30 years ago, on the 16th of December 1918, I left South West Africa and the Border and headed back to 1SAI in Bloemfontein. We were due to kla out on the 18th and we had over 200 troops in our company that had to go through this process. However, for once the army was uncharacteristically efficient, and by the evening of the 16th most of us had already handed in our rifles, skeleton webbing, and any other extra odds and sods that we were issued with before going up to the border. The next day we would go do our paperwork and on the 18th we would head off in our respective directions. Our 2 year National Service was finished, for some it was the biggest adventure of our lives and for all of us it was one of the biggest formative events in our youth. We had gone in as boys, and theoretically we came out as men.
But what did come out of those 2 years? What would we have been like had we not gone in in the first place? What would we have been like if we had become conscientious objectors? or left the country? When I got called up there was no End Conscription Campaign, and going to varsity was not an option. South Africa was in a period of bitter turmoil, that same turmoil that got us to where we are today. Those of us who served our 2 years and camps today are legislated against by law in the job market. Our current government does not recognise our service and considers us to be “temporary workers”, and even the MOTH didn’t want anything to do with us.
Then there were those who never came home. In my case four of my comrades never made it. Rfn Hennie Van Der Colf, Rfn Lionel Van Rooyen, Rfn Peter Hall, and Cpl JL Potgieter. Strangely enough they are always with me, and they are partly what drives me to find the graves of servicemen. They are still young, they never got to look back on 30 years.
I remember arriving at the doorstep of our family home in Mayfair on the 18th, our household now consisted of 3 people. I had lost my father on 7 November 1981, at the time when I understood him the most, he was taken away from us. I had many questions to ask him, and never got that opportunity.
I participated in Ops Thunder Chariot in 1984 and was given a medical discharge in the late 1980’s. South Africa gave SWA away at the end of the day and the old Nationalist order was replaced by the very thing they always feared and fought against. I came out of the experience a changed person who has never been the same since. I turned into a loner, I had problems with relationships, and have not been able to keep a steady job in years.
Did my time in the army contribute to what I am today? I cannot answer that as I do not know, but it probably did. I suffered from mild PTSD for many years and have steadily declining hearing. Was it worth it? those of us who went to the army have different viewpoint to those that missed it, we did better at work and we studied harder. We also had more discipline, a better sense of responsibility and we were theoretically more stable in our jobs. That must count for something. All I know is that I hated it while I was there but can look back on the whole experience with a jaundiced eye and say that I am glad it is all over. NEVER AGAIN!
Would I ever do it again? if a global enemy threatened the planet and we were asked to return to uniform I do not know what I would say. But the chances are, there would be more volunteers from amongst ex-soldiers than there would be from the present technologically obsessed “youth” and millennials. Would I fight for my country if I was asked? probably not. I was never South African enough before 1994, and am now the wrong side of the colour, gender and age line.
I recall before I left for 3 SAI in January 1980 thinking that the chances were that I would never come out in December 1981, it seems as if I was wrong. It’s just a pity that so many dreams and wishes just never materialised. I finally got my “Pronutro” in August 2011, nearly 30 years later!