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SADF Camps Summary.
SADF Camps Summary.
My Camp Details.
Riot Control Camp: Sept 1985 Nov 1985 (63 days)
If you want to get into trouble, the best way is to hang around the tents, so when everyone left camp in the morning to go out on their patrols in the Uitenhage and PE townships, the "homeless ones" walked out the front gates with their towel and bathing suit rolled up under their arms and headed for the beach! Hamburger and beers for lunch and when the Buffels began returning, we changed and headed back to the base. Each day more of our unit arrived and things started getting organized as soldiers with rank arrived, we acted like we were part of someone elseís unit and everyday we walked out the front gate until they started taking rollcall and holding parades.
We all thought our unit was going to stay at Camp Paradise (with the ocean across the road) and patrol Uitenhage and the surrounding townships (the birthplace of the "necklace" - link to glossary -), as all the other units in PE were. One day we packed up our stuff and were flown to Cape Town by Flossie (Hercules C130.)
We had a quick medical and began riot-control training. Practiced getting into the 'D-block' formation, advancing and retiring. Lectured on presenting a confident, disciplined front to chaos. Main mission is 'winning the hearts and minds' of the locals. Help protect good guys and arrest the bad guys.
Ratels were considered "too aggressive" as we were trying to win the people over, you know: hand out candy, play soccer with the kids. When the intelligence officers briefed us that we were dealing with the UDF (trained by Hamas, Hezbollah, and financed by Iran and Libya), we initially felt that this was more Bullshit designed to motivate us to defend apartheid and crush the unrest that gripped the non-white townships. (However, once we got out there we realized that it was true, one of the most obvious things was that the only grocery stores open were owned and operated by Muslims, the others had all been burned to the ground.)
Legal rights were covered and everyone was issued a cheat-sheet of situational law. Basically, a soldier in a non-war zone has very little protection from the law, and would have the same rights as a civilian making a citizens arrest. For example, you may not shoot a rioter holding a petrolbomb with the cloth-fuse lit - unless he is closer than 10 meters (yards) away and you did not think you would be able to side-step the projectile. Most of us made up our minds that we would shoot way before this and take our chances in court afterwards. We also got a good exposure to teargas so that we knew "what it was like". The other bummer was if you arrested someone, you would be subpoenaed when their trial came up. They would put you on the train from your hometown and 3 days later you would be in one of Cape Townís district courts. Time off work - no credit towards your military commitment, and an angry employee! Very few bad guys got arrested by soldiers, yes, we assisted the police with arrests (they didnít mind as court time got them released from patrolling the townships.)
I decided to be a driver and when all the volunteer driverís files had been checked we were issued with Buffels. There are many advantages to being a driver in the Army, you have a vehicle issued to you and you are responsible for itís maintenance and readiness. You have a drivers compartment to put your stuff in and generally you stay close to your vehicle. Also you have a lot of control over the risk you are exposed to: inappropriate speed, being lured into inviting traps etc. The downside is that you are driving, scanning and reporting to your commander and other officers while the guys in the back are catching Zees. After a couple of weeks of driving all day and standing guard at night, I was getting worn out. This culminated when we were racing to petrol-bombing incident and I refused to go through red traffic lights without slowing down.
Many of our soldiers were killed when this very top-heavy vehicle rolled over and crushed anyone not strapped in at that time. I was "demoted" to rifleman - I preferred this as could sleep/doze in back instead of drive and I would be alert enough to stay awake while on guard duty. Because all township leaders (members of parliament, city councilors, teachers) were considered puppets of the apartheid state, they (and their families) were targets for assassination and intimidation. Also because of SAís firearm laws, it was difficult for non-whites to legally obtain weapons to defend themselves, so the state had an obligation to protect these brave people from being shot, "necklaced" or their homes bombed. Solution was to post a guard (conscript soldier) outside their homes at night. The families we guarded were generally very kind and generous and if you were there while they were still awake, you could expect at least a cup of coffee and a chat, sometimes a plate of food. Often the house you were guarding was empty as the family was sleeping at a safe house somewhere else.
Many of the houses had obvious damage from attempts - a hand grenade tossed through a window, or a large gas cylinder propped against the front door and then a petrol bomb lobbed at it to cause the tank to explode, were the most common techniques. On one occasion I was in my sleeping bag (it gets quite cold in Cape Town, believe it or not) sitting on a chair on the patio when a panelvan with the sliding-door open drove by slowly. I got the hair-stand, bad-feeling and by the time I was out of my bag, the vehicle had disappeared. I decided to hunker down beside the brick mailbox when the same vehicle came down the road again with itís sliding door still open! I pointed my rifle into the opening (it was too dark to see inside) as the vehicle continued on itís way and all I could do was wait for my relief and warn him about it. I felt really exposed with no radio, no way to contact anyone, and 10 rounds of ammo in a sealed magazine!
Patrol all day, stand guard at night - we got to see a lot of Cape Townís townships, suburbs and the Cape Flats. I can remember patrolling the predominantly Black Langa, Guguletu, Crossroads and Khayalisha townships, and the predominantly Coloured Mitchellís Plain, Kasselsvlei, Ravensmead townships, and our pet project, the University of Western Cape.
Here is a typical day:
This schedule meant you were lucky to get 2 hours of quality sleep a day, sleeping on the floor of a police station.
Things to look out for while out on patrol:
One technique of engagement was to throw stones at the Police and soldiers and then run. If you pursued them to attempt to arrest them, there was the risk of being ambushed. This ranged from petrol bombs, to leading your vehicle between 2 lampposts with a wire cable strung between them. Unless your vehicle had a cable-cutter attached to the front of it, you risked decapitation by peering over the sides of the vehicle, this made it harder to maintain visual contact with the escapee. (the Buffel was ill suited to the task of riot control, it has good mine-protection, but poor visibility, highly unstable due to itís height, would say that more SADF soldiers were killed by this vehicle, than the AK47 )
Sometimes we escorted the garbage truck on itís route. This usually occurred when the bad guys were well established and there was an impending health situation. Garbage was knee deep in the streets, cows and dogs were eating trash. The trashmen would use large tarps to collect up the trash and transfer it into the truck. While this was happening, the Capeís winter winds would be stirring up clouds of sand, trash and filth. Crunch, crunch would be the sound your teeth made.
Most of the action was stone-throwing and brick-bowling at civilian cars, petrol bombing delivery trucks and burning barriers.Once we were driving along road with median, noticed crowds on street thinning, something was going down, BOOM! A Simba Chip delivery van traveling in the opposite direction to us was petrol-bombed - driver managed to get out, goodbye truck! A lot of this type work is situational awareness; smiling waving locals - relax, schools out but there are no kids around - get ready to dance!
Later on, the cops allowed us to travel with them in their Casspirs, this is a great vehicle well suited to this kind of work. It was interesting how they recognized cars and faces in the cars. We would driving along and the next we would be hanging a 'U' turn and following a car, "Thatís NBC and fuckface is driving!" Whenever something was going to go down, the press was tipped off and amazingly they would be there to record the event. The press was at the UWC every afternoon, Monday to Friday. We also did not work weekends, because the police did not do regular patrols on weekends! Maybe the press guys who were prepared to go into the badlands didnít work weekends either? This was great as we were able to catch up on sleep, wash clothes etc. and go out partying!
Fun every afternoon at UWC
It took a while for our opponents to get organized. The leaders would use bullhorns and wave white cloths (or attach white material to their waist) and get the crowd organized and the mob would slowly move towards the campus gates. The Police officer in charge would then order the mob to disperse within a certain time. Insults and saliva was projected towards us and we just stood firm. Of course they did not disperse and so we would "arrest the press" and hold them behind a high wall in the office parking lot where they could not record, hear or see any of the de-escalation action. Most times they knew the drill and would co-operate, knowing that they would be released afterwards. However, I can clearly remember an ABC cameraman in yellow and blue jersey resisting arrest, and getting his thumb broken.
If things brewed up and looked like they were going to get out of control, a designated shooter would be instructed to shoot one of the riot-leaders with a rooi-bekkie. The plastic bullet would knock the man to the ground at over 100 yards, most times they would lay there and they would be dragged off and be done for the day. Once, a guy got hit, got up and continued yelling and screaming, Bam he was dropped again, this time he stayed down! Sometimes we would fire teargas cylinders from our rifles (hated doing this as the carbon buildup from one shot was equivalent to a hundred copper-jacketed rounds) and eventually the crowds thinned and everyone went home. This afternoon action was actually fun, the students seemed to know the rules and had a sense of humour. It was almost like they felt they needed to contribute to the "struggle" and the fight against apartheid, but they also wanted to graduate from university and get a good job.
Once we did something unexpected (broke the rules of engagement), with only half of our group going to the front entrance and the rest of us sneaked around to the back entrance of the campus. We formed up and charged onto the campus property through the back entrance. Panic ensued as the crowd spun around and scattered in all direction leaving shoes, backpacks and loose possessions all over the place! We then retreated, man, that was funny!
Week in, week out, the same drill, it wore every one down. Most of RDLR troops were from 1SAI and 61Mech, so all our training had been to be aggressive, destroy and kill everything in the target area. Now we were expected to respond, be passive. Tempers wore thin, one Saturday I decided to visit my friend Bradleyís family in Deep River in CapeTown suburbs (I found their home, but no-one answered the door) and when I returned to the barracks in the afternoon, found busted furniture, a broken window and blood all over the floor. There had been some drinking and of course a fight broke out.
One Saturday night a group of us climbed over the fence, walked through Maitland cemetery and caught the train into CapeTown. At some point I decided to stay (I thought I was making some headway with the girls, I thought) and eventually when it was time to go home (alone) I discovered that there were no more trains until the morning. So I just ran alongside the tracks and eventually ended up back at the Maitland station! I remember running past some people and them yelling at me, but just kept going.
On one occasion one of our corporals decided to make examples of us, and grabbed 2 rifles that were laying around in a secure part of the Bellville police station. (everyone left them close by, but not necessarily on their person at all times.) Lucky me and another "Englishman" claimed our rifles at end-of-day parade and when we got back to Wingfield base instead of preparing for dinner etc., we reported for some "straf PT". For a couple of hours, we did baba-dra (carry your buddy like a baby), skaap-dra (carry your buddy over your shoulder, fireman style), roll and crawl to the perimeter fence. Eventually it got dark and he thought we had had enough. Man, I was pooped as I was a civilian and not used to this crap.
First Camp, 1989 (3 weeks)
There were charter buses to transport us from Durban to deBrug just outside Bloemfontein. Man, the Army was really starting to look after itís troops! We spent a couple of days camping at deBrug, drew all our equipment, vehicles from the stores at deBrug and drove in convoy to Battle School at Lohathla.
The camp in the bush was already established with tents and pit latrines etc. (but no beds or stretchers.) We spent a lot of time shooting and practicing invasion type maneuvers (conventional warfare.) I decided to volunteer for anti-tank duties (sometimes you get better treatment.) This was a good move as they had Milan training facilities and we were separated out for a couple of days to go shoot the Milan simulators in one of their huge sheds (shade!) and very little rank to mess with you. They even had a model railway for us to practice shooting at moving targets. We were issued with live anti-tank missiles and launchers and rejoined our company for group training. (The reason for this special treatment was that in recent years the Angolan War had become more about tanks and aircraft - conventional - with Brigade size forces moving around and engaging each other.)
After every live-fire attack we would spend hours putting out the bush fires. No water, just drove to make firebreaks and then when bush was thinned/beaten down enough by our vehicle tracks to slow the fire burn rate, cut branches off trees and beat out the flames. Sometimes unexploded ammo would go off in the fires, usually mortars that were half buried so their effective range was reduced - still, it was a miracle that no-one got injured. Punctures until out of tires (Except for tyres set aside for the convoy ride back to deBrug.) seems like there was no money for more tires from the resident unit , so we drove around on 5 wheels! Got dangerous on steep slopes. Less and less Ratels were serviceable and the last couple of days we just sat around camp waiting for the clock to run out. Before we left, we still had a lot of ammo (because not all cars went out on maneuvers) left over, so we had to get rid of it. Off to the shooting range! One of the Milan missiles misfired, smoke but not launched! That was scary. I was impressed with our instructor, he stepped up and helped the unlucky troop remove the rocket tube from the launcher, and then joined the rest of us some distance from the faulty rocket! Called for the Engineers over the radio to come and destroy it.
After driving back to Bloem, we spent the rest of the day handing our stuff back. By the time I had handed my Ratel in it was dark (as soon as the sun goes down it gets COLD, the showers had no hot water and there was a wind whistling across the plains Ė no shower tonight!) We had turned in everything (including sleeping bags) so that all we would have to do the next morning was get paid, have the demobilisation parade and get the hell out of this dustbowl. Found a large bag of toilet rolls to sleep on/in and shivered through to sunrise.
Before pay parade, they broke the bad news to us, there were tents and equipment missing and no-one was going home until the equipment was found/returned, alternatively we as a company could agree to take a deduction from our military pay! We knew the "missing" stuff was at the Officers homes and time was wasting. Of course the buses that brought us were scheduled to arrive in 2 days time, but if everyone agreed that they could go ahead and cancel the charter buses, they would arrange for Bedfords to drive us into Bloemfontein. (we were camped approximately 5 kms from a minor paved road and another 20+ kms from a road which had any traffic potential for hitch-hiking. Mother fuckers to the end.
Trucks picked us up at about 2pm and we had 3 hours of daylight and 650 kms and 200+ fellow soldiers heading in the same direction! We just started walking east towards Warden, and Durban. We slowly stretched out and kind motorists picked up the military refugees and thinned the crowd. I got a ride to the outskirts of Bethlehem. I walked east across town and out the other side towards home. By the time I got near the African township it was getting dark. Quite a few Blacks, mainly taxi-drivers slowed down and offered me a ride (which I declined as I felt I would be safer if I could get past the turnoff into the township) and couldnít make out the occupants of the vehicle.
Eventually an Afrikaner family in a minivan stopped and I accepted the ride - I stank so bad, no wash for 3+ hard days! I had walked probably 25 kms carrying a 50 pound duffel bag that day. The air was freezing, but they opened the windows and we drove in silence. I bet I was the rankest white man those kids had ever smelt! I resolved that if I had to come back to Lohatlha, I would bring my own car. Note: the SADF had a "Ride-Safe" program which was instituted after many soldiers had been abducted and killed. There were designated pick-up points in most large cities where citizens could go and pick a soldier and then drop him off at another ride-safe station. The problem was that these stations were in town, far off the roads you were traveling (still it made the moms think that their sons were safe.)
Second Camp, 1990 (3 weeks)
This camp I was prepared, I brought my own sleeping bag and a foam mat and drove up to Bloemfontein. My cousin Roland was in a different unit, but also had to report for the same camp, called operation ThunderChariot (and later as Hunger Chariot!) so he and a friend got a ride with me. It was his first "training" camp and didnít believe me that he would be sleeping on the ground for 3 weeks, even when there were tents.
I was so relieved to see they had built a vehicle park at deBrug, the question was would they allow low-ranking "troeps" use it. It used to be no parking facilities for conscripts, I wonder how many troops were killed/robbed on their way home the previous year to make them change their rules? Said goodbye to my cousin and arranged to meet him back at deBrug at the end of the camp. A day or so later they put us on buses to battle school at Lohathla.
Once at battle school, we drew our equipment, ammo and vehicles and headed into the vast nothingness of scrub desert and dust. We arrived at our appointed spot and put up tents, dug latrines and "piss-lelies" and set up camp. This camp we spent more time in camp and less on maneuvers. It seemed that there was some really high brass evaluating our commandersí performance and less emphasis on refresher training for us troops. We were rationed ammo and none of our live-fire attacks were very fluid, at seemed like we had to get permission from high-ups to continue into the next phase of ny mock-battle. If this was the real thing attack, insufficient support fire was laid down to ensure a successful, low-casualty advance. We knew that, but I wonder if the Brass did?
Since we built our own camp, every couple of days the shower trailers would pull in and we would get to wash, otherwise a water tanker was available to fill your water bottles. We were issued a weeks-worth of food at a time (ration packs.) The last couple of days, nobody went out on maneuvers, we were low on ammo, tires, fuel, food (4 rat-packs for a week), just about everything. A few days before we were scheduled to leave, we went back to the stores and returned everything. QM stores hardly checked everything and the process went quickly with everyone dumping their equipment into separate piles (shovels in one pile tow-cables in another) and getting signed off. There were some buses waiting nearby and made sure I got on one. Once they were full the remaining troops were told that they would be going by train back to deBrug. Most of us just slept, nice to feel a padded seat beneath your butt.
It was evening by the time we got to deBrug. I got to my car to discover that my battery was flat due to my fancy alarm system and not being used for 3 weeks. Eventually someone was prepared to help me and admitted to having jumper-cables (everyone was in a hell of hurry to get out of the base), and we got my car started. I drove into town to recharge the battery and to find some food. Found a hill to stop on and test that it would crank. What to do about cousin Roland? I decided to sleep in my VW Golf and wait for the train which was due into the deBrug station at about 7am the next morning. I was worried about being kicked out of the military parking lot, but made it through the night in my trusty sleeping bag without being disturbed. At sunup I drove to the station and parked where I thought my cousin would see my car. I also made a cardboard sign, just in case he decided to ride the train as far as possible towards Durban, fortunately he and his friend got off at the train stop. We loaded up their kit and headed for Durban. We arrived home before dark!
As the camp had ended early, I had to decide whether to go back to work the next day or lay-low and return on the scheduled date. I decided that I needed the rest and the time to acclimatize myself to civilian life again. My girlfriend (now my wife) was surprised that I did not even contact her for a couple of days. This had been a very frustrating camp and emotionally draining, it was clear the SADF was cash-strapped, and if my next camp was in Angola, chances of making it out alive would be slim with the worn-out equipment and minimum logistical support that would be available to us.
When I review what I have written above, I realise that South Africa has a hard, rocky path ahead of it. The Communist-inspired ANC leadership dominates parliament, MK soldiers have been integrated into the new SANDF, leaders of the UDF are Cabinet Ministers, making decisions for, and influencing, the future of the country. Only a miracle (or inspirational leadership) can rescue SA from this disasterous mix and prevent the country from following Zimbabwe's example into a dusty begging bowl. With a clear concience, I can say that I have given more than any country can ask of a citizen. The SADF conscripts bought time and space for their country to find solutions to the daunting problems of high unemployment and it's bedfellow, crime.
I am sure that most of my fellow 1SAI, 61Meg and Regiment delaRey soldiers agree with the following sentiment, "I have done my duty, I have used up all my luck, I am tired, leave me alone."
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61 Mech motto: "Mobilitate Vincere" - Destruction of the enemy through mobility.