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, 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 – Getty Image copyright

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: Getty Images

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 or Colonel 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 – UCT Digital Collection (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 – Getty Images copyright

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: Getty Image copyright

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, Getty Images.

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 – Getty Images copyright

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 – Getty Image copyright

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 – Getty Image copyright

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: Getty Images copyright

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.

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 – Alamy copyright.

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)


The largest act of terrorism in Johannesburg’s history – a lesson learned?

The bomb that went off in downtown Johannesburg on 24th April 1994 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. But few would recognise it as such – why?

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Bree Street bomb aftermath Johannesburg – 1994

Earlier in the ‘Struggle’ for democracy in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC)’ bombed a SAAF office target located in the Nedbank Plaza on 20th May 1983 in Pretoria, which was prematurely triggered on Church Street killing 19 and injuring 217 – mostly civilians. This bomb is regarded as ‘the largest act of bombing terrorism in Pretoria’s history’, it’s annually remembered in stoic disgrace by the SADF veterans and victims and celebrated unabashed in public by the ANC and their MK veterans organisation.

So why does this bomb in Bree Street and its related bombing spree in Johannesburg not receive the same nation-wide annual recognition, social reaction and all the indignation that comes with it?  By all accounts the bombs in Johannesburg were placed with as much animosity and intent as the Pretoria bomb, the Bree Street bomb in downtown Johannesburg alone caused massive devastation and carried with it the same conviction and hatred to kill both the targets and innocent civilians alike on an epic and indiscriminate scale.  This act of terrorism remains the single biggest event of its kind that Johannesburg has ever experienced, before or since  – yet there is a general public conviction to just forget about it – and generally speaking that’s exactly what has happened over time.  Why?

Simply put, because it was not the ANC who did it, it’s not really part of the ‘Black’ freedom struggle and the attacks had nothing to do with the ‘Apartheid’ state trying to remain in power – in fact it had more to with the Apartheid State trying to vote itself out of power.  It also did not involve MK and the ‘struggle heroes’ fighting against these acts of terrorism and insurgents to secure the path to democracy in any way whatsoever, instead it involved the statutory forces of the SAP and the SADF fighting against this insurgency. This particular ‘terrorist’ organisation was on its own ‘struggle’ mission for recognition and liberty of its people – it was the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), part of the ‘Boere’ (white farmer) community – and who really cares for them in today’s South Africa?  Well, … we should.

This insurgent bombing campaign, the in’s and out’s of it is not even fully understood today, and it can safely be said that most of South Africa’s new generation (Born Free) are generally oblivious of this armed insurgency campaign and just how close the country came to all out war on this particular front.  The inconvenient truth in this campaign is that this particular percipient to ‘all out war’ in South Africa did not come from the ‘Black’ liberation movements, it came from a ‘White’ supremacy movement. In the lead up to the elections, the period from 1990 to 1994, this particular organisation, the AWB – was more of a threat to the old ‘white’ government and its statutory forces (SADF and SAP) than any of the black ‘Liberation Movements’ could ever aspire to, and that’s a fact.

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Downtown Johannesburg after the AWB Bree Street blast

So, with the ‘neo-Nazi’ AWB show-boating and its old leader Eugène Terre’Blanche now all but gone from the public eye and with the illusion of a ‘rainbow nation’ now starting to unbundle in South Africa with the ‘land debate’ we can now remove the rose-tinted glasses – and let’s have a proper look at this AWB led pre-1994 election campaign and really understand it.  When reviewing it let’s really understand just how violent it was, and let’s also especially look at the ‘resolve’ of this movement’s ability to resort to deadly armed resistance for their ‘freedom,’ protection of their culture and their sense of ‘volk’.

Prelude 

In the lead up to the 1994 elections and over the period of the CODESA and other peace negotiations starting in 1990, the far right-wing was involved in various forms of political protest, much of it violent. In 1990, following FW de Klerk’s speech unbanning the ANC and other political organisations, members of the Conservative Party (CP) threatened mass demonstrations and strike action led mainly by Afrikaner whites.

Starting from February 1990, some 2,000 odd AWB and Boerestaat Party members marched to protest the unbanning of the ANC, 5,000 AWB supporters marched in Klerksdorp. The largest demonstration was held on 26 May 1990 when approximately 50,000 protesters gathered at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria and were urged to fight to restore what the government had ‘unjustly given away’. In 1991 farmers blockaded the city of Pretoria.

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Realising these peaceful actions were side-lined in the greater scheme of the advance to a negotiated South African settlement, and that the demand for a ‘Boere-staat’ – a free state or ‘homeland’ of Afrikaner autonomy for the ‘Boere’ (white farmers) within South Africa was not going to materialise in any meaningful way – the protest actions became far more sinister and deadly as factions within the right-wing took on a much more organised and orchestrated form of armed and very violent struggle.  ‘Land’ and the securing of the future of white owned farm land became the central concern and rally point for armed resistance.

The AWB formalised para-military units and weapons training bases and programs, they even began stockpiling weapons and explosives.

The turning point

awb-medal_slag-van-ventersdorp_9augustus1991On the 9th August 1991 things came to a head in what would become known as ‘The Battle of Ventersdorp’. The National Party’s meeting in Ventersdorp was violently disrupted by the AWB, and this event brought the South African Police and AWB into head-long conflict. South Africa’s Defence and Police structures and personnel now had to deal with this added, rather violent, dynamic to an already feuding and violent ethnic and political landscape.

Of concern to the ANC and the National Party was where ‘loyalty’ lay in the SAP and SADF and whether white members of the statuary forces would side with the far right-wing and enact a coup d’etat (armed overthrow of the government) and derail the peace negotiations.

This ‘loyalty’ issue was quickly cleared up as is shown in this iconic image by Ian Berry, as white South African Policemen clashed with white AWB members.  It proved a deadly clash, in all thee AWB members and one passer-by were killed. In addition 6 policemen, 13 AWB members and 29 by-standing civilians were injured.

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It was also clear to many in the AWB that this was now going to become an armed struggle against the country’s statutory forces, the AWB now had its first ‘martyrs’ to their struggle and even issued ‘Battle of Ventersdorp’ pins as a sort of medal to be worn with pride by members who participated in the ‘battle’.

Attacks leading up to the AWB Election Bombings

In the lead up to the Battle of Ventersdorp and the pre-election Johannesburg bombings the Human Rights Commission reported that various far right-wing clashes and attacks around the country had resulted in the deaths of twenty-six people and the injury of 138. More than 33% of these attacks took place in the PWV (Gauteng) area, although the largest number of fatalities occurred in the Orange Free State and Natal.

The Human Rights Commission also noted a number attacks in the 1990’s carried out by the right-wing in ‘Western Transvaal’ area (which began as an epicentre of their armed operations). These started as random assaults motivated primarily by racism but gradually became more coordinated attacks – especially around issues of land ownership.

One such coordinated attack in the Western Transvaal was a prelude to using planted bombs as method of attack, when a non-racial private school in Klerksdorp was bombed with no fatalities and only building damage.  The AWB member responsible – Johan de Wet Strydom later applied and received amnesty for it from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Later, the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park where the CODESA negotiations were taking place was violently occupied by armed members of the right-wing Afrikaner Freedom Front (AVF) and AWB on the 23rd June 1993, fortunately with no fatalities and injuries.  The invasion started  with a AVF peaceful protest outside – even festive, with families in attendance and braai’s set up. However, the mood changed for the worse when members of Eugene Terre’Blanche’s personal bodyguard wing, the Ystergarde (Iron Guard) began rocking cars; and many were carrying firearms and other weapons.

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Eugene Terre’Blanche and his personal bodyguard at the World Trade Centre CODESA protest

A ‘Viper’ armoured vehicle was then used to crash through the glass windows of the World Trade Centre allowing supporters, carrying firearms and chanting “AWB”, to invade the premises. The AWB and other Right Wing political groupings occupied the building listing demands and courting media interviews and then peacefully left it.  However this action was foreboding of more violent things to come.

On the 12th December 1993, 9 AWB members murdered 6 black people and assaulted more when they set up a ‘false’ road block – allegedly to search vehicles at Radora Crossing on the Krugersdorp – Ventersdorp Road. The people murdered admitted they were ANC members when questioned under duress and then they were shot and left in a ditch.

Then, on the 11th March 1994 the Bophuthatswana crisis erupted and the AWB saw an opportunity for a coalition with Lucas Mangope in his quest to keep the region independent of South Africa and to boycott the 1994 elections.  Violent protests immediately broke out following President Mangope’s announcement on March 7 that Bophuthatswana would boycott the South African general elections. These escalated into a civil service strike and a mutiny in the local armed forces – the Bophuthatswana Defence Force (BDF) which was led and reinforced by 4,500 Volksfront members, a mutiny which was further complicated by the arrival of armed columns of 600 AWB members, arriving in Bophuthatswana ostensibly seeking to preserve the Mangope government and support the Volksfront Commando members in leading the Bophuthatswana Defence Force’s coup d’etat.

The Bophuthatswana Defence Force mutineers where not happy with arrival of AWB and Eugene Terre’Blanche specifically as it was going to complicate their cause and insisted that the AWB leave. Whilst negotiating their departure several civilians were injured by AWB forces, who fired upon looters taking advantage of the chaos and passerby alike. The predominantly black Bophuthatswana Defence Force, agitated by their superiors’ inability to control the white gunmen, threatened to attack both of the Afrikaner militias.

In a filthy mood, the AWB pulled out of Bophuthatswana, and driving recklessly through Mafikeng and downtown Mmabatho, some AWB fighters continued to shoot black citizens in the street, killing at least two. Crowds of angry Bophuthatswana residents, eventually moved to block the convoy’s way. An AWB member with an automatic weapon fired several rounds over their heads to disperse the human roadblock.

The single most memorable and publicised event of the conflict was the killing of three wounded AWB members who were shot dead at point-blank range in front of journalists by a Bophuthatswana Police Constable named Ontlametse Menyatsoe.

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Three wounded AWB members surrender before they were executed in front of the world’s media by Ontlametse Menyatsoe

AWB Colonel Alwyn Wolfaardt, AWB General Nicolaas Fourie and AWB Veldkornet Jacobus Stephanus Uys were driving a blue Mercedes at the end of convoy of AWB vehicles that had been firing into roadside houses. Members of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force returned fire injuring all the occupants. They surrended and pleaded for their lives in front of the world’s media and cameramen, when suddenly Menyatsoe, in a bitter rage, shot the three wounded men dead at point blank range with a R4 assault rifle.

The chaos lasted for about four days and the South African Defence Force (SADF) responded by deposing of President Mangope and restoring order in Mafikeng on the 12th March 1994.  In all the Volksfront lost one man killed, the AWB suffered 4 killed and 3 wounded and the BDF lost 50 killed and 285 wounded (reference TRC hearings).

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SADF members round up looters in Mafikeng during the attempted BDF uprising in 1994 and bring peace to the streets

The killing of the three AWB men execution style in front of the media and the violent attempted mutiny was significant.  In the AWB case it drove home to members just what a hard road resisting the 1994 elections was going to be, and in the case of Bophuthatswana, which now makes up most of the ‘North West Province’ this mutiny and power struggle in 1994 is very much still the underpinning reason behind all the current violence South Africa is experiencing in this province in 2018.

The AWB 1994 Election Bombing Campaign

The 1994 elections were scheduled to start on the 27th April 1994 and would last till the 29th April 1994. The AWB 1994 election bombing campaign began in earnest on the 14th April 1994 explosions at Sannieshof in the Western Transvaal involving ‘brother’ members of the Boere Weerstandsbeweging (BWB), this was followed by an explosion at the offices of the International Electoral Commission’s (IEC) at Bloemfontein, a fire bombing at the Nylstroom telephone exchange on 22nd April 1994 and a further explosion at the Natref oil pipeline between Denysville and Viljoensdrif in the Northern Free State.

Then, as the election campaigning was ending, on Sunday the 24 April 1994 a AWB insurgent cell placed a very large car bomb which was planted in the Johannesburg city centre.  The Bree Street bomb was built into an Audi driven into place with the intention of targeting ‘Shell House’, the building which then housed the ANC’s head office. The car had been borrowed from a friend, an innocent Ventersdorp resident (who had in fact attempted to get his car back from the bombers on the day it was used for the bombing).

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.

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SADF Lance Corporal stands guard at the site of the Bree Street bombing as workers clean up

A total of 7 people were dead in Bree Street, mostly by-standers and civilians from all racial and ethnic groups, including Susan Keane, an ANC candidate for the provincial legislature in the Johannesburg region, who bled to death after the bomb concussion hit her car, which was stopped nearby.  In addition to Susan Keane, the dead included the following; Jostine Makho Buthelezi; Makomene Alfred Matsepane, Goodman Dumisani Ludidi, Gloria Thoko Fani, Peter Lester Malcolm Ryland and one unidentified man.

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, SAP and especially SADF Medics quickly moved in to secure the bomb blast area and treat the wounded.

Note: the witness account in this CNN news insert of the car being searched by the Police before the blast was later found to be inaccurate by the TRC – another car had been searched.

The AWB bombing campaign continued at pace, the very next day on April 25 a bomb was placed in a trailer allegedly belonging to 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.

The dead were identified as Piet Mashinini, Phillip Nelaphi Nkosi, Mbulawa Jonathan Skosana, Lucas Shemane Bokaba, Gloria Khoza, Fickson Mlala, Mbereyeni Maracus Siminza, Paul Etere Ontory, Thulani Buthelezi and Thoko Rose Sithole.

Again, members of the SADF, SAP and Medical Services quickly moved in to secure the bomb blast area and treat the wounded.

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.  The dead were identified as Joyce Baloyi, Samuel Masemola and one man remains unidentified.

One bomb attack was foiled when AWB member Johannes Olivier, received his instructions and attempted to discharge a bomb in the district of Benoni and Boksburg. However, he was arrested before the bomb could be discharged after he was stopped and his car searched at a formal SAP/SADF roadblock.

The AWB bombing campaign was so impactful it prompted Nelson Mandela to placate the fears of a ‘white voters ahead of the elections by pleading to whites not to listen to the “prophets of doom” who predict a post-election orgy of black reprisal and property confiscation.  He said “Nothing is going to happen to the property of any family, black or white,” he vowed this before 100,000 of his supporters at an election rally dismissing the far right-wing’s claims that blacks were preparing to invade the homes of the white privileged.

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Armed SADF guards a election booth behind razor wire in downtown Johannesburg, a newly enfranchised South African points the way to the booth

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 knowlege they were safe to do so.

Then, just two short days later, on the Election Day itself, 27th April 1994 the final AWB election 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.

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Aftermath of the car bomb at Jan Smuts Airport – 27 April 1994

The Jan Smuts airport attack also shows that the AWB attacks over the election lead up and on the day itself were not strictly racially motivated as the injured ranged from across just about every race group in South Africa – completely indiscriminate, as bombs generally are, consider the ethnic names of the people injured – Mark Craig Mirion, Jo-Anne Des Fountain, Zacharia Monani, Walter Martin Peter, Frans Mlatlhela; Hendrik Lambert Pieterse, Percy Mosalakae Moshwetsi, Petrus Albertus Venter, Louis Stevens and Mathys Johannes van der Walt.

Oddly, the AWB did not take advantage and build on the public fear factor generated by the lead up bombing campaign or the Jan Smuts Airport bombing on the Election Day itself – they did not leverage the ‘terrorism’ aspect and in so failed to undermine the legitimacy of the election by forcing people to stay away from the polling stations for fear of being blown up. During the entire election bombing campaign AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche denied all involvement in the campaign, for both himself and the AWB.  So the bombings were instead presented to the public by the media as some faceless unknown entity with a mild suspicion that it was the right-wing – just another chapter in the general violence people had become very accustomed to in South Africa.

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SADF members treat the injured after the Bree Street bombing in Johannesburg – April 1994

Without monopolising on the fear factor and without mobilising the AWB in full with all its para-military units and cells to create maximum social dissonance, the AWB instead allowed the ‘good news’ to dominate the election campaign and for the most part people were either totally unaware of the extent of danger they faced or it was just simply ignored.

Aftermath 

One key underpinning reason for the failure of the entire AWB anti-democracy campaign  was the failure of the AWB to connect with the majority of white people in South Africa, both English and Afrikaans speakers.  Their Neo-Nazi symbology and pro-Afrikaner Boer Republic rhetoric alienated the vast majority of English-speaking whites and alienated the Jewish community completely.

As to Afrikaners, the Neo-nazism appealed to a very small sect and whilst many may have quietly agreed with some of their antics in recognising Afrikaners in the transition to democracy, they did not fully support them when the cards were down.  No doubt the image of the three AWB men gunned down on live TV with such detached brutality in Bophuthatswana played a key role, as it honed in what dying for your country actually means.

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Prior to the 94 election, at a Right Wing AWB training camp near Wesselsbrom in the Orange Free State.1994. Copyright Ian Berry

Politically speaking the Afrikaner community fell into the plague of disunity which so dominates their history and did not stand as one.  Instead the road to democracy drove multiple fissions and fractions into the white Afrikaans community, and even the Afrikaner Armed Resistance movement with a singular and shared objective was fractious at best.  The vast majority of white Afrikaners were buoyed by the idea of the end of Apartheid, and followed FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela’s promises of a bright and healed future, one in which Nelson Mandela repeatedly guaranteed that their future, history, property and culture would be safe-guarded.

It followed that after the euphoria of the elections and with all the buoyed enthusiasm for a ‘Rainbow Nation’ the AWB election bombers were quickly fingered by their own and in a police swoop at the end of April, thirty-four right-wingers were arrested in connection with the wave of bomb blasts.

All of them were members of the AWB’s elite Ystergarde (Iron Guard). A ‘turned’ star witness for the state, was also a former Ystergarde (Iron Guard) lieutenant Jacob Koekemoer (a dynamite specialist), who revealed in court that he had manufactured three of the bombs used in the terror campaign—those used in the Jan Smuts, Bree Street and Germiston taxi rank attacks.

Later the Truth and Reconciliation Commission received amnesty applications from several people convicted for the explosions including the bombers themselves and other AWB members supporting their operations.

The AWB election bombers consisted of small cells made up of ten AWB men in all – Jan de Wet, Etienne Le Roux, Johannes Vlok, Johan Du Plessis, Abraham Fourie, Johannes Venter, Johannes Nel,  Petrus Steyn, Gerhartus Fourie and Johannes Olivier. All were given amnesty in December 1999 in the interests of national healing and on the basis that these bombings were part of a politically motivated campaign and part of a defined and structured non-statute para-military force in opposition to the government of the day (essentially putting them on the same footing as the MK applicants).

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10 May 1999 Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) leader Eugene Terre’ Blanche speaking to the judge at a truth and reconciliation commission in Klerksdorp.

With growing evidence to the contrary during the TRC hearings, Eugene Terre’Blanche initially still denied any involvement in the bombing campaign, this prompted one of Terre’Blanche’s former bodyguards and convicted bomber Jan Adriaan Venter to describe his former leader as a coward who knew about the bomb campaign but got cold feet when the explosions started.  Eugene Terre’Blanche eventually responded in a fax letter to the TRC that his speeches at the time could have been interpreted by his followers as a call to war, later he changed tack again and took full responsibly and in another letter to the TRC he stated  “As political head of the AWB, I accept political and moral responsibility for the acts that have been committed.”

An inconvenient truth

The 1994 Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) election campaign bombing spree was basically swept aside in the bigger democratic and social events and news stories gripping South Africa, but this ‘white’ armed insurgency – although decades ago now – remains a foreboding warning to the path South Africa is currently on.

In April 1994, the vast majority of South Africans and all the media were generally swept into the euphoria of creating a ‘rainbow nation’ and the drive to the first fully democratic election evolving into a ‘miracle’ to give the odd bomb blast too much attention, It was ‘faceless’ bad news in a barrage of good news scoops so it did not make the mark it intended to do, the country in the vast majority was steaming to a new epoch, with or without the ‘far-right’ and their related ideological parties and movements.

Different story entirely for the SADF members tasked with defending this ‘miracle’ surge towards democracy in April 1994 and who were deployed to protect the election booths, strategic installations and even the election process itself.  For the mainly ‘white’ SADF conscripts who, with conscription all but ended, had now volunteered in their tens of thousands to usher in South Africa’s new democracy safely – and for them this AWB campaign, targeting the exact installations they were protecting – this particular armed insurgency was very big threat and a very big deal.

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SADF member escorts a 1994 general election ballot box under armed guard

These SADF ‘conscripts’ now turned volunteers stood at the sharp end of ushering the ‘New South Africa’ in extreme danger of their lives (not MK or any other Black liberation movement), and they did so willingly, proudly standing on the edge of creating significant historical change and were strong in the belief and convictions of securing an end to Apartheid and a lasting peace (at least that was what they felt then).

You would think in the country’s New Democratic epoch and majority of Black South Africans would be proud of the men and women of the SADF who put their lives on the line for their liberty and freedom, and honour them for the dangers they faced safely delivering the very instrument of democracy to them – the vote itself.  Sadly that is not the case, they care less – these are now the ‘Apartheid’ forces, to be vanquished and shamed.

Yet it still stands as an inconvenient truth that it was not the MK or the ‘Struggle heroes’ who in the end stood against the AWB campaign of armed violence and delivered the 1994 elections safely to the people,  there was not a ‘cadre’ in sight – instead the undisputed fact is that it was the SADF and SAP who delivered the country safely into its new epoch.

Therein lies one of the key reasons this pre-election AWB/far-right bombing campaign is seldom (if ever) referenced by the current government when honouring people who brought democracy to South Africa – because it would mean honouring the likes of ‘white’ SADF conscripts, and that just doesn’t hold well in their misconstrued historical rhetoric of ‘the struggle’ for an open democracy and the path taken to achieve it.

Thanks for Nothing!

So how do the SADF (and SAP) veterans feel about it now?  Broadly there are two groups of  SADF veterans who were conscripted under the ‘whites only’ National Service program.  The first group is the group who fought in the South West African/Angolan Border War and did ‘township duty’ under the State of Emergency declarations – they completed their military obligations whilst legally obliged to do so and no more.

Then there is a second group, these are the SADF veterans who continued with obligatory military service or as volunteers after 1990.  The year 1990 is pivotal because in that year the National Party officially scrapped the legal pillars of Apartheid, thus ending ‘Grand Apartheid,’ unbanned the ANC and released Nelson Mandela.  With ‘Grand Apartheid’ gone, this group of SADF conscripts continued their military service whilst ‘white’ conscription was constitutionally unbundling and they volunteered to continue with military commitments to steer the country to the 1994 elections.  This group also literally put their lives on the line in a period which is singularly regarded as the most violent period in South Africa’s history.

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SADF member guards the bomb site at Jan Smuts Airport – 27 April 1994

The group of post 1990 SADF conscripts and volunteers were so important that the CODESA negotiators – including Nelson Mandela and Cyril Rampaposa – engaged them to accompany the SADF Permanent Force members in quelling the right-wing up-rising and BDF mutiny in the future North West Province.  They were again called in to replace the failed ‘Peace Force’ to stop the spiralling violence between IFP and ANC members – a rampage of Black on Black killing and a type of ‘terrorism’ on such a level it even makes the AWB bombing campaign pale into insignificance in terms of the numbers left dead.  They were again engaged by IEC and the CODESA steering group to actually guard the 1994 election process itself against all those bent on violently disrupting it – which turned out to be the AWB.

Do they want to be thanked for it? The answer is NO. They saw it as their duty to their country. Do they want recognition for it? The answer – not necessarily, they are soldiers first and foremost – but it would be NICE if someone did.  Nelson Mandela was extremely thankful to these ‘white’ SADF volunteers, he knew what their voluntary contribution to defend the country from the likes of the AWB meant.  He made it a point to stop and thank these men personally whenever he could on the Election Day.

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Nelson Mandela taking time out to thank SADF members on his Election Day campaign – 27 April 1994

Does the modern-day ANC follow the example of Mandela in the treatment of these veterans now? The answer is – NO. In fact they are marginalised, vanquished, shamed and disgraced by the ANC and media, repeateldy and unrepentently. The current President Cyril Ramaposa is very aware of this contribution to democracy by these SADF veterans (in fact he called on them in their most urgent time of need) and he conveniently overlooks them now for the sake of his own political expediency.

Instead Cyril Ramaposa has capitulated to calls for the expropriation of white owned farmland and capital without compensation – a notion that has been put forward by black Far Left radicals touting a revolutionist history trying to re-write the truth, and it’s a notion that may bring the ANC and Cyril Ramaposa into full confrontation with the majority of South Africa’s white population.  It’s also a notion that has released spiralling and complete social dissonance amongst millions of landless and poverty ridden Black South Africans.  Poverty brought on by the ANC themselves as they took the country’s unemployment from 10 million in 1994 to 30 million in 2018, and failed to address the land issue as it was outlined in the constitution, instead they illegally enriched their own political class in the process and left the poor behind, allowing poverty levels to rise.

From 1990 to 1994, these SADF veterans were convinced by the country’s leadership, the CODESA team and by Nelson Mandela that the future was bright for white South Africans – it drove them to put their lives on the line for it.

During the CODESA negotiations the ANC undertook to preserve white Afrikaans and English culture, they vowed that statues and historical landmarks would not be changed unnecessarily, and when it was to be done it would be ‘neutral’ – a case in point was the AWB bombed Jan Smuts airport which was initially changed to ‘Johannesburg International’ – everybody happy.  They vowed that white owned Capital and Land would be protected and where historical redress was sought the land-owners would be properly and fairly compensated.  They enshrined the ‘willing seller willing buyer’ clause into the constitution and they enshrined the basic Human Right of all South Africans to own private property anywhere in the Republic.  This part on land, is literally the ‘Price of Peace’ – if it is removed the very basis on which peace was struck in South Africa will be moot.

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SADF member stands guard at an election booth 27 April 1994, a group of newly enfranchised South Africans wait to vote.

The sad truth is these veterans have seen all these promises gradually been broken over time and their very culture, history and land come under violent threat.  So will they lend their considerable military experience to the state again if it finds itself in trouble when the likes of the AWB armed uprising experienced in 1994 occurs once again? The sad answer is properly not. In fact a large number would proberbly side with the right-wingers this time around and lend their military experience to them instead.

A lesson from history

There is a lesson in this to the growing social dissonance in South Africa in 2018 as unemployed and landless people target ‘white’ capital and ‘white’ farms for expropriation without compensation.  The new and up surging need for current Black radical South Africans to re-start the ‘Struggle’ and ‘finish what Mandela could not’ should take a lesson from history, and this particular AWB ‘white liberation’ movement is it, and it has not ‘gone away,’ it lurks dangerously below the surface – even to this day.

There is an uneasy truth, due to cuts and skills drainage the SANDF is a mere shadow of its former self, both in terms of operating strength and military intelligence.  It will never be in the same position the SADF was in to quell a committed militant terrorist campaign, such was the type of insurgent campaign engaged by the AWB from 1990 to 1994.

The inconvenient truth is that the AWB were a threat in 1994 that was quickly quelled because of good Military and Police Intelligence, a strong and highly disciplined battle order by SADF troops and the SAP and the lack of public resolve of the majority of white Afrikaners (and English) to support the AWB.

Finally, there is an another uneasy truth lurking, either the AWB and/or a more palatable group comprising a more modern manifestation of the ‘struggle’ for Afrikaner recognition, can easily become a threat again. Only this time, because ‘white owned’ Land and Capital is now under open threat in terms of ‘appropriation without compensation’ and due to the growing sense of desperation ahead of mounting animosity towards the country’s white farmers and Afrikaners as a racial minority in general – things can (and will) become even more dangerous and far more deadly than they were in 1994.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Related Observation Post links

SADF and the 1994 election: Conveniently ignored ‘Heroes of the struggle for Democracy’ … the ‘old’ SADF

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

Bomb blast image at Jan Smuts Airport copyright Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times.  Videos obtained from YouTube in the public domain. Battle of Ventersdorp and training camp image copyright Ian Berry. Mafikeng photo of SADF troops rounding looters up copyright to Greg Marinovich  Image photograph of SADF member escorting ballot copyright Paul Weinberg

References include Truth and Reconciliation Commission transcripts and published public notices. the Mail and Guardian and BBC articles.

The inconvenient and unknown history of South Africa’s national flags

Here’s another interesting back of the chappie gum wrapper fact – Guess which is the correct South African flag South Africans fought under during World War 1?  Bet most people will think of the old “Orange White and Blue” South African flag, but that would be wrong.

As a serving officer in the South African Army I had to be familiar with flag protocol and etiquette, it’s a key part of soldiering when national flags go on parade. However the funny thing in South Africa is just how poor our collective knowledge is of our own national flags.

These are in fact all of South Africa’s national flags:17309179_1539170599434728_8929150928988660165_nMany times in military veteran circles there is steaming debate on when to use the “old” national flag and in what context – however few people in South Africa know what flag to use, what they really mean and even less know what the first South African flag actually looked like.

Here is a classic case of the misunderstandings surrounding South African national flags – This is the painting the “Birth of the Union” James E McConnell.  The painting was so poorly researched he used the wrong flag.

Birth of the Union of South Africa

This is a modern day photo-shop version of McConnell’s painting and it shows his original on the left and a more correct South African Union flag at union on the right.

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The flag he used for his painting was the oranje-blanje-blou (known more commonly as the “OBB”) which all South Africans will recognise. However the flag of South Africa at the time of Union in 1910 was the South African “ensign flag” (British Union Jack top left and the South African National Coat of Arms inserted bottom right). Known as a “Red Duster” – now not too many South Africans today have ever seen that flag.

To show what the first South African national flag, the “Red Duster,” actually looked like here it is:

threeIt is very doubtful that there would have been huge public elation of Boers and Brits embracing one another under this National Flag as depicted in the painting, although this was the National Flag that South Africa fought under during the First World War (there where two versions of this ensign flag which they used – one Red and one Blue).

13686500_616785705157832_3286773017917395641_nIronically, the Boer Commandos that joined the South African Union’s Defence Force at Union in 1910, used and fought under this “South African Ensign” in the South West African and the East African campaigns of World War 1 from 1914 to 1918.

As noted, there was another variant of the “Red Duster” which is an ensign with the respective nation’s emblem against a Blue Background and a British Union flag in the left hand corner (you’ll still see this variant used in New Zealand and Australia for their National flag).

Both South Africa’s “Ensign” flags – Red and Blue qualify as the de facto South African national flags from 1910 to 1928, however the Red one was more common.

The Red Duster variant was the primary flag adopted by South Africa and Canada (Canada used their ensign version during WW1 and WW2 – it was only changed to the Maple Leaf in 1965)

Slide4Given the Ensigns were the flags usually adopted for British “Colonies” and “Dominions”, the South African Union government (which was in fact an independent Parliament to Westminster and made its own laws) felt differently. To the South African Union the national flag of 1910 was “still born” and not reflective of the history of the Boer Republics which made up the other half of the “Union” nor did it adequately reflect on South Africa’s Dutch colony origins.

The oranje-blanje-blou (“OBB”) was adopted by the South African Union Parliament as the “new” national flag in 1928. It was proudly flown as the flag of “Union” representing the old British Colonies of the Cape and Natal and the old Boer Republics of the Transvaal (South African Republic) and the Orange Free State. The use of the British Union flag inserted in the OBB, placed closest to the flag mast/pole (the most honoured and senior position for any “inserted” national flag on any flag format) ahead of the two Boer Republic flags, which take a lessor position, calmed down and appeased the “English” detractors who objected to such a dramatic flag change away from the standard Dominion Red Duster.

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However, confusion as to South Africa’s national flag to use even reigned at this time.  Here Jan Smuts makes the front cover of a late 1940’s edition of “Time” magazine with the National Flag in the background and this time they are incorrectly using the “old” blue ensign flag and should have been using the”new” OBB.

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So here’s another fun fact, the OBB is not the “Apartheid” flag, the National party when they came to power in 1948 put forward a proposal to have it amended and remove what they called the “Bloed Vlek” (Blood Stain) which was the British Union Flag inserted in the OBB. This was a National party pet hate as it reminded many Afrikaner nationalists of British decimation of Boer families and farms during the Boer war – the campaign to change the OBB flag was stepped up by the National Party under Hendrik Verwoerd when South Africa became a Republic and when he withdrew South Africa from the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1961.

However broader public pressure at the time prevented the initial National Party proposals for a flag change from been passed by the South African Republic’s Parliament and the idea was eventually shelved. In effect the initial campaign to change the OBB died with Verwoerd in 1966, but the National Party attempts to change the OBB to a “new” Republic flag did not stop there.  In 1968, the National Party Prime Minister, John Vorster, again proposed the adoption of a new flag to replace the OBB from 1971, the rational was to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the declaration of South Africa as a Republic.  Even though a National newspaper campaign was run asking the public for suggested flag designs, Vorster’s proposal did not get momentum in Parliament and the flag change never materialised.

Historically speaking, although the hardline National Party members hated the “OBB” and its inserted British “Union Jack”, but they disliked the original South African ensign “Red Duster” national flag with its massive “Union Jack” even more, they hated this flag so much it was literally erased from the South African collective consciousness and very few examples of it survive to this day. It certainly was not top of mind when McConnell painted his “Birth of the Union” painting in 1976.

That the flag of South African Union was kept during the implementation of Apartheid by the National Party from 1948 to 1994 is unfortunate as it detracts from it’s rich heritage as the flag of the South African “Union” and as such it is not the flag of the South African “Republic” nor was it ever intended to be a Republic’s flag – it especially detracts from all the kudos that South Africa received during World War 2 fighting alongside British and American forces under the South African Union’s OBB.

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The “new” (new) South African flag adopted in 1994 was actually  intended as a “five year interim” flag, however, it proved so highly popular it became the national flag almost instantly and was officially adopted by the government of South Africa on the election day, 27th April 1994.

According to its designer Fred Bromnell – It is actually a combination of the two “Colonial era” flags – The national flag of the Netherlands (Dutch flag) – Red, White, Blue and the the British Union flag – Blue, White, Red.  Then the two former Boer Republic flags – the South African Republic (Transvaal) “Vier Kleur” – Green, Red, White and Blue and the Orange Free State Republic Flag (using the Dutch insert flag and the white) and then finally the African National Congress (ANC) Flag – Black, Green and Gold (colours also present in the Inkatha Freedom Party and Pan African Congress flags).

The V symbolises inclusion and unification. In essence it is another flag of “Union” (unity) only this time acknowledging the county’s Black population and its historical heritage.  Symbols considered in the design of the “new” flag included Catholic and Anglican Priest’s Classic Chasubles, the universal symbol of Peace and the married Zulu female traditional head-dress.

There are some claims that the “New” South African flag is just a “design” with no meaning or symbolism – but that’s not the opinion of the man who actually designed it – Frederick Gordon Brownell.  Also, I find that whenever that when this argument is used  it’s usually to deny meaning to the new South Africa flag and to degrade the country, describing it as “jockey Y front underpants,” when in fact the truth is the opposite and the flag is stuffed full of meaning and symbolism.

In fact the “New” South African flag reflects all the old flags of South Africa, these exist right there for all to see, plain as day to the trained eye (and even the untrained eye) – symbolically placed in the new flag – and that’s an inconvenient truth to both the “new” flag’s detractors and the detractors of the “old” OBB.

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The funny thing is the “New” (new) flag was only meant to be an interim one, hence the mash of historical South African flags.  The irony kills me whenever I see the “new” South African youth and current South African political class with the flag they are now saluting, flying and even wearing – and it consists of their much despised “Colonial” Dutch, British and Boer Republic flags, and most of the “Apartheid” flag – irony lost on them but not on me.

Here’s the another irony – the “old” South African flag i.e. the “OBB” Union flag was born out of the ideals of Union led by Jan Smuts and Louis Botha. Not under the Apartheid ideals of  DF Malan and HF Verwoed. I personally see a lot of irony when hard-line right wing Afrikaners slam Jan Smuts and brand his values of consolidation and union with the British as an act of treason to the Afrikaner people – when at the same time they fully support, and at times even fly, the very flag created in honour of his very Unionist ideal – with its British “Blood Stain” symbolising Smuts’ reconciliation in full and proud senior position.

Furthermore it is ironic that after many years of trying to change the National flag after South Africa was declared a Republic in 1961, it was the National Party that finally achieved its goal in February 1994 when they, as the National Party government, briefed Frederick Gordon Brownell at the government’s own heraldry department to design a new flag (funnily in some sort of déjà vu – they had to involve the country’s National Herald this time after another newspaper campaign for designs from the public had failed, albeit 20 years later).  The result is the current flag we see today.  It was designed literally in a week and the only change in the decades long National Party narrative on changing the OBB this time was that both FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela had to approve the new design.

So, lump it or leave it – there is nothing in “Union” flags that appeal to “all” people and everything in “Union” flags that appeal to “all” people.

All I can say is that the “new” South African flag has been the most cross cultural flag ever composed in South African history and it has been the least controversial i.e. it has been the most universally accepted by all South Africans (the very vast majority) with the least amount of disgruntled political posturing to change it.

In summary, to the “old” South Africa OBB supporters I would say:

  1.  The OBB was not the only South African national flag both Afrikaner and English South Africans fought under prior to 1994.
  2. The OBB pays a very high homage to The British Union National Flag in terms of the Vexillology of Flags and Flag Etiquette, especially in terms of the superior/senior position it takes relative to the two Boer Republic flags.
  3. The OBB symbolises the union of Afrikaner and English races – a central philosophy of Jan Christiaan Smuts and that of  “Union” Political Coalition partners and Governments.  Not those ideals of nationalist Afrikaners like Malan, Verwoed and Vorster, whose central political premise was that of an independent “Republic” and “Apartheid”.
  4. The OBB, although a flag of Union with the British, is now very dated.  Times and history changed since South Africa declared itself a Republic, so too the demographic and even social landscape of South Arica.  It cannot work as a current national flag in modern South Africa, change was inevitable – even Smuts would have seen that, and knowing his way of governance he would have welcomed a new flag to reflect it had he been around (in his time he served and lived under four different national flags).
  5. Many key Commonwealth countries have traded in their “Colonial” ensigns and Union flags – Canada, Jamaica, Kenya, Singapore, Hong Kong to name a few, and those still holding onto theirs – Australia and New Zealand, are under strong popular pressure to change them ahead of changing times.

To the “new” South Africa, current National flag supporters I say:

  1. The OBB is the flag of “Union” and it is one of the two Union flags used to bring   South Africa into existence as a country on the central principles of “reconciliation” and “tolerance” between two previously warring races (Boers and Brits), it is not the flag of “Apartheid”- in fact it was developed long before Apartheid was instituted as an ideology (in 1948) and symbolically it’s the complete opposite of Apartheid.
  2. Even the hard-line Apartheid Nationalists hated the old South African OBB, so much they wanted to change it – and eventually they did, and ironically it is the flag you now support, salute, fly and even wear – it was designed by a brief from the outgoing Apartheid Nationalist government in its final throws of office.
  3. The “new” flag very strongly and powerfully associates the flags of South Africa’s “Colonisers” and “Boers” in its design and in fact it celebrates this history – in addition to celebrating the history of the Black peoples of South Africa.
  4. The “new” South African flag does an excellent job balancing South Africa’s history and is very relevant to the current time.  I can’t possibly think of a better solution, and if the ANC and EFF one day decide to change it because of all its “colonial” and “white” legacy, I would hate to see what some Gupta owned design agency in India comes up with, because that really would round off a ‘state capture’.

This is why I allow myself a wry ironic smirk every-time South African flags are so hotly debated.

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Researched and written by Peter Dickens.

Featured image by James E McConnell, Watercolour on Board 1973, photo-shopped version and background information courtesy Nicholas Pnematicatos.