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.

They started it!

By Steve De Witt

The day we declared war on Zimbabwe

According to a report in the Sunday Independent, a troop of 200 baboons is conducting a reign of terror on Beit Bridge. They live on the catwalk below. From there they stage ambushes on cars and travellers, eating and thieving and taking their loot back to the catwalk.

39755130_10156497723659976_7188637117235331072_nI find this gut-wrenchingly hilarious. It’s amazing how history turns full circle. The last group of baboons terrorizing the catwalk on Beit Bridge was our army platoon. It may only be a footnote in the history of old South Africa, but it was us – little ol’ us – who unintentionally declared war on Zimbabwe in the early 80’s.

Beit Bridge was a sensitive posting. ‘Daaie fokkin communis en terroris’ Robert Mugabe had come to power only a few months before. At the last outpost on the frontier, standing face to face with the enemy half-way across the bridge, our platoon was instructed to defend South Africa against the swart gevaar.

Our company commander, an Infantry captain, took this mission as a personal honour bestowed by PW Botha, Constant Viljoen (Chief of the Defence Force), Jannie Geldenhuys (Chief of the Army) and God, in that order.

On the sandy, blisteringly hot parade ground of Beit Bridge he stood us at ease, not stand easy, for two hours in the sun. We were lambasted about the massive responsibility of our task. We were not under any circumstances to communicate with the Zimbabwean soldiers.

We were to be perfectly turned out, representing the whole SA army in appearance and discipline. We were the gate-keepers between SA and Communist Africa. The smallest indiscretion could flare into an international incident. “En julle fokkin Engelsmanne,” he said, referring to the minority five of us in Platoon 1, “Ek watch julle – Pasop!”

Thus entrusted with the safe-keeping of all SA, we were dispatched to the very same catwalk under the Bridge inherited today by our successors, 200 large monkeys.

And thus the Alfred Beit Bridge (1952) over the Limpopo River was once our possession, our kingdom. Amazing how the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

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Actually, the bridge is a beautiful place on the Limpopo, especially at sunset. Strong legs brace into the flowing waters, and in the early 80‘s all manner of wildlife would come down to drink, including hippos. A resident crocodile patrolled the waters below, and we had endless hours of reflection from our bunker, now hidden behind overgrown foliage at the red circle (see picture below).

Now our Captain may have been a drunken, Soutie-hating messiah but he knew his men. Leave low-ranking troops idle for too long and something untoward will happen. Leave five Souties in a bunker with a machine gun on an international border and you’re asking for a career-ending incident.

So we never told him that we’d smuggled cases of Castle Lager into the bunker. Nor that we’d chatted to the cautious Zim soldiers on the catwalk. He also never found out that we’d snatched a camouflage cap off one’s head. And that both sides had cocked rifles, resulting in a tense stand-off, before we threw the cap back to them. Such small indiscretions were relatively easy to hide.

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But when one drunken Soutie, feet up on the sandbagged wall, cocked the machine gun in a routine way to check the supposedly empty chamber, then pulled the trigger, we didn’t expect a clip of twenty odd rounds to fire across the water at the Zimbabwean bunker.

Consternation and chaos broke out in the bunker. We all hit the floor, beer bottles scattering.

“What the hell…!”
we yelled at Trevor.
Crack! Crack! came AK47 bullets back across the water.
“They started it!” yelled Trevor.
“They didn’t start it! You started it!”
“Are you fuckin mad?” he yelled, wide-eyed – “We’ll all go to DB if we started it. They fuckin started it!”
Thus the story was born.
Within seconds an apoplectic, drunken Captain raged into the bunker ducking AK 47 bullets.
“Julle fokkin Soutpiele!”
“They started it!” we yelled in unison.
“Almal in die bunkers!” he yelled into the radio.

A hundred men stumbled out the bar and fell into trenches, and stayed there all night as the odd bullet continued to crack across our heads. In the morning the border post was closed, reinforcements sent and the Captain summoned to Messina HQ, some 20 km away.

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Weeks later we were at that landmark Oasis of the North, the Messina Hotel, getting pissed after a rugby game. The Captain, dronk verdriet, was there too, staring into his Brannewyn. It was safe to ask what happened when he got called to Messina HQ that day.

He sukkeled to stay upright on the barstool as he revealed the biggest uitkak in the history of the SADF.

39883804_10156497724024976_2389294176530333696_nA Colonel had grilled him, asking – “who fired first”?
“They started it,” he said.
The Colonel then reported to Jannie Geldenhuys, Chief of the Army.
He in turn told Constant Viljoen, Head of the Defence Force.
Who spoke to Pik Botha, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Who called in the Zimbabwean Ambassador…
Who said “the SA Army started it”.
(Here our Captain paused, and downed his Brannewyn)
…Pik stared at him, not knowing what to believe.
But had to inform PW Botha, who crapped him out.
PW also kakked out General Viljoen.
Who shat out Jannie Geldenhuys.
Who got bedonnered with the Colonel.
Who went bevok at the Captain…
… who got five lying Soutpiele on orders in front of him, and in an unparalleled fit of drunken rage, demanded the truth.

There was only one truth, and we stuck to it. “They started it”.

In matters of unresolved blame, the army falls back on an old tactic – the opvok. Sandbags were dished out, a killer sergeant instructed to break us physically and mentally, and down to the fence by the river we were sent.

It was the most brutal of PT sessions. We were drilled all day firstly into cramp, then heat stroke and finally semi-consciousness. The fences are still there today but Zimbabweans cutting holes in them care little about us Souties who nearly died there thirty years ago.

Ah well, it’s all water under the bridge now, so to speak. Beit Bridge now has a new set of problems with millions of refugees, cholera, traffic congestion and a shortage of toilet paper.

I’m glad all this nonsense is not happening on my beat. It seems appropriate that baboons are the new custodians of the bridge – their intellectual capacity suits the chaos there, and at least they won’t accidentally declare war on Zimbabwe.

Still, I get nostalgic for the bridge we once defended, and which God made our kingdom for two short months. It was beautiful and calm there when the Captain had passed out. I sometimes wish I could return to that bunker at sunset, if only for a beer and a banana with the new guard.


Editor’s Note; Sometimes we get a gem of a story, and this one from the heart of a veteran SADF national serviceman who has “been there, done that and got the T shirt” fighting on the Angola/Namibia (SWA) Border (and the Border on Zimbabwe), thank you Steve for this bit of “truth” and sharing your story in such an amusing and interesting way with The Observation Post.  Copyright  – Steve De Witt.

Other Stories by Steve de Witt

Kak Vraag Sit – click this link;  Kak vraag sit


Mast picture of Steve de Witt’s Platoon guarding Beit Bridge in 1982 copyright and courtesy Carel Pretorius.  Steve’s article was originally published in 2008 by News 24

The ‘White’ armed struggle against Apartheid

Huh!  There was also a ‘white’ ‘armed insurgency movement against Apartheid!  The ‘whites’ had their own ‘struggle’ insurgents, their own version of ‘umkhonto we sizwe’ (MK), the ‘whites’ had their very own anti-apartheid ‘terrorists’.  What!

No way!  This would be the universal chant of many South Africans – both black and white.  This is not part of the current ANC inspired narrative on Apartheid in South Africa, we haven’t been taught this, the whites are the ‘guilty’ ones – not ‘liberators’ of Apartheid – what’s all this about?

Well, what if we told you that Apartheid did not just separate white and black people – it separated EVERYONE, including the whites.  Grand Apartheid when it was conceived by the Nationalists had at its centre ideology the separation of ‘English’ white South Africans and ‘Afrikaans’ white South Africans.  Afrikaner whites were to grow up separately, their own primary schools, their own youth movements (the Voortrekkers), their own church groups, their own High Schools, their own Universities and Colleges, their own exclusive youth sports leagues for everything – rugby, cricket, tennis you name it.   The intention was that Afrikaner culture was to be guarded from not only ‘Black’ influence, it was to be guarded from the ‘English’ influence too.

stamps_voortrekker_bwgThis guarding stemmed from the Boer War. The scorched earth and concentration camp policies initiated by Kitchener had devastated the Afrikaner culture, family histories and culture lost forever, now the Nationalists had to rebuild it and the hard-liner Afrikaner Nationalists wanted nothing to do the British and their British descendants in South Africa.  To them these were the English white South Africans concentrated mainly in Natal, the Western Cape and Johannesburg, Apartheid was also planned to separate Afrikaners from these most hated English – Black separation was part of the greater scheme, but so too white racial separation along cultural and even economic lines.

So not surprisingly the White community was split down the middle over the Nationalists plans as to Apartheid when they came to power in 1948 surprisingly beating Smuts in a constitutional victory based on ‘seats’ and not a ‘majority’ based on ‘votes’ – that it was a shock win would be an understatement.

To many the plans of Apartheid were absurd and spelt doom for the Union, they heeded Smuts’ warnings, and in fact as a nominal vote count went Smuts ‘won’ the election by a good majority, signalling that the majority of Whites in South Africa did not favour the Apartheid tenets put forward by the National Party at all.  Most of this was the English white voting bloc, but statistically it also made up of a significant bloc of White Afrikaners as well,  These were Afrikaners who followed Smuts’ ideals and visions of unification, internationalism and democracy.  Unfortunately, as seats went – the majority lost, and the Nationalists assumed power on a narrow margin.

The first mass anti-apartheid mobilisation 

This leads to the first inconvenient fact – it was this voting White majority of Smuts supporters, which was the first community to mass mobilise protests against Apartheid in any significant way (not the Black community and the African National Congress ANC) – and it was all in response to the gerrymandering which brought the Nationalists into power in 1948 and their policy of Apartheid which was unpalatable to the broader White community.

This mass movement of whites mobilised against Apartheid primarily came from moderate, democratic and liberal white political parties (mainly Smuts’ United Party), as well as predominantly White driven equal rights movements, like The Black Sash feminist movement.  But it materialised in real strength in a returning war veteran’s movement called ‘The Torch Commando’ led by an Afrikaner war hero – Adolph ‘Sailor’ Malan – started in 1951, the ‘Torch’ saw nearly a quarter of this anti-nationalist White voting base – 250,000 Whites – actively mark their protest to the national party and their ideology of Apartheid and join their protest movement.

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Torch Commando meeting – 1952

Read that again – 250,000 or a quarter of a million whites – signing up to an action group in active protest against Apartheid.  This mass mobilisation of mainly whites in’ Torch’ protest rallies occurred nationwide in 1951 and not at the onset of the ANC’s Defiance Campaign on the 6th of April 1952.  So as inconvenient truths go the first mass protest  against Apartheid was led by the Torch and not by the ANC.

Now you don’t learn about that in South African historical narrative – then or now, and you have to ask yourself why – because there is more – much more?

The ‘white’ Anti-Apartheid Military ‘Threat’ from 1948 – 1959

To put this ‘White’ threat in perspective, the ANC, although representative of a bigger majority of people, had not yet mobilised itself in any significant way when the Nationalists came to power in 1948.

Prior to 1948 in the Union of South Africa, South African Black protest had come from a 1912 Anti-Pass Women’s protest which was very localised to Bloemfontein and a petition of 5000 signatures.  It was not a national mass mobilisation of Black women against suffrage and pass laws in South Africa as the ANC like to position it and bend history now.

The next significant protest pre-1948 from the black community came in form of The 1946 miners strike, this was a one week mass strike action which ended in violence with government forces, the underpinning problem was a wage dispute, it was settled with a 10 shilling per day minimum wage (an increase from 2 shillings), and improved working conditions as the basis of the strikers demands.  This action needs to be viewed as dispute on wages and conditions of miners with the mine companies primarily.  It was also not really a national political protest and mobilisation against an entire system of Smuts’ government – which is again the way it is now very incorrectly presented to South Africans by the ANC.

From the Indian community there was Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha ‘peace’ campaign against Indian pass laws which eventually succeeded in 1914.  Ironically Smuts’ and Gandhi actually became friends over the process and admired each other greatly till the day they both died.

The above posed nothing in any significant way as a military threat to the National Party in 1948, whilst weary of the ANC and what the Nationalists called ‘Swart Gevaar’ (Black Danger) they were not yet threatening, had not militarised itself and had not yet mass mobilised in any significant way.  The ‘Torch Commando’, now that was threat to the Nationalists in 1950 – a very big and imminent threat.

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Torch Commando rally in Caps Town. Protestors carrying thousands of oil soaked ‘torches’ of Liberty in defiance of Apartheid

Why?  Because The Torch Commando was made up of second world war veterans, the national party had sat out the war in protest and in support of Nazi Germany and its ideology (which manifested itself in neo-Nazi Afrikaner nationalist movements like the Ossewabrandwag during the war itself).  Now they were faced with 200,000 very angry, very well-trained ‘white’ soldiers who had been at war against Nazism for five long years – in effect thousands and thousands of combatants who had seen and survived the biggest war in this history of man, and they cared less for Nazism and fascism – nor could a great many of them really care for their Afrikaner Nationalist cabal.

The Torch Commando had within its ranks White members from various political groups, trade unions, political parties and veterans associations.  In the main it was made up of members who had supported Smuts call to arms in WW2 – moderate members from the United Party who feared the disintegration of democracy and broader society under Apartheid – standing alongside broad military veteran associations like The South African Legion and the Memorable Order of Tin Hats.

The Torch Commando also had within it’s a ranks a smaller, but far more militant and vocal grouping.  This grouping was made up of members of a veterans association called The Springbok Legion, alongside members of South Africa’s Liberal Party and members of The South African Communist Party (SACP).  This part of the Torch Commando had firebrand future leaders in it – like Joe Slovo, Lionel Bernstein, Wolfie Kodesh, Jock Isacowitz, Jack Hodgson and Fred Carneso (all ‘communist’ members of The Springbok Legion), as well as Peter Kaya Selepe, a WW2 veteran and organiser of the African National Congress (ANC) in Orlando and Harry Heinz Schwarz, also a WW2 veteran who became the future Progressive and Democratic Party stalwart.

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Torch Commando Rally

The Torch Commando at its zenith had 250,000 members, and in landmark protests across South Africa it brought of tens of thousands of protestors carrying ‘torches’ of light and freedom into physical defiance of the Nationalist government, the Torch Rally in Cape Town attracted 50,000 people and the one in Johannesburg put 75.000 mainly white protestors onto the streets.  Now, that is a mass mobilisation movement.

A key objective underpinning the Torch was to remove the National Party from power by calling for an early election, the 1948 ‘win’ by The National Party was not a ‘majority win’, but a constitutional one, and the Torch wanted a groundswell to swing the military service vote (regarded as 200,000 in a voting population of a 1,000,000).  A bunch of ex-WW2 military veterans trying to influence nearly a quarter of the voting bloc is a very big deal and a very big threat to the National Party.

The Torch at its core was absolutely against The National Party’s Apartheid ideology and viewed their government as  unconstitutional when they started implementing policy – It regarded itself as a ‘pro-democracy’ movement and regarded the National Party’s policies as ‘anti-democratic’.  The first action of the National Party to implement the edicts of Apartheid, was the Separate Representation of Voters Bill in 1951, which sought to disenfranchise the ‘coloured’ voters from the general voters roll, and it was in opposition to this legislation that the Torch Commando kicked off its campaign against the government.  Its campaigns becoming progressively very vocal, and very large and they even started to clash with police in isolated cases.

The Nationalists, increasingly fearful of The Torch Commando splitting the White vote further and the fact that they had militant leanings acted in a manner that was to become their trade-mark, ‘decisively’ and moved to crush the Torch Commando.  They did this by threatening Torch members, many of whom were still in the military or in civil service with their jobs if they continued membership and they moved to ban the Torch Commando through legislation.

Suppression of Communism Act

The legislative tool they used to crush the Torch Commando was the Suppression of Communism Act 44  which the Nationalists passed into law in July 1950.  The act was a sweeping act and not really targeted to Communists per se, it was intended for anyone in opposition to Apartheid regardless of political affiliation.

The Act proscribed any party or group subscribing to Communism according to a uniquely broad definition of the term. The Act defined communism as any scheme aimed at achieving change–whether economic, social, political, or industrial–“by the promotion of disturbance or disorder” or any act encouraging “feelings of hostility between the European and the non-European races…calculated to further (disorder)”. 

The government could deem any person to be a communist if it found that person’s aims to be aligned with these aims. After a nominal two-week appeal period, the person’s status as a communist became an un-reviewable matter of fact, and subjected the person to being barred from public participation, restricted in movement, or even imprisoned.

Passage of the Act was facilitated by the involvement of communists in any anti-apartheid movement, starting with The Torch Commando and eventually included any movement, individual or political party that advocated black equal rights and was deemed a ‘threat’.

Any ‘liberal’ movement came under the Suppression of Communism Act, not just the ANC and PAC, but also White members in the Liberal Party and the Black Sash, eventually it would even be applied to academics, novelists, journalists, poets, party leaders  – anyone from the White community not buying into Apartheid in effect, and the penalty was harsh in the extreme.  Imprisoned, deported or banned – labelled as ‘Traitors’ and ‘Communists’ – their voices were silenced.

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Joe Slovo (right of picture) in WW2

Faced with a diversifying internal political agenda, anti-liberalism legislation and direct government pressure and sandbagging the Torch Commando split and collapsed, the moderate war veterans chose to continue their opposition through peaceful political opposition using the narrow but available means to them.  The firebrand military radicals in the Torch Commando (like Joe Slovo) were a different matter entirely, and they moved to other political organisations, mainly the ANC and the Liberal Party, to give them their military advise and expertise, and embark on a more robust and subversive resistance to Apartheid.

Liberalism in ‘white’ South Africa 

Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 22.47.25A key organisation in opposition to Apartheid in the 1950’s and 1960’s was the South African Liberal Party (SALP).  Central to the Liberal Party were three men,  Leslie Rubin Peter Brown and Alan Paton.

Leslie Rubin was an outspoken opponent of the apartheid regime in South Africa. He joined the South African army as a private in 1940, and was commissioned as an officer in the intelligence corps in north Africa during the war, and later attached to the Royal Air Force in Italy. After the war, he settled in Cape Town and joined the Torch Commando movement led by Sailor Malan.

With Alan Paton, Rubin created the Liberal party of South Africa (LPSA) within the definition of political parties that could stand for election and appoint ministers to Parliament.  It founded on 9 May 1953 out of a belief that Jan Smuts’ United Party was in disarray after his death in 1950 and unable to achieve any real liberal progress in South Africa, the LPSA initially called for a franchise based vote for Black South Africans and later this evolved to a call for ‘one man one vote’.

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Sailor Malan greets supporters at a Torch Commando Rally in Cape Town

The Liberal Party also attempted to draft Sailor Malan as a candidate, in addition to his role in the Torch Commando as the National President, however Sailor’s position on voting equality differed from Rubins’, Sailor conceded that a black majority would eventually govern South Africa, and he was very happy in that prediction, however Sailor sought economic empowerment of Black South Africans to address poverty as a priority (in this respect Sailor is years ahead of his time as it is exactly this issue – economic emancipation over political emancipation – only now has this become a burning priority for the EFF and ANC).

The Liberal Party elected to draft its members from The Torch Commando and Rubin became the first Chairman of the party in the Cape, in 1954 he was elected to the senate as what was then called a “natives’ representative”, a position he used to fight every piece of apartheid legislation. Whenever he got up to speak, the Minister of Native Affairs, the ‘architect’ of Apartheid – Dr Hendrik Verwoerd – would leave the chamber in protest. On one occasion, the entire Nationalist party caucus walked out.

The Liberal Party held the objective of bringing together committed Whites, Africans, Indians and Cape Coloured people in opposition to the Apartheid system. Rubin resigned from the senate in 1960, before the native representatives’ seats were abolished.

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Like Rubin, Alan Paton volunteered for service during World War 2 but was refused, after the war be wrote Cry the Beloved Country to critical acclaim.  He eventually became the President of The South African Liberal Party (SALP).  Although he Paton did not have military experience it did not stop him from also initially joining the Torch Commando and publicly supporting Sailor Malan and his cause.

The SALP had close friendships with senior ANC and Indian Congress members. They often acted as a liaison between banned organisations and fully bought into the ideals espoused in the Freedom Charter. One of the party’s main focus areas was the fight against “black spot removals” where the Apartheid government uprooted black communities in order to shift them to new areas to create homogenous race blocks across the country. Peter Brown in particular fought tireless against these removals by helping communities organise, protest and receive access to legal advice.

Persecution by the State of the LPSA

The government responded to the LPSA and its policies by persecuting its members as it viewed the party’s policies as a threat to its apartheid policy. This was because the party had both black and white members in its ranks. Several members of the party were banned, disallowed to hold gatherings and harassed by the security police. In 1962, BJ Vorster accused the party of being nothing more than a “communist tool”.

Between March 1961 and April 1966, forty-one leading members of the LPSA were banned under the Suppression of Communism Act. This was despite the fact that they were not members of the Communist Party or supported communism.

On 13 May 1965, the Rand Daily Mail reported that leaflets were secretly scattered warning African members of the LPSA that they would be banned unless they desisted from participating in political activities of the LPSA.

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Alan Paton, President of SALP addresses a crowd in Fordsburg about the harm done to South Africa By the Group Areas Act

The state would harass and intimidate LPSA members. Security branch officers would attend party branch meetings and produce a warrant authorizing them to do so.  The police would visit families of party members and ask them to persuade their relatives to leave the party, even Alan Paton was followed by the security branch, his telephone lines were tapped and his house was searched a number of times.

Due to political persecution, some members of the LPSA fled into to exile and became involved in anti-apartheid activities abroad. For example, Randolph Vigne was banned in 1963 and his house in Cape Town was fire bombed in an attempt to intimidate him. He left the country and went into exile in London where he worked closely with the Anti-Apartheid Movement there – so too Leslie Rubin who also went into exile in London.

Sharpeville and a ‘white lunatic’ liberal assassin 

One of the defining moments in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa was the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960 and its aftermath.

On the Liberal Party front resistance by White liberals were about to a nasty turn, when in April 1960 – 19 days after the Sharpesville Massacre, Prime Minister H.F. Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid was giving his ‘good neighbourliness” speech at the Rand Show in Johannesburg.

After Verwoerd gave his opening speech, he returned to his seat in the grandstand where he was shot at point-blank range by David Pratt, who was an outspoken Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA) member and a wealthy English farmer from the Magaliesberg region outside of Pretoria. He joined the Liberal Party in 1953 and believed that a coalition between liberals and ‘verligte’ (enlightened) Afrikaners was the only solution to defeating the National Party at the polls.

Verwoerd miraculously survived the shooting, Pratt was arrested and claimed that he shot Verwoerd because he represented “the epitome of Apartheid” and it was necessary to shoot “the stinking monster of apartheid that was gripping South Africa and preventing South Africa from taking her rightful place among men”.  

Pratt was also an epileptic with a long medical history of heavy epileptic fits.  So to dismiss Pratt as a ‘lunatic’ – as to the Nationalists no white person in their right mind would shoot a white Prime Minister – so he was judged as ‘insane’. Pratt was sent to an institution for the mentally ill and by October 1961 he was found – rather too conveniently for the Nationalist government – hanging from a rolled-up bed-sheet.

The ‘white’ Anti-Apartheid Military ‘Threat’ from 1960 to 1963

The heavy-handed response of the state to the Sharpeville massacre with a state of emergency and the attempted assignation of Verwoerd in first half of 1960 saw thousands of activists detained and imprisoned.

Political movements such as the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (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 military sabotage.

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Sharpeville mass funeral – 1960

Mkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was co-founded by Nelson Mandela the wake of the Sharpville Massacre its founding represented the conviction in the face of the massacre that the ANC could no longer limit itself to nonviolent protest. In forming MK previous ‘white’ Torch Commando members, military veterans all, proved to be the critical and primary source of military expertise for training and command of MK – ex-Torch Commando members like Joe Slovo, Lionel Bernstein, Wolfie Kodesh, Cecil Williams,  Fred Carneson, Brian Bunting and Jack Hodgson all became founding MK cadres in 1966.

Many of these ‘Springbok Legion’ and ‘Torch Commando’ members to join the MK were war veterans from South Africa’s Jewish community.  They were particularly militant because of the treatment and ‘extermination’ of Jews by the Nazi Party during the second world war and saw the National Party and its political disposition to Jewish people as an equal threat (ironically this origin history of MK and its ‘jewish soldiers’ is conveniently forgotten by the ANC today when it comes to their overt criticism of Israel).

The Liberal Party of South Africa (SALP) was in the same boat as the ANC, also stuffed full of military veterans from the old Torch Commando and they too re-evaluated their approach to the ‘struggle’.

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

The National Committee of Liberation (NCL)

In 1961, 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.

During their detention, Liberals – Monty Berman, Myrtle Berman, John Lang, Ernest Wentzel and others challenged the idea of peaceful protest when the government was evidently intent on using violence to suppress dissent.  Monty Berman, Lang and Wentzel played an important role in the formation of the NCL.  While in detention, they debated the need for an umbrella organisation for movements ready to carry out sabotage campaigns. The name National Liberation Committee, which the trio felt was all-encompassing, was chosen to refer to the umbrella body. After their release in August 1960, Myrtle Berman and Lang tried to engage with the ANC to form the NCL, but were unsuccessful.

The NCL rose under a liberal ideological framework, those attracted to its ranks possessed common liberal ideological traits and recognised the impossibility of achieving the overthrow of Apartheid through non-violent means.  Also, those gravitating to the NCL also tended to harbour a deep suspicion of the South African Communist Party and its relations with the Soviet Union.  They were after all “Liberals” and not “Communists” – there s a very big ideological difference between two (a difference which did not matter to the Nationalists and its Anti-Communist Act).

Importantly, a further common theme within the party was the firm belief that acts of sabotage should not bring any harm to human life, which resonated with their liberalist ideological stance. The NCL was non-racial in character, although its membership was predominantly White. The organisation hoped to attract an African following by undertaking acts of sabotage against government installations and institutions.

The NCL attracted three groups of ‘Liberals’ to its ranks: members of the Liberal Party of South Africa (the largest grouping), the African Freedom Movement (AFM) – made up of disillusioned African National Congress (ANC) members not joining MK, and the Socialist League of South Africa (SLA) – made up of disillusioned South Africa Communist Party (SACP) members – liberal thinking ‘Trotskyites’ who also did not want to join MK and its SACP alliance.

Regional Committees of the NCL were to operate autonomously in the process of recruiting members and undertaking sabotage campaigns.  Between 1962 and 1963 the NCL focused predominantly on recruiting people from across the country.  In mid-1962 Adrian Leftwich of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) joined the organisation and became one of its leading figures.  NUSAS was the student union present on most ‘English’ university campuses.  Other people recruited into the NCL included Randolf Vigne, the vice chairman of the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA), who joined the NCL after he was recruited by John Lang.

Other members recruited to the organisation included Neville Rubin, Baruch Hirson, Stephanie Kemp, Lynette van der Riet, Hugh Lewin, Ronald Mutch, Rosemary Wentzel, Dennis Higgs and Alan Brookes – several of them from the LPSA. With the recruitment exercise gathering momentum, the NCL established two regional committees – in Cape Town and Johannesburg, cities that provided bases as well as targets for sabotage campaigns. The NCL also had members in Natal, notably David Evans and John Laredo.

Here’s another inconvenient truth, the formation of the NCL armed resistance to Apartheid pre-dates the formation of Poqo and ‘umkhonto we sizwe’ (MK) the only difference is that the NCL did not officially announce its existence until 22 December, five days after MK announced its existence.  However the fact the NCL was the ‘Prima’ (the first) anti-apartheid armed resistance movement is conveniently left out of the modern ANC narrative and they barely if ever get a mention.

The NCL initially involved itself with smuggling people out of South Africa into exile, this included helping the ANC smuggle Robert Resha out to Botswana. The ANC reciprocated by helping Milton Setlhapelo of the NCL move from Tanzania to London.

With the formation of MK, the NCL again approached MK through Rusty Bernstein to organise joint operations. After one failed operation, the relationship did not last and the two organisations ceased to cooperate again.

NCL Military Operations 

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Destroyed Electricity Pylon – Photo Drum Magazine

Subsequent to his release from prison, John Lang began sourcing financial support for the NCL. He contacted Leslie Rubin – a member of the LPSA and a Ghanaian resident – to source funds from the Ghanaian government – which were given in two financial payments in 1961 (incidentally the NCL was the first armed resistance group to get finance from Ghana, the ANC and PAC came later).  With money to buy weaponry and explosives the NCL were ready to go.

In 1961 the NCL sabotage campaign commenced with the targeting of three power pylons and the burning of a Bantu Affairs office.

By 1962, the was also stealing dynamite from mines for further operations.  Dennis Higgs and Robert Watson, a former British Army officer, provided explosives training to members of the NCL in Cape Town and Johannesburg.  In August and November 1962, the NCL carried out sabotage attacks on pylons in Johannesburg, bringing one down.

In Durban, the members of the NCL failed to bring down a pylon as a result of faulty timers. Later, in August 1963, the NCL made two attempts to sabotage the FM tower in Constantia, Cape Town. On the first attempt, the operation was cancelled after Eddie Daniels lost his revolver, which was found a few days later. In the subsequent operation at the same installation, the bomb failed to explode. Later, in September, explosives planted by the NCL damaged four signal cables at Cape Town railway station, and in November an electricity pylon was brought down.

African Resistance Movement (ARM).

It stands to reason that members of NCL quickly became wanted by the apartheid state, Myrtle and Monty Berman were banned by the government and in 1961 the police searched Lang’s residence where letters requesting financial assistance were seized. On 26 June 1961, Lang fled South Africa and went into exile to London, where he continued with anti-apartheid activities on behalf of the NCL. That same year, Monty Berman violated his banning order and was given a three-year suspended sentence. As a consequence, he was forced to leave the country in January 1962. His departure threw the NCL into disarray, and morale among the remaining members declined.

The NCL’s efforts to revitalise itself through discussion documents also failed to yield positive results. In an attempt to reinvent itself, the organisation changed its name in  from the NCL to the African Resistance Movement (ARM). ARM launched its first operation in September 1963.

From September 1963 until July 1964, the ARM bombed power lines, railroad tracks and rolling stock, roads, bridges and other vulnerable infrastructure, without any civilian casualties. ARM 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.

In Johannesburg, a cell of the ARM also carried out more attacks in September and November 1963. NCL members used hacksaws to cut through the legs of a pylon in Edenvale, which led to blackout in Johannesburg’s eastern suburbs. More attacks on pylons were carried out in January and February 1964. The climax of the ARM campaign came in June 1964 when five pylons were destroyed; three around Cape Town and two in Johannesburg.

On 12 June 1964 ARM issued a flyer by way of a statement announcing its existence and committed itself to fighting apartheid and it read in part:

“The African Resistance movement (ARM) announces its formation in the cause of South African freedom. ARM states its dedication and commitment to achieve the overthrow of whole system of apartheid and exploitation in South Africa. ARM aims to assist in establishing a democratic society in terms of the basic principles of socialism. We salute other Revolutionary Freedom Movements in South Africa. In our activities this week we particularly salute the men of Rivonia and state our deepest respect for their courage and efforts. While ARM may differ from them and other groups in the freedom struggle, we believe in the unification of all forces fighting for the new order in our country. We have enough in common.”

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Fighting talk no doubt.

Some inconvenient truths 

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.

Here’s also another inconvenient truth, even the Black armed resistance movements like MK were led and advised by white WW2 military veterans.  So much so that it even manifested itself in three of the MK’s most notable attacks – the bombing of Sasol, Wit Command and Koeberg all had ‘White’ cadres involved in them.  In fact in the case of Wit Command and Koeberg they were led solely by White insurgents.

So, the basic truth is the ‘white liberals’  created their own armed resistance movements  – at the same time as the ANC formed their armed resistance movement (MK), and this White armed insurgency was working in parallel with but separately to MK.

There is more inconvenient truth to come with regard ARM, and his name is John Harris.

John Harris

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.

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John and Ann Harris, 1963. John Harris seen here was on his way back from testifying at the International Olympic Committee on behalf of SANROC.

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. He then decided that a dramatic gesture was needed to “bring whites to their senses and make them realise that apartheid could not be sustained”.

On July 24, 1964,John Harris walked into the whites-only section of Johannesburg and placed a small explosive charge and several containers of petrol in a suitcase on the main ‘whites only’ concourse. On the case he left a note: “Back in 10 minutes”

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 incident was touted by the National Party as part of a terror plot by “Communists” (not liberals). Harris was arrested, tortured and beaten. His jaw was broken in three places.

Harris was tried for murder of a civilian 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 “we shall overcome”.

So, there you have an anti-apartheid campaigner sent to the gallows, seldom recognised in the modern South African narrative on the ‘Struggle’ as simply put 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 struggle ‘martyrs’ like Solomon Mahlangu as the ‘Black’ South African hanged in resistance by the nasty ‘White’ South Africans – all in broad and convenient ‘race silo’ paintbrush strokes

The end of ARM

The state crushed the ARM and the Liberal Party, eradicating both from history. The biggest setback for ARM – the one which ultimately led to its demise was not John Harris – it came in July 1964 when the police raided the flat of Adrian Leftwich. The Police subsequently raided the flat of Van der Riet, where they found documents containing instructions on sabotage and the storage of explosives. Under torture and interrogation, the two implicated their comrades.

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Police hold back crowds at Johannesburg’s Park Station after a bomb exploded on the whites-only concourse on Friday July 24 1964, killing Ethyl Rhys

Leftwich’s statements were devastating for ARM. He testified against his comrades in at least two of the trials, and as someone who had played a key role in NCL/ARM operations, his evidence was difficult to refute. Subsequently, the police raided and arrested 29 members of ARM, among them Stephanie Kemp, Alan Brooks, Antony Trew, Eddie Daniels and David de Keller – all in Cape Town. Others like Vigne, Rosemary Wentzel, Scheider, Hillary Mutch and Ronnie Mutch escaped. The security police kidnapped Wentzel from Swaziland and brought her back to stand trial in South Africa. She sought relief for her illegal abduction through the courts. Higgs was also kidnapped by apartheid government forces and challenged the legality of his kidnapping through the courts.

In the subsequent trials, Eddie Daniels was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which he served on Robben Island. Baruch Hirson was sentenced to nine years in prison, Lewin to seven years, while Evans and Laredo were sentenced to five years in prison. David De Keller received a sentence of 10 years, Einstein seven years, Alan Brooks four years, Stephanie Kemp five years, and Anthony Trew four years.

The arrest of ARM members and the flight of others into exile led to the disintegration of the organisation. However, some of its members, particularly those in exile, continued fighting against apartheid by working for anti-apartheid organisations. Hugh Lewin was appointed head of the International Defence and Aid Fund’s (IDAF) information department. Rundolf Vigne also worked closely with IDAF in Britain and travelled to the United Nations (UN), campaigning against the apartheid government.  Finally, Alan Brookes, a former member of ARM played a key role in organising demonstrations against the 1969 Springbok Tour to the UK.

The End of the Liberal Party

On 3 September 1965, the government issued a notice declaring that Coloured teachers were prohibited from being members of the ‘mainstream’ political parties i.e the United, Progressive and Liberal parties.

In 1966, the government tabled the Prohibition of Improper Interference Bill, which proposed the prevention of interracial political participation. In 1968, the Bill was passed in parliament as the Prevention of Political Interference Act. Two political parties, the Progressive Party (PP) and Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA) with members across racial line were severely affected.

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The PP chose not to disband but become a white’s only party to fight Apartheid via the legal parameters available to it and be a representative voice of the disenfranchised in a now dominated Nationalist Parliament (eventually the PP became the Progressive Federal Party i.e. PFP which has now morphed into the modern-day Democratic Alliance – the DA), while the LPSA chose to disband rather than comply with legislation that went against its defining principle of non racialism. Between April and May 1968, meetings were held in various parts of the country, bringing to end 15 years of anti apartheid struggle by the LPSA.

White ‘Privilege’?

So where does the ‘white privilege’ gained from Apartheid enter into all this resistance to Apartheid by White people?  By the beginning of the 1970’s – at least according to the Nationalist government White resistance was no more, the Whites were all on their side now. By this stage any dissonance from the White community had been effectively crushed by the Apartheid State, like it ruthlessly crushed all movements – including the Black led ones.  It might be worth pointing out that by the time the Liberal Party and NCL/ARM were crushed, so too were the ANC and MK, as they were also relatively small by 1970 – it was the 1976 Soweto Uprising and thousands of ‘Seventy Sixers’ – new youth – joining MK which were to rejuvenate and boost the MK to a significant degree.

So, leading White figures not in step with the National Party imprisoned, in exile or gagged – future opponents now under the threat of the anti-communism act – sorted, no more criticism of Apartheid from the whites and all the whites can now benefit from the grand Apartheid Scheme.

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No so, although the ‘white armed insurgency’ was officially dead, well into the late 70’s and 80’s saw tens of thousands of White students from the ‘white English’ universities on active protest – Natal, Wits, Rhodes, UCT, a more ‘peaceful’ resistance sprang up in all directions in all manner – locally and internationally – from the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), the United Democratic Front (UDF), the End Conscription Campaign (ECC), the Council of Churches, the Black Sash, The Progressive Federal Party, Jews for Social Justice, The South African Congress of Democrats, Temple Israel and many many more.

We are not even going to start on the activities of Bram Fischer, Helen Suzeman, Harry Shwartz, Helen Zille, Breyten Breytenbach, Andrè Brink, Beyers Naudé, Rick Turner, Michael Harmel, Ruth First, Denis Goldberg, Albie Sachs, Ben Turok, Harold Strachan, Hilda Bernstein, Rusty Bernstein, Arthur Goldreich, Helen Joseph, Colin Eglin and Rica Hodgson – even martyred ones like Neil Aggett, Ruth Slovo and David Webster. Then there is the entire Alternative Afrikaans rock music movement, the Voëlvry Movement – people like James Phillips,  Koos Kombuis and Johannes Kerkorrel.  The list goes on.

The ‘fatal’ 1992 Referendum

In the strange world of the National Party, where “Communism” equated with ‘Liberalism” – the Nationalists made a fatal error.  Feeling confident  that their hated nemesis ‘Communism’ no longer really posed a threat to their idea of the ‘Western World’ democracy when the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989 with the resultant beak up of the Soviet Union.  Feeling more confident that with the loss of its ‘communist’ backers the ANC  plans as to a socialist communist take-over of South Africa would now not be possible and they would be in a position to ‘talk’.  The National Party was on the ascendancy in terms of ‘seats’ in Parliament in 1989 using more gerrymandering and with 40% of the country’s GDP been ploughed into the SADF and the SAP they were now more powerful than ever –  they now even felt confident that with a negotiated settlement with the ANC they had a shot at a sustained political future for themselves.  They had started Apartheid, but now they would rather magnanimously end it and all would be forgiven.

F.W. de Klerk South African President

So when they hit internal political hiccups and resistance from within their party, coupled with resistance from the ‘all white’ Conservative Party and Afrikaner extreme right (AWB) – and with the ANC not really rolling over in the negotiations.  They made the fatal error of thinking they needed ‘populist’ support and put forward what was to become the last ‘whites only’ vote on the issue of Apartheid.  But instead of a party political vote where they had a constitutional seat advantage which would see them over the line, FW de Klerk instead opted for a ‘one to one’ count, a ‘one man one vote’ all white referendum.  For the first time since 1948 it would become clear again who in the white community supported Apartheid and who didn’t, and this time constitutional boundaries were moot.

The Nationalists for the first time sided with the ‘liberal white ‘left, it backed the support to end Apartheid and joined forces with the ‘Democratic Party’ (the newly reformatted PFP which had nearly folded along with the Liberal Party in 1965) – it would spell out just how many liberty loving white South Africans there were to vote ‘Yes’ to end Apartheid – the nearly 3 million strong white voter base brought back an astonishing result.  69% of whites wanted the end of Apartheid – nearly 2,000,000 whites (read that again – 2 million whites willingly and very peacefully voted to end what is now incorrectly touted as their ‘Apartheid privileges’).

In terms of demographics this was not really too dissimilar to the split faced by Jan Smuts in 1948 – the populist white vote was still very much an anti-apartheid vote, even 40 years on.  The only difference between 1948 and 1992 was the fact the white electorate base had grown to three times that of 1948 and an armed struggle had kicked off in the interim.

The truth of the matter is that an armed struggle did not really end Apartheid, the ballot did.  There was no MK led ‘military victory parade’ over defeated SADF/SAP forces – and that’s because there was no military victory.  The victory in the end was a moral one, and it was one in which democracy loving white South African’s played a key role – the first time white people were given proper representation and voice by weight of sheer numbers – and they voted Apartheid and the nationalists out – that is a fact.

The ‘Yes’ vote spelled the end of the National Party, it had fundamentally misinterpreted its support.  It’s voting base was fractured further after the 1994 Democratic elections and it continued to diminish until one day it did an unbelievable thing – after flirting with old ‘white’ enemy – the Liberals – in a Democratic alliance they then closed shop, left the Liberals and walk the floor in April 2005 and joined the ranks of none other than the African National Congress (ANC) – their much hated ‘Communists’.  So much for Afrikaner Nationalism and the visions of Malan and Verwoerd – because the inconvenient truth is that this is what they are left with as a legacy.

In Conclusion

Nelson Mandela said – “there is no such thing as Black and White” and on this part he’s right.  The armed struggle to end Apartheid was not a clear cut Black vs. White campaign.  It was also a White vs. White and even a Black vs. Black struggle.   The Apartheid Struggle was a struggle of normal decent democratic, human rights loving liberal people – black and white – against the forces of a very small white supremacist movement – a movement which did not even have the support of the majority of White South African people, and which by  sheer luck and circumstance managed to get into power and then hung on to power using jackboot styled oppression – of all South Africans – the Black, Indian and Cape Coloured communities and large sectors of the White community too.

However since Mandela’s passing the ANC (and in later days the Economic Freedom Front and ‘Black Lives First’ movements) have worked hard to reinvigorate the struggle and reinvent it as a Black versus White issue – this been done because ANC corruption has so raped the country of its resources now, in not only ‘state capture’ but also in base municipal services – and as the ANC and its cabal collapse on itself they strike out to all White people in South Africa to give up a mythical concept of ‘white’ capital and ‘white owned’ farmland and continue to feed their corruption – Whites are to pay for their collective sins of  Apartheid and their collective ‘white privilege’. It is all based on misconstrued history and as a result can be dismissed as utter hogwash, nothing more than party political rhetoric and nothing to do with historic fact at all.

The ANC in recent times is even audacious enough to say that it was only really their struggle to end Apartheid.  Movements supported by White South Africans – like the Torch Commando, and the Liberal Party and its African Resistance Movement (ARM) are completely written out of the narrative – lost to history, to the point that not many South Africans today are even aware of them – where the National Party sought to eradicate them from the party political scene during Apartheid, the African National Congress in the Post-Apartheid political scene refuses to acknowledge them as well – literally dismissing thousands and thousands of ‘whites’ who did not support Apartheid and the ANC are very happy to keep this history buried – it contradicts their rhetoric and  narrative that much.

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Hendrik Verwoerd after he was shot in the head by David Pratt using a .22 revolver

Can you imagine the ANC standing up and thanking people like Sailor Malan for mobilising hundreds of thousands of white South Africans against Apartheid in his Torch Commando, or thanking the Springbok Legion for providing the mainly Jewish trained soldiers who helped start Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) or thanking and the members of the Liberal Party for their predominantly ‘White’ equivalent of MK, the NCL/ARM and their martyr to the cause, John Harris – it won’t happen.  The revolver used by David Pratt to attempt to assassinate Prime Minister H.F. Verwoerd has not made it into the exhibits of the Anti-Apartheid museum as an icon of resistance.  Instead the ANC are very happy to keep it in its dusty evidence box in an archive.

Given the Economic Freedom Front (EFF), Black Land First (BLF) and ANC’s current rhetoric, the truth is in the hard work pile – it would be very hard to imagine these organisations thanking the white community. What this ANC/EFF/BLF effort to re-establish race divide and deepen South African race politics has done – is force articles such as this one, which instead of taking about the general collective in a fight between dark and light and moving on with our young democracy, we are now forced to highlight the ‘White’ resistance to Apartheid, and historically point out it was not just a couple of ‘white liberals’ here and there – but hundreds of thousands of white South Africans over the course of four decades who resisted Apartheid, by ballot and some even by the gun.

Its bad enough that the ‘White’ conscripted statute military veterans are demonised and vanquished by the ANC ruling party and its aligned political affiliations, but it is with extreme irony that the ‘White’ veterans of the non-statute ‘struggle’ forces are now also completely ignored, not thanked and out in the cold – no real effort to erect statues to them of name roads or airports in their honour  – that would mean recognising white resistance to Apartheid – so, it’s just another indication of Apartheid in reverse, the manipulation of history to suit a party political narrative – the last thing the ANC wants is for young Black South Africans to make heroes out of Apartheid era ‘White’ South Africans – so this entire saga remains a very ironic and very inconvenient truth.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

Related work and links:

Tainted versus Real Military Heroes: Tainted “Military Heroes” vs. Real Military Heroes

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

References:

South African History On-Line (SAHO) – articles on Liberal Party, Alan Paton, African Resistance Movement, Torch Commando and Liberal Party of South Africa. Dick, G. 2010. John Harris: Hardly a Martyr (Online). Gunther, M. The National Committee of Liberation (NCL)/ African Resistance Movement, in The Road to Democracy in South Africa: 1960-1970. Cape Town: Zebra Press.  Large extract from SA History On-Line – The African Resistance Movement (ARM): An Organisational History.  Large extracts and references from “Eighteen times white South Africans fought the system”  and Opening Mens Eyes; Peter Brown and the Liberal Struggle for South Africa by Michael Cardo.  Video copyright Verwoerd – Associated Press

The South African Navy’s ‘elephant in the room’

There is a very big elephant in the room when it comes to the South African Naval fraternity’s commemoration and remembrance undertakings.  Very often in the veteran fraternity and South African Navy circles there’s a raging argument – why does the South African Navy and SANDF only commemorate the sinking of the SS Mendi during World War 1 when scant attention is given to the sinking of the SAS President Kruger?  It’s ‘political’ is the universal chant of disbelief and failed honour, a travesty of the African National Congress’ (ANC) rhetoric of constantly vanquishing the ‘old’ navy and SADF statutory forces.

But they are ignoring a very big ‘elephant’, something that began as a travesty long before the ANC came to power in 1994.  It’s an elephant that sits squarely at the door of the old Apartheid Nationalist government and is entirely their doing.  When they came to power they began vanquishing anyone who supported ‘Britain’ during World War 2 as some sort of traitor, made worse because the South African Navy was so intrinsically tied to the Royal Navy via the Simonstown agreement that they never really instituted memorials or commemorations to honour them.  To the old Afrikaner nationalists, especially when it came to the Navy, this was ‘Britain’s problem’ to remember any sacrifice prior to 1948 or even prior to 1957 for that matter when the naval base at Simonstown was formally handed over by Britain to South Africa.

As a result the scope of our World War 2 sacrifice barely gets a mention in the ‘Mendi vs. President Kruger’ argument.   In fact the scope, the size of this sacrifice will come as a surprise to many South Africans – including our Naval veterans fraternity and current Navy personnel.

The ‘elephant’ of sacrifice 

To give you an idea of just how BIG this ‘elephant in the room is, lets cover the Honour Roll – it far outstrips any South African Naval sacrifice in the post world war era.  Yet the South African Navy and the current government gives absolutely no attention to it, not at all – not one single official South African Navy (SAN) parade or ceremony.  Not even a dedicated Naval memorial is given to these men.

We start with South Africa’s own ship’s lost in World War 2, all of them minesweepers. (Note on the honour roll when reading it SANF means the member was part of the ‘South African Naval Forces’ and MPK means ‘Missing Presumed Killed’).

The first South African ship lost in the Mediterranean near Tobruk was the HMSAS Southern Floe with its remarkable tale of a single survivor (see this link for a full story – click here: The HMSAS Southern Floe was the SA Navy’s first ship loss & it carries with it a remarkable tale of survival.).

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HMSAS Southern Floe

The Honour Roll of sacrifice on the HMSAS Southern Floe as follows:

ANDERS, John, Steward, 69637 (SANF), MPK
BOWER, Robert, Stoker 1c, 69935 (SANF), MPK
BRAND, Leslie A, Able Seaman, 69828 (SANF), MPK
CAULFIELD, Patrick, Steward, 69802 (SANF), MPK
CHANDLER, Charles R D, Cook (S), 69613 (SANF), MPK
CHENOWETH, Richard, Stoker 1c, 67420 (SANF), MPK
FAIRLEY, Alexander E, Sub Lieutenant SANF, MPK
FRIEDLANDER, Cecil A, Able Seaman, 114703 (SANF), MPK
GARDINER, Elliott, Able Seaman, 67260 (SANF), MPK
GREENACRE, John H, Leading Seaman, 69677 (SANF), MPK
HEASMAN, Gratwicke E E, Engine Room Artificer 4c, 69784 (SANF), MPK
HOGG, Roy S, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
INNES, Ian Mck, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
LEWIS, John Edward Joseph, :Lieutenant, 70019 (SANF), MPK
MARSH, Reginald H Y, Able Seaman, 69911 (SANF), MPK
MITCHELL, William N, Able Seaman, 69787 (SANF), MPK
NEL, Eloff R, Able Seaman, 69635 (SANF), MPK
NICHOLSON, Douglas O, Able Seaman, 66833 (SANF), MPK
PUGH, John R, Able Seaman, 66877 (SANF), MPK
RYALL, David R, Able Seaman, 69999 (SANF), MPK
SHIMMIN, William, Leading Stoker, 69661 (SANF), MPK
SIENI, Joseph F, Able Seaman, 69788 (SANF), MPK
SNELL, Harold W, Leading Telegraphist, 69827 (SANF), MPK
STANLEY, Gordon J, Able Seaman, 66963 (SANF), MPK
WALTON, Dudley N, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK

The second ship lost was the HMSAS Parktown, which went down fighting during the Fall of Tobruk in Libya, with the HMSAS Bever fighting at her side out the port (see this link for a full story – click here: The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown).

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HMSAS Parktown

The Honour Roll of sacrifice when the HMSAS Parktown sank on 21 June 1942 as follows:

BROCKLEHURST, Peter S, Able Seaman, 70457 (SANF), MPK
COOK, John A, Stoker 1c, 70256 (SANF), MPK
JAGGER, Leslie J, Lieutenant SANF, 70016 (SANF), MPK
MCEWAN, William A, Steward, 69686 (SANF), MPK
TREAMER, Arthur P, Petty Officer, 71109 (SANF), MPK

The third ship to be lost was the HMSAS Parktown’s sister ship, the HMSAS Bever which went down later in the war during the liberation of Greece when it struck a mine, and carries with its story a tale of miraculous survivors (see this link for a full story – click here“Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever).

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HMSAS Bever

The Honour Roll of sacrifice on 30 November 1944 when the HMSAS Bever sank as follows:

ARMERANTIS, Sideris, Stoker 1c, 282953 V (SANF), MPK
DE PACE, Luigi S, Petty Officer, 66539 V (SANF), MPK
DE REUCK, Leslie B, Telegraphist, 75320 V (SANF), MPK
DREYER, Peter, Leading Cook (S), 585236 V (SANF), MPK
HIGGS, George E, Stoker 1c, 562712 V (SANF), MPK
HUSBAND, Charles A, Stoker 1c, 280098 V (SANF), MPK
KETTLES, John D, Engine Room Artificer 3c, 562458 (SANF), MPK
LAWLOR, Robert J, Act/Chief Motor Mechanic 4c, P/KX 127225, MPK
LINDE, Carl M, Able Seaman, 71194 V (SANF), MPK
LYALL, John D R, Stoker 1c, 562179 V (SANF), MPK
MATTHEWS, William R, Leading Wireman, 562794 V (SANF), killed
PHILLIPSON, Joseph H, Signalman, 181160 V (SANF), MPK
RODDA, Harold J, Stoker 1c, 70451 V (SANF), (served as Harold J Andresen), MPK
SCRIMGEOUR, Quintin, Petty Officer, 69691 (SANF), MPK
TRUSCOTT, E (initial only) W, Able Seaman, 585184 V (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Claude, Leading Seaman, 586420 V (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMS, Desmond, Able Seaman, 70433 V (SANF), killed

The final minesweeper to be lost was the HMSAS Treern, it was tragically lost right at the end of the war with only one single survivor, and it remains the last South African vessel to be lost in action, even to this day, yet hardly anyone is aware of her history (see this link for a full story – click hereThe last South African Navy ship to be lost in action; HMSAS Treern).

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HMSAS Treern

The Honour Roll of sacrifice on the 12 January 1945 when HMSAS Treern sank follows:

ANDERSON, Robert D, Engine Room Artificer 2c, 71067 V (SANF), MPK
BARKER, Ronald E, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
BLAKE, Robert E, Petty Officer, P 6572 (SANF), MPK
BROWN, Ian H, Able Seaman, 71719 V (SANF), MPK
BYRNE, Patrick, Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
DAVIE, William, Stoker 1c, 70681 V (SANF), MPK
ENGELBEEN, Leslie C, Able Seaman, 562235 V (SANF), MPK
JACOBZ, Frank H, Stoker 1c, 70374 V (SANF), MPK
MATTHEWS, George A, Stoker 1c, 70728 V (SANF), MPK
MCINTYRE, William G, Cook (S), 585360 (SANF), MPK
MCLARTY, William D, Leading Stoker, 562246 V (SANF), MPK
MCLEAN, Godfrey, Able Seaman, 562455 V (SANF), MPK
NILAND, St John E, Able Seaman, 209905 (SANF), MPK
PERRY, Desmond A, Petty Officer, 71211 (SANF), MPK
REID, Kenneth H, Signalman, 562143 V (SANF), MPK
SALCOMBE, Francis R, Stoker 1c, 58589 V (SANF), MPK
STAPELBERG, Willem J, Steward, 562221 V (SANF), MPK
SUTTON, Donald A, Able Seaman, 70426 (SANF), MPK
SUTTON, George A M, Leading Seaman, 586403 V (SANF), MPK
TRAFFORD, William O, Able Seaman, 71222 V (SANF), MPK
VILJOEN, Dennis A, Telegraphist, 70984 V (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Charles W, Petty Officer, 562200 V (SANF), MPK
WULFF, Emil F, Leading Seaman, 562466 V (SANF), MPK

Then there is the loss of Rear Admiral Guy Hallifax, the most senior South African Naval Officer to be lost during World War 2, he counts himself as one of the founders of the modern South African Navy and yet he is hardly remembered at all. (see this link for a full story Guy Hallifax, the most senior African Naval officer lost during WW2).  He is recorded here:

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Director of South African Forces

HALLIFAX, Guy W, Rear Admiral, SANF, air accident, killed

Then, consider these South African Naval Force casualties on other South Africa ships and in other South African operations during the war:

LUCAS, E W R, Chief Engineman, 66756 (SANF), died 4 October 1939
NICOLSON, Andrew, Cook, 63827 (SANF), died 13 October 1939
BESTER, A T, Leading Stoker, 6640 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Africana
HUGHES, T J, Stoker, 71383 (SANF), died 10 May 1941
CASSON, William, Able Seaman, 252935 V (SANF), died on the HMSAS Tordonn
HOLT, Albert E, Telegraphist, 69576 (SANF), killed on the HMSAS Southern Maid
VAN NOIE, Norman, Able Seaman, CN/72134 (SANF), died 20 September 1941
ST CLAIR-WHICKER, Willie H, Able Seaman, 67292 (SANF), died on 21 September 1941
SMITH, P, Able Seaman, CN/72263 (SANF), died 7 April 1942
RUITERS, Walter, Stoker, CN/72081 (SANF), died 21 July 1942
MURPHY, J, Able Seaman, CN/72256 (SANF), died 16 August 1942
FROST, M L, Able Seaman, CN/71804 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Receiffe
PETERSON, W J, Able Seaman, CN/72184 (SANF), died 4 September 1942
REHR, Cecil, Able Seaman, 69877 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Roodepoort
CARLELSE, Frederick, Able Seaman, CN/72004 (SANF), died on the HMSAS Soetvlei
PETERS, Norman, Leading Stoker, 66847 (SANF), died 3 January 1943
DELL, Rodney, Able Seaman, 68866 (SANF), killed 24 March 1943
HENDERSON, Alexander P, Chief Engine Room Artificer, 562099 (SANF), killed at Benghazi, Libya
JAMES, H, Steward, CN/72252 (SANF), died 9 May 1943
ORGILL, C B, Able Seaman, CN/71947 (SANF), died 14 May 1943
LA CHARD, Edwin, Lieutenant Commander, SANF, died 20 May 1943
LUCAS, A W, Able Seaman, 152875 (SANF), died 28 May 1943
BATEMAN, T, Chief Engine Room Artificer, 71627 (SANF), died 30 June 1943
ROBBERTS, Kaspar, Petty Officer, P/5285 (SANF), died 1 July 1943
BOSHOFF, Christofel J, Able Seaman, 70339 (SANF), killed on HMSAS Blaauwberg
LENZ, William, Able Seaman, 69544 (SANF), died on 29 August 1943
BESTEL, Emmanuel A N M, Lieutenant, SANF, died on 21 September 1943
HARLE, Paul A, Petty Officer, 71796 (SANF), died on 3 October 1943
STEELE, Ewen, Able Seaman, 71272 V (SANF), killed on HMSAS Southern Sea
BETTS, Robert, Able Seaman, 68900 (SANF), died 18 November 1943
PAGE, Robert, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, died 29 November 1943
MCLEAN, Richard, Stoker, 562567 (SANF), died 29 November 1943
HARRIS, R H, Telegraphist, 330488 (SANF), died 16 December 1943
NICHOLLS, John, Yeoman of Signals, 66824 V (SANF), died 19 December 1943
FLORENCE, John, Stoker, CN/71982 V (SANF), died 18 January 1944
DANIELS, Adam, Stoker, 72034 (SANF), died 28 January 1944
RAVENS, Albert, Able Seaman, CN/72213 V (SANF), died 31 March 1944
DE KLERK, John, Ordinary Seaman, 585868 V (SANF), died 4 May 1944
BOTHA, Herkulas, Cook, 562093 V (SANF), died 8 May 1944
BISSETT, Alexander, Lieutenant, SANF, died 16 June 1944
JENKINS, Edward G, Engine Room Artificer, 66720 V (SANF), died 14 September 1944
KEMP, Thomas, Able Seaman, CN/71015 V (SANF), died 20 September 1944
WATSON, George, Lieutenant, SANF, died 15 October 1944
BOSWELL, Louis F W, Chief Engine Room Artificer, 69756V (SANF), MPK on the 14 November 1944 on the HMSAS Treern
ABRAHAMS, Henry, Able Seaman, CN/719204 (SANF), died 19 November 1944
BERMAN, Nicholas, Ordinary Seaman, 616728V (SANF), died 22 November 1944
DIXON, Robert, Able Seaman, CN/584276 (SANF), died on 11 January 1945
TREISMAN, Gerald, Steward, 584730 V (SANF), died on 10 February 1945
LAMONT, J, Steward, 71402 (SANF), died 24 February 1945
HORNE, P D, Chief Petty Officer, 66661 V (SANF), died 31 March 1945
POVEY, Leonard, Able Seaman, 71182 V (SANF), died 31 March 1945
PFAFF, C E, Petty Officer Stoker, 562721 V (SANF), died 20 April 1945
CHRISTIAN, J W, Able Seaman, CN/71965 (SANF), died 5 May 1945
SIMON, Frederick, Stoker, CN/72046 V (SANF), died 8 May 1945
VAN AARDT, S, Stoker, CN/721490 (SANF), died 22 May 1945
CLARE, Frederick W, Chief Petty Officer, 69599 V (SANF), died 3 June 1945
KEOWN, R J, Able Seaman, CN/71845 (SANF), died 9 June 1945
WELCOME, J J, Able Seaman, CN/72270 (SANF), died 19 July 1945
VAN WYNGAARDT, F A, Able Seaman, 585610 V (SANF), died 21 July 1945
HEARD, George A, Lieutenant, SANF, died on the HMSAS Good Hope
COOK, W, Leading Stoker, 70527 V (SANF), died 8 August 1945

As if the above loss of South African Navy personnel is not large enough and the lack of recognition by the Navy not bad enough, there is an even bigger ‘elephant in the room’, a key factor completely overlooked by the South African Naval fraternity and the Navy itself, and that’s the South African Navy personnel seconded to the British Royal Navy and lost in the Royal Navy’s ships and shore facilities during the Second World War.

South African Naval personnel were lost on the following significant British vessel losses. Consider this very big ‘elephant in the room’ for a minute, because its getting BIGGER.  The losses of these Royal Navy ships carries long lists of South African sacrifice.

We start with all the ships containing South African Naval Forces personnel sunk during the Imperial Japanese Air Force ‘Easter Sunday’ raid on the British fleet in Colombo (this is regarded as the British ‘Peal Harbour’ just off modern day Sri Lanka) and it’s the darkest hour in terms of losses for South African Navy, yet it is neither recognised as such nor is it remembered.  (See this link for more depth:  The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated)

During this attack Japanese airman flying Japanese  D3A-1 ‘VAL’ dive bombers flying from the Japanese Imperial fleet, dropped their bombs on the HMS Dorsetshire, who had a very large contingent of South African Naval personnel, she simply blew up when a  detonated an ammunition magazine and contributed to her rapid sinking.  Click here for a full Observation Post report on her sinking: “They machine gunned us in the water”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire

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HMS Dorsetshire

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 5 April 1942 when HMS Dorsetshire sank follows:

BELL, Douglas S, Ty/Act/Leading Stoker, 67243 (SANF), MPK
BRUCE, Alexander M, Stoker 2c, 67907 (SANF), MPK
CONCANON, Harold Bernard, Surgeon Lieutenant (Doctor)
EVENPOEL, Albert, Stoker 2c, 67909 (SANF), MPK
GEFFEN, Sender, Stoker 1c, 68035 (SANF), MPK
HOWE, Horace G, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68680 (SANF), MPK
KENDRICK, George, Stoker 2c, 67910 (SANF), MPK
MCINTYRE, Norman G, Able Seaman, 67446 (SANF), MPK
MCLELLAN, Robert, Ordinary Telegraphist, 67897 (SANF), MPK
MILNE, Lawrence Victor, Able Seaman
MORROW, Douglas E, Able Seaman, 67989 (SANF), MPK
ORTON, Charles P, Able Seaman, 68009 (SANF), MPK
REDMAN, Roland A, Leading Stoker, 67406 (SANF), MPK
SCOTT, William J, Able Seaman, 68007 (SANF), MPK
SEVEL, Harry, Stoker 1c, 68100 (SANF), MPK
VAN ZYL, David Isak Stephanus, Stoker 1st Class
WILLETT, Amos A S, Stoker 1c, 67240 (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMSON, Walter N, Able Seaman, 67803 (SANF), MPK

The second British ship in this particular Japanese air attack, on the same day and within range of one another was the HMS Cornwall, also stuffed full of South African Naval personnel seconded to her. The HMS Cornwall was hit eight times by the same dive bombers who sank the Dorsetshire and sank bow first in about ten minutes.

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HMS Cornwall

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 5 April 1942 when HMS Cornwall  sank follows:

BESWETHERICK, Hedley C, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 86671 (SANF), MPK
BOTES, John S, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68924 (SANF), MPK
COMMERFORD, Noel P, Able Seaman RNVR, 66493 (SANF), MPK
CRAWFORD, Cecil E, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 67922 (SANF), MPK
DU PREEZ, Charles P H, Able Seaman, 68175 (SANF), MPK
DUTTON, Charles C, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68949 (SANF), MPK
HANSLO, Raymond F, Able Seaman RNVR, 68295 (SANF), MPK
KEITH, Kenneth I B, Able Seaman RNVR, 66742 (SANF), MPK
KENYON, Graeme A B, Able Seaman RNVR, 68002 (SANF), MPK
KIRSTEN, Monty G W, Able Seaman RNVR, 68917 (SANF), MPK
LAW, Edward, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 66760 (SANF), MPK
MCDAVID, William K, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69138 (SANF), MPK
MITCHELL, William A, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68796 (SANF), MPK
PALMER, Walter A, Able Seaman RNVR, 68344 (SANF), (rescued, aboard HMS Enterprise), Died of Wounds
SPENCE, Noel W, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68732 (SANF), MPK
SQUIRES, John E, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68728 (SANF), MPK
STEPHEN, Eric B, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68861 (SANF), MPK
SWANN, Lawrence T, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68710 (SANF), MPK
THORPE, Maurice, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69140 (SANF), MPK
VERSFELD, Peter H S, Able Seaman RNVR, 68859 (SANF), MPK
VINK, Benjamin F, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68860 (SANF), MPK
WILLSON, Gerald F, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69006 (SANF), MPK
WRIGHT, Thomas H, Able Seaman RNVR, 68039 (SANF), MPK

In earlier incidents on HMS Cornwall two South Africans lost their lives they are also remembered here:

AINSLIE, Roy, Petty Officer, 66382 (SANF), died on 5 September 1940
HAWKINS, Reginald D, Able Seaman, 66700 (SANF), died of illness 4 March 1942

The Easter Raid later offered a great prize for the Japanese, an aircraft carrier, the HMS Hermes, this massive aircraft carrier was sunk a week later by the Japanese near Colombo (now Sri Lanka), the pride of the British Pacific fleet became an inferno after it was dived bombed a number of times.  It too had a long association with South Africa and a very big contingent of South African Naval Personnel. (see this link for a in-depth article on the South African Navy sacrifice abound her “Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes).

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HMS Hermes

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 9 April 1942 when HMS Hermes  sank follows:

BRIGGS, Anthony Herbert Lindsay Sub-Lieutenant (Engineer) Royal Navy (South African national), MPK
BRYSON, Neil W, Ordinary Telegraphist, 69147 (SANF), MPK
BURNIE, Ian A, Able Seaman, 67786 (SANF), MPK
CLAYTON, Frederick H, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68102 (SANF), MPK
DE CASTRO, Alfred T, Stoker 1c, 67914 (SANF), MPK
KEENEY, Frederick W, Able Seaman, 67748 (SANF), MPK
KEYTEL, Roy, Able Seaman, 67296 (SANF), MPK
KIMBLE, Dennis C, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 67600 (SANF), MPK
KRAUSE, Frederick E, Able Seaman, 68321 (SANF), MPK
RAPHAEL, Philip R, Able Seaman, 67841 (SANF), MPK
RICHARDSON, Ronald P, Able Seaman, 67494 (SANF), MPK
RILEY. Harry Air Mechanic 2nd Class, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy (South African national), MPK
TOMS, Ivanhoe S, Able Seaman, 67709 (SANF), MPK
VICKERS, Colin P, Able Seaman, 68296 (SANF), MPK
VORSTER, Jack P, Able Seaman, 67755 (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Edward G, Stoker, 68026 (SANF), MPK
WIBLIN, Eric R, Able Seaman, 67717 (SANF), MPK
YATES, Philip R, Supply Assistant, 67570 (SANF), MPK

Included is also a South African who served with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm on the HMS Hermes.

RILEY, H, Air Mechanic, Fleet Air Arm, HMS Hermes, died 9 April 1942

Next on the list of ships lost during the Easter Raid which contained a high number of South African Naval personnel on board was HMS Hollyhock, sunk on the same day as the HMS Hermes by the same Japanese Dive Bombers on the 9th of April. Click here for a full Observation Post report on her sinking  “She immediately blew up”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

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HMS Hollyhock

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 9 April 1942 when HMS Hollyhock sank follows:

ANDERSON, Henry G, Able Seaman, 67501 (SANF), MPK
BASTON, Douglas T, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68600 (SANF), MPK
BUITENDACH, James M, Stoker 2c, 69223 (SANF), MPK
JUBY, Kenneth J, Ordinary Seaman, 69211 (SANF), MPK
LEACH, Peter A D H, Stoker 2c, 69225 (SANF), MPK

It was not just the Japanese Imperial Fleet, the German Navy also took its toll on the Royal Navy, and once again we find South African Naval Personnel seconded to serve on these famous ships sunk during the war.

We start with the HMS Gloucester lost on the 22 May 1941 during action off Crete. They HMS Gloucester, along with HMS Greyhound and HMS Fiji were attacked by German “Stuka” Dive Bombers. The Greyhound was sunk and Gloucester was attacked and sunk while they attempted to rescue Greyhounds survivors in the water (see this link for a full story – click here A “grievous error”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Gloucester).

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HMS Gloucester

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 22 May 1941 when HMS Gloucester sank follows:

ANGEL, Walter J H, Able Seaman, 67351 (SANF), MPK
AUSTIN-SMITH, John R, Ordinary Seaman, 67336 (SANF), MPK
BAGSHAW-SMITH, Philip R, Ordinary Seaman, 67337 (SANF), MPK
BAGSHAWE-SMITH, Sydney Q, Able Seaman, 68454 (SANF), MPK
BARBER, Edgar F, Able Seaman, 67302 (SANF), MPK
BRUCE, John, Able Seaman, 67355 (SANF), MPK
CARTER, Frederick G, Able Seaman, 67345 (SANF), MPK
CHILTON, Ronald H D, Ordinary Seaman, 67335 (SANF), MPK
EDWARDS, Ronald E, Ordinary Seaman, 67384 (SANF), MPK
ELLIOT, Edward R, Leading Seaman, 66584 (SANF), MPK
GERAGHTY, Herbert C, Able Seaman, 67338 (SANF), MPK
GROGAN, Graham B, Able Seaman, 67343 (SANF), MPK
JAMES, Victor F, Ordinary Seaman, 67303 (SANF), MPK
JENSEN, Niels P, Able Seaman, 67347 (SANF), MPK
MCCARTHY, Henry F, Ordinary Seaman, 67223 (SANF), MPK
MOORE, Albert, Able Seaman, 67416 (SANF), MPK
SLATER, Bryan M, Able Seaman, 67358 (SANF), MPK
SMITH, Matthew S, Able Seaman, 67359 (SANF), MPK
SONDERUP, Arthur W, Able Seaman, 67356 (SANF), MPK
STADLANDER, Rowland C, Stoker 1c, 67400 (SANF), MPK
STOKOE, Cyril A M, Act/Leading Seaman, 67264 V (SANF), MPK
SYMONS, Maurice M, Able Seaman, 68245 (SANF), MPK
THOMPSON, Walter E H, Able Seaman, 67360 (SANF), MPK
VAN DYK, Cecil H, Able Seaman, 67404 (SANF), MPK
WEBBER, Reginald, Able Seaman, 67361 (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMS, Dastrey S, Leading Seaman, 67047 (SANF), MPK
WRIGHT, Gerald V, Act/Ordnance Artificer 4, 67375 (SANF), MPK

The HMS Gloucester was involved in earlier combat on the 8 July 1940 when it was bombed, the South African casualties are remembered here:

ALLISON, Oswald H, Able Seaman RNVR, 67349 (SANF), killed
NOWLAN, Francis C, Able Seaman RNVR, 67409 (SANF), DOW

Tragedy struck the South African Naval Forces seconded to the HMS Barham when she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-331,  Three torpedoes hit HMS Barham’s port side causing it to list heavily and spread fire towards the ammunition storages. Only 2 and a half minutes passed from the torpedo impact until the ship rolled onto its side and capsized as the aft magazine exploded in an almighty explosion (see this link for a full story – click here “She blew sky high”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Barham!)

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HMS Barham

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 25 November 1941 when HMS Barham sank follows:

BAKER, Dennis E W, Ordinary Seaman, 68617 (SANF)
GLENN, Paul V, Ordinary Seaman, 68906 (SANF)
HAYES, Richard T, Ordinary Seaman, 68499 (SANF)
MORRIS, Cyril D, Ordinary Seaman, 68932 (SANF)
UNSWORTH, Owen P (also known as R K Jevon), Ordinary Seaman, 69089 (SANF)
WHYMARK, Vivian G, Ordinary Seaman, 69024 (SANF)

The Italians also took a toll of British shipping, again with ships with a South African contingent and this is brought to home on the 19 December 1941, when the HMS Neptune, struck four mines, part of a newly laid Italian minefield. Neptune quickly capsized (see this link for a full story – click here South African sacrifice on the HMS Neptune).

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HMS Neptune

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 19 December 1941 when HMS Neptune sank follows:

ADAMS, Thomas A, Able Seaman, 67953 (SANF), MPK
CALDER, Frank T, Ordinary Seaman, 67971 (SANF), MPK
CAMPBELL, Roy M, Able Seaman, 67318 (SANF), MPK
DIXON, Serfas, Able Seaman, 67743 (SANF), MPK
FEW, Jim, Able Seaman, 67744 (SANF), MPK
HAINES, Eric G, Able Seaman, 67697 (SANF), MPK
HOOK, Aubrey C, Able Seaman, 67862 (SANF), MPK
HOWARD, Harold D, Signalman, 67289 (SANF), MPK
HUBBARD, Wallace S, Able Seaman, 67960 (SANF), MPK
KEMACK, Brian N, Signalman, 67883 (SANF), MPK
MERRYWEATHER, John, Able Seaman, 67952 (SANF), MPK
MEYRICK, Walter, Ordinary Signalman, 68155 (SANF), MPK
MORRIS, Rodney, Ordinary Signalman, 68596 (SANF), MPK
RANKIN, Cecil R, Signalman, 67879 (SANF), MPK
THORP, Edward C, Signalman, 67852 (SANF), MPK
THORPE, Francis D, Able Seaman, 67462 (SANF), MPK
WILD, Ernest A, Able Seaman, 67929 (SANF), MPK

Other South Africans who had enlisted into the Royal Navy were also lost on HMS Neptune, these include (and by no means is this list definitive) the following:

OOSTERBERG, Leslie W, Stoker 1c, D/KX 96383, MPK
TOWNSEND, Henry C, Stoker 1c, D/KX 95146, MPK

On the 30 April 1942, on her return leg from Murmansk, the HMS Edinburgh was escorting Convoy QP 11 when a German Submarine U-456  torpedoed into her. The Edinburgh was carrying gold in payment by the Soviets for war equipment and she is the subject of a remarkable gold salvage after the war.  Again, she had a compliment of South African Naval Personnel (see this link for a full story – click here “Gold may shine; but it has no true light” South African sacrifice on the HMS Edinburgh).

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HMS Edinburgh

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 30 April 1942 when HMS Edinburgh sank follows:

DRUMMOND, Valentine W, Able Seaman, 68043 (South African Naval Forces), Missing Presumed Killed
VAN DORDRECHT, William H, Able Seaman, 67851 (South African Naval Forces), Missing Presumed Killed

On the 12 November 1942, the HMS Hecla was torpedoed by a German submarine, U-515 hitting her in the engine room. The U-boat then hit the ship with three coups de grâce sinking the vessel west of Gibraltar.  Again there is South African Naval casualty list (see this link for a full story – click here “Every man for himself” … South African sacrifice and the sinking of HMS Hecla).

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HMS Helca

The Honour Roll of South African Naval sacrifice on the 12 November1942 when HMS Helca sank follows:

BENNETT, John F, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 330351 (SANF), MPK
LLOYD, George H, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 330353 (SANF), MPK
PEERS, Charles V, Able Seaman, 562653 (SANF), MPK
SMITH, Ian R, Electrical Artificer 4c, 68478 (SANF), MPK

And there’s more …. many South Africans served on a variety of Royal Navy ships and many were lost, here’s an indication which just captures South African Naval Forces personnel alone, let alone those who volunteered directly for the Royal Navy, the Honour Roll follows:

ANDERSON, Richard W N, Able Seaman, 86082 (SANF), killed 21 May 1941 on HMS Syvern
WESTON, Grant E, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68498 (SANF), killed 27 August 1941 on HMS Phoebe
RASMUSSEN, Victor J S, Leading Telegraphist, 66920 (SANF), MPK 24 November 1941 on HMS Dunedin
ADAMSON, William D, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 69001 (SANF), MPK 10 December 1941 on HMS Repulse 
BECKER, Stanley H, Able Seaman, 67474 (SANF), road accident, killed 5 January 1942 on HMS Carnarvon Castle
DRURY, Frederick, Ordinary Seaman, 68315 (SANF), MPK 29 January 1942 on HMS Sotra
SCOTT, Clifford, Ordinary Telegraphist, 66973 (SANF), MPK 26 March 1942 on HMS Jaguar
BUCHANAN, Alexander, Able Seaman, 67934 (SANF), died 20 April 1942 on HMS Birmingham
COMMERFORD, Terence, Ordinary Seaman, 330258 (SANF), died 21 June 1942 on HMS Express
PRICE, David, Able Seaman RNVR, P/68529 (SANF), MP 6 July 1942 on HMS Niger
TROUT, A (initial only) N, Able Seaman, CN/72133 (SANF), died 4 August 1942 on HMS Stork
JOHNSTONE, Henry N, Lieutenant Commander (E), SANF, 66727, died 18 August 1942 on HMS Birmingham
BAWDEN, Wilfred R, Stoker 2c RNVR, 330425 (SANF), DOWS 16 September 1942 HMS Orion
NIGHTSCALES, Norman, Writer, 68148 (SANF), MPK 30 December 1942 on HMS Fidelity
GITTINS, Victor L, Ordinary Seaman, 69325 (SANF), died 27 January 1943 on HMS Assegai (training base)
PLATT, Ronald M, Petty Officer, 67160 V (SANF), accident, killed 26 February 1943 on HMS President III (shore establishment)
CROSSLEY, Alfred H, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK 7 March 194 on HMS Saunders
DE KOCK, Victor P De C, Ty/Lieutenant, SANF, MPK7 March 194 on HMS Saunders
LOUW, Joseph, Stoker, CN 72175 (SANF), illness, died 2 December 1943 on HMS Stork
ATKIN, William B, Lieutenant SANF, illness, died 26 January 1944 on HMS Northern Duke
SHIELDS, Eric E M, Lieutenant, SANF, died 12 April 1944 on HMS Pembroke IV
HOWDEN, Russell K, Ty/Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK 4 January 1945 HMS ML 1163, Harbour Defence Motor Launch
CLARKE, Reginald E, Ty/Lieutenant Commander, SANF, air crash, MPK 24 July 1945 on HMS Adamant
LIDDLE, John, Lieutenant, SANF, MPK 8 August 1945 on HMS Barbrake

Then lets consider the South African Naval Personnel serving in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (the Royal Navy’s own Air Force separate to the Royal Air Force), and here the following South Africans are on the FAA Honour Roll (excluding Air Mechanic Riley from the Fleet Air Arm, recorded on the HMS Hermes loss).  For a full story of these South Africans lost in the FAA see this link – click here South African sacrifice in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm

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BOSTOCK, R S, Lieutenant, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 800 Squadron, HMS Ark Royal, died 13 June 1940
BROKENSHA, G W, Lieutenant, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 888 Squadron, HMS Formidable, died 11 August 1942
CHRISTELIS, C, Sub/Lieutenant, Royal Navy Reserve FAA 803 Squadron, HMS Formidable, died 1 August 1942
JUDD, F E C, Lieutenant Cmdr, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 880 Squadron, HMS Indomitable, died 12 August 1942
LA GRANGE, Antony M, Sub Lieutenant (A), SANF, Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy)1772 Sqn HMS Indefatigable, air operations, MPK 28 July 1945
MACWHIRTER, Cecil J, Ty/Sub Lieutenant (A), Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy) 851 Squadron HMS Shah, air crash, SANF, MPK 14 April 1944
O’BRYEN, W S, Sub/Lt Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 762 Squadron, HMS Heron, died 26 November 1942
WAKE, Vivian H, Ty/Lieutenant (A), FAA Fleet Air Arm (Royal Navy) 815 Squadron HMS Landrail, air crash, SANF, MPK 28 March 1945

Finally there are South African Naval personnel found in the Merchant Navy, to which they were also seconded and again the Honour Roll lists:

SS Tunisia, ship loss
ADAMS, Douglas E H, Act/Able Seaman RNVR, 66378 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK
ST La Carriere, ship loss
DORE, Frank B, Act/Able Seaman RNVR, 67218 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK
SS Laconia, ship loss
ROSS, Robert, Stoker 2c, 69119 (SANF), (Victory, O/P), DOWS
SS Llandilo, ship loss
CRAGG, Ronald F, Able Seaman (DEMS), 66488 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK
SS Ceramic, ship loss
MOSCOS, John G, Leading Writer, 66786 (SANF), (SANF, O/P), MPK
SS Empress of Canada, ship loss
COCHRANE, Joseph, Engine Room Artificer 3c, P 68947 (SANF), (Pembroke, O/P), MPK
SS Empire Lake, ship loss
FLINT, John M, Act/Able Seaman (DEMS), P 562749 (SANF), (President III, O/P), MPK

More names…

Logo_of_the_Royal_NavyNow consider this, we have not even begun to scratch properly at the honour roll, this above list is still highly inaccurate with many names missing.  We have no real idea of the thousands of South Africas who volunteered and died whilst serving in The Royal Navy Reserve and the Royal Navy itself, in fact we’ve barely got our heads around it.  Fortunately a handful of South Africans are working on it, almost daily, but it’s a mammoth task as these names are found on Royal Navy honour rolls and it’s a matter of investigating the birthplace of each and every British casualty.  The records of South African volunteers joining the Royal Navy lost to time really.

In conclusion

The only other ship the South African Navy has lost since the HMSAS Treern at the end of the Second World War in a more modern epoch was the SAS President Kruger, and unlike the Treern, whose loss was in combat, the Kruger’s loss was due to a tragic accident at sea (see “Out of the Storm came Courage” … the tragedy of the PK).

PK

These combat losses were one thing, however the same erasing of history is currently happening with the accidental loss in more recent times of SAS President Kruger (the PK), the ‘old’ SADF were very embarrassed by the loss (in effect by tragedy and circumstance we sank our own flagship) and the SADF never really got around to undertake a National Parade to commemorate and remember it.  Also in comparison to the bigger picture the loss of 16 South African Navy personnel on the PK is very small indeed, however no less important – and here’s the inconvenient truth, they were ‘swept under the rug’ by the old SADF and remain conveniently swept under the rug by the new SANDF.

On the World War 2 losses, the incoming ANC government from 1994 have fared no better than the old Nat government – they have merely lumped all the wartime combat losses of the HMSAS Southern Floe, the HMSAS Parktown, the HMSAS Bever and the HMSAS Treern into a ‘colonial’ issue not of their history or time, and as for the SAS President Kruger that was part of the ‘Apartheid’ forces in their minds, and as such to be vanquished.

The net result is the South African Navy simply does not have any national parades to commemorate or recognise any of its major losses at sea.  The South African Army at least has the Delville Wood Parade (the South African Army’s biggest singular combat loss, a WW1 incident), the South African Air Force has the Alpine 44 Memorial Parade (the SAAF’s biggest tragedy, a WW2 incident), the South African Navy …. nothing!

Instead the South African Navy (SAN) focuses on the loss of the Mendi as a SAN Maritime loss, even though the Mendi was under commission to the Royal Navy, and rather inconveniently the South Africa Navy did not really exist in World War 1, it was only really created just before World War 2.  Then again, the SS Mendi was also carrying South African Army troops in the form of the South African Labour Corps, not South African Navy personnel (the SAN didn’t exist in any event).

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The Mendi is a both a wartime and political tragedy,  The silence and subsequence recognition is a national healing one (see Let us die like brothers … the silent voices of the SS Mendi finally heard ).  As such it’s now a National Memorial Parade, part of ‘Armed Forces Day’ and one for the entire SANDF to commemorate and remember – and rightly so.  But is it a SA Navy specific commemoration – not really – no.

In all this the Navy still dogmatically refuses to host its own National Commemoration to its own naval actions and tragedies, it’s just too politically inconvenient, and wouldn’t it be nice if South African Navy can see past it and see its Naval sacrifice on its own ships, and those of SAN personnel on Royal Navy ships and finally just institute an ‘All at Sea’ Naval Memorial Parade in Remembrance or erect a full Naval memorial (similar to the erected by the Royal Navy in Portsmouth)?

Very small ‘All at Sea’ commemorations are done by the odd South Africa Legion branch and odd MOTH Shellhole, on a very local basis – driven by a tiny group of individuals.  Nobel in their undertakings no doubt, but these remain very small private initiatives attended by only a handful and is it really enough?

As demonstrated, The South African Navy’s honour roll for World War 2 is a staggering and very long list – it’s an elephant, a very big one at that and it’s a growing elephant, even to this day.  It’s well time we seriously look at ourselves, examine our values as to what constitutes sacrifice for the greater good of man and acknowledge it properly.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  The honour roll extracted from ‘Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, World War 2’ by Don Kindell.  Additional names gleaned from honour rolls published by Col Graham Du Toit (retired).

 

“Wounded 27 times”; When re-naming a fighting ship makes sense!

We are usually up in arms when things get re-named in South Africa, as more often than not it’s usually a political motivation that underpins it ahead of actually honouring South Africans highly deserving of it.   But now and again we get it right, and the renaming of the SAS Oswald Pirow in 1997, a South African Navy fighting strike craft, to her new name the SAS René Sethren is a case in point.

So why was Oswald Pirow singled out to get his name taken down from an honour bestowed on him and who the heck is René Sethren?  It’s almost guaranteed that most modern South Africans would have no clue who Sethren was, most would properly just assume he was this or that ‘struggle hero’.

Far from it, Rene Sethren is a hero all South Africans can stand very proud of, but more of him later, what’s the issue with Oswald Pirow?

Oswald Pirow

In a nutshell Oswald Pirow was an Afrikaner Nationalist who served as a Minister of Parliament and Minister of Defence under the nationalist Hertzog coalition.  He was pivotal in creating South African Airways and famously prosecuted Nelson Mandela in the Treason Trial.

But he had a very dark side, he was also an ardent full-blown Nazi, prior to World War 2 he launched the Nazi New Order ideology in South Africa, he adored and met both Hitler and Mussolini, and his disposition to Nazism as an ideology did not end with the end of the war, in fact with the election of the National Party in 1948 he felt more empowered in his beliefs and it ramped up somewhat.

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Oswald Pirow (in civilian dress) inspecting Nazi German forces

After the war Pirow went into collaboration with the infamous British Fascist Party leader Oswald Mosley to write a joint paper on the separate development of white and black races in all of Africa along the lines of white supremacy and black subjugation – the idea to feed ‘white’ African southern states from ‘black’ North African states with exploited migrant labour.

So, naming a South African strike vessel after him was going to be very controversial, it applauded all the old South African Navy veterans and serving personnel who went to war against the very ideology Oswald Pirow followed.  They had watched thousands of South Africans make massive sacrifices including the ultimate one, fighting on British and South African vessels against Nazism, and now they watched an insular nationalist government name a fighting vessel after an ardent flag waving Nazi.

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Oswald Pirow and Oswald Mosley

Not a military man either, Pirow had never served in the military other than to be a Minister of Defence, he had no military credentials and he was hated by the South African jewish community, the war veteran community and South African black community – in fact ‘hated’ would be an understatement.

Hardly a ‘hero’, the naming of his SAN Strike Craft vessels after Ministers of Defence called ‘Minister Class’ would be controversial from the get-go, a simple case of political one-upmanship and the case of Oswald Pirow the nationalists would be seen as rubbing the South African navy veterans noses in it for supporting Britain in World War 2.

So, no surprise really as to why the ‘Minister Class’ of defining strike craft and Oswald Pirow’s name had to go. But thankfully, this time in a breath of fresh air, the South African Navy decided on a simple hero, and not political one-upmanship, when it came to re-naming the SAS Oswald Pirow.  They chose CPO (Stoker) René Sethren, but who the heck is he and what did he do?

René Sethren

sethrenChief Petty Officer (Stoker) René Sethren CGM has a story which is simply jaw dropping to say the least. René Sethren left school after Std 7, a keen boxer and highly astute he joined South Africa’s fledgling navy as a stoker in 1940, rising in rank eventually to Chief Petty Officer (Stoker).

On the 30th June 1941, a small flotilla of ships including South African mine-sweepers is on convoy from Mersa Matruh approaching Tobruk in the midst of the fighting around Tobruk between Rommel’s German and Italian Axis forces and the British and Commonwealth Forces, with South Africans right at the centre of it defending Tobruk and El Alamein.

As they close in on the coast the convoy comes under fire from German shore batteries and is also attacked by a number of German Stuka dive bombers, JU87’s and Messerschmidt 109’s.

Enter one small South African ship, HMSAS Southern Isles, a converted whaler, performing anti submarine, patrol and general support duties in the Mediterranean during the Second World War, and its stoker René Sethren.

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HMSAS Southern Isles

Five German JU-88’s attacked the HMSAS Southern Isles, luckily with no real damage, then came a little lull in the fighting, during which a single JU-87 which had been attacking a convoy merchant called the ‘Cricket’ nearby made a close pass to the HMSAS Southern Isles and was shot down by the Southern Isles’ rear gun.

But that was not the end of it, a bigger and more fierce attack was to come.  The convoy came under attack from 50 enemy aircraft, 8 of which were concentrated on any one ship in the convoy.   The commander of the HMSAS Southern Isles described it as “The sky appeared to rain bombs”.

As a result of this action there are by then a number of casualties on the upper deck. In order to assist those fighting off the attacking Stuka aircraft Chief Petty Officer (Stoker) René Sethren is sent up from his normal station shovelling coal in the engine room, he had been at this task for a 12 full hours.  René is also a qualified reserve machine gunner and he was urgently needed, his best friend who had been manning the ships’ twin Lewis anti-aircraft machine gun was dead lying next to gun. René immediately took over the gun, standing on ammunition boxes to train his gun he starts a non stop volley of fire against the attacking German aircraft.

At this stage a German JU88 aircraft joined the Stuka attack and strafed the ship’s upper deck with its machine guns. Sethren is seen to fall after he was hit by machine gun bullets from the JU88 (he had 8 separate bullet wounds  – read that again – shot 8 times).

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Junkers JU-88

Notwithstanding his wounds he muscles up some superhuman strength and stands up, and unbelievably he again engages the attacking aircraft with the Lewis gun. At the conclusion of the battle Rene Sethren is found to have more than just the eight bullet wounds, in fact medics count a total of 27 wounds in one arm, both legs and his side.

Conspicuous_Gallantry_Medal_(Flying)_(UK)For his actions he is awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal – the highest award won by a South African rating in World War 2, the only South African to be awarded this medal and one of only 243 men who had been awarded the medal prior to that day since its introduction in 1855.

Rene Sethren received his gallantry decoration from King George V. His wounds are so extensive he spends 18 months recovering in hospital, his boxing career over and because of his injuries he is unable to ever go to sea again.

In conclusion

Wow, now that is a man we can stand around of, that is the sort of person we can name a fighting ship after.  No politics, just pure gallantry from a simple rating, an engine stoker – an inspiration to any person serving in the navy.  In every respect the right person to re-name the SAS Oswald Pirow strike craft after.

The Warrior Class South African Ship René Sethren started on her final voyage in October 2001 leaving  Durban harbour for the South African Navy’s fleet headquarters in Simonstown to be finally decommissioned after 22 years of service, with a fitting name to a proud fighting legacy.

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SAS René Sethren

Related Work and Links

Oswald Pirow;  South Africa’s ‘Neuordnung’ and Oswald Pirow

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

HMSAS Parktown; The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown

HMSAS Treern;  The last South African Navy ship to be lost in action; HMSAS Treern

HMSAS Bever; “Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever

HMSAS Southern Floe; ‘A sole survivor and a ship’s crest’; the South African Navy’s first loss – HMSAS Southern Floe

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


Written and researched by Peter Dickens.  References, Day by Day SA Naval History by Chris Bennett. Allan du Toit’s  ‘South African Fighting Ships Past and Present’.

The incidental ‘terrorist’

Not too many people are fully aware of the story behind the bombing of the Koeberg nuclear plant in 1982, it made the news alright, big news, but who really knows the real story behind it? Now, if you’re not familiar, you are going to need a stiff drink and sit down, this story is guaranteed to make you laugh and cry all at the same time.

It’s actually a very comical and random sequence of events which led to the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) getting this one right, and it’s one that will leave you simply astounded.  It’s also an inconvenient story to the general narrative, as the bomber is in the same category as Hein Grosskopf, who bombed Witwatersrand Command – he was also ‘white’.

It gets better, not only was he ‘white’ he was also a serving Citizen Force Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the South African Defence Force (now that’s very inconvenient news to many SADF veterans). However, it gets even better than that, unlike Grosskopf he was a ‘English South African’ in origin, a South African national sporting champion and a free-thinking liberal soul, a little like the archetypal ‘hippy’.

He’s was not your typical MK cadre at all, in fact nowhere close. MK didn’t even need to train him (the SADF did) and he randomly arrived on their doorstep in Zimbabwe with Koeberg blue-prints under his arm, his proposition was so ‘out there’ MK thought he was a spy and initially laughed him off.

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Koeberg Nuclear Plant

The bombing of Koeberg is now posted by MK as one of their ‘Top Achievements’ on their website, but the inconvenient truth is that it was not really theirs to start off with, it was more about the bombers own politics in resistance to Apartheid than the African National Congress’ (ANC) politics and the ‘operator’ was pretty much in his own ‘cell’ with his equally free-spirited girlfriend who in reality was a speech therapist. MK just provided some very ‘unstable’ limpet mines and helped pin-point the placement targets.

So audacious was the attack that the South African security forces at the time suspected the operation was the work of a ‘group’ of highly trained saboteurs. But in fact, and here’s a military truism, never under-estimate the ability  of a ‘single’ corporal in the South African Defence Force (SADF) to wreak havoc.

The bombing of Koeberg Nuclear Plant reads like the ‘Incidental Tourist’, stuff just randomly falls in place with loads of luck and even though it is a very serious matter it even comes across as comical at times, you just could not make it up  – so let’s have a look at a pair of ‘hippies’ Rodney Wilkinson, South Africa’s fencing sword fighting national champion and his side-kick, his girlfriend, Heather Gray, the speech therapist.

‘Planning’ the Koeberg bombing

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Rodney Wilkinson taken in 1995

The Koeberg operation was born of sheer chance in 1978. Rodney Wilkinson was living in  a ‘hippy’ commune near Koeberg. The commune ran out of money and Rodney, a student of  building science and UCT drop-out, rather reluctantly mind, had to take a job at the nearby nuclear plant which was under construction.

Whist working at the plant for nearly two years he was privy to the building plans and blue-prints. With a strong anti-Apartheid sentiment and liberal conviction he was encouraged by his girlfriend Heather to steal a set of them. But what to do with them?

They came up with an idea, give them to the African National Congress (ANC) so they might find them handy and conduct an attack on the nuclear station.  Buoyed up with this idea they both trekked off to the newly independent Zimbabwe to hand over the plans to the ANC in exile there, job done.

Not really.  Rodney pitched up randomly on the doorstep of the ANC office and told them he was in possession of plans to one of the most secure and secret facilities in South Africa.  The ANC took one look at the hapless hippy in front of them and dismissed him out of hand as a government spy.

The ANC were very circumspect of him, but Rodney was persistent so they agreed to take the plans from him and have them authenticated first.  After many delays with Rodney hanging about, during which time the stolen plans were shown to Soviet nuclear scientists and an investigation into Rodney Wilkinson himself was done. Eventually the ANC reverted. Great news – all vetted, job done, they’ll take the plans, Rodney and Heather figured they now could head off home.

Not so fast snowflakes!  The ANC then threw a curveball at Rodney and told him that the only way the job could really be done is if he carried out the attack himself.  By his own admission he was initially taken aback by all this, as becoming a MK operative really wasn’t in his plans, however he pondered their proposal and eventually agreed.  The operation was code-named Operation Mac (named after Mac Maharaj).

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SADF Koeberg Commando flash

No military training required, luckily the South African Defence Force (SADF) had already provided all that when he was called up as National Servicemen conscript, completed his two years of training and deployment and he was now serving out his Citizen Force commitments with the rank of Corporal.

In fact he had even served duty on the Angolan border and at one stage wrecked a truck going AWOL and landed up in hospital, he was not prosecuted by the SADF and not demoted.

Therein lies the hazard of conscription, not everyone agreed with the government of the day and moreover many didn’t buy into the ‘whites only’ Afrikaner Nationalist government’s program of conscription at all, especially many of the ‘English’ conscripts and certainly not Rodney, but it did produce very proficient soldiers in any event.

‘Dirty weekends’ in Swaziland 

To Rodney’s own surprise, more luck, Koeberg Nuclear station wanted him back at work on mapping emergency pipes and valves at the plant.

The ANC appointed a ‘Dolphin’ MK commander in Swaziland as Wilkinson’s ‘handler’, he was Aboobaker Ismail. So once a month Rodney and his girlfriend trekked off to Swaziland, the small independent kingdom which allowed gambling (banned under Apartheid South Africa), before Sun City was built, this was the premier destination for thousands of white South Africans to go gambling on weekend getaways and not unusual ‘movement’ of white people over a border at all.

Whilst in Swaziland, Rodney and his handler thrashed out the strategy, it was designed to maximise embarrassment to the South African government while minimising the risk to human life – this after all was a nuclear facility and required ‘careful’ thinking.

Aboobaker and Rodney then drilled down the targets onto which limpid mines would be placed. It was suspected at the time that Koeberg Nuclear plant would be used to produce plutonium for the construction of atomic bombs, so to avoid a radioactive fall-out, the attack had to happen before the plant went on-line.

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Soviet era SPM Limpet mine commonly used by MK

Limpet mines were to be placed on the two reactor heads, yup – read that again, the reactor heads – they figured as these were made of 110 tones of steel the limpet mines were not really going to really harm them, also they figured there would be fantastic PR and media value in it for the ANC.  Other mines were planned for the control room and a containment building, designed to do as much damage as possible.

The date for the attack was deliberate and designed to humiliate the government – it was set for 16th December, the National Party’s ‘Day of the Covenant’ – ‘Dingaan Day’ to others and ‘MK Day’ to members of the ANC.  That the attack happened on the 17th December is another event of haplessness and chance.

The arms ‘cache’

To anyone with a military background, the arms ‘cache’  is where the story gets comically scary, as if blowing up a plutonium nuclear plant is not scary enough.  Rodney and Heather were directed to the arms cache, and it was not where you would expect, nope this cache consisted of four very old and unstable limpet mines left next to a road side in the middle of the remote Karoo.  Makes you think what else is still ‘out there’ in this quirky part of South Africa.

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SADF Corporal holding a Soviet era SPM limpet mine

So, how to smuggle them unnoticed?, No problem to Rodney and Heather, they dug them up and simply hid them in decanted wine boxes – the good old box wine ‘doos’ now makes another unusual entry into South African history folklore.  They jump into their little Renault 5 and head to their home in the tranquil up-market, very ‘white’ suburb of Claremont in Cape Town.  If you have not yet reached for your stiff drink now is a good time.

Now enter the worst co-conspirator ever!  Their puppy dog, Gaby.  Gaby had been pretty efficient digging holes all over their garden, so thanks to her labours they buried these old and unstable limpet mines in the holes.

From there Rodney smuggled the mines one by one in a hidden compartment of the Renault through the perimeter security fence at the nuclear installation. But were to hide them in order that nobody would dare to look?  No problem Rodney simply put them in his desk drawer in his prefabricated office.  Now, to get them into the main building and past all the heavy security, no problem again he simply walked in carrying one at a time hidden in his overalls – so much for the ‘heavy’ impenetrable security on South Africa’s most vital, most prized and most secretive Nuclear Plant.

A series of mishaps 

s-l300So on to the attack itself and it’s marred by a series of mishaps. It started with an unrelated accidental short-circuit which started a cable fire. The incident was reported in the local press.  Now enter the ANC’s President-in-exile, Oliver Tambo, who had been made aware of the operation but not really the details of it, like timing.  So he released a statement immediately claiming the fire as an ANC victory.  All this did was prompt a security scare and clamp down at the plant and gave the National Party some ammo to ridicule the ANC for unsubstantiated claims.

Then, in November the firm hiring Rodney informed him that they were laying him off at the end of the month, so much for timing.  Luckily for Rodney they changed their minds and asked him to stay on for another month.  As fortune would also have it, he turned the security scare to his advantage and told them he would stay on, but only till the 17th December, thereby obtaining an official alibi and cover for his planned disappearance.

Here is where he missed the deadline of the 16th December, as previously stated the limpet mines were old and unstable.  Rodney placed the mines in the pre-determined targets setting 24 hour fuses on the 15th December (a Friday) so they would blow on the public holiday (a Saturday), thereby assuring minimal casualties to his fellow contractors as nobody would be there.

Here’s the kicker, as his contract was ending, his fellow contractors and engineers liked this young man and decided to throw Rodney a farewell party at the plant on the Friday evening just after he had been busy planting the bombs.  Rodney had to sit through his impromptu ‘going-away’ party stressing endlessly that the bombs would not go off prematurely.

He had no real need to worry, as said these limpet mines were old and they would not go off on the Saturday either in fact they eventually went off a day after the target date on the Sunday. The springs on the firing mechanism proved to have been brittle and the devices also exploded over a period of several hours instead of simultaneously.

Rodney’s ‘Great Escape’

Reach for that stiff drink again, you’ll need it for this next part of the story.  Instead of bolting it out the country with a keen sense of urgency, as the other ‘white’ lone wolf MK cadre did – Hein Grosskopf who high-tailed it directly into Botswana after bombing of Wit Command on his motorbike, not even looking back for a nano-second.  No, not our ‘hippy’ would casually, get this, ‘cycle’ out of South Africa on a bicycle, yup you heard right … a bicycle.

He took a domestic flight to Johannesburg and was driven with a borrowed bicycle to a point near the Swaziland border where he jumped on the bicycle and then casually cycled through the border post into exile.

Aftermath 

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Oliver Tambo at a news conference in exile (left) Gallo Image

A few days beforehand South African special forces had attacked ANC targets in the kingdom of Lesotho, Oliver Tambo claimed the Koeberg attack was an act of retaliation carried out by a MK ‘unit’ (one chap in reality and as propaganda goes his efforts had nothing to do with the Lesotho raid at all).

How close to nuclear fall-out did we come? Take a big sip that stiff drink again.  Not part of Rodney’s plan but unbeknown to him enriched uranium fuel had been moved into to the plant when the attack took place and was due to come on-line in the reactors.  Luckily for all of us (and here we include the entire planet) it was in dormant storage.

The attack delayed the commissioning of the plant by about 18 months and cost the Apartheid government millions of rand.  This is why this attack sits as No. 2 on their all time greatest achievements (No. 1 is the Sasol bombing and No.3 is the rather controversial and bloody Church Street Bombing).  Although there were no deaths attributed to the bombing, that it nearly cost thousands of lives in the entire city of Cape Town is lost on this particular MK ‘highlight’.

Rodney flew on to Maputo where he met Oliver Tambo, the two exchanged a warm and tearful embrace.  Rodney’s girlfriend Heather was already in Maputo having flown out a week beforehand.  The two jumped on a flight to the United Kingdom and further into exile.

They married one another in Woodbridge, Suffolk, before returning home to South Africa following the general amnesty and unbanning of all ‘liberation’ movements. The TRC rewarded the Wilkinsons and Aboobaker Ismail full amnesty in April 1999. Given the nature of this MK ‘cell’ it seemed a little unlikely that the ANC and its brand of politics is quite Rodney and Heathers bag, anti-apartheid, yes but unlike Carl Niehaus we don’t find him regularly wheeled out in a PEP store set of camos with the other ‘struggle heroes’ and he lives a life in relative obscurity.

A happy ending to our ‘Incidental terrorist’ and an equally and far more happy ending to just about every Cape Town and Western Cape resident, South Africa as a whole, the entire South African tourist trade, the local bio-sphere and the green planet in general. We can now all universally breathe a sigh of relief that the entire Cape Peninsula is not a radioactive ‘Chernobyl’ no-go zone thanks to the African National Congress.

If you chose not to have a stiff drink reading this article, nows a good time to really start.

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Related Work and Links

Wit Command Bombing; The truth behind the bombing of Witwatersrand Command

Struggle ‘Heroes’; Tainted “Military Heroes” vs. Real Military Heroes

Rocketing of Voortrekkerhoogte; The not so ‘spectacular’ MK attack on Voortrekkerhoogte


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  Primary source, an interview with Rodney Wilkinson by a daily mail staff reporter in December 1995 and photograph.  Published news snippets, MK official web-page. TRC references. Image references – general net search. Nuclear terrorism in Africa: The ANC’s Operation Mac and the attack on the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station in South Africa. Jo-Ansie van Wyk

 

The South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’ is not recognised and not commemorated

1200px-Emblem_of_the_South_African_NavyHere’s a question for many,  in what action did the South African Navy (SAN) experience its greatest single loss of personnel, the largest sacrifice of South African life in a single  sea battle  – in essence when and what was the South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’?

I’ve asked this question of senior South African military personnel, including the South African Navy as well as the South African Naval fraternity, the veterans – and the bottom line is … nobody knows.

Some immediately say it was the Mendi, as the remembrance of the Mendi is now the South African Navy’s key responsibility, but the loss of the SS Mendi in World War 1 was not a loss of South African Navy personnel (the South African Navy did not exist in WW1 and the Royal Navy was in charge of this particular troop ship full of South African ‘Army personnel’) and the loss of the Mendi was an accident at sea and not a combat action.

za)nv81Most (actually the majority) of SAN officers and veterans would say it was the loss of the SAS President Kruger (16 souls) but that would also be very wrong, both in terms of scale and action, the SAS President Kruger loss was also an accident at sea and not a combat action.

A tiny handful of SAN officers and vets who have a little knowledge of World War 2 might venture to answer the question by stating the loss of any one of the four South African minesweepers sunk during the war as the ‘darkest hour’ of the war.

22308811_10155537271456480_3745202244434378650_nThese are the HMSAS Southern Floe (24 souls) or the HMSAS Parktown (5 souls), or the HMSAS Bever (17 souls) or the HMSAS Treen (23 souls) – getting warm but that too would be wrong, as these did not happen over a defined period of the war that would warrant a ‘darkest hour’ in Churchill’s definition of the phrase (Churchill coined the term).

Nope, the largest loss of South Africans in a single sea battle, its ‘Darkest Hour’ took place fighting against Imperial Japan from the 5th to the 9th April 1942 … yup, the Japanese – believe it, and by the end of this particular naval engagement at sea a grand total of 65 South African souls were lost.  Now how many people know that!

The reason to ‘forget’!

So why does nobody know about this, why is this incident not ‘recognised,’ why is nobody ‘commemorating’ it and what exactly happened?

Simply put, it’s because they all died fighting whilst seconded to four British war ships in an action in the Pacific called ‘The Easter Sunday Raid’ – and it involved the sinking of the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire in a single day – and later the sinking of HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock a few days later by the Japanese Imperial Navy.  But why should that be an issue and a reason to ‘forget’?

Imperial Japanese ensign

Japanese Imperial Fleet Ensign from World War 2

Again the simple answer is because just three short years after World War 2 the National Party in a stunning and unexpected election win over Jan Smuts’ United Party, came into power with their proposal of ‘Apartheid’ and making South Africa a ‘Republic’ independent of Britain – and they hated the British or anything to do with Britain.  The Nationalists had grounded an entire Afrikaner identity and a country’s ‘nationalism’ on two events – The Great Trek and The 2nd Anglo-Boer war, both of which carried a history of either British betrayal or British atrocity.

During the Second World war these nationalists either openly sided with Nazi Germany and in many cases (by their tens of thousands in fact) even joined Neo-nazi South African parties and/or adopted national socialist movement (Nazism) ideology publicly, some (including a future Nationalist South African President) embarked on sedition and terrorism to undermine the war effort (see “Mein Kampf shows the way to greatness for South Africa” – The Ossewabrandwag).

Bottom line, to the Nationalists thinking anyone who took part in Smuts’ campaign for South Africa to fight in the Second World War was a traitor to their ‘Volk’ (peoples).  In their minds they went to fight ‘Britain’s war’ alongside the hated British – traitors all (even though an unprecedented 1 in 4 white South African males volunteered to fight in WW2 – half of them Afrikaners).

For the Nationalists commemorating the sinking of South African ships fighting alongside British ones in World War 2 was bad enough.  However, commemorating and remembering the South African loss whilst fighting on His Majesty’s British ships themselves would be, for the nationalist government at least, an unforgivable betrayal.

SANF

Members of the South African Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve serving on board HMS Nelson. The group is sat on one of the 16 inch gun barrels.

For this reason, the sinking of South African ships lost in World War 2 was not really extensively commemorated by the ‘old’ South African Defence Force  (SADF).  The SADF came into existence once the Nationalists declared South Africa a ‘Republic’ and replaced Smuts’ old ‘South African Union Defence Force (UDF) with a reformed military entity.  The sinking of HMSAS ships are only ‘remembered’ in small pockets of veteran South African Legion branches and MOTH shell-holes.

It is also for this reason that the SADF and the South African Navy did not ever commemorate the South African losses on British Ships, it is the reason why this particular ‘darkest hour’ in the South African Navy’s history is not recognised or remembered at all, which is utterly unforgivable as this is the very institution who supplied the men to The Royal Navy in the first place.

It is made worse in the modern epoch, by the newly reformatted South African National Defence Force’s Navy after 1994, which has not only lost the link thanks to the Nationalists, but also does not attempt to re-kindle it, party because of lack of knowledge, but also because it suits the African National Congress’ political agenda not to remember this association (commemorating or remembering a time when South Africans went to war for the ‘Colonials’ does not suit their current narrative).

So, let’s start addressing this betrayal of our armed forces personnel and understand what happened to qualify this as the South African Navy’s ‘darkest hour’, who is on this honour roll and what’s been done about in now?

What happened? 

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Simonstown Dry Docks, when next there look out for the ships emblems of the Dorsetshire, Cornwall, Hermes and Hollyhock

As Simon’s Town was a Royal Navy base during World War 2 (British soil in the middle of South Africa), men volunteering for the “South African Naval Forces” (SANF) to fight in World War 2 where either allocated to Royal Navy ships (titled HMS – His Majesty’s Ship) or on South African Navy ships (tilted HMSAS – His Majesty’s South African Ship), therefore whenever a large Royal Navy ship was lost during the war it is almost guaranteed that a number of South African Naval Personnel (SANF) were lost with it.

When large HMS ships are lost in an action on the same action the number of South African naval personnel lost just rockets – and this is the case with the sinking of the HMS Cornwall, HMS Dorsetshire, HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock.

The Japanese Easter Raid of 1942

Zero

A Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane takes off from the deck of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi, part of the Japanese Naval force in the Indian Ocean

With Japan’s entry into the war, and especially after the fall of Singapore, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became a front-line British base. The Royal Navy’s East Indies Station and Eastern Fleet was moved to Colombo and Trincomalee.

Admiral Sir James Somerville was appointed as the commander of the British Eastern Fleet, and he decided to withdraw main component the fleet to Addu Atoll in the Maldives, leaving a small force to defend Ceylon (now Shri Lanka) consisting of an aircraft carrier, the HMS Hermes, two heavy cruisers – the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire, one Australian Destroyer the HMSAS Vampire and the flower class HMS Hollyhock.

The Imperial Japanese Navy, in much the same way and with the same objectives that were used at Pearl Harbour planned a decisive attack of the British Eastern Fleet to end their presence in the North Indian and Pacific oceans.  Unaware that the main body of the British fleet had moved to the Maldives, they focused their plan on Colombo.

The planned Japanese attack was to become collectively known as the Easter Sunday Raid and the Japanese fleet comprised five aircraft carriers plus supporting ships under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.

In an almost exact copy of the raid on the American fleet at Peal Harbour (as if no learnings were made by the Allies), on 4 April 1942, the Japanese fleet was located by a Canadian PBY Calatina aircraft, the Catalina radioed the position of the Japanese Fleet to The British Eastern Fleet which alerted the British to the impending attack before it was shot down by six Japanese Zero fighters from the carrier Hiryu,  However, despite the warning Nagumo’s air strike on Colombo the next day, Easter Sunday – 5th April –  achieved near-complete surprise (Pearl Harbour was also attacked on a weekend). The British Radar installations were not operating, they were shut down for routine maintenance.

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The Japanese high command had planned the bombing of Colombo very much like the Pearl Harbor operation (many of the same planes and pilots participated in both strikes); but most of the British Eastern Fleet was at Addu Atholl in the Maldives, so when the Japanese attacked at Colombo there were only three ships there.

The sinking of the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire.

The day before, 4 April, when the Japanese carrier fleet was spotted, the two heavy cruisers the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire set out for Addu Atoll in pursuit of the Japanese. On 5 April 1942, the two cruisers were sighted by a spotter plane from the Japanese cruiser Tone about 200 miles (370 km) southwest of Ceylon.

As part of the engagement known as the Easter Sunday Raid, a wave of dive bombers led by Lieutenant Commander Egusa took off from Japanese carriers to attack Cornwall and Dorsetshire, 320 km (170 nmi; 200 mi) southwest of Ceylon, and sank the two ships.  Both the Dorsetshire and the Cornwall had long associations with South Africa and had large contingent of South African Naval Personnel on board.

DorsetshireCornwall

Japanese combat photograph showing the Royal Navy heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall on fire and sinking

In the attack, the Japanese airman flying Japanese  D3A-1 ‘VAL’ dive bombers, a total of 53 dive bombers in the attack wave, dropped 10 bombs on the HMS Dorsetshire itself (250- and 550-pound bombs) and 8 near misses, all in the span of 8 minutes.  One of the bombs detonated an ammunition magazine and contributed to her rapid sinking.  Of the two British cruisers, the HMS Dorsetshire sank first, with her stern going first at about 13:50, the HMS Cornwall was hit eight times and sank bow first about ten minutes later.

For a full story on the HMS Dorsetshire and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link: “They machine gunned us in the water”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire

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For a full story on the HMS Cornwall and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link: “A terrific explosion lifted the ship out of the water”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Cornwall

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British and Allied losses were 424 men killed; 1,122 survivors spent thirty hours in the water before being rescued by HMS Enterprise and two British destroyers.

The sinking of the HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock

If the above losses qualify a dark day for the South African Navy it then becomes the SAN’s ‘darkest hour’, when in the same Japanese Operation, only a couple of short days later, on 9 April 1942, the Japanese focussed their attack on the harbour at Trincomalee and the British ships off Batticaloa. The HMS Hermes left the Royal Naval Base of Trincomalee, Ceylon escorted by the Australian Destroyer HMAS Vampire and HMS Hollyhock looking to engage the Imperial Japanese fleet which had attacked Colombo.

While sailing south off Batticaloa on the East Coast of Ceylon, this British flotilla was also attacked by the Japanese Carrier-Borne dive-bombers from the Imperial Japanese Task Force now in the process of attacking the Naval Base at Trincomalee.

Approximately 70 Japanese aircraft were despatched to bomb the HMS Hermes which sank within ten minutes of being hit by numerous aircraft bombs. HMAS Vampire was also sunk by bombs a short while later.

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HMS Hermes ablaze and sinking

The HMS Hollyhock was about 7 nautical miles from the HMS Hermes escorting a tanker, the RFA Athelstane when the Hermes came under attack.  The Hollyhock came under attack by the same Japanese aircraft and it too was bombed and sunk.

Once again, the HMS Hermes also had a very large South African Naval Forces contingent seconded to it on board, and the same applied to the HMS Hollyhock, and therefore once again there is a large of loss of South African life in this action against the Imperial Japanese fleet.

For a full story on the HMS Hermes and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link “Dante’s Inferno”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes

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For a full story on the HMS Hollyhock and her long association with South Africa, see this Observation Post by clicking this link “She immediately blew up”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

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HMS Hollyhock

The Honour Roll

Total South African Naval Force (SANF) losses on the HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire in the single day of action were as follows (MPK means “missing presumed killed”):

HMS Cornwall

BESWETHERICK, Hedley C, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 86671 (SANF), MPK
BOTES, John S, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68924 (SANF), MPK
COMMERFORD, Noel P, Able Seaman RNVR, 66493 (SANF), MPK
CRAWFORD, Cecil E, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 67922 (SANF), MPK
DU PREEZ, Charles P H, Able Seaman, 68175 (SANF), MPK
DUTTON, Charles C, Stoker 2c RNVR, 68949 (SANF), MPK
HANSLO, Raymond F, Able Seaman RNVR, 68295 (SANF), MPK
KEITH, Kenneth I B, Able Seaman RNVR, 66742 (SANF), MPK
KENYON, Graeme A B, Able Seaman RNVR, 68002 (SANF), MPK
KIRSTEN, Monty G W, Able Seaman RNVR, 68917 (SANF), MPK
LAW, Edward, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c RNVR, 66760 (SANF), MPK
MCDAVID, William K, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69138 (SANF), MPK
MITCHELL, William A, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68796 (SANF), MPK
PALMER, Walter A, Able Seaman RNVR, 68344 (SANF), (rescued, aboard HMS Enterprise), Died of Wounds
SPENCE, Noel W, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68732 (SANF), MPK
SQUIRES, John E, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68728 (SANF), MPK
STEPHEN, Eric B, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68861 (SANF), MPK
SWANN, Lawrence T, Stoker 1c RNVR, 68710 (SANF), MPK
THORPE, Maurice, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69140 (SANF), MPK
VERSFELD, Peter H S, Able Seaman RNVR, 68859 (SANF), MPK
VINK, Benjamin F, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68860 (SANF), MPK
WILLSON, Gerald F, Stoker 2c RNVR, 69006 (SANF), MPK
WRIGHT, Thomas H, Able Seaman RNVR, 68039 (SANF), MPK

HMS Dorsetshire

BELL, Douglas S, Ty/Act/Leading Stoker, 67243 (SANF), MPK
BRUCE, Alexander M, Stoker 2c, 67907 (SANF), MPK
CONCANON, Harold Bernard, Surgeon Lieutenant (Doctor)
EVENPOEL, Albert, Stoker 2c, 67909 (SANF), MPK
GEFFEN, Sender, Stoker 1c, 68035 (SANF), MPK
HOWE, Horace G, Ordinary Seaman RNVR, 68680 (SANF), MPK
KENDRICK, George, Stoker 2c, 67910 (SANF), MPK
MCINTYRE, Norman G, Able Seaman, 67446 (SANF), MPK
MCLELLAN, Robert, Ordinary Telegraphist, 67897 (SANF), MPK
MILNE, Lawrence Victor, Able Seaman
MORROW, Douglas E, Able Seaman, 67989 (SANF), MPK
ORTON, Charles P, Able Seaman, 68009 (SANF), MPK
REDMAN, Roland A, Leading Stoker, 67406 (SANF), MPK
SCOTT, William J, Able Seaman, 68007 (SANF), MPK
SEVEL, Harry, Stoker 1c, 68100 (SANF), MPK
VAN ZYL, David Isak Stephanus, Stoker 1st Class
WILLETT, Amos A S, Stoker 1c, 67240 (SANF), MPK
WILLIAMSON, Walter N, Able Seaman, 67803 (SANF), MPK

But, unfortunately there is more.  As in the same Japanese Operation, just a couple of days later saw the loss of the HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock (also lost in a single day), the honour roll of South Africans on board these two fighting ships who were lost is as  follows:

HMS Hermes

BRIGGS, Anthony Herbert Lindsay Sub-Lieutenant (Engineer) Royal Navy (South African national), MPK

BRYSON, Neil W, Ordinary Telegraphist, 69147 (SANF), MPK
BURNIE, Ian A, Able Seaman, 67786 (SANF), MPK
CLAYTON, Frederick H, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68102 (SANF), MPK
DE CASTRO, Alfred T, Stoker 1c, 67914 (SANF), MPK
KEENEY, Frederick W, Able Seaman, 67748 (SANF), MPK
KEYTEL, Roy, Able Seaman, 67296 (SANF), MPK
KIMBLE, Dennis C, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 67600 (SANF), MPK
KRAUSE, Frederick E, Able Seaman, 68321 (SANF), MPK
RAPHAEL, Philip R, Able Seaman, 67841 (SANF), MPK
RICHARDSON, Ronald P, Able Seaman, 67494 (SANF), MPK
RILEY. Harry Air Mechanic 2nd Class, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy (South African national), MPK
TOMS, Ivanhoe S, Able Seaman, 67709 (SANF), MPK
VICKERS, Colin P, Able Seaman, 68296 (SANF), MPK
VORSTER, Jack P, Able Seaman, 67755 (SANF), MPK
WHITE, Edward G, Stoker, 68026 (SANF), MPK
WIBLIN, Eric R, Able Seaman, 67717 (SANF), MPK
YATES, Philip R, Supply Assistant, 67570 (SANF), MPK

Included in this Honour Roll is also a South African serving with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm on the HMS Hermes.

RILEY, H, Air Mechanic, Fleet Air Arm, HMS Hermes, died 9 April 1942

HMS Hollyhock

ANDERSON, Henry G, Able Seaman, 67501 (SANF), MPK
BASTON, Douglas T, Act/Engine Room Artificer 4c, 68600 (SANF), MPK
BUITENDACH, James M, Stoker 2c, 69223 (SANF), MPK
JUBY, Kenneth J, Ordinary Seaman, 69211 (SANF), MPK
LEACH, Peter A D H, Stoker 2c, 69225 (SANF), MPK

 Lest we forget the tremendous sacrifice of our countrymen in this world war for the liberation of human kind.

Why is it important we get this history right?

Logo_of_the_Royal_NavySo there we have it, the South African Navy’s biggest single loss in a single day – 41 souls, a ‘black day’ and added together with the HMS Hermes and HMS Hollyhock , we see a complete total of 65 South African souls lost in one single engagement at sea – qualifying a very ‘black week’ – The Easter Sunday Raid and this then marks the Easter period as the South African Navy’s ‘Darkest Hour’.

But is this correct – is this the full complement of South Africans lost in the incident?  The answer unfortunately is – probably not.

Whilst the honour rolls distinguish the South African Naval Forces personnel seconded to British ships, they do not distinguish the South Africans who joined the Royal Navy directly in either Simonstown or in the United Kingdom – of which there were thousands and those who lost their lives are now listed under the Royal Navy’s honour roll.

The ‘old’ South African Defence Force (SADF) did not maintain these records, nor was a honour roll tracked by the South African Navy and simply put, when the Nationalists broke the formal ties with the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, and after the resultant four decades in the ‘wilderness’ during the Apartheid epoch – many of these names are now ‘lost’.to all of us as South Africans.

To find out which of these are South Africans requires research into each and every case on the Royal Navy’s record – a momentous task which some dedicated people looking into this are only now beginning to get their heads around.  Here we must thank the likes of Glenn Knox, David Bennet, Allan du Toit, Cameron Kinnear and Graham Du Toit and a handful of others for sterling work recovering this history.

So, in all likelihood more than just ’64’ South Africans died in this action, and why is this important for us to know who they were? Read this letter I received when I published this honour roll and action in a previous article on the HMS Dorsetshire it says everything as to the importance of this work:

Letter from Chris Crossley

Hi Peter,
Just another story for you! This post you put up on the Legions page has some amazing history which you wouldn’t know about but I am happy to share with you to show my gratitude for these “nuggets” of info you share with us.

My wife, Tracy, was an adopted child who after 35 years found her birth parents. Wonderful people they turned out to be and we are building a relationship with them that is priceless. As things go, curiosity led us to find out about family history and Tracy’s birth Dad told us about an uncle of his that was lost during the war. He was in the SAN and went down with “some” ship somewhere. He was married at the time and his wife, on hearing the news that her husband was lost at sea (MIA) never gave up on the hope of his return to Durban because he was never seen and not confirmed deceased. Because of this, she never remarried and passed away many years later, remaining faithful to her husband. Her husband was Roland Redman who served with the SA Navy volunteers on the HMS Dorsetshire that your story includes. His name is included in the Role of Honour for the Dorsetshire.

None of the wider family have ever known what happened to him and the facts and details of his service were not known by the surviving family members either. This last Saturday evening, I was talking to my wife’s birth Dad when he recounted the scant details he had of his uncle. I went on line and found your article and shared it with him on fb. Well he was overcome by this information as well as other members of his family and now for the first time in seventy odd years the facts of Uncle Roland, his service and his sacrifice are now known and cherished by his family left behind.

As an historian, I am sure this story will be something that you can cherish as your post has made a huge difference to some wonderful people! Thank you.

Chris Crossley

See When “nuggets” of history make a BIG difference

In Conclusion 

Now, with this letter in mind, I cannot think of a better reason to get this history right and establish the correct commemorations and full honour roll.  We owe it to our countrymen whose sacrifice brought us international freedom and liberty – it is our duty to carry this flame of remembrance and rid ourselves of the divisive and petty politics of one-upmanship played out by politicians with agendas (nationalists and the ANC) – this politicisation shrouds our most honourable history and only serves to dishonour the sacrifice of our South African servicemen and women – which is by its very nature is as ‘unforgivable’ as it is ‘dishonourable’.

Related work and Links:

For related work in the Observation Post on the above story, click on the following links:

SS Mendi: Let us die like brothers … the silent voices of the SS Mendi finally heard 

HMSAS Southern Floe:  ‘A sole survivor and a ship’s crest’; the South African Navy’s first loss – HMSAS Southern Floe

HMSAS Parktown: The feisty South African minesweeper that went down fighting – HMSAS Parktown)

HMSAS Bever  “Under a hail of shells”; Recounting the bravery and loss of HMSAS Bever

HMSAS Treern: The last South African Navy ship to be lost in action; HMSAS Treern

SAS President Kruger:  “Out of the Storm came Courage” … the tragedy of the PK

South Africans lost on other Royal Navy ships:

HMS Barham: “She blew sky high”; Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Barham!

HMS Edinburgh: “Gold may shine; but it has no true light” South African sacrifice on the HMS Edinburgh

HMS Gloucester: A “grievous error”; Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Gloucester

HMS Helca: “Every man for himself” … South African sacrifice and the sinking of HMS Hecla

HMS Neptune: South African sacrifice on the HMS Neptune


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.  References Wikipedia. CASUALTIES BY DATE and SHIP Compiled by Don Kindell sourced on the Royal Naval History Homepage.  Image copyright of Royal Navy, SA Naval Reserve, Imperial War Museum.  Japanese Imperial Ensign object, Imperial War Museum copyright.