The Cripple Doctor

August 6, 2017

Peace Dove neon

It was in another lifetime, many years ago. Quite by chance I had fallen into the company of doctors and nurses from Baragwanath hospital. Some were interesting and some bloody scary. The one woman, a paediatrician caught my attention. She was a tiny lady and confined to a wheel chair. That she became a doctor fascinated me, not only because of her handicap but because she was about my age, so became a doctor in the now infamous “Apartheid Era.”

After listening to here at a few of our usual breakfast meetings and the fact that she also had a love for wildlife I had a conversation with her. It turned out to be a very interesting one at that.

Her legs were useless because of a childhood episode of polio; she told me at the time, people like her were not given the best of treatment, if any at all. As a doctor she believes that if not under the apartheid system she would have not been reduced to a cripple in a wheel chair. It was known within this group that I had serve in the SADF, some did not like me much, but because my main friend in this group was the head of a big unit at Bara, they tolerated me.  A few of them had brothers, and I mean blood brothers, that had joined and fought for Umkhonto weSizwe including the lady doctor. So we got around to that subject and in my normal straight forward way I asked her if she worked for them too. What she replied is a lesson for us all.

It was not in her nature to be a violent person, or even support violence in any way, one of the reasons she became a fine doctor. The main driving force behind her conviction, diligence and hard work was her basic idea and belief. She believed that although as a child she did not get the help she needed, by becoming a doctor and a paediatrician in particular, she would be able to see that other children would not suffer the same fate as she.

With her intellect this woman would have being a huge asset to  Umkhonto weSizwe , she had been approached by them, her brothers  definite would have encouraged her.  Her choice, she told me, was not to kill or cripple others, but to do what she could to insure their health.

I have forgotten the ladies name, but when ever my thoughts turn to extreme violence ( which is pretty often with all the White Genocide and Farm Murders going on ) I think of this woman.

She is a far better person than I.

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An Ex-JW in the SADF IV

August 3, 2017

Puffy head r

 

Back in camp we had to go to this place called Lataba Ranch every now and then, the Bats have Die Brug, at 7 SAI we had Lataba. It is situated in or right next to the world famous Kruger National Park and is an absolutely beautiful part of the world, if you are a tourist. I had never been in the Kruger before, so loving the bush as much as I do this was great… not. Those PF’s tried to kill me in that place! The first time I went was with Oscar Company and we were all Motarmen or Storm Pioneers. Here we learned our trade, in between getting those ridiculous opfoks all the time.  I was under the impression that opfoks were a necessary evil of good army training, since then I have spoken to a lot of Rhodesian men, they tell me that they did not get the same type of shit in their army. A lot of PT yes, but not the kind that we did, those that joined the SADF later were unimpressed. As some of the guys were Rhodesian SAS, Selous Scouts and Rhodesian Light Infantry, it is impossible to say anything bad about their fighting skills and effectiveness as soldiers.

One night, in the pitch black I heard my name been called in a squeaky whisper, as we were all bedded down talking was forbidden, someone was going to get me in kak! The guy got louder and eventually a corporal came to see what was going on. All of a sudden torches were lit up and a lot of loud talking was going on. Now I heard the corporal yell, “Bisset, waar is jy!?” Ah shit, i knew no good could come of this, no matter what “this” was. I replied and the Corporal, in a rather panicky voice AND in English asked, not ordered me to go to him. The classic “ Come to I”, that some of the Afrikaners used to mistakenly say when they bothered to speak English.

The situation was:

One guy, Squeaky Voice, had woken up and found a strange elongated lump in his sleeping bag with him. Now this was presumed to be a snake, plenty of those at Lataba, along with all sorts of other dangerous critters. This lump was short and fat, must be a Puff Adder, sleeping right across his stomach. The reason I was been sort out was, I was known as the snake expert in the camp. When we got lectures on snakebite, they were so outdated that it ended up that Pink Vark made me give them rather than the Medic or the Doctor. If you kept venomous snakes, as I did, it is prudent to be up to date on such matters. To this day if I get bitten the last person I would consult is a common Medical Doctor. (Short Story on them here:  Snake Bite! )

In one of the books I had studied they had a solution for just this problem, so I was thinking, “No problem.” What is suggested is that you put blankets on the victim; the snake gets too warm and leaves on its own accord. Bloody books! That did not work and the victim was getting all excited and more and more afraid, to the extent that his whole body was shaking. I feared that the snake was going to bite him, so time for Plan B, made up on the spot. First we would, carefully unzip the sleeping bag, to reveal his shoulders; two guys would get their hands under his arms. Another two guys would grab the bottom of the bag. On three all would pull as fast as possible, I would dive the Puff Adder.

May not have been the best plan but the best I could think of at the time. They pulled I dived and came up with a rolled up T-shirt.

 

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An Ex-JW in the SADF III

August 2, 2017

Tracy and me 3

I met my girl at that bus stop and we walked back up to Hillbrow, my favourite place to sit in the day time was the Cafe Wien.  Now Hillbrow was a very different place to any other in South Africa at that time. The only foreigners like Italians and Frenchmen I had ever seen was here, the only mixed race couples sitting openly together, you would see here. With Wits University close with the HQ of the End Conscription Campaign and all sorts of other radicals that supported the terrorist ANC, the reaction to my uniform was mixed, my civvie clothes were all locked up at my friend’s place.  From Phalaborwa to Pretoria while hitching, everyone loved me, not here. But as the USA General Mattis pointed out, radical liberals are a bunch of pussies, so they would just give me dirty looks, but nothing more.  Quite right, as a soft well fed civilian, you DO NOT want to pick on a young guy that is well into his Infantry training and on leave.

We had a lot to discuss, her mother had decided to move to East London, and Tracy was telling her that she would not go. At this stage of her training at Woolworths she was transferred to Kempton Park. We decided on that day that she would get a flat in that town and we would live together. She would not tell her mom about that! In those days, 1983, in South Africa at least, living with a woman/man without the sanctity of marriage was a huge sin. In later years I found out I was pretty famous or infamous in 7 SAI, for being the only guy that “lived in sin” with his girlfriend.  Early that evening Tracy got on the last bus to Germiston, I would not see her again on this pass, so I just went drinking. I now had a rather pretty, if somewhat naught sponsor at that dingy pub I told you about.

Back to the base and waited for my next pass, lots of afkak and plenty of opfoks, especially with my big mouth. Generally I was accepted in this new brotherhood, as I could shoot just as straight as any Boer and seemed to have a knack when it came to weapons, any weapons;  ran the 2.4 neither too fast nor too slow and could be relied on to pull my weight.   Letters came and went, Tracy’s mom had moved and she had rented a flat right above her place of work, she sent me the address.

The time came and I hit the road again, hitching to Kempton Park and my new home. Back then on all of my passes I seldom waited more than 15/20 minutes before I was picked up. I arrive in Kempton Park before Woolworths closed and went there to see my girl and get the keys to the flat. That done I went and bought some necessities, beer, a bottle of Red Heart Rum, some bubble bath and a bottle of Baby Oil, oh yes, and two White Owl cigars.

The tiny flat consisted of one room, a bathroom and a kitchen; it had a single bed, a rug, some curtains, two pots and some cutlery in it.  Obviously her mom was pissed off and did not help her much. What with my father and her mother it was us against the world, but young, romantic and in love at the time, we were happy with that.

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An Ex- JW in the SADF Part II

August 1, 2017

10

 

So there I was, getting by rather well all things considered.  My girlfriend was sending me long letters , the type that only a lovesick 19 year old girl can, and the most amazing pakkies too. She was a trainee manager at Woolworths, and got a huge staff discount on all merchandise. My parcels from her were full of goodies to eat. Then for good measure my mom would sending me pakkies,  also with goodies to eat but also an added extra.  I had heard that I would not be getting any alcohol during basic training, and even at that age I was a heavy drinker, by anybodies standards. I put a lot of thought into this problem and came up with a solution.  I got my mom in on this plan, she would send me a BIG bottle of shampoo and another of Conditioner. Only my long suffering mother, I have always being, just a little bit… naughty, would replace the contents with whiskey.  I have always wondered why the men that checked the parcels never caught on to this, only reason I can think of is that they were too busy skimming a chocolate or some biltong to actually CHECK the parcels.

No need to go into what else happened in those long 6 weeks or so we waited to get pass. The day came and we were set free for 4 days! As I had only my army pay I could not afford a bus ticket so hitched “home”. I was welcomed at my girlfriend’s house by all, two sisters and her mom, her dad has passed away a few months before.  Did all the normal things on pass but on the second day, early hours of the morning, the mom woke up and found me in the wrong bed. Vat jou goed en trek Ferreira. Mother shouting, girlfriend and older sister crying I was put on the pavement with all my worldly goods. A friend from school picked me up and I could stay at his parent’s house for the rest of my pass. While there I organized to spend the next pass with another friend that lived in Hillbrow.

Back to 7 SAI, lots of letters and parcels, the ones from the girlfriend were not too cheerful; her mother banned her from ever seeing me again.  Did second phase and went on pass again.  Problem was the first night my friend was not at home, no idea when he would be back. I called my girl and organized that she take off work and meet me in Johannesburg the next morning. She worked with her mother at Woolworths at that stage so needed some real maneuvering , but she said she would. I then went and sat in the bar of a seedy hotel in the Brow. When all else fails, go drinking, I think sitting in uniform in a bar was illegal, but even the MP’s would not go into the hotel I was at. Long story why I knew this place, short version, had an uncle that was a mercenary and he hung out here.  He was not about but the people knew I was related to him and the uniform helped a lot.

So there I was, minding my own business, drinking whiskey, the cheaper kind, and thinking about life when an older woman came and sat by me. Older as in she must have been at least 26! Quite a pretty lady actually, she commented that she was waiting for her brother and would I mind if she sat with me. No problem. A while later a chap came in and she left with him, I was now drinking beer as my money was not a large amount and I had the whole pass to live through on it. The lady came back a little later and asked if she could join me again, she then bought me a drink, Chivas if I recall correctly. We spoke about what it was like in the army, where I was from and why I was in this bar. Another man came up and she excused herself and left with him. On her return she told me, “I am sure you know by now what I am.” I told her I had sort of worked it out. She then bought me more drinks and told me her long sad story, we spent the whole night drinking and talking, she left now and then to attend to business. In the early hours I caught a few sitting up naps, that we learn to do in the army, and the next morning I set out for Johannesburg bus station, I was going to see my girl! ……..

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An Ex-Jehovah’s Witness in the SADF

July 30, 2017

Wayne Bisset

 

I doubt if I am unique in this regard but most certainly I am unusual. In the day the government allowed for conscientious objectors, if you were a good little Jehovah’s Witness boy, the Elders of your congregation would supply a letter to the SADF, stating that you were a fine upstanding member of the Congregation to which you belonged. Armed with this that boy would get sent to Military Prison for 3 years, issued with a blue overall and some army boots. The “good” thing the Elders tried to convince you of is, you would receive no criminal record.

Already at school the JW boys were excused from doing Cadets and shooting. Most of them took a lot of flack because of this, were at best called cowards. Already from Std 6 I was a bit of a different little JW, I could and would fight if picked on, for one thing. As I grew up in this religion I was always just a JW, but by the age of 11 I hated religion already, I could not agree with what I was being taught to believe. At 16, that is when we got our call up papers I had already decided this DB thing was not for me. I did not discuss this with my father, he would have tried to beat the crap out of me.

The day came when we HAD to discuss this problem, by then I was refusing to attend the 3 meetings a week, would NOT go on Field Service any more, you know that knocking on doors selling the WatchTower and Awake? I hated it as a young child, as an older child it was terrifying. I always dreaded knocking on a door of one of my school friends parents one day, they would inform my father of my other life, partying, drinking and fighting!

My father gave an ultimatum:  If I went into the army he would kick me out of the house. It was not even his house! He had already got rid of my mother, she was excommunicated for the sin of smoking  cigarettes and married a rich JW lady. We had moved into her house less than a year ago. My mind was made up, no religion and no DB, so I packed my few things and took them to my girlfriend’s house. Her mother said that when I got leave I could stay with them. That done, the final thing my father did was condescend to take me to the place a train was waiting for me, to go on a little adventure, staring in the amazing holiday camp in Phalaborwa, called  7 SAI. He did not contact me except for one letter, months later, asking me to come back to “THE TRUTH”, JW’s always call it the truth in caps. I did not bother to reply.

Too young and naive to keep my JW past a secret, I had a little bit of trouble about it while doing Basic Training.  First problem I encountered was this marching thing, as I had never marched a step in my life before, no Cadets remember? How the hell was I to know you always take off on your left foot??? Yes, drill was a bloody nightmare at first, commands not in my home language did not help.

Then the thing about religion came up with the issue of Dog Tags. I told the man I had no religion. Boy, did this cause kak!  Everybody apparently HAD to have a religion. I stuck to my guns, no religion, end result; they would not issue me with Dog Tags, never ever received or wore those things.  The teasing and bulling about the JW background ended the same way as it did at school, I did mention I could fight?

Over the next two years I faced a few other problems because of this stupid religion but that is another story, for another time.

The funny thing is I took to this soldiering thing like a duck to water and went back to it a few time in my life.

 

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A Pink Pig and the SADF

July 28, 2017

Ear damage

Seems you come across some of those people that obtained high enough rank to indulge in their sadistic ways. Above and beyond the hard training that was necessary they would enjoy making your life more that miserable. The CO of my first company, Oscar, was such a person. A Captain, we just called him Pink Vark.

One thing he did that sticks in my mind was:

We had just come back from an opfok in the veld, we had been at it since just after breakfast, in the heat of the Phalaborwa sun. At 10am it was customary for us to get a firebucket of ice cold, if rather weak mix, of Oros. The cold drink was in a huge coffee urn, half filled with ice and stood on a table before our barracks. There we stood in formation on the tar road, waiting to line up for this luxury. Pink Vark decided that we were too kak sleg to deserve the cold drink and upturned that urn in the road. I remember clearly watching the ice blocks melt in the extreme heat.  Enough to make a grown man cry.

Because the guys from Oscar were all trained as Support Group type soldiers medics, mortarists and Storm Pioneers, we transferred to other Companies when we completed our speciality course. I was bloody happy because I thought I was rid of this Pink Vark at last. No such luck. Oscar was now no more and Pink Vark was given Alpha Company to run. No prize on guessing which Company I ended up in.

Pink Vark had this Audi that was his pride and joy, one fine day he walked out to find that someone had left deep scratches all along the side of his beloved car. The whole of Alpha Company was assembled, even the chefs! Pink Vark demanded that the culprit confess his guilt. That was not going to happen, so he decided that we would get an opfok until the culprit     either gave himself up or his mates pimped on him. There we went, Staaldak, webbing and geweer, plus a few poles make things more interesting. About an hour or so later one of the poles landed on the culprit’s head, we all knew who had done the dastardly deed. He was knocked out cold, needed a few stitches in the side of his head and was taken to the sickbay. Always knew those ridiculous Staaldaks were worth Jack Shit. Over the next few hours, a lot more ended up in the sick bay, heatstroke mainly. Pink Vark was not allowing us a water break. The RSM noticed that the sickbay was filling up rapidly and came to see what was what. Steenekamp was the most highly decorated NCO in the army, a very hard man, but fair as well. He saw the state the surviving members of Alpha was in and called an end to the opfok.

The training that we were giving stabbed old Pink Vark in the back, we were a TEAM, stuck together no matter what; and definitely did NOT give one of our own over to the enemy.  He never found out who ruined his precious Audi’s paintwork.

Index

Pink Vark – Pink Pig

Opfok – Punishment PT

Kak – Shit

Sleg – Bad

Staaldak – Steel Helmet

Geweer – Rifle or Gun

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Papillion and the SADF

July 26, 2017

Wayne Bisset SADF

The first real drug addict I met was in the army, his name was Robin, and what an experience that was.

Tall, skinny and very friendly chap, we were thrown together in the mortar platoon and as English speaking men were quite rare we became friends. I was re-reading Papillion and told Robin about how the one prisoner got himself into the sick bay. Story is, the guy needed to be in the sick bay in order to attempt his escape plan. What he did to get this right was clever if a bit risky, especially in those days and conditions. First he got himself a horse hair, and then he soaked it in his own urine overnight. The next day he took a needle and sewed that hair through his calf muscle, this resulted in septicaemia and to the sic bay he went.

We were due for another trip to the training grounds called Lataba Ranch, not to be a sissie or anything, but this was a bad place to go. So bad that some guys had shot themselves, cut their wrists and things like that in order not to go to this place again, the first time was bad enough. Now Robin decided he wanted to spend time in our sick bay at 7 SAI and miss the 2nd Lataba experience all together. He decided the horse hair idea was an excellent plan, only thing there was a shortage of horses in the camp. There was however a donkey in the newly built “parents camp” behind us. Robin went and got a donkey hair, pissed in a jam jar lid and let the hair soak overnight.  The next morning he took the largest needle from the “Naaisakkie” we were all issued with, threaded the donkey hair and pushed it through his calf muscle. This was not as easy as I would have thought, but persist he did. In the book the horse hair left in the calf resulted in infection within a few days. Robin waited impatiently; time was short, as we would leave soon. Nothing happened.  It did not even get very red! I thing that all the drugs and alcohol he consumed made him immune! His piss was most likely so full of alcohol it was sterile too.

So much for that plan and I did not hear the end of it, how bad my plan was, and that he would have done something else if I had not mentioned this kak idea. He left the ends of the donkey hair sticking out for a week and then could not pull it out as he had healed, so he just burned them off with his lighter.

The guy in the book never escaped either if I remember correctly.

 

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Rhino Wars – Behind the Scenes at a Luxury Game Lodge

July 25, 2017

 

It was in another lifetime, not so many years ago….

The APU was housed in a compound, well hidden from the public. In the 3 months I worked there, this scene was repeated 4 times, on patrol I never saw ONE warthog in the park. Obviously I threw a wobbely of note. I got told that the warthogs were butchered and used to raise funds for the local church. Who was shooting? The head Game Warden, my boss’s boss, the very man I thought would take my side on this issue. I did not fit it well here, had a lot of arguments with my 2m tall “ex-special forces colonel” boss about how the APU was run.  So he dug up a criminal charge that I did not even know was on record. A 20 something year old assault charge, I used to fight a LOT when I was young.  As in my application for employment I had stated I did not have one, this was cause for dismissal.  They let me work in my 3 month probation and then the Head Game Warden told me that my contract would not be renewed.

My boss, who insisted he be called Colonel, told me he knows I am popular on social media about Rhino anti poaching. The threat was that if I said one bad word about the Lodge he would let all my friends on Facebook know about my record and my violent past. An empty threat as I do not hide that.

The reason I still say very little, is that I do not wish to put either the rhino or my old team that are there in any more danger than they are. But I must admit, some days saying nothing while watching the dead rhino statistics climb, really chews my ass.

Post Script

Using my considerable military contacts I find no record of the “Colonel” in any army, and by his orders on how we were deployed; I do not think he was ever in the army at all. But the latter is just One Man’s Opinion.

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Lost in Luanda – Angola

July 23, 2017

EO with Johan

About not fitting in, here is an example. Sitting with a bunch of people telling their “horror” stories about been lost in a strange city, I also have one to tell, but because it is not in Paris, London, New York or Rome, it is not that exciting as their stories. But here is my lost in a foreign city story.

A surprise awaited me upon my return. After going through the normal rigmarole, finding out my combat boots had been stolen, and dodging the psychotic Angolan, I arrived at Longa to find most of the camp broken down. The canteen guys were still around and I asked them where the hell my guys were. After the change I was now part of a Rapid Deployment Team. They said that the guys had left to go fight, but did not know where. I got a ride back to Caba Ledo to ask the Ops guys where everyone was. They were so vague so as to be of no help whatsoever, so it was back to Longa, as I dared not hang around Caba Ledo with no protection from the Angolan.

Finally an Ops type that was passing through told me I had to go to Luanda.

Off I went with the first truck I could find; some mechanics were going into town and I hitched a ride with them. This was the first time I had seen the capital, and to describe it to someone who has never seen an African country at war is virtually impossible. A few years later I tried to describe it to some Belgian people I was working for, and they would not believe me until they saw it for themselves.

As one neared the city there was a huge market which spread for kilometres on either side of the road. One could, for a price, purchase almost anything there. It was more expensive than the village markets. An example is that an African Grey parrot cost a couple of hundred Dollars, and we had bought one for five cigarettes near Longa … Angola. Coca Cola was twice the price of any other soft drink, and chimpanzees in chains were sold openly.

Once inside the city itself, the amount of rubbish I saw piled in the streets was incredible: as much as two or three stories high. Luanda did not smell too good. All of the buildings had bullet holes in them; most had no window panes. Shops with very little for sale had a wooden board across the doorway and business was conducted over this makeshift counter.

The variety of vehicles was stupendous: from cars that must’ve dated back to the 50s, to vehicles that were so new on the market they were not even available in Johannesburg yet. Everyone just drove as they saw fit; the traffic cops stood on metre-high concrete blocks, presumably because they would just have been run over otherwise, and blew whistles while waving their hands all over the place. As I was on the back of a huge Russian six-wheeler truck, I had a grandstand view of all of this. More than half of the civilian population were missing limbs: it was a city of war-injured people. The first hour in that city was too much for my senses to handle all at once. I believe, but have never seen, that a battalion of soldiers had cordoned off a section of Luanda and that was the only area foreign visitors were allowed into.

We drove through this mess and came to the airport. The military and civilian airports shared the same runway. While I was stuck waiting for a lift to join my mates I saw even more incredible things at the airbase. Hundreds of broken down helicopters; a helicopter graveyard like the legendary elephants’ one surrounded the base. I did not go into the building itself but slept under one of these helicopters for a few days.

On one occasion a MIG was attempting to deploy. There was a small, semi-tarred road between the base and the runway. As the MIG was taxiing toward the runway a truck entered from the opposite side. They met up somewhere near the middle; the truck driver did not want to give way and began blowing his hooter, the MIG, I don’t think, can reverse, so a stalemate ensued. This went on for quite some time. Finally they both conceded to put one wheel over onto the grass and they squeezed past each other. The MIG roared off, presumably to fight in the war somewhere. While all this was going on, there, on the main runway of a recognized international airport, was a chap on a bicycle, a couple of donkeys, and the inevitable cows and goats. Normal airports have trouble with birds, for God’s sake!

By some strange coincidence Charmaine had caught a flight with Air Portugal to London and was sitting on that tarmac at the very same time as I was. They had collected all the passports and would not allow the passengers to leave the plane. She got a small glimpse of that country before the passengers were instructed to draw the window shutters. We only found out months later that we had been mere metres from each other.

While all this was happening, another chap that had been on leave found me; at least now I had company. So far, all we had found out was that the Rapid Deployment Team was in Durban. Now, Durban is a big, coastal, holiday city in South Africa, and we believed this to be highly unlikely, although in Angola anything was possible. We speculated that perhaps they had all been given leave together, and that maybe it was true. Our other piece of information was that a bunch of Russian pilots were going to be going to Durban soon. We started searching for the Russians. Any white people we came across were greeted with: ‘África do Sul, Durban?’ All we got was stares and a whole lot of jabbering in Portuguese.

Then we bumped in to one of the “talks” who was based in Luanda. He had some food for us, for which, by now, we were exceedingly grateful. As he had transport, he asked if we would like to go up to the Old Portuguese Fort with him. We jumped at the chance; it gets boring sitting next to a runway. The drive up to the Fort was exceptionally beautiful, typical of this country where everything jumps from one extreme to another. The lagoon at Luanda it the second biggest in the world. In the lagoon are small islands where the Portuguese had built mansions. Because of their inaccessibility they had remained intact despite the war. In the sea itself one could see the oil rigs that were a big cause of all the strife in this beautiful country. The Fort itself is very old, dating back to the 17th century, with the some of the original cannons still in place, but being Angola, some had tumbled off their stands and the soldiers had found them to be convenient toilet seats. They were full of shit – the cannons, I mean.

Part of the courtyard served as a Military Museum and I was surprised to see a captured Ratel there. The South African government had never admitted to losing any of these armoured vehicles, to my knowledge. There were also a few of the troop carriers known as Buffels; all the armoured glass was cracked from rifle fire but as far as I could tell no shots had penetrated the interior. Talk about “Proudly South African!”  The view from the walls of the Old Fort was unbelievably beautiful, and from a distance the city of Luanda looked wonderful.

We had to return to the airport and try to find these mythological Russians. The “talk” gave us a lift and bade us good luck and goodbye. There we were, sticking out like a sore thumb in so-called friendly territory, with no idea what would happen next.

We were sitting around contemplating life when we heard a big noise above all the normal comings and goings of the planes. A huge, and I mean huge, silver plane had landed and was taxiing toward us. This was the first time we had seen an Illusion: a Russian cargo plane. We had no idea of its origin so didn’t get excited about it being Russian; only when the doors opened and white guys stepped out, did we pick up interest. We approached them with the now-standard greeting for all the people we thought could help us: ‘África do Sul, Durban?’  Much to our delight, in a mixture of many languages, including Russian, I think, they confirmed that they were off to “Durban”. The plane was there to pick up troops and some armoured vehicles to ferry to “Durban”.

Now, we knew it was highly unlikely that it was the same Durban that we were thinking about; it would cause endless shit, on an international scale, if we landed all this stuff in “our” Durban. While the troops and vehicles were being loaded we had time to look at this amazing craft. Firstly, and I repeat myself, it was huge. In front it had a bulletproof glass bubble just under the cockpit; I learned that this is where the navigator sat. The rear opened up, as all cargo planes do, with a ramp that vehicles could drive up. Because the armoured vehicles were so heavy, the Russian crew attached cables and used a winch to pull them on board. The other door was right up in the air, about two metres high – I had the opportunity to verify that height later.

Once all the kit was loaded, a large group of Angolan soldiers boarded, and we climbed up the ramp with our kit and rifles after them. The Russian crew got busy up front and the plane’s engines started to whine. We were very excited to be going somewhere. We did not know where, but it felt good just to be going. This gypsy is always happy when traveling. Then we sat around, and sat around. I needed a smoke and found out what ‘no smoking on the plane’ sounds like in Russian! No problem; the ramp was still down, and I strolled down it to have a smoke.

There I was, minding my own business and having a smoke, when the ramp suddenly went up! Now I panicked. My meagre little bit of kit and my AK were on that bloody plane; alone in Luanda was bad enough, but with no weapon, was too scary to even contemplate. I ran round the front and shouted at the pilot and navigator. The flyboys did not even notice me. I heard my mate shouting above the now terrible din of the engines. He was standing in the doorway high up in the air. I ran up to him and tried to jump and catch hold of the bottom of the doorframe. It was just too high, and I missed a few times. My mate used his brain and somehow hooked his feet so he could hang half-way out the plane, which was now moving! In one last, desperate attempt I jumped; spurred on by adrenaline, it was a good one, and he managed to grab me by the wrists and haul me aboard.

As I have mentioned, I am pretty small: a whopping 58 kilograms, boots and all, on a good day: This is sometimes a problem in a military situation, where everyone tends to be twice my size, but in this instance … was I thankful! The Russian crew found this all very amusing and I swore at them in all the languages I could think of, at which they just laughed some more.  I eventually forgave them when they produced some breakfast for us. It was powdered eggs and some strange-tasting sausage, but after not eating much at all in the last few days we were grateful.

It seemed we had just taken off, in the usual Angolan style: almost straight up to +- 32 000 feet, when we started going straight down again. It was useless to ask what was happening so I went to the navigator’s bubble to have a look. The Russian gestured that I should sit in the spare chair. It was amazing, sitting surrounded by glass, even under my feet. I saw a small runway in the bush beneath us; I don’t know how that pilot aimed for such a tiny thing. As we came close to the ground my feet involuntarily lifted up and the ground rushed past in a blur.

Looking around, I knew exactly where we had landed. Caba Ledo. Now what? Talk about from the sublime to the ridiculous. We had made no progress in our mission to find our team at all; worse, we seemed to be going backwards, and I really didn’t want to be near that psycho Angolan.

Again, I experienced the frustration of being in a country where I couldn’t understand anyone. It didn’t turn out too bad though, as we learned we had just stopped to pick up a few more vehicles. That plane could carry an amazing amount.

Then we were off again, to “Durban”. After the Angolan lift-off I climbed under one of the tanks and, using my kit as a pillow, pulled my bush hat over my face and fell asleep.”

From The Chronicles of the Mexican Horse Thief – Angola

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THE MEXICAN HORSE THIEF I – ANGOLA

 

 

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Rhino Wars – Disillusionment

July 10, 2017

rose

A short story about two ex SADF men and rhino poaching.

A very long time ago I met the now notorious Nick van Deventer. Back then, you know the one guy that you, literally, have to carry though Basics? Well that was Nick. Somehow, the army with all of its wisdom,  gave Nick a stripe making him a Lance-corporal, straight after Basics.

One not so fine day, we did our final Vysbyt March, from Lataba Ranch to the 7 SAI Camp. Nick rode back in the ambulance; he hurt his leg, less than 3 km out. The deal with our CO was that the first 12 guys back would get 5lt of ice-cream and be off for the rest of that day and the next. The rest would have to clean and pack all the equipment we had used at Lataba. I like ice-cream and made damn sure I was one of those 12 men, carrying the 81mm mortar pipe and all. Some call me stubborn, I like to think of myself as focused or at worst, just a …. little bit, tenacious.

So there I was, lying on my bed with my ice-cream, and no, I had no plan to share! Nick, or rather now, Corporal van Deventer as he insisted we call him, came and told me, ordered me, I was to fetch his kit on the parade ground. I told him in no uncertain terms what he could go and do with himself, he was a stupid Lance-jack and a Captain had told me I was off. The discussion got heated and ended up with him telling me, in crude Afrikaans, that my mother was drunk, lying in the gutter, a dog came along and impregnated her and that is where I came from.  Well, that would not do, so I got up and hit him, once. Big shit! For one thing he had rank and second, his nose was so squashed the blood was not flowing out, but going back, he started drowning!  I was arrested, my ice-cream I never saw again, and he was rushed first to our medical centre and then airlifted to 1 Mil in Pretoria.

In DB, army jail, I did not have a fun time, I got a bit beaten and next morning the MP made me first clean the toilet and then brush my teeth, with the same toothbrush.  Later that day I went under Orders in front of the Battalion CO. I was young, stupid and pissed off, so I told the Colonel if he said that about my mother, I would Bliksem him too. Well, with the Boere, I am not sure what order they fall in, but God, rugby and your mother are the most revered things in the world. This being the case, I was sent back to my bungalow, not too worse for wear and when Nick arrived back, two weeks later from 1 Mil, he was no longer a Corporal.

I spent 9 months with him on the Border doing base protection and we became friends.

 

Jump 30 odd years. Having hooked up with Nick on Facebook, he saw that I was leaving the APU at Mabula ( Another story for another time, but me and “rank” do not get on well when they are stupid.)Nick offered me a job in Badplaas with his company. Gypsy that I am, knowing nothing about mechanics, I said “OK!”, and he collected me on my last day of work. In Badplaas I set up the admin and marketing side of his mechanical workshop. Soon I saw the lies, one was about our past, totally different story about why I broke his nose to his wife and friends. Then a few tall tales about what we were supposed to have done on the Border, uncomfortable to call him a liar so I let them pass. We were Brothers, right?  Mostly claiming a bad memory I dodged that issue quite nicely, thank you very much. I hate personal conflict, strange as that sounds, even verbal arguments, and USED to go to great lengths to avoid them. The long and short of it was: The workshop was not his, the bakkie he drove was not his, all actually belonged to his wife. I stayed for a while but eventually his wife kicked him out, and since part payment for being his office Johnny was a room at the workshop, I had to move too.

During my time there he spoke about how terrible the rhino poaching was and told me he had some big money coming and we could start our own APU. Fortunately, by nature and by training I am a pretty secretive person about important things that are no-one else’s business. So he got no information about how the APU’s up in Mabula or the Waterburg worked. I say this because, two years after I left Badplaas I saw a photo of Nick, handcuffed and arrested for procession of a fresh rhino horn.

Mainly I am pissed off with myself, I found out that he had been arrested and released once before on the same charges, years before he collected me at Mabula. So he lied to me the whole time.  Seems all those years ago I should have rather held a grudge and remained his enemy. I am not usually so easily conned and had to rethink about treating all ex SADF men as my Brothers and my absolute avoidance of personal conflict. Sometimes one just has to speak up and even fight.

 

Nosce te ipsum

View the Mexican Horse Thief’s Page

Short Story

THE MEXICAN HORSE THIEF I – ANGOLA


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