I have been planning to write this story for quite a while. I have actually already written it - in another language called “Afrikaans”. Translating this story was however quite difficult, as so many of the typical army phrases and events were very classic South African terms, and are hard to explain to “foreigners”, if I may call them that.
After numerous conversations with people who were not residents in Southern Africa during this time - answering many questions about the bush war - I decided that I needed to get this written down. The stories need to be told to those who were not part of this interesting part of African history.
Like thousands of other young white men in South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia), I was enrolled in National Service after my last school year, at the age of 18.
National service was not done on a volunteer-basis. Once you had managed to scrape through high school, you had two options - go to university, and do your national service afterwards, or join the army now and get it over with. There was a third option, but it would earn you six years in jail and a lifelong reputation of being a traitor to your country.
We were born in a country where we had to live with the constant awareness of having an enemy. This enemy was a terrorist group known as SWAPO. They attacked from Angola and would plant landmines on farms and kill innocent civilians. We grew up knowing this basic fact - that there was an enemy, and it had to be resisted. This enemy hated all that we stood for - our white skins, our Christian faith, and our capitalist lifestyle.
This enemy was supported by the Russians and the Cubans, and even East Germans were added to the mixture. It was a battle for survival, right in the middle of the Cold War. Around these parts the “cold war” was a real war, with bombs going off, guns being fired, tanks rolling and planes swooping down on enemy positions.
Landmines planted by SWAPO insurgents took out innocent civilians travelling on remote farm roads, and terrorists would infiltrate farms and massacre white families and their farm workers in the most brutal and inhumane ways.
In school, we were taught to watch out for suspicious items, like boxes or crates. We were taught how to evacuate our schools during bomb threats. And we saw on the news how black civilians in South Africa killed each other in the middle of the street by a cruel method called “necklacing”. A necklace was a primitive torturing machine – a person was stuck inside a car tyre, doused in petrol, and plainly set alight for the whole street to see.
This was our world, and this was our fight – a fight against the communist barbarians who would do anything to break down and destroy our way of life.
My grandmother joined the commandoes and learnt how to fire a rifle – just in case she ever needed to. And I know she wouldn’t have flinched if she ever needed to kill someone – it was either them or us, and we all knew this.
The battle, however, was never fought in Windhoek (central Namibia) or in South Africa, even though we were ready to expect anything. The battles were fought in the Northern regions of Namibia, North of an imaginative line we called the Kaplyn (Cut line). This area was indigenous land, and here the enemy could mix with the locals and infiltrate the country.
This region was heavily militarised, and patrolled by the SA Defence force on a daily basis. Every now and then small “contact situations” broke out, where terrorists in small groups engaged in fire-fights with the army. Other times there were massive conventional battles, where tanks, artillery and air power were all part of the game. South African forces invaded Angola regularly in order to wipe out SWAPO bases in Angola.
Prior to this, events in Angola and Mozambique were an ominous sign to those of us living in SA and SWA. In 1975, the new left-wing government of Portugal “freed” their colonies, and basically abandoned their Portuguese citizens and left them to the mercy of murderous communists. Those who were still alive, fled across the border and had to start new lives in South West Africa. The only property they had, was whatever they could load onto their vehicles when they fled Angola. And they were the lucky ones…
We had heard the horror stories that these people told, and we were certain not to abandon our land in the same way – where would we go, anyway?
My personal story starts at high school – yep, you heard me. You’ll have to wait for the next part of this story to hear more…