Tainted “Military Heroes” vs. Real Military Heroes

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

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

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

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

Solomon Mahlangu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An inconvenient truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sailor Malan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucas Majozi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victims of Apartheid

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

But not in South Africa … why?

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

Related Observation Post links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

“We fought as one, black and white”; the South African Native Military Corps ‘at arms’

Now what is truly remarkable about this photograph?  Well it shows a bunch of armed South African soldiers during World War 2 who by all accounts never carried a firearm and by directive were not allowed to either.  These are members of the South African Native Military Corps (NMC), and it’s proof positive that there is no such thing as skin colour or ‘Segregation’ legislation when under fire.

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This photograph was taken by Warren Loader’s Grandfather Noel Edgar Fuller while serving with The Royal Durban Light Infantry (DLI) B Coy in North Africa during WW2. What makes this photo remarkable is the DLI L/Cpl is standing next to three armed members of the South African Native Military Corps (NMC).

So, visual proof that .303 Lee Enfields were issued to some members of the NMC, but what is the validity of this rare photograph?

Official Policy

163497_146794905490250_702739084_nDuring the Second World War the South African government of the day held out that members of the NMC could only function in non-combatant roles, and were not allowed to carry firearms whereas funnily members of the Cape Corps (Cape Coloured members) where fully armed and enrolled in combatant roles.  In terms of the race politics of the day, on the arming of Black soldiers at the beginning of war, Smuts’ government had to bow to the pressures of his opposition, the Nationalists, led by DF Malan.

The Nationalists were vociferously opposed to black South Africans in the army at all, even unarmed. As Dr D.F. Malan was to be quoted in Parliament: “To every Afrikaner, the use of black troops against Europeans is abhorrent.”

Faced with all this opposition in Parliament from the official opposition bench Smuts had little choice, he needed men to fight, and had to tap South Africa’s black population for resources.  So he found a way by striking compromise, they could carry traditional weapons in the form of spears and knobkerries.

The president of the ANC in the war years, Dr AB Xuma, responded: “They are expected to fight aeroplanes, tanks and enemy artillery with knobkerries and assegais. What mockery.”

Arming the Native Military Corps with Spears 

So, in a counter-intuitive move to the National Party’s objections and statements to the Smuts government, the Native Military Corps were trained in traditional weapons (other than firearms) which they were allowed to carry.  This was a long spear, and bear in mind spears are very deadly (as the British fighting at the Battle of Isaldwana found out) – but lets face it, spears were very out of date in the context of modern war, but they pressed on and in training the South African Native military corps even trained to charge with the spear, even through tear-gas screens.

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South African Native Military Corps members charging with traditional spears into a teargas screen

Secretly arming the some Native Military Corps members with Firearms 

All this political segregation and racial discrimination became quite irrelevant when serving in combat areas and in many instances serving Regiments, Units and Sections of the South African Army quite quickly issued firearms to their NMC ‘support’ members – and this photo of DLI members stands testament of such practice.

Thier lives – Black or White, depended on it, and logic prevailed.  As is often the case in combat, the man who joins you in the fight is your brother – irrespective of the colour of his skin – in combat there is no such thing as racial segregation in a foxhole.

The caption written on Noel Edgar Fuller’s photo is “our Lance Corporal and his two native pals”. Quite a lot can be seen and said to this remarkable snapshot into the attitude of the time versus the attitude of soldiers.

Job Maseko MM

Job-Maseko

Job Maseko MM

In addition to snapshots like Noel’s one, there are actual accounts of South African Native Military Corps getting into the fight at the Fall of Tobruk, and it produced one highly decorated South African from the SA NMC.

During the Fall of Tobruk, over 1200 NMC members found themselves in a frontal attack by Rommel and his Axis forces.  Many of them were quickly issued rifles and ammunition and got into the fight alongside their white compatriots. Job Maseko was one and he ferried ammunition to the other NMC members who had been issued rifles and were in the thick of the fighting.

After the Fall of Tobruk (South Africa’s greatest capitulation of arms, Job found himself and other NMC members taken prisoner of war.  Made of stern stuff, whilst been put to work by the Germans on the Tobruk dock loading and off-loading Axis suppliers, Job secretly created a bomb using a condensed milk tin, cordite taken from bullets and an extremely long fuse.  His intention, sink a ship!

Job placed his home-made bomb deep inside the bowels of a German freight ship (and “F” Boat) that was docked in the harbour at Tobruk.   He skilfully placed it next to fuel barrels for maximum effect, lit the fuse and made good his escape.  Had he been caught, as a Black POW,  he would have certainly been put to death if not tortured first.

Job waited and later the ship shuddered from a huge internal explosion and sank almost immediately into the harbour.

He later escaped from Tobruk and walked, for three long weeks though the desert and through enemy lines, all the way to El Alamein, he intended joining the battle there as he had fixed an old German radio he had found which informed him about General Montgomery’s epic and tide turning battle at El Alamein.  We still await the full historical account of this remarkable man as very little is known to this day, rest assured historians are now writing it.

Sergeant Petrus Dlamini

Now consider this remarkable first hand account of armed Native Military Corps soldiers in the thick of the fight at El-Alamein

The Germans ran away. Now we were having short magazine guns, we pushed them. They said we went 300 miles … (we were in the) 8th Army led by (British Field-Marshal Bernard). Montgomery. Those Germans never came back. We fought as one; black and white soldiers.” — Sergeant Petrus Dlamini speaking about the battle of El Alamein to filmmaker Vincent Moloi

After 1948 this history was held back from the ‘White’ population and to a very large degree from the ‘Black’ population for political expediency ,it is only been recounted now with the very few remaining NMC members.  In effect South Africans were denied the opportunity to know their own history.

All that is starting to change now. From their recollections we know that, although black soldiers left South Africa armed only with spears, when they got “Up North” (to the North and East African campaigns) many were armed with rifles.  We also know now some even fought alongside white soldiers in the thick of battle.

Sergeant Petrus Dlamini spoke of being at Sidi Rezegh, Mersa Matru, Tripoli, Garowe in then Abyssinia and El Alamein before he went by boat to Italy with the South African 1st Division. He remembered doing guard duty in North Africa.

He says: “There, at Garowe, we were guarding as a sentry. We were guarding with assegai.” But just a few months later, Dlamini adds: “It was said — I heard a rumour — that the superiors [commanding officers] of South Africa, England and Australia said we must be given guns. Those guns were taken from the Italians in Kenya. They gave them to us and we were taught how to put ammunition and we were training with guns”.

Lee enfield

Short Magazine .303 Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk 1, standard issue

“Then we went to El Alamein and they took these [Italian] guns that were not right and they gave us short magazine Lee-Enfield .303. We got them at El Alamein.”  The Lee-Enfield .303 short magazine was the standard rifle issued to all British and Commonwealth troops.

This has been verified in an article in the South African Historical Journal by historian LWF Grundling, who says: “Recruits received rifle musketry training, which was seriously handicapped by the defective Italian rifles with which they were issued.”

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General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld

According to this research it was General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld himself who instructed the commanding officers in North Africa to arm black soldiers with Lee-Enfield rifles before El Alamein.  No small player, General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld was the Chief of General Staff (which today is known as Chief of the South African National Defence Force) and led the South African war effort in the Second World War.

But this does not seem to have been mentioned in despatches (possibly because of the petty race political ramifications back in South Africa of the Nationalists).

Sergeant Dlamini said: “In the front line we were accompanied by whites. When we go to fight the Germans we were mixed.”

He spoke vividly of the battles he was in. Moloi recorded his description of the battle of El Alamein.

“It was like bees, those German planes together with our planes, the Royal Air Force and the South African Air Force. Many died there. Shots were like falling rain. They would hit here and here where you are sitting. When you are sleeping in your trench you would hear sounds of bombs all the time, when you wake up you would see those injured and those who are dead.”

Dlamini says they were with the 8th Army. as they pushed the Afrika Korps and Axis forces out of Africa, he goes on “It [the 8th Army] pushed. Ai! Man! It was terrible, soldiers were lying dead, black and white, but the Germans were retreating and we kept following them. The Germans ran away. Now we were having short magazine guns. We pushed them. They said we went 300 miles … 8th Army led by Montgomery. Those Germans never came back. They went down together with the Italians you see.”

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Rare original colour photograph of a NMC Field Kitchen in North Africa campaign, note the high degree of integration of the South African soldiers represented.

Dlamini added: “We were one. We fought as one; black and white soldiers. Here in South Africa (before we went up north) we were treated differently. Blacks were sleeping this side, whites on the other side. When we arrived in Egypt we mixed. If we made a queue, in front would be a white person, behind would be a black person then a white person. We were one.”

And, perhaps explaining why he had not spoken of his experiences before, he added: “You know the heart of a soldier. Your feelings die. You are always angry.”

Besides Moloi’s interviews with Dlamini, and with several other black World War II veterans, almost no records of the wartime experiences of black soldiers exist. And as it’s probably too late now to collect more, Moloi’s transcribed and translated interviews are a national treasure.

Lucas Majozi DCM

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Lucas Majozi DCM

Adding to Job Maseko’s gallantry, another NMC man was to attain hero status during the Second World War was Lucas Majozi, a man who performed a feat very similar to Pvt. Desmond Doss (who has a movie ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ made over his gallantry and US ‘medal of honour’), and like Doss, as an unarmed medic Lucas time and again exposed himself and walked into the hell of machine gun fire as an unarmed medic to rescue a large number of critically injured ‘white’ South African soldiers on the battlefield during the Battle of El Alamein, so much so he became riddled with bullets himself and eventually collapsed.

This is South Africa’s own ‘hacksaw ridge’ and movies should be made of it, Lucas Majozi should be elevated to the highest accolades of gallantry we have to offer today.  He remains the NMC with the highest decoration to this day – the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Politically inconvenient ‘Sacrifice’

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NMC Recruiting Poster

It’s an often ignored fact and statistic – one which most certainly the National government after 1948 did not want widely published, lest national heroes be made of these ‘Black’ men.  Simply put the ‘Black’ contributions to World War 1 and World War 2 were quite literally erased from the narrative of the war after 1948 and dismissed by the incoming Apartheid government as ‘traitors’ (a tag also suffered by their ‘White’ counterparts) for serving the ‘British’.

Bear in mind when reviewing what this actually means to the prevailing opinions by many South Africans of the war (White and Black)  – approximately 40% of the standing South African servicemen in WW2 where persons of “colour”.  In all more than 146,000 whites, 83,000 blacks, and 2,500 people of mixed race served in the standing forces of the Union of South Africa at this time.  Mull that over for a minute.

The sacrifice of the men of the Native Military Corps no less significant – if you think that as ‘non combatants’ this corps came through unscathed by war, also think again – this is the honour role of those NMC members who laid down their lives during the war, their sacrifice is literally quite eye-opening:

In total approximately 1655 Native Military Corps members died during World War 2, read that again – One Thousand Six Hundred and Fifty Five ‘Black’ South African soldiers died during World War 2.  That’s almost three times the number who died on the SS Mendi during World War 1, and that’s only from one ‘Corps’.

Put into context, nearly as many South Africans died during the entire 23 years of fighting during the Border War in the 70’s and 80’s when approximately 2013 South African service personnel died – from all arms of the military …. yet, here we are talking about only ‘one’ single Corps of Black South Africans and only five years of conflict.  Consider that the book shelves on South African history are stuffed full of books on the Border War and not one single book is dedicated to the history of the South African Native Military Corps in World War 2.  There is also almost nothing by way of definitive work on the unit history on the internet.

In Conclusion

It must be noted that this policy of arming NMC was not a universal one and only seemed to have been actioned with certain members in front line units or when combat situations demanded it, in reality reason finally prevailed.

It also seems that once high intensity combat operations abated these rifles were handed back. For the most part many NMC members went through the war in non-combatant roles and unarmed in roles like supply truck drivers, medics, chefs, bomb loaders, engineering labour (rail and bridge-building) etc.

It is unfortunate that after the war, and when the Nationalists ascended to power in 1948, that the NMC was disbanded and history scrubbed.  They were excluded from national parades and would sit under a tree and tell their stories to anyone prepared to listen.  Their stories really becoming fable in the Black community only, any record of NMC using weapons was generally written out the state’s historical narrative, interviews with them disregarded and these priceless historical nuggets are only starting to re-surface now in a post Apartheid epoch.

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NMC Insignia

The history of the South African Native Military Corps needs to resurface – it’s screaming out for more definitive works and information access – this featured photograph alone calls for it.  We need to fundamentally rethink who and what has been sacrificed to military conflict by South Africans of all ethnic origins, we need to completely re-dress how we honour them and we need to take some serious perspective.

Related Work and Links:

Native Military Corps Dress and Bearing: Dress and Bearing of the South African Native Military Corps

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

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

Skin colour in combat;  Skin colour is irrelevant in a foxhole!

Native Military Corps honour roll;  NMC Honour Roll, Delville Wood official website


Written by Peter Dickens.  Image copyright of NMC members holding weapons to Warren Loader, used with his kind permission.  Paintings of Job Maseko and Lucas Majozi by Neville Lewis copyright.  Quotes obtained from ‘Memories of black South African soldiers who bore arms and fought in War II’ by Marilyn Honikman

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

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Lucas Majozi DCM

A very notable South African hero. The highest decoration awarded to a Black South African soldier during the Second World War was the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) awarded to Lucas Majozi (1916-1969).  Read on for the story of one of South Africa’s bravest.

Lucas Majozi volunteered to fight in the 2nd World War, however as he was a black man, race politics in South Africa dictated that he could only join the Native Military Corps (NMC) in a non-combat role, which meant he and all other South African ‘Bantu’ fighting in World War 2 could not carry a firearm – unlike the Cape Coloured Corps, which could carry firearms and take a combat role.  This did not however keep the Native Military Corps away from the perils of fighting and NMC were often fight right in the middle of the fighting.  To read up a little more of this, see Observation Post ‘Armed’ SA Native Military Corps in WW2 – this Corps screams out for a definitive work! .

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

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

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

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Bardia, taken earlier 31st December 1941, black stretcher-bearers in action under fire (photo : R.Masters from The Kaffrarian Rifles of FL Coleman).

The end of the beginning 

The DCM was the second highest British award for gallantry after the Victoria Cross. It was awarded to Lucas Majozi for the great bravery that he displayed during the game-changing 2nd battle of El Alamein which commenced on 23 October 1942 when the British 8th Army under command of General Bernard Montgomery attacked the German/Italian forces under command of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

The Battle of El Alamein plays such a significant in the outcome of World War 2, Winston Churchill once remarked; “before Alamein, we never had a victory – after Alamein we never had a defeat” and more famously that Alamein marked the ‘end of the beginning‘ of World War 2.

Operation Lightfoot

The 1st South African Division played a spearhead role. It had to breach the German minefield which had been sown with more than half a million mines – with a dab of military humour this part of the 2nd Battle of El Alamein was called ‘Operation Lightfoot’.  South African sappers were to play a significant role opening up the minefield to allow the Allied and South African forces to push through.

General Montgomery’s basic idea was that the Australians and Highlanders were to force a northern corridor through the Axis (German/Italian) minefields while the New Zealanders and South Africans were to do the same in the southern sector.

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A 25-pdr gun firing during the British night artillery barrage which opened Second Battle of El Alamein, 23 October 1942. Imperial War Museum Copyright

The 1st Infantry Division (South Africa), under the overall command of General Dan Pienaar was tasked attack on a two-brigade front to secure the southern end of Mieiriya Ridge. The Indian 4th and Northumbrian 50th Divisions were deployed to their south and to the north was the 2nd New Zealand Division.

The South Africans were to attack towards the south-west with 2nd SA Infantry Brigade (under the command of Brig. W.H.E. Poole) on the right and the 3rd SA Infantry Brigade (under the Command of Brig. R. Palmer) on the left. The 1st SA Infantry Brigade was deployed further south and was responsible for creating an anti-tank screen to protect the left flank of the South African attack.

Our hero – Lucas Majozi was deployed with Brig. Poole in the 2nd SA Infantry Brigade to attack the South West, and he was in support of the 1st and 2nd Field Force Battalions (FFB) which were basically South African Infantry Corps battalions.

Crumbling Actions

Operation Lightfoot started at 2140 on 23 October with a five-hour fire plan, the start of which signified H-Hour for the infantry assault.  General Pienaar had deployed each of the lead brigades, with on battalion leading for the first phase to the “red line”  – after a pause of an hour and a quarter, the two trailing battalions would pass though to the final objective on Miteiriya Ridge.  By 08:00, the following morning on 24th October the South African objective, Miteiriya Ridge was finally secured, after a very long night of fighting and a very high rate of attrition by way of casualties (the rate of attrition was on a World War 1 scale dubbed ‘crumbling actions’ by General Montgomery who chose this tactic). By the evening of 26 October (as from the H-Hour on the 23rd), the South Africans had suffered 600 casualties (the British had 2000 casualties as well as 1,000 Australians 1000 New Zealanders).

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El Alamein 1942: Wounded British soldiers wait on stretchers for attention at an Advanced Dressing Station. A Royal Army Medical Corps officer gives a drink to one of the wounded (Imperial War Museum Copyright)

Into all these  ‘crumbling actions,’ of high rates of attrition and loads of casualties comes Lucas Majozi and his remarkable tale of individual bravery.

Pinned down in the Axis minefield 

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

Throughout the night of 23 October, the stretcher-bearers worked under heavy enemy fire, tending to the wounded and evacuating them from the battlefield.  Amongst these Black NMC non-combatant medics rescuing their White combatant counterparts was Lucas Majozi (see related article Skin colour is irrelevant in a foxhole!).  His citation says everything about his actions:

The DCM for Lucas Majozi

Citation given to Lucas Majozi, NMC, for the Distinguished Conduct Medal is given below: No N 17525 Cpl Lucas Majozi, NMC, a Zulu from Zastron, Orange Free State att. FFB – Distinguished Conduct Medal.

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Lucas Majozi

‘On the night of October 23-24, Majozi accompanied his company into action as a stretcher-bearer. In the later stages of the action when he was within 100 yards of the enemy and under heavy fire, he thought nothing of his personal safety and continued to evacuate casualties assisted by co-bearers.

He was then wounded by shrapnel, but he continued evacuating the wounded. Told by a medical corporal to go back to the regimental aid post, he replied that there were many wounded men still in the minefield.

He went back, and with the assistance of other stretcher-bearers, he brought back more wounded. After his co-bearer had become a casualty, he did not waver, but carried wounded men back alone on his back to the aid post.

When he was eventually told by the Company Commander to go back, he smilingly refused and remained on duty, working incessantly till he collapsed next morning through sheer exhaustion, stiffness, and loss of blood. His extreme devotion to duty and gallant conduct under continuous enemy fire throughout the night saved the lives of many wounded men who would otherwise have died through loss of blood or possible further wounds.’

Here is a copy of the original signal:

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Aftermath 

The British and Commonwealth forces, including the South Africans were able to break out of their initial objectives by the 2nd of November 1942 and the Axis forces were turned in retreat, a retreat from which they never recovered.

To get a full appraisal of the South African actions at El Alamein, follow this link “General Pienaar, tell your South African Division they have done well”; The Battle of El Alamein

Praise 

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General Dan Pienaar

At a parade in Egypt after the battle of El Alamein, the commander of the 1st South African Division, Major-General Daniel Hermanus Pienaar (popularly known as Dan Pienaar) said of Lucas Majozi:

‘This soldier did most magnificent and brave things. With a number of bullets in his body he returned time after time into a veritable hell of machine gun fire to pull out wounded men. He is a man of whom South Africa can well be proud. He is a credit to his country.’

Post War

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Lucas Majozi DCM ‘Official Portrait’

After the war, Majozi returned to the town of his birth, Zastron. In 1948 he joined the South African Police (SAP), attaining the rank of sergeant.  Like all returning South Africa World War 2 heroes (white and black) his legacy and great deed was to be sidelined by the incoming Nationalist government in 1948 and his story lost to many future generations – even today.

In particular the two Black NMC men – Majozi and Maseko who received bravery decorations were somewhat downplayed over the Apartheid years by the Nationalist government and not honoured as national heroes.

Lucas Majozi died in 1969.  The South African National Museum of Military History is in possession of both this portrait by the famous artist, Neville Lewis and his medal group.  His legacy today is marked by a display at the Delville Wood Museum in France, the SA National History Museum in Saxonwald, a street in Zastron is also named after him.  The MOTH (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) Shellhole (clubhouse) for military veterans in Riebeek Kasteel (Western Cape) is also called the Majozi Shellhole in his honour.

Many say he should have received the Victoria Cross (the highest award for gallantry) but did not because he was a black man and due to race politics was not recommended for one – in either event his case should be reviewed by the British issuing authority with the perseverance of the South African National Defence Force attache in London.

He remains a true South African warrior and hero deserving of more of our praise and recognition.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens. Photographic references Imperial War Museum and Wikipedia. Lucas Majozi DCM official portrait by Neville Lewis – accredited state artist.