

These ‘white’ ex-conscript reservists guarded election booths, gave armed escort to ballot boxes, patrolled the ‘townships’ keeping APLA, ANC, IFP and AWB insurgents away from killing people – black and white in the hopes of disrupting the election. If you think this was a rather ‘safe’ walk in the park gig, the ‘war’ or ‘struggle’ was over, think again. I accompanied Group 42 soldiers later in an armoured convoy into Soweto and it was hair raising to say the least. Which brings me to the next incident in 1994.

The Shell House Massacre – 1994

As noted, earlier Shell House was located a block away from Wit Command and was the ANC’s Head Office in the early 90’s (Letuli House came later). On the 28 March 1994, IFP supporters 20,000 in number marched on the ANC Head Office in protest against the 1994 elections scheduled for the next month. A dozen ANC members opened fire on the IFP crowd killing 19 people, ostensibly on the orders of Nelson Mandela.  SADF soldiers from Wit Command mainly reservists and national servicemen were called to the scene, on arrival, to save lives they put themselves between the ANC shooters and the IFP supporters and along with the South African Police brought about calm and an end to the massacre. 

I was not there that day, but some of my colleagues at Wit Command were and all of them would experience ‘elevated’ stress and take a hard line, fully armed response when it came to dealing with protests, especially on how quickly they could go pear shaped. This would permeate to all of us in our dealings with this kind of protesting (more on this later). If you think this incident was yet another in many at this time, note the photo of the dead IFP Zulu man, shot by an ANC gunman, his shoes taken off for his journey to the after-life, and then note the three very nervous but determined SADF servicemen from Wit Command putting themselves in harm’s way to prevent more death.

Images: Shell House Massacre

The Bree Street bombing and 1994 Johannesburg terrorist spree

Not even a few weeks after the Shell House Massacre, the ANC HQ on the same little patch on Bree Street as Wit Command was to be hit again, and this time it was as destruction outside Shell House was on an epic level. 

The bomb went off on 24th April 1994 near Shell-house on Bree Street and was (and still is) regarded as the largest act of bombing terrorism in Johannesburg’s history’. It was part of a bombing spree focussed mainly around Johannesburg which left 21 people dead and over 100 people with injuries between April 24 and April 27, 1994. The worst and most deadly campaign of terrorist bombings in the history of the city. 

And … it was not the ANC, nope, my old enemy in 1990 had reappeared with vengeance, it was ‘Wit Gevaar,’ it was the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) again. Luckily, I was not at our HQ at Wit Command when the bomb went off, however I was there afterward to see the carnage – the whole city block was sheer destruction – everywhere.

The thunderous blast of a 150 pounds of explosives set off at 09:50 am left a waist-deep crater in the street about midway between the national and regional headquarters of the African National Congress, shattered glass and building structures for blocks and lacerated scores of passers-by on the quiet Sunday streets and residents in the surrounding high-rise buildings. It was the deadliest blast of its kind in South Africa since 1983.

Images: AWB Bree Street Bombing

A total of 7 people were dead in Bree Street, mostly by-standers and civilians from all racial and ethnic groups and 92 people in total were injured.  The only reason behind the low death toll is that the bomb went off (and was planned) for a Sunday when the streets were relatively empty. Even though it was a Sunday, members of the Army from Wit Command, SAP and especially SADF Medics quickly moved in to secure the bomb blast area and treat the wounded.

The AWB bombing campaign did not stop there, it continued at pace, the very next day on April 25 a bomb was placed in a trailer allegedly belonging to the AWB leader, Eugene Terre’Blanche (the AWB later claimed it had lost the trailer during its disastrous Bophuthatswana campaign). The Trailer was towed to Germiston where it was left and then detonated in Odendaal Street near the taxi rank at about 8.45am. Again, civilian by-standers took the toll, 10 people were killed and over 100 injured.

Later in the day on April 25 at 11.45am, a pipe bomb detonated at a taxi rank on the Westonaria-Carletonville road, injuring 5 people. Earlier, at about 7.45am, a pipe bomb went off at a taxi rank on the corner of Third and Park streets in Randfontein, injuring 6 people. At 8.30pm on the same day, a pipe bomb attack at a restaurant on the corner of Bloed Street and 7th Avenue in Pretoria killed 3 and injured 4. 

To prevent more bomb-blasts in Johannesburg’s city centre on the election day and the lead up to it, Johannesburg’s city centre was locked down by the SADF using reams of razor wire and armed guards.  The election booths themselves in the high-density parts of the city became small fortresses with a heavy armed SADF presence, all done so people in the city centre could vote in the full knowledge they were safe to do so.

Then, just two short days later, on the Election Day itself, 27th April 1994 the final AWB election bombing campaign attack came in the form of a car bomb at the then Jan Smuts International Airport (now OR Tambo International). The bomb was placed at this high-profile target so as to create fear on the Election Day itself. The blast left the concourse outside the airport’s International Departures terminal damaged along with a number of parked vehicles on the concourse. Ten people were injured in this blast.  If the AWB was going to make an international statement on their objection to the 1994 Election Day itself, this was it.

Images: AWB Jan Smuts Airport Bombing

To try and understand my context, this was violence in the ‘white danger’ context of the ‘Struggle’ it was on top of such a general surge of violence at the time I was serving that was the ‘black danger’, the townships of Johannesburg burned as the IFP and ANC went at one another hammer and tongs leaving thousands dead and wounded. The Human Rights Committee (HRC) estimated that between July 1990 and June 1993, some 4 756 people were killed in politically in mainly IFP and ANC related violence in Gauteng alone. In the period immediately following the announcement of an election date, the death toll in Gauteng rose to four times its previous levels.

Armed ANC, APLA and IFP driven unrest in Johannesburg Townships 1994

I often look at the SADF conscripts from this period – the post 1989 intakes, as having more violent exposure than the majority of SADF veterans called up for the Border War which ended in 1989. Our experience ‘the post 1989 intakes’ was fundamentally different to that experienced by the Border War veterans who stopped doing camps after 1989, and I stand by that. I see this difference in old SADF social media groups especially, if a Border War vet posts a picture showing the war against the MPLA and PLAN prior to 1989 that’s fine, post a picture of the elections showing the AWB mobilising or the MK amalgamation in 1994 and its too ‘political’ for them – our war doesn’t count, it’s all a little too ‘blurred’ for them – no clear cut Rooi-Gevaar and Swart-Gevaar see – no clear cut ‘enemy’, it just doesn’t make sense to them.

The elections, as we all know went ahead, history marched on, but I must smile at the inconvenient truth of it all, it was the SADF, and more specifically the white conscripts serving their camp commitments, who brought the final vehicle of full democracy to South Africa – the vote itself.  There was not an ANC MK cadre in sight at the election doing any sort of security, they played no role whatsoever, in fact at the time they were part of the problem and not part of the solution, and their efforts in the NPK deemed too inexperienced, so they were sidelined. The ANC and PAC military wings fell at the last hurdle, they didn’t make it over the finish line of Apartheid bathed in glory, in fact they came over the line a bloody disgrace. To watch them in their misguided sense of heroism today just brings up a wry smile from me.

Integrated Military Intakes

Later in 1994, as a Mustering Depot, we naturally became involved in implementing the newly developed ‘Voluntary Military Service’ program. This was the first multi-racial intake of male and female SANDF recruits. The Voluntary Military System (VMS) was originally established as a substitute for the defunct ‘whites only’ involuntary national service system (NS) and the ‘Indian’ and ‘coloured’ voluntary national service. Also, out the window where the ethnic intakes into ‘Black’ battalions.

In terms of the VMS, volunteers had to undergo ten months basic military training, followed by a further obligation of eight annual commitments of 30 days in the Regiments and Commandos (the Reservist Conventional Forces). The objective was to create a feeder system for the Reservist Conventional forces and eventually balance the ethnic make-up of Reservist Regiments (up to this point they were a near ‘all-white’ affair with black troops and officers gradually joining them). 

Our first VMS intake at Nasrec in early January 1995 was historic and very telling.  In 15 RCD, some of our battle hardened and experienced escorts had to re-programmed a little. We introduced a policy of minimal force, we were no longer at war and we had to change mindset. We replaced our pre-intake shooting range manoeuvres with ‘hand to hand’ self-defence training instead. The photo on this article shows our escorts getting this training – it was very necessary and vital, times had changed.

Image: 15 RCD Hand to Hand Training NASREC – My photo.

Our intelligence had picked up chatter that the local ANC structures planned to disrupt the intake by spreading the word that the army was now employing – ‘Jobs’, ‘Jobs’, Jobs’ after all was an ANC election promise in 1994 and this a first opportunity for delivery on their promise, you merely had to turn up at Nasrec and a ‘job in the defence’ was yours. Anyone with a brain knows a political party cannot promise jobs, an economy creates jobs – but this did not (and still does not) deter the ANC on trying to fulfil their own propaganda.

And so it happened, two sets of people turned up, one set with ‘call-up’ papers, vetted by the military before mustering and one set, just turning up. The job seekers naturally started to get very upset, angry and uneasy with being turned away and a potentially violent situation began to brew with a large and growingly angry crowd. A couple of other officers and I were called to the situation, and it suddenly occurred to me, as comic as it is serious, that the 9mm Star pistol issued to me was a piece of shit and one of the two issued magazines had a faulty spring – so pretty useless if things go south – and angry crowds for whatever reason in South Africa, even lack of electricity or a delayed train, can get very violent. So much for Denel’s (Armscor) best, but the SADF was like that when it came to issuing weapons and ammo – uber self-confident, during my basic training at 5 SAI and Junior Leaders (JL’s) training at Voortrekkerhoogte, the standard operation procedure (SOP) was only 5 rounds (bullets) per guard – I often wonder how MK would have reacted if their Intel knew just how underprepared and over-confident the SADF was sometimes.

Images: NASREC response, 1995 VMS Intake: My photos

We got to the ‘flashpoint’, and to this day I can kiss Staff Sergeant Diesel, who jumped up onto a Mamba Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), two of which had been brought up, grabbed a loud hailer an told them calmly to go to Wit Command and then he quickly handed out a stack of application forms. His mannerism as a larger-than-life guy and likeability as a person immediately diffusing the situation as they all set off – either home or to Wit Command armed with the correct information.

The intake went on without any further incidence and I have the privilege of having the only photographs of this historic day. I asked VMS recruits what their expectations where, for many ‘white’ VMS recruits their parents (and fathers specifically) wanted them to have the military discipline and camaraderie they had experienced in the old SADF as a life purpose, the ‘black’ VMS recruits were different, they immediately wanted to sign up as permanent force members and make the military a full-time career – they saw the VMS system as a ‘In’.

The First Multiracial Intake: My Photos – Peter Dickens copyright

The VMS system of mustering also went ahead for the first multi-racial female intake, so as to address the balance of female personnel and officers, black and white in the Reserve forces, again I was proud to be involved in that ‘call up’ and again hold the only historic pictures of it.  However, again, the general sense that I picked up was these women were holding out for full time military careers, but nevertheless it was critical that militarily trained females were sorely in need to modernise the South African military.

First Integrated Female Intake circa 1998: My Photos – Peter Dickens copyright

For the latter reason, the objective of the VMS was not initially met, many VMS service personnel, after doing their basic training, were in fact able to secure these permanent force contracts as the force experienced a contraction of trained personnel after 1994 and the VMS personnel proved an easy and trained recruiting pool. By 2006 the VMS system had all but served its role and was disbanded, the Reserve Force Regiments would recruit directly under a newly constructed training programme, and with that came the bigger changes that integration required.

Also, I don’t really want to hear the ‘it was the beginning of the end’ bit so many vets now feel, the SADF had to change, ‘whites only’ conscription had to change and Apartheid as an ideology was simply unsustainable and had to go. The SADF had to change – dividing units on colour and ethnicity was not practical, segregation had fallen on evil days to quote Field Marshal Jan Smuts. The Defence Force had to become reflective of the country at large – the extreme lack of Black African commissioned officers in 1994, in an African Defence Force nogal, was alone reflective of a system of extreme racial bias.

SANDF VMS Intake circa 1997, my photos

Remember, in 1994 nobody could predict the future, many held a belief that structured and balanced politics would happen, the Mandela Magic was everywhere, from 1990 to 1994 the violence was extreme and as a nation we had narrowly skirted ‘the abyss’ with a miracle settlement. In 1994, nobody foresaw Jacob Zuma and the ANC’s pilfering of the state from 2009, nor did they see the ANC’s extreme restructuring of the SANDF in their likeness, the ‘rot’ starting as early as 1999 when General Georg Meiring, a SADF stalwart and now the Chief of the SANDF, was dismissed on trumpeted up allegations of presenting a false coupe, making way for General Siphiwe Nyanda, a ANC MK cadre whose subsequent career as Jacob Zuma’s Communications Minister is a corruption riddled disgrace.

The MK Intake – 1994 to 1996

Finally on the 1994 line-up, the amalgamation of the Defence Structures with non-statute forces, the ‘Swart Gevaar’ terrorists. From 1994, 15 Reception Depot became involved to a degree with the mustering of ANC and PAC political armies into the newly SANDF. At this stage I was a SSO3 (Senior Staff Officer 3IC) at 15 Reception Depot and had the privilege to work closely with Sergeant Major Cyril Lane Blake, the unit’s Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) who had been involved with the non-statutory force intake from an Intelligence standpoint. Mustering of MK and APLA took place at Personnel Services School, a military base in Voortrekkerhoogte and at Wallmannstal military base, many of these MK members were then destined to go to De Brug army base for training and integration.

Of interest was the intake itself, of the ANC Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) veterans, only half of them really qualified as trained soldiers, these were the MK members trained overseas – mainly in Angola, they were made up mainly of the old cadres (old guard) of Mandela’s period, trained by the ex-WW2 veterans like Joe Slovo, and they were recruited to MK after the Sharpeville Massacre (a very small contingent) and then the Seventy Sixes (the big contingent), those who were recruited after the 1976 Riots, added to this was a trickle from the 1980’s riots who made it to their Angolan training camps.  Out of 32,000 odd MK veterans, there were only about 12,000 MK veterans who were accepted as proper military veterans (about half of them), the rest were ‘stone throwers’ (as some sarcastically called them) recruited rapidly into the ANC MK ranks in 1990 the very minute they were ‘unbanned’ and they just constituted political dissidents with little military experience if any and no formalised military training whatsoever.  

Images: MK Intake into the SANDF issued with old SADF ‘Browns’ – Copyright Reuters, RSM Cyril Lane-Blake, my photo and finally ANC supporters appearing in ‘uniform’ as MK at Mandela’s inauguration in 1994.

Of the ‘Untrained’ MK veterans, many of these were the ‘MK’ cadres from the so called ‘self-defence units’ in the townships who had regularly gone about holding ‘peoples courts’ and sentencing people to death with ‘necklaces’ (placing a car tyre around the persons neck, dousing it in petrol and setting it alight).  

Also, but not unsurprisingly there were MK ‘chances’ – people joining the intake pretending to be MK so they could get a ‘job in the defence’, BMATT (British Military Advisory Training Team), the British Military task force assigned to the integration, and even the ‘proper’ MK cadres themselves, had a heck of a job trying to identify these chance takers, and a great many ‘slipped’ through with falsified CV’s. 

This would later result in what BMATT politely called a ‘hardening of attitudes’ in their report to Parliament, when it come to the way statutory force members viewed these ‘non-statutory’ force members and MK generally, an attitude which in my opinion is getting ‘even harder’ as the years go on as some of these MK vets really show their colours to all of South Africa – involved in corrupt and outright criminal behaviour, degenerating and demeaning themselves, their organisation and their ‘victory’ now well tarnished.

What amazed me was just how structured the MK was when it came to the their proper military veterans, I had been conditioned by the SADF that they were a rag-tag outfit and incompetent at best, but that wasn’t completely true, they had a highly structured command and very defined specialised units ranging from a Chief of Staff, Operations, Ordnance, Intelligence, Engineering, Anti-Aircraft, Artillery to Counter Intelligence/Communications (propaganda), and attached to nearly to all of it was a very detailed Soviet styled military Political Commissar structure. They even had unit designations, and many out of the half of them that had been trained, had decent military training.

I don’t want to get to the Pan African Congress’ APLA veterans, I was told they generally treated their SADF escorts with utter disdain. 

Their problem (MK and APLA) is that they were asked to identify and verify all their members for their military credentials, and they quickly pointed out who was and who was not a trained military veteran, and this caused the huge division in the MK veteran structures we see today.  The split of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) and the MK Council recently is a case in point – the MK Council are the ones with the military ‘struggle’ credentials and the MKMVA have all the members who do not have any meaningful military ‘struggle’ credentials at all, they’ve all joined Jacob Zuma’s RET hence the reason the current ANC no longer wants to recognise them. 

This makes me laugh uncontrollably when the MKMVA used to wheel out Carl Niehaus in his purchased PEP store MK camouflage fatigues pretending to be a military veteran, when in truth he is anything but one, and it makes me cry when the Department of Military Veterans squander all their time and money on the 12,000 odd MK ‘non-veterans’ trying to give them and their families un-earned veteran benefits and bring harmony to the ANC and they almost completely ignore their primary mandate – the 500,000 odd statutory force veterans, proper military veterans – solely because many of them (the majority mind) served in the old SADF and of that a great majority where conscripts.

In 1999, I was assigned to escort Joe Modise, the ex MK Commander in Chief, and Paratus (the SADF/SANDF) mouthpiece published it, yes, I admit it – I even shook his hand (we’ll there is a published photo to prove it – so no point hiding the fact), but again, at this stage in the SANDF we were still confident in the country, little did I know he would be dead two years later and embroiled in yet another ANC corruption and arms buying controversy. I did some more VMS work after that, but that signalled the beginning of the end of my service, reception depots had outgrown their use after 2002 and mothballed – in fact they are still mothballed, waiting for the day to muster the general populace in the event the country goes to war again.

Image: Joe Modise and myself – Peter Dickens copyright

Oh, and if this sounds a bit personal, it is, here’s a big “Fuck You” middle finger to the politically motivated pressure groups in ANC led government departments currently trying to delist the old SADF ‘conscripts’ as military veterans on the basis that they ‘served Apartheid’ and not recognising their role in bringing democracy to South Africa, whereas their ‘heroes’ in MK did. The historic record stands, there’s no changing it and as things go even this missive is now primary documentation for future generations of South Africans to read and assimilate – from someone ‘who was there’ and is a genuine ‘military veteran’ – true reconciliation comes with facing the truth comrades, just saying.

Back to PTSD

So, enough to do with the ANC and their Parliament of Clowns, the old ‘Swart Gevaar’ fast becoming a newly reinvigorated ‘Swart Gevaar’ of their own making and back to the serious stuff and all the ‘Wit Gevaar and Swart Gevaar’ from 1990 to 1994 forming my general mental mistrust of just about everything. 

Whilst in hospital with Covid I had a psychological mistrust of efforts been made by Doctors, Nurses and medical assistants (Black and White), I was convinced they were out to kill me and efforts to pump lifesaving high pressure oxygen into me were met with an unnatural resistance and a self-induced gag reflex. To give you an idea of how bad this ‘mistrust’ was, if personnel so much as tried to ‘turn’ me to change bedding or wash me I would go into a panic attack, which resulted in rapid rapid thoracic breathing upsetting my body’s oxygen levels to the point of oxygen starvation and renal nerve release (I’d literally piss myself) – a simple ‘turn’ would become a life and death matter – and nobody could make sense of it, me included. So, in desperation .. enter stage right … the hospital Psychologist … and stage left my lifelong confidant, a solid Free State ‘Bittereinder Boertjie’ with the mental tenacity of a Ratel (an African Honey Badger) … my wife.  

To define and understand PTSD, as it’s a much-brandished word nowadays with anyone having experienced a high stress incident claiming it, many using it as an excuse. PTSD is best explained a stressor bucket in your head, you’re born with it and its empty. In life stressful events are sometimes internalised and start to fill your bucket, your bucket usually makes it underfilled to the end of your life and you don’t have a mental meltdown and things make sense and you’re stable, the bucket is very resilient. What happens to military personnel especially is that the stressors they experience are often far beyond normal and it fills the bucket up at an early stage, right up to the ‘nearly full’ mark in some extreme cases, after some significant stressors are added to it later in life, anything really but usually the D’s – Disease, Debt, Divorce and Death. For Military veterans these ‘D’s’ can then ‘tip’ the bucket over and you start to psychologically have a meltdown. This is the reason why PTSD is gradually becoming more and more apparent in ex-SADF conscripts and PF members as they get older.

In extreme cases in the military, you can have that meltdown whilst serving, the old battle fatigue syndrome, repeated life and death experiences unrelentingly occurring end on end filling up the stressor bucket and finally your last one tips the bucket, produces meltdown and you’re withdrawn from the line. Refer to Spike Milligan’s autobiography ‘Mussolini, his part in my downfall’ of his time as a gunner in WW2 and you’ll see how this plays out in a serving combatant.

In therapy trying to get to the bottom on what initially filled my bucket up, and on this the Psychologist and my wife and I settled on ‘mistrust’ initially rooted deep in in my psyche whilst I was in the Army. Mistrust as I could not distinguish foe from friend, ‘swart gevaar from wit gevaar,’ and to me everyone was a ‘enemy’ – that enemy or ‘gevaar’ now included most hospital staff – black and white, and I was the only one who could fight my way out – no help required thanks.  

To say my Covid condition was bad and a PTSD issue on its own would be an understatement, I had even died to be brought back with CPR on one occasion and knocked on the Pearly Gates a great deal more with more near death experiences than I can shake a stick at. I was intubated on a ventilator and placed in an induced coma for a full month. This was followed up with two collapsed lungs and a battery of deadly infections, two serious bouts of bronchitis and then bronchial pneumonia. To my knowledge, I walked into history as one of a mere handful of Covid patients to survive the disease with the number of infections and complications I had – 4 months in ICU, 2 months in High Care and another 2 months of Step Down therapy as I even had to learn to simply take a shit in a toilet and even walk again – a total of 8 months spent in hospital and a further 4 months as a oxygen supplement dependent outpatient, before been given an ‘all clear’ a full year later and taken off all drugs and supplemental oxygen. 

This is pretty big story for another day, and a lot of people are very intrigued by it, so I am writing a book on it called ‘I’m not dead yet’ – my dark military sense of humour aside, do look out for it. 

Images: Me recovering from a coma, giving my best army ‘salute’ just before both lungs collapsed and me sitting up for the first time once lungs drains were removed – copyright Peter Dickens

It took all that to ‘tip my stressor bucket’ – and no doubt I had a massive life and death fight on my hands, but I would have to say this in all honesty, I was substantially compromised by a latent mistrust I picked up as a young man in the Army, especially in 1990. Unlocking that, helped unlock the gag reflexes, which unlocked the fear and ultimately set me on a journey to a healthy recovery – physically and mentally.

Dragon Slaying

Many years after my service, a fellow military veteran, Norman Sander (and ex Sergeant Major in the Natal Carabineers) and I had lunch in London with an ex-BMATT officer, Colonel Paul Davis who had been involved in the South African Forces integration and at one stage headed up the BMATT delegation. He said something interesting, according to the Colonel, the South African Defence Force training modules where draconian at best and styled on the old Nazi Waffen SS model, which demanded absolute iron cast discipline, absolute obedience and absolute goal driven determination to function across multiple voluntary and conscripted outfits often ethnically separated. Notwithstanding his view, I’ve attested to this before, had I not undergone this “draconian” training as an SADF officer I would not have survived my Covid experience, no matter how bad it got I knew I had more in the tank, I’d pushed these limits whilst ‘pissing blood for my pips’ in the SADF as a young man and understood my breaking point from a early age, without this intrinsic knowledge and iron cast focus I would be dead, of that there is absolutely no doubt.

My Commission signed by President F.W. de Klerk, one of his last acts of office

In Conclusion

Now, I’m no ‘Grensvegter’ (Border Warrior), I’m a simple pen pusher, my service pales into insignificance compared to a great many veterans, many I’ve had the privilege to serve with, true soldiers fighting a brutal war in a brutal manner. Nope, I’m not one of those, and nor can I ever be, and nor do I pretend to be, to them the kudos of valour and I mean it.  

Here’s a simple thought on my time as a Military Conscript and then a Volunteer, this quote from Czech author Milan Kundera and it resonates with me the most; 

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” 

What this means to us SADF conscripts turned volunteers in 1994, we were on a journey, a ‘struggle’ if you will, to take our fellow citizens out of political oppression into political emancipation and liberty. If we forget our stories in this great struggle, discard them as irrelevant because we are no longer politically convenient, vanquished as ‘SADF’ baby killing monsters, and passed over as fighting for some sort of WOKE idea of ‘white privilege’ – if we don’t resist this and choose ‘forgetting’ instead, then we ultimately betray ourselves, we’ve lost.

On PTSD, it’s manageable for most, but you must get to those internalised ‘stressors’ and truly understand what they are and what caused them. Un-internalising the stressors is a first big step to ridding yourself of PTSD, and that’s why I can say in all honesty I’m happy and stable.

So, I thank all you who have made it to this last part of my ‘story,’ it really is a simple soldier’s small tale with a great deal of political ‘struggle’, and I really hope you’ve picked up some interesting historical snippets on the way, especially the ones which are not really in the broad ANC narrative today of ‘the struggle’ leading to 1994. The ‘truth’ will eventually ‘out’ and I sincerely believe that, and I believe its cathartic and from a cognitive therapy perspective a very necessary ‘out’.

A memoir: By Capt. Peter Albert Dickens (Happily Retired)


Tainted “Military Heroes” vs. Real Military Heroes

10433934_899486093400850_5230808273101714011_nOnce again the media is alive on the anniversary of Solomon Mahlangu’s hanging, no mention of course as to why he was hanged, other than the ‘Apartheid Regime’ did it and he’s a struggle hero, and so much attention is given his hanging anniversary that it is attended by the Vice President with a message to remind every-one again as to the brutality of Apartheid and white oppression.

So what sets him apart from other ‘struggle heroes’ that his day is specifically remembered with such hype? What else other than a quotable quote which has some good political mileage and makes for great media?

He said; “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight”.  Powerful stuff as quotes go, great propaganda value.

Forget what he in fact did, forget the reason behind his hanging, forget even the tenets of law, the man’s a ‘hero’ to his ‘people’. But let’s take a step back and examine what he did, why he was executed instead of getting a life sentence as was the case with many ‘political’ MK cadres also charged with terrorism.  Also, let’s question if he in fact should be the ‘prima’ anti-apartheid activist to be recognised because he was hanged, and finally let’s ask if we are in fact recognising the right role models.

Solomon Mahlangu

1cc26b2e3ccc4c129ed0c8282b98b248In 1976 Mahlangu joined an African National Congress (ANC) MK military training camp called “Engineering” in Angola – one of the thousands of disenchanted youth from the Soweto uprising known in MK as the 76’s which fundamentally swelled MK numbers (up to then MK was a very small group).

Solomon Mahlangu, George ‘Lucky’ Mahlangu and Mondy Motloung were then taken to Swaziland, where they were given large suitcases filled with pamphlets, rifles and hand grenades. On 11 June 1977 they crossed the border into South Africa and started making their way to Johannesburg.

The three, each carrying a large suitcase, were climbing into a taxi in Diagonal Street in the centre of Johannesburg. An ordinary policeman became suspicious and grabbed one of the suitcases. An AK-47 assault rifle and a hand grenade fell out. All three of them fled, Lucky Mahlangu in one direction and the other two in the direction of Fordsburg. There, in Goch Street, the two sought refuge in the storage facilities of the retailer John Orr’s. One of them opened fire on the employees of the company (essentially targeting and  shooting innocent civilians in a retail store), killing two and wounding another two of them. Mahlangu and Motaung were eventually arrested.

Mahlangu’s trial started in the Supreme Court on 7 November 1977.  The three faced two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and various counts under the Terrorism Act. In its judgment the court found that Mahlangu and Motaung had acted with a common purpose and that it consequently did not matter which of the two did the shooting and killing.  Mahlangu had attested that he had not physically pulled the trigger himself but Motaung had.  However to understand ‘common purpose’ in a military context – if you have a machine gun team of a gunner and ammunition feeder and spotter, it matters not who actually pulls the tigger – they as a team are acting in common purpose.

Mahlangu was convicted on all counts. In terms of the South African law at the time, the court was obliged to sentence any accused to death for murder, unless the accused proved mitigating circumstances. The court found that Mahlangu had failed to prove a mitigating circumstance and consequently handed down the death sentence.

In South African law at the time murder was murder and the standard sentence was death, politics did not really enter into it if the case proved murder and the state hung loads of people for murder, not just resistance movement cadres.

To test whether Solomon Mahlangu’s court case and sentence by the Apartheid Regime was in any way politically driven his case was re-opened by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) after 1994.  Their findings are not what most people would expect. The commission examined the cases of Solomon Mahlangu and Monty Motaung and found that both of them were responsible for the deaths of Mr Rupert Kessner and Mr Kenneth Wolfendale (the John Orr employees). It also found both Mahlangu and Motaung guilty of gross human rights violations. Lastly it found both the African National Congress and the commanding officer of Umkhonto we Sizwe guilty of gross human rights violations.

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So, there’s the reason the media hype and news don’t want to really get into the facts and would rather generate propaganda spin, a very unsuccessful MK insurgency gone very wrong (nothing noble in the action), and one that really is a case of terrorism and murder, the shooting of innocent store employees – a very ‘tainted’ “hero” by any stretch of reason. But why the focus on Solomon Mahlangu other than his quote?

Consider this, usually trailblazers are honoured with martyrdom, but there is a very inconvenient problem here.  One of the first South African’s hanged for killing civilians in an anti-apartheid armed insurgency was not Black, nope – he was White.  He also was not a member of the ANC, he had his own anti-apartheid political movement.  His name was Frederick John Harris.

That should surprise many, a White man (not a Black man) was one of the prima anti-apartheid campaigners sent to the gallows, let that sink in for a second.  It reveals another inconvenient truth, that the first mass anti-apartheid protestors – like the ‘Torch Commando’ and the ‘Black Sash’ were made up of White people in the majority.  It was also no different in the case of John Harris’ own movement, the ‘African Resistance Movement’ (ARM).  

John Harris

3944So let’s examine John Harris and why he went to the gallows and not into political confinement.

Frederick John Harris (known as John Harris) was born in 1937. He was a teacher, a member of the executive committee of the Liberal Party in the Transvaal, as well as a Chairman of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee. He was also one of the members of the nearly all-white African Resistance Movement (ARM) and the first and only white man to be hanged for a politically inspired offence in the years after the 1960 Sharpeville emergency.

The African Resistance Movement (ARM) is not known to many in South Africa, in fact it started in parallel to the ANC’s Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), and it declared an armed struggle against Apartheid in 1961, and here’s the problem to current political narrative in South Africa – it was made up of white people primarily, some with experience from World War 2.

ARM was founded by members of South Africa’s Liberal Party.  The Liberal Party was a mainly white party founded on 9 May 1953 out of a belief that Jan Smuts’ United Party was unable to achieve any real liberal progress in South Africa, they initially called for a franchise based vote for Black South Africans and later this evolved to a call for ‘one man one vote’. The Liberal Party was established during the coloured vote constitutional crisis of the 1950s, and they drew membership from the Torch Commando, run by Sailor Malan.

One of the defining moments in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa was the Sharpeville Massacre and its aftermath. The heavy-handed response of the state saw thousands of activists detained and imprisoned soon after the massacre of protesters on 21 March 1960. Political movements such as the ANC and PAC were banned and forced underground, and although the Liberal Party was not banned by the government, its members were not spared the wrath of the state.  The crackdown forced the ANC and PAC to re-evaluate their approach to the liberation struggle and consider whether to abandon the principle of non-violence in favour of a campaign of sabotage.  The Liberal Party of South Africa was in the same boat, and they too re-evaluated thier approach to the ‘struggle’ and embarked on armed resistance.

Liberal_veldtog

Despite the Liberal Party’s initial non-violent stance, the party was not spared the suppression of political activity after the declaration of the state of emergency in March 1960.  The government launched a vicious attack on the Liberal Party, arresting 35 of its leading members and detaining them at the Fort in Johannesburg.  Furthermore, the government issued banning orders under the Suppression of Communism Act, severely restricting the political activities of 41 leading members of the party between March 1961 and April 1966.

The detention and banning of leading Liberal Party members forced them to form their own resistance movement and cells, out of this came The National Committee of Liberation (NCL) and a declaration for armed resistance, the NCL changed its name later to African Resistance Movement (ARM).

ARM launched its first operation in September 1963. From then, until July 1964, the NLC/ARM bombed power lines, railroad tracks and rolling stock, roads, bridges and other vulnerable infrastructure, without any civilian casualties. It aimed to turn the white population against the government by creating a situation that would result in capital flight and collapse of confidence in the country and its economy. It launched four attacks in 1961, three in 1962, eight in 1963, and ten in 1964.

So, here we have a mainly ‘white’ militant ‘terrorist’ group operating in the 1960’s blowing stuff up in resistance to Apartheid South Africa – now how many South Africans today know about that little inconvenient truth.

John Harris was banned in February 1964, a few months before police moved to smash the underground ARM. While maintaining his Liberal Party connection, he had joined ARM, but he was not arrested in the police swoops.

On July 24, 1964, John Harris walked into the whites-only section of Johannesburg railway station and left a suitcase there that contained a bomb. It exploded just 13 minutes later, injuring several people seriously, in particular Glynnis Burleigh, 12, and her grandmother, Ethel Rhys, 77. Mrs Rhys died three weeks later from her injuries. Glynnis, who had 70% and third degree burns, was left with life-changing injuries.

A telephone warning had been planned so the station could be evacuated of civilians, but the warning was too late to prevent the explosion, and the result off this ARM action produced a horrified reaction amongst the white population – ARM had finally killed an innocent civilian.

The state crushed the ARM and the Liberal Party, eradicating it from history. Harris was caught, tried for murder of a civilian (see the trend) and by the tenets of South African law for murder received an automatic death sentence. On April 1, 1965 went to the gallows, reportedly singing.

An inconvenient truth

So, there you have the reason why we don’t recognise this anti-apartheid campaigner sent to the gallows, he wasn’t part of the ANC and he’s the wrong colour.  It would just throw out the entire whites vs. blacks political baloney banded about with such regularity, especially when the ANC, the government and the national media settle down to praise Solomon Mahlangu as the ‘Black’ South African hanged in resistance by the nasty ‘White’ South Africans.

The inconvenient truth in all of this is that Apartheid did not just divide black and white, it divided EVERYONE, including whites.  In fact the white community was split right down the middle.  Try and explain this ‘truth’ to the average South African today, the first mass action movement and protests against Apartheid were a ‘white’ affair (200,000 Torch Commando members), an anti-apartheid ‘white’ martyr was also hanged and the ‘white’ Liberal Party had its very own ‘MK’ anti-apartheid armed resistance movement.

Wow, that’ll blow their minds, it just does not FIT into the current narrative, skin-colour didn’t matter to the Apartheid State when it came to executing anti-apartheid insurgents and crushing pro-democracy movements – it literally throws out the window the whole rhetoric and twaddle banded about the EFF and ANC as to ‘white privilege’ gained from Apartheid.

However, Black and White issues aside, as it really is distressing that South Africans are always ‘forced’ to think in racial silos whenever this political expedient baloney gets banded about by the ANC and EFF, so here’s the question – should we really be enshrining people like Solomon Mahlangu – and even John Harris as ‘heroes’?

The answer is no we should not, these ‘heroes’ are very tainted, not by the act of rising against injustice and racial oppression, there is honour in that – but because they both killed innocent civilians and in both cases they were found wanting.  That makes them terrorists by the purest definition of the term.

The worshiping of tainted heroes is also a divisive issue, it simply does not bring people together, they murdered people and this is simply never to going to sit well with the community and families affected by them.  These tainted ‘heroes’ are trouble, they deepen the issue of race divide and resentment, they do not lend themselves to community healing and nation building.

Now, why South Africans would choose theses ‘tainted’ heroes, when the country has a very long list of heroes who fought just causes, have broad appeal and can easily be adopted by nearly every community in South Africa is just beyond belief.

Nearly all of South Africa’s surviving World War 2 veterans fall into this category (Black and White).  Aside from this, most World War 2 veterans took part in the Torch Commando’s anti-apartheid protests in their tens of thousands.  These were men of conviction, men who fought the oppression of racist ideologies and fought it properly – real heroes.

It’s really difficult to fault these ‘real’ military heroes, here we choose just two, one Black and one White South African – read a little on them and keep in mind the two ‘tainted heroes’  (Solomon Mahlangu and John Harris) when comparing them.  So here we have two ‘real heroes’ in a raft of many – Sailor Malan and Lucas Majozi.

Sailor Malan

Group_Captain_A_G_Malan_WWII_IWM_CH_12661Much has been written on Sailor Malan as a Fighter Ace, his rules for combat and his command of 74 Squadron during the Battle of Britain which played such a pivot role in winning the Battle.  His combat record, promotions and decorations alone are simply astonishing.

He first took part in evacuation of Dunkirk.  During this battle he first exhibited his fearless and implacable fighting spirit.  When the Battle of Britain begun, 74 Squadron (known as ‘The Tigers’) was to take the full heat of the battle in what was known as ‘hell’s corner’ over Kent, the squadron was eventually based at the now famous ‘Biggin Hill’ aerodrome in the thick of the battle. Sailor Malan was given command of 74 Squadron at the height of the Battle of Britain and on the 11th August 1940 the scored so many kills that they day became for ever known as “Sailor’s August the Eleventh” in Battle of Britain folklore.

By D Day (i.e. Operation Overlord, the liberation of France and subsequently Western Europe), Sailor Malan was in command of 145 (Free French) Fighter Wing and was himself leading a section of the wing over the beaches during the landings in Normandy.

In all Sailor Malan scored 27 enemy aircraft kills, seven shared destroyed, three probably destroyed and 16 damaged. He was to receive the Distinguished Service Order decoration – not once, but twice and well as the Distinguished Flying Cross decoration, again not once – but twice.

When Sailor Malan returned to South Africa after the war, he could not believe a the Nazi sympathising National Party had been brought to power in 1948, implementing the very ideology that took him to war in the first place.  In the 1950’s he formed a mass protest group of ex-servicemen called the ” Torch Commando” to fight the National Party’s plans to implement Apartheid and call for an early election to remove what they regarded as ‘fascist’ government from power.

In Sailor Malan’s own words, The Torch Commando was: “established to oppose the police state, abuse of state power, censorship, racism, the removal of the coloured vote and other oppressive manifestations of the creeping fascism of the National Party regime”.

The Torch Commando fought the anti-apartheid legislation battle for more than five years. At its height the commando had 250,000 members, making it one of the largest protest movements ever seen in South Africa’s history.  The movement, mainly ‘white’ in its demographic can also count itself as the first mass anti-apartheid protest movement with protest rallies reaching up to 75,000 people.  This mass ‘pro-democracy and anti-apartheid’ protest movement occurred before the ANC’s first mass protests against Apartheid, which manifested themselves in the form of the defiance campaign.

DF Malan’s nationalist government was so alarmed by the movement that it acted its usual way – ‘decisively’ – and crushed the organisation by legislation and painting Sailor Malan as ‘Afrikaner of a different kind’, a traitor to his ‘Volk’.

Despite this, Sailor continued to fight against the violation of human rights in South Africa with the same passion and moral fibre that allowed him to fight so vigorously against fascism and racism during the Battle of Britain. His dream of a better, democratic life for all in South Africa not only urged and carried him forward, but also caused him to be shunned by and isolated from his white National Afrikaner countrymen who were blinded by the short-sighted racial discrimination of their government.

In 1963, Sailor Malan, one of the most famous fighter pilots in the history of World War 2, one of the ‘few’ who Winston Churchill hailed as a saviour of European democracy (Churchill was also Sailor Malan’s son’s Godfather), lost his fight against Parkinson’s Disease and died at the young age of 52.

Lucas Majozi.

26731192_771151183084761_2191212210362043742_nNow consider this real military hero, Lucas Majozi.  Here’s a very notable South African military hero. The highest decoration awarded to a Black South African soldier during the Second World War was the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) and it was awarded to Lucas Majozi.

Lucas Majozi volunteered to fight in the 2nd World War, however as he was a black man, race politics in South Africa dictated that he could only join the Native Military Corps (NMC) in a non-combat role, which meant he and all other South African ‘Bantu’ fighting in World War 2 could not carry a firearm – unlike the Cape Coloured Corps, which could carry firearms and take a combat role.  This did not however keep the Native Military Corps away from the perils of fighting and NMC were often placed right in the middle of the fighting.  Also, in instances of high peril reason prevailed and there were issued rifles, as many accounts show during the fall of Tobruk.

So how does an unarmed NMC soldier get to win one of the highest accolades for bravery in World War 2?

The answer lies in Lucas Majozi’s personality and character, he was a proper South African warrior and although he would be unarmed he volunteered to become a medic working as a stretcher bearer in the thick of fighting to bring wounded men back from harm to aid stations, an extremely dangerous job.  Like another Native Military Corps hero – Job Maseko, Lucas Majozi by his actions was also to become one of South Africa’s fighting legends.

So let’s have a look at Lucas Majozi, his account is a truly inspirational one, a very remarkable act of bravery and courage.

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During the Battle of El Alamein the South African 1st and 2nd Field Force Brigades (FFB), as soon after the battle began, became pinned down in the German Axis forces minefield by intense German machine gun and artillery fire. The South African infantrymen suffered very severe casualties.

Throughout the night of 23 October, the stretcher-bearers worked under heavy enemy fire, tending to the wounded and evacuating them from the battlefield.  Amongst these Black NMC non-combatant medics rescuing their White combatant counterparts was Lucas Majozi.

As the action wore on, Lucas Majozi was within 100 meters of the enemy under heavy machine gun fire.  Thinking nothing of his personal safety he continued to evacuate the wounded, returning time and again in the ‘veritable hell’ of the machine gun fire to rescue more of his wounded colleagues.

In the process he was himself wounded by fire, but continued to evacuate other wounded, when told to get to an aid station for his wounds, he refused going back into the hail of machine gun fire to rescue more wounded instead.

After his co-stretcher bearer also became a casualty himself, Lucas Majozi went on alone, again going back into the hell fire and carrying out the wounded on his back, never wavering.

He continued to rescue men under continuous fire all night and by the next morning he had lost so much blood from his own wounds he collapsed from both sheer exhaustion and blood loss.

Lucas survived the war and returned to South Africa to work as Policeman, He died in 1961.

A similar story was captured in a recent Hollywood Blockbuster called ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ involving an ‘unarmed’ American medic whose actions were not dissimilar to Lucas Majozi’s, but do you think South Africans have remembered our own hero and idolised him – no, most South Africans don’t even know who Lucas Majozi is.

Victims of Apartheid

Now, these men are ‘real military heroes’ by any definition of the term.  In many other countries the men and women who fought in World War 2 against the Nazi and Fascism scourge are hailed as the nation’s heroes – from Russia to America to France to the UK to Canada and to Australia – world over.  The living ones fawned over and idolised by just about everyone, including their respective Presidents and Prime Ministers.

But not in South Africa … why?

Simply put these Word War 2 heroes are also ‘victims of Apartheid’, their legacy devastated by the National Party whose narrow politics isolated them as ‘traitors’ for what they saw as a British cause (and not a world-wide war against Nazism and Fascism – in fact they had supported the Nazi cause prior to and during the war).

As ‘victims of Apartheid’ in an odd sense they are in the same boat as Solomon Mahlangu and John Harris.  The difference is that in addressing who in this big pool of Apartheid’s  ‘victims’ we choose to hail as National Heroes, the current government has chosen the most tainted and divisive ‘heroes’ they can muster and simply ignored anything that does not suit the ANC’s own history and their own political narrative.

In Conclusion

It’s a disgrace that the governing party still allows this ‘Apartheid’ legacy to continue to keep these ‘real military’ national heroes from the country for political expediency.  One thing is for sure, the likes of Sailor Malan and Lucas Majozi are far better ‘heroes’ and role models and miles ahead of the likes of Solomon Mahlangu and even an obscure person like John Harris, who should rightly take the mantle as one of the prima anti-apartheid ‘heroes’ executed by the state, but is ignored because of the thing he was hanged for in the first place – Apartheid, only this time in reverse – his fault, he was not black and not a member of the ANC, his story simply just doesn’t fit the narrative.

It really is time we start to seriously address our values and priorities and start considering and highlighting the deeds of our real heroes, people whose deeds and stories build on reconciliation and don’t deepen the race divides in South Africa.

Related Observation Post links:

Sailor Malan: Sailor Malan; Fighter Ace & Freedom Fighter!

Sailor Malan: FRIDAY STORY #7: Sailor Malan: Fighter Pilot. Defender of human rights. Legend.

Sailor Malan: ‘Ten of my rules for air fighting’ – Sailor Malan

Lucas Majozi: “With bullets in his body he returned … into a veritable hell of machine gun fire”; Lucas Majozi DCM

Job Maseko: Job Maseko; one very remarkable South African war hero

Fall of Tobruk: “Defeat is one thing; Disgrace is another!” South Africa’s biggest capitulation of arms – Tobruk

Battle of El Alamein: “General Pienaar, tell your South African Division they have done well”; The Battle of El Alamein

Torch Commando: The Torch Commando led South Africa’s first mass anti-apartheid protests, NOT the ANC!

Torch Commando: ‘New’ rare footage of The Torch Commando in action, the first mass protests against Apartheid by WW2 veterans.

Torch Commando: The Torch’s impact on the South African military veteran diaspora!

Native Military Corps: The South African ‘Native Military Corps’; Sacrifice which screams out for recognition!

The ‘white’ armed struggle: The ‘White’ armed struggle against Apartheid


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  Reference and extracts from Wikipedia, South African History On-Line SAHO, the Guardian (International edition)

 

The not so ‘spectacular’ MK attack on Voortrekkerhoogte

Whilst researching Umkhonto we sizwe (MK) actions against the SADF, I took to the MK Veterans association webpage.  Their ‘operations list’ section pulls up a section on attacks they (MK) wish to highlight as significant military achievements .

It states; “Out of some 1500 attacks between 1977 and 1989, amongst the most spectacular were the following:
1. June 1980 – Sasol Oil Refinery limpet mine blast

2. December 1981 – Bombing of Koeberg Nuclear Power station
3. May 1983 – Car bomb outside Air Force base and killed 19
4. August 1981 – Grad-P Rocket launchers on the South African Defence Force (SADF) headquarters in Voortrekkerhoogte, Pretoria”

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Stop the PRESS!

I am all for credit were credit is due for great or significant military deeds and actions (this blog is dedicated to them). But I also like to put things into context, the Sasol limped mine attack was pretty “spectacular,” 8 fuel tanks were blown up causing damage estimated at R66 million – I’ll give them that one.

Koeberg Nuclear Station attack. Yes, “Spectacular” enough, 4 bombs went off, nobody was killed, one of the buildings bombed was for radioactive nuclear waste and was not yet on-line and under construction.  A very effective message sent to the SADF’s nuclear weapons program, so “spectacular” – I’ll give them that one too.

As to the bombing of the SAAF ‘Air Force Base’, lets put this one into context as the statement is misleading. The SAAF administrative offices targeted were inside the Nedbank Plaza Building in Pretoria (shared with Nedbank and the Dutch embassy) and not a stand-alone heavily guarded “Air Force base” (those bases were in Voortrekkerhoogste). The bomb was set off in a public road ‘Church Street’ outside Nedbank Plaza. As a result I would not put the tag “spectacular” on it – ‘tragic’ and ‘deadly’ yes, because of the aftermath, of the 19 killed: 2 of them were MK operators themselves (‘blue on blue), 7 SAAF members and 10 civilians. 217 people were wounded, most of them civilians.  It’s the biggest ‘feather’ in the MK military achievement cap by far – but it remains a very ‘innocent’ blood soaked and controversial one no matter how you try and spin it.

Now, this last “spectacular” attack caught my eye “Grad-P Rocket launchers on the South African Defence Force (SADF) headquarters in Voortrekkerhoogte, Pretoria”. Because during my National Service training as a candidate officer at Personnel Services army base situated in Voortrekkerhoogte there was a base story about an attack which left unexploded mortars bouncing off the base’s barracks roofs. So I took to investigating it.

Here’s the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Hearing – and I would ask readers to focus their minds on how ‘spectacular’ it is.

The Attack on Voortrekkerhoogste military installations: August 1981

This attack took place on 12 August 1981.

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Barney Molokoane

Voortrekkerhoogte was the main command base of the South African Army. The initial reconnaissance was carried out by two ANC supporters from Europe, namely Klaas de Jonge and Helene Pastoors. A smallholding which was to be used as the base for the operation was rented at Broederstroom. Thereafter the commander of the unit which was to carry out the operation, Barney Molokoane, was infiltrated into the country.

He selected the site from which the rockets used in the attack would be launched. The material to be used in the attack was then brought into the country from Swaziland and cached on the smallholding. The remaining members of the unit were then infiltrated into the country. They were Sidney Sibepe, Vuyisile Matroos, Johannes Mnisi, Vicks and Philemon Malefo.

The unit proceeded to the operational site, which was approximately four kilometres away from Voortrekkerhoogte and fired their rockets at the target. A GRAD-P rocket launcher was used to fire the rockets. However, as they were doing this a crowd gathered to watch them. Philemon Malefo, who was in the getaway vehicle, drove off in order not to be exposed. The unit leader, Barney Molokoane and others then attempted to get an alternative vehicle in nearby Laudium and in so doing a man was shot and injured. The unit members then successfully withdrew from the scene.

The rockets struck in Voortrekkerhoogte and the attack resulted in minor injuries to one woman.

Truth and Reconciliation Amnesty Hearing – January 2000

In reality

The attack was launched from a nearby koppie, the rockets (or bombs) launched were ineffectual, no substantial damage whatsoever.  If the base story is to be believed most of them were launched towards the SADF’s Personnel Services School (known as PSC or PDK in Afrikaans), located in the centre of the Voortrekkerhoogte complex. It has the Army College opposite it and Technical Services School, Military Hospital, Maintenance Services School and the Provost School nearby it as well as a civilian managed supermarket and petrol station next to it.  As ‘schools’ almost all of them are training bases.

The “main command base for the SADF’ they were not.  That command base was located in an underground ‘nuclear proof’ building behind the Pretoria Jail called ‘Blenny’ and it housed “D Ops” – Directive Operations (and its located quite a distance from central Voortrekkerhoogte).

Grad-P-batey-haosef-2The Soviet era GRAD-P portable rocket system uses a monotube and fires 122 mm high-explosive fragmentation rockets (which arm themselves in flight). This system is highly effective, accurate enough and delivers on some very devastating results (with a very good impact radius) – deadly to both buildings and people.  In essence it’s ‘one’ tube of the GRAD multiple rocket launch platform. For this reason it is loved by terrorist, paramilitary and guerrilla forces the world over – usually mounted on small trucks or large pick-up vehicles (known as ‘technicals’).  It’s robust, simple and highly effective.  It also makes a very big ‘bang’.

So I can’t possibly understand why this attack did not deliver on the ‘Big Bang’ this weapon is famed for, nor is there much recollection of the type of ‘loud’ and ‘devastating’ effects this system has – all launch variants of the GRAD scare the living wits out of anyone anywhere near it – from the firing position to the target, and it was reported as fired into a very populated area bustling with thousands of troops undergoing training and civilians.

Also, where is this weapon system now?  It is certainly not on display at any military or ‘Apartheid Struggle’ museum that I am aware of, there are very few significant military ‘artefacts’ of the MK ‘struggle’ as it is, and as this attack is regarded as one of their key successes, so it carries with it some historical value.  All Soviet weapons captured at the time by the SADF are now at the disposal of the ANC government, or they are still in possession of some ANC members not willing to give them up – very little of the total arms cache’ of weapons smuggled into the Republic by MK have ever been declared (in fact in the early 90’s much of it fell into the ‘black market’ and into criminal’s hands when many MK Cadres demanded and did not receive remuneration and the free houses they were promised when joining and fighting for MK).

Maybe the fuses were set to the wrong distances maybe its an issue of operator capability and training, maybe it was badly aimed?  Don’t know, maybe MK are confusing the GRAD-P with a small portable mortar system instead – the GRAD-P tube is a very big section of kit and does not ‘break down’ to fit into an average civilian vehicle, nor do the rockets themselves – especially in one already full of men trying to be inconspicuous in a populated area – have a look at the image below of a IS terrorist cell launching a GRAD-P and you’ll see what I mean.   Who knows, far too many unanswered questions.

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In any event, there was an MK attack of some sort using either rockets or mortars on bases in Voortrekkerhoogte – that part is true (the Apartheid ‘state’ secret apparatus even retaliated the attack by covertly bombing the ANC offices in London – because of the ‘British connection’ in the assault on Voortrekkerhoogte).

However, the results speak for themselves. No significant military buildings were damaged, some accounts recall one of the bombs/rockets falling on the parade ground of the Army College, other accounts report one bomb/rocket hitting an empty bungalow at PD School (this building was destroyed), whilst another account states one more bomb/rocket bounced off another PD School bungalow roof and did not explode.  Some recall that another bomb/rocket hit a toilet block at the PTI section of Army College and another landed on Northern Transvaal Command’s lawn.

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PSC (L) and Army College (R)

There are no accounts of wide-spread panic around Voortrekkerhoogte (military or public) from a GRAD-P rocketing, no large media flurry (It was reported in local papers, but there was no large scale media pursuit), there were no SADF casualties (injuries or deaths) and the casualties were in fact two civilians.  One female civilian domestic employee who was down-range of the launch, she was living in a room adjacent to an SADF officers house, her living quarters were hit, however she received only a minor injury,  The second civilian injured was up-range of the launch, who (lets face facts) was shot and injured in a car hijacking caused by a botched getaway plan, when their MK driver got scared and ‘scarpered’ off with their vehicle.

‘Spectacular’ it is was not.

How much is fact and how much is hype?

Because the record on the MK vets website seemed a little inflated, misleading and incomplete to me, I took to checking the 1500 other claimed attacks to see how many of them were against the SADF itself – force to force so to speak (apples to apples).  The only effective attack against the ‘SADF’ on the list other than the attack on the Nedbank Plaza in Church Street housing the SAAF offices was the Wit Command bombing, which resulted in 25 injuries and structural damage to a military base building (the drill hall), but luckily nobody died  – it was also a ‘one man op’ carried out by a ‘white Afrikaner’ ironically (see The truth behind the bombing of Witwatersrand Command).

There is probably good reason that the MK list only 4 highlights (followed by a sweeping claim of thousands of attacks), as simply put, there are not many more ‘spectacular’ highlights at all.  The rest of the attacks on the SADF by MK were simply not effectual and did not meet any significant objective.  There was a bomb attack on a Citizen Force Regiment’s car park – The Kafferian Rifles (but no information to back it), two bomb blasts in SADF Recruitment offices open to the public (no injuries and minor building damage), an attack on an outlying SADF Radio communications post, with no damage or injuries, a foiled  bomb attack on a Wit Command medic post (no damage or injuries) and a bomb which went off in a dustbin outside Natal Command (no damage or injuries).  That’s it.

The only other related attack was more ‘soft’ civilian than ‘hard’ military target, this was the bombing of The Southern Cross Fund offices.  Luckily no injuries or deaths, just building damage – as many may recall The Southern Cross Fund was a civilian driven charity which collected Christmas presents and the like to support troop morale in the SADF, a very ‘soft’ target indeed.

There were also some MK claims to the TRC as to numerous SADF personnel killed in armed MK skirmishes with SADF patrols on the Botswana border. However I checked the dates against the Honour Roll and the military record of SADF deaths and operation reports and I came up with nothing – no SADF bodies in evidence to the claims on the dates specified to the TRC by MK.  I also checked the SADF veterans social forums on-line and nobody had any recollection of these attacks (nor do many of them even recall this ‘spectacular’ attack on Voortrekkerhoogte).  It stands as an odd testimony that there is literally not one proper ‘war story’ of the SADF engaging MK combatants by literally thousands of SADF veterans now recounting their time in the SADF and freely publishing papers, on-line stories (across a variety of portals), their diaries and even books on their experience.  Maybe the MK is confusing the South African Defence Force (SADF) with The South African Police (SAP), who knows.

On platforms such as Wiki, MK is listed as one of the belligerents in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, however if you ask any old SADF veteran if they saw any MK combatant and engaged them during the entire duration of the Border war from 1966 to 1989 (or even at the Battles on the Lomba and at Cuito Cuanavale specifically), they will say no, not one  – SWAPO, MPLA, Cubans and even Russian combatants – yes, they saw a great many of these.

In line with the old SADF veterans testimony, there is some truth to it, there is not one recorded attack by MK of an MK unit, section/platoon strength and above, on any SADF personnel, armour or installation during the entire Border war.

All the other quoted attacks were stated as been on the South African Police and Police stations, not the SADF, and access to this record is not easy and not of concern as I was looking into the SADF only so as to record actions against the actual military by another military outfit.

In conclusion

What it does say, is that for the most part the SADF were unmoved by any actions by the MK, it certainly did not change their mode of operation in the Republic itself, nor were they overly fearful of MK attacks.  The bases remained relatively lightly guarded in terms of ‘operational readiness,’ usually by National Servicemen bored out of their minds with only 5 rounds in one magazine (not inserted) – as was the regulation on many bases (the SADF bases in South West Africa/Namibia – different story – there was a proper war on in Namibia against SWAPO, the MPLA and Cuba, in response SADF personnel on base were armed to the teeth).  Unarmed and uniformed SADF National Servicemen were to be found in their thousands roaming relatively safely all over the Republic on weekend passes.  The SADF was even confident enough that any internal violence generated by MK (and other liberation movements) could be curtailed by the South African Police (primarily) that they even reduced military conscription to just one year when the Border War with SWA/Angola concluded in 1989 – reducing SADF manpower and ‘operational readiness’ in the Republic even more.

What this record and new hype around MK also shows is a gradual ‘inflation’ of ‘combat prowess’ and the heroic deeds of men in MK, now so revered as national heroes and positioned as ‘war heroes’ with a combat record to be reckoned with.  Whilst the SADF and its very solid combat record has been demonized and vanquished.  There is some truth, to many in South Africa now (especially the youth) that MK played a role in standing up against Apartheid, and we can’t take that from them – they did, so they are idolised by many, that’s a fact. But we need to scrutinise the historical record (the hard facts) in all this hyper-admiration of MK.

Where the ANC were successful, lies less in any great military mission by MK and more in making the old ‘black’ townships of South Africa ungovernable by the use of simple ‘civil dissonance’ – here they were ‘spectacularly’ successful. It was this deepened civil unrest and broader political violence on a grassroots level that brought all the significant pressure on Apartheid South Africa.

Militarily speaking it’s an ‘inconvenient’ fact that South Africa did not have an armed insurrection anything like those initiated by other ‘liberation armies’ in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Mozambique, Angola and South West Africa (Namibia).  Unlike these countries, South Africa is a little different, as at no point were armed MK cadres tested in a conventional military battle scenario against armed SADF soldiers – that never happened.  So as time moves on and memories fade we need to keep perspective, no matter how inconvenient.

Written and Researched by Peter Dickens


References: South African History On Line. ANC Umkhonto we sizwe Veteran Association website.  Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Wikipedia.

 

The Inconvenient ‘Struggle Heroes’ of Freedom Day

Here is an unusual ‘hero of the struggle for democracy in South Africa’.  This is a South African Defence Force (SADF) former ‘whites only’ National Service conscript turned ‘volunteer’ holding a R4 assault rifle as he safely escorts the ballot boxes to a counting station during South Africa’s landmark 1994 election.

He, like thousands of other old SADF white National Servicemen literally volunteered over the transition between 1990 and 1994 to bring democracy to all South Africans and make the elections a reality.  For good reason to, even on the election day itself bomb attacks where still going on and lives were still under threat. Yet now these military ‘heroes’ are conveniently forgotten or vanquished and rather inappropriately branded as “racists” by a brainwashed South African public that has lost perspective.

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This is their story and it needs to be told. 1990 was a significant year – Apartheid in all its legal forms was removed from the law books, the system that had generated ‘the struggle’ was dead. The African National Congress (ANC) was also officially unbanned in February 1990, unhindered to practice its politics. All that remained was a period of peaceful negotiation and reconciliation … the future looked bright.  But did that happen?

Unfortunately not, all hell broke out and the organisations that ultimately kept the peace were the statute armed forces of South Africa (SADF and SAP), who by default steered the country safely on the path to democracy in its final course up to and through the 1994 elections, and not the ‘struggle heroes’ of the ANC, who it can really be said to have stumbled at the last hurdle.

It’s a pity as without this stumble the ANC could truly claim the mantle of  the “liberators” who brought democracy to all South Africans but now, rather inconveniently for them, they have to share it with the SADF – and in addition to SADF professional soldiers a huge debt gratitude is owed by the country to the old white SADF National Servicemen – the ‘conscripts’.

The violence of the ‘Peace’ Negotiations 

In 1990, once unbanned the ANC immediately went into armed conflict with all the other South Africans who did not favourably agree with them – especially the Zulu ’s political representation at the time – the Inkata Freedom Party (IFP), but also other ‘Black’ liberation movements such as AZAPO (Azanian Peoples Organisation) and the old ‘homeland’ governments and their supporters.  Instead of taking up a role of actively peacekeeping to keep the country on the peace negotiation track, they nearly drew South Africa into full-blown war.

From 1990 to 1994 South Africa saw more violence than the entire preceding period of actual “Apartheid”. There was extensive violence and thousands of deaths in the run-up to the first non-racial elections in South Africa in April 1994 – and to be fair it was not just the ANC , the violence was driven by a number of political parties left and right of the political spectrum as they jostled for political power in the power vacuum created by CODESA negotiations.

To deal with this escalation of all out political violence, the SADF called out for an urgent boost in resources, however conscription was unravelling and numbers dropping off rapidly from the national service pool.  Luckily however, tens of thousands of ‘white’ ex National servicemen were now serving out ‘camp’ commitments in various Citizen Force units, SADF Regiments and in the Regional Commando structures who heeded the call and volunteered to stay on – fully dedicated to serving the country above all else, and fully committed to keep the country on the peace process track and stop the country sliding into civil war.

In an odd sense, if you really think about it, these white conscripts are the real ‘heroes’ that paved the way for peace. For four full years of political vacuum they literally risked their lives by getting into harms way between the various warring protagonists, left/right white/black – ANC, IFP, PAC and even the AWB – and it cannot be underestimated the degree to which they prevented an all out war from 1991 to 1994 whilst keeping the peace negotiations on track to a fully democratic settlement.

That South Africa enjoys the fruits of the CODESA democratic process, without plunging itself into civil war whilst democracy was negotiated is very much directly attributed to the men and women in the SADF.

The white supremacist uprising

In 1991, the armed insurrection in South Africa became more complex when far right-wing ‘white supremacist’ break-away groups such as the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) began to increasing turn to armed violence to further their cause. South Africa’s Defence Force and Police structures and personnel now also had to deal with this added, rather violent, dynamic to an already feuding and violent ethnic and political landscape.

‘White’ loyalties where quickly cleared up between white right wingers and white members of the statute forces when the issue came to a head at ‘The battle of Ventersdorp’ on 9 August 1991.  The statute force maintained the upper hand and in all, 3 AWB members and 1 passer-by were killed. 6 policemen, 13 AWB members and 29 civilians were injured in the clash.

In addition to Pretoria and surrounds, this right wing ‘revolution’ also focused  on Bophuthatswana in 1994,  The AWB attempted an armed Coup d’état (takeover by force of arms) after Bophuthatswana homeland’s President Mangope was overthrown by a popular revolt.  In addition to the SADF, this uprising was also foiled by what remained of the statute forces of Bophuthatswana, and was to cumulate in the infamous shooting of 3 surrendered AWB members in front of the world’s media by a policeman.

Luckily not part of this particular controversy, the SADF ‘national service’ soldiers were deployed into the region to quell the uprising and arrested looters in the chaos of the revolt stabilising the situation – as the below famous image taken in Mmabatho by Greg Marinovich shows.

The net result of all this is recorded as a “SADF victory, removal and abolition of Lucas Mangope’s regime, disestablishment of Bantustan”.  In all, Volksfront: 1 killed, AWB: 4 killed, 3 wounded and Bophuthatswana’s mutineers suffered 50 dead, 285 wounded.

The war between the ANC and IFP

To get an idea of this low-level war between the ANC and IFP for political control in Kwa-Zulu Natal alone, The Human Rights Committee (HRC) estimated that, between July 1990 and June 1993, an average of 101 people died per month in politically related incidents – a total of 3 653 deaths. In the period July 1993 to April 1994, conflict steadily intensified, so that by election month it was 2.5 times its previous levels.

Here SADF soldiers conduct a search through bush veld in KwaZulu Natal 1994 and keep a close eye on protesters with ‘traditional weapons’  – Section A KwaMashu Hostel, an Inkatha stronghold.

Moreover, political violence in this period extended to the PWV (Pretoria– Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) region in the Transvaal. The HRC estimated that between July 1990 and June 1993, some 4 756 people were killed in politically related violence in the PWV area. In the period immediately following the announcement of an election date, the death toll in the PWV region rose to four times its previous levels.

Here are SADF National Service soldiers on patrol in Soweto, South Africa, 1991/2 and keeping the peace in Bekkersdal in 1994.

Much of this climaxed into famous incident when the IFP chose to march in Johannesburg brandishing ‘traditional weapons’ in 1994.  Outside the African National Congress (ANC) headquarters at ‘Shell House’  a shootout in downtown Johannesburg between the ANC and IFP supporters erupted.

Here in a famous photo taken by Greg Marinovich is a member of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) who lies dead, his shoes are taken off for the journey to the next life. These three SADF soldiers have come forward into the line of fire – strait between the two warring factions and are keeping the ANC gunmen at Shell House at bay preventing further loss of life, the another image shows a SADF medic coming to the assistance of a wounded IFP member at Shell House – the degree of the life changing injury of a bullet shattering his leg quite graphically evident.

Another good example is also seen here at Bekkersdal township, Transvaal, South Africa 1994. AZAPO supporters fire at ANC supporters in armed clashes between these two groups of the ‘liberation struggle’.  The SADF again suppressed the clash, the next image shows heavy armed SADF National Servicemen in support by driving into the middle of the fray and keeping the belligerents apart – in effect saving lives.

Bigger clashes took place in KaZulu Natal – an example is seen here at KwaMashu in 1994. ANC militants with a home-made gun or ‘kwash’ do battle with Inkatha Freedom party supporters across the valley at Richmond Farm.  Again SADF personnel were moved in to separate the protagonists, here 61 Mech National Servicemen in a SADF “Ratel” IFV patrol Section A, KwaMashu Hostel, an Inkatha stronghold.

In an even stranger twist, a blame game ensured with the ANC not blaming itself and instead accusing a ‘third force’ of guiding the violence and laid the blame on FW de Klerk.  Funnily no evidence of a ‘third force’ has ever been found and the TRC hearings rejected the idea after a long investigation.

The 1994 Election ‘Call-Up’

In the lead-up to the elections in April 1994, on 24 August 1993 Minister of Defence Kobie Coetsee announced the end of ‘whites only’ conscription. In 1994 there would be no more call-ups for the one-year initial training. Although conscription was suspended it was not entirely abandoned, as the SADF Citizen Force and SADF Commando ‘camps’ system for fully trained conscripts remained place. Due to priorities facing the country, especially in stabilising the country ahead of the 1994 General Elections and the Peace Progress negotiations, the SADF still needed more strength to guard election booths and secure key installations.

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So in 1994, the SADF called-up even more ‘white’ SADF Civilian force members, SADF Commando and SADF National Reservists to serve again, and despite the unravelling of conscription laws the response was highly positive with thousands of more national servicemen ‘voluntarily’ returning to service in order to safeguard the country into it’s new epoch.

National Reserve members were mustered at Group 18 outside Soweto in January 1994, some even arriving without uniform.  As part of this mustering I even have the personal experience of asking one of them what happened to his equipment and uniform to which the reply was “burnt it after my camps, but for this I am prepared to serve my country again.”  This comment says a lot as to devotion and commitment of someone making a difference at a turning point of history.

‘Camp’ call-ups and the call-up of ex-conscript SADF members on the National Reserve reached record proportions over the period of the April 1994 elections, and for the first time in history, in a strange twist of fate, the End Conscription Campaign( ECC) called these conscripts to consider these “election call-ups” to be different from previous call-ups and attend to their military duties.

It is highly ironic that even the ECC could see the necessity of security to deliver South Africa to democracy in this period – it was not going to come from the ‘liberation’ movements or any ‘cadres’ as they were part of the problem perpetuating the violent cycle in the power vacuum – it had to come from these SADF conscripts and statutory force members committed to their primary role of serving the country (and not a political ideology or party).

The threats on election day where very real – here South African Defence Force personnel cordon off a bomb blast area and South African police personnel inspect the bombing near the air terminals at Jan Smuts International Airport (now OR Tambo International).  This was the final Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) cell attack on April 27, 1994 in response to the landmark election day held the same day.

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While campaigning for the Presidency, even Nelson Mandela, seen here in traditional dress, made sure to stop and thank citizen force members of the SADF for their support and duty during South Africa’s first fully democratic election in 1994.

These ordinary South African servicemen showed what they are really made of by putting themselves in harm’s way to bring about the democracy that South Africans share today – they where literally the unsung heroes, and all respect to Nelson Mandela, he knew that and took  time in his campaigning to recognise it – these men did not ask for much in return and this small recognition would have been enough.

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Here a SADF member keeps a guarding and secure eye whilst fellow South Africans are queuing to vote in the historic first democratic election on April 27, 1994. This election poll was in Lindelani, Kwa Zulu Natal. Nelson Mandela voted here at 6am and his car passed by as these youngsters sang to honour him.

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Another image shows a SADF National Serviceman guarding the election booths in Johannesburg, whilst a newly enfranchised South African eagerly points the way to the voting polls.

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It was not just National Servicemen, all the uniformed men and women of the SADF and the SAP, of all ethnic groups in South Africa, paved the way for real peace when the country really stood at the edge and about to fall into the abyss of violence and destruction from 1990 to 1994.

This is an inconvenient truth – something kept away from the contemporary narrative of South Africa’s ‘Liberation’ and ‘Struggle’ – as it does not play to the current ANC political narrative. These men and women are now openly branded by lessor Politicians in sweeping statements as “Apartheid Forces” – demonised and vanquished – whereas, in reality nothing can be further from the truth. South Africans today – whether they realise it or not, owe these SADF Professionals and especially the former ‘whites only’ national service conscripts a deep debt of gratitude for their current democracy, civil rights and freedom.

In conclusion

If you had to summarise the military involvement in the transition period, it was the SADF – not the ‘Liberation’ armies of the ANC and PAC, who brought down civil revolts in all the ex-‘Bantustans’, it was the SADF that suppressed an armed right-wing revolutionary takeover in South Africa , it was the SADF that put itself into harms way between all the warring political parties in the townships all over the country and literally saved thousands of lives for 4 long years and it was the SADF who stood guard and secured the 1994 election itself – in this sense it was the SADF (and especially the ‘ex’ white conscripts) who practically delivered the instrument of full democracy and freedom safely to all the citizens of South Africans so they could in fact vote in the first place (without fear of being blown up or shot to pieces in the voting booths) – and that’s a fact and there’s no changing it.

The SADF veterans by far make up the majority of South Africa’s military veteran community, they also fought for liberation and peace, and as they say whenever current South African politicians idealise the MK veterans and demonise the old pre 94 SADF veterans all I can say is – “please don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story” and the inconvenient fact is the ‘old’ SADF delivered the ‘Instrument’ of democracy, not MK.

Related Work and Links

Real Heroes; Tainted “Military Heroes” vs. Real Military Heroes

Conscription; Conscription in the SADF and the ‘End Conscription Campaign’


Article researched and written by Peter Dickens.

Photo copyrights to Greg Marinovich and Ian Berry.  Feature image photograph copyright Paul Weinberg