Thanks to all those who responded so positively to the idea of this email and the slegtroep website. It is very encouraging and it seems that the time is right to talk about this part of our History. My story will come in parts perhaps not Chronological but as I remember them…. I hope that this email and the website will not only be my story but the stories of others as well, but if it is only mine thats also OK. My story starts like this……
I received my call up in 1985 while I was in standard 10 at Fairmont High School in Durbanville. My call up was to 10 Anti Aircraft regiment, Youngsfield, Cape Town. At that stage I felt that my options were limited. My family was not in a position to send me to Varsity (delaying the onset of national service). Neither did I believe that I was able to leave the country. I did know at this stage that I was facing a moral dilemma. I knew that by reporting for duty on the specified date that I would be supporting a government and a system that I had come to know was wrong. I did however not have the courage or the conviction to become a conscientious objector and face the six years in prison. Here I must pause to that those that tried to caution me about what I was about to do:
Ben van Staaden
I remember these voices, and their appeals to me; but, feeling trapped, I reported for duty.
It was a terribly sad day. My mother drove me to the camp. I had a lump in my throat and could hardly hold back the tears. I was left there that day with hundreds of others. I was seventeen years old, but there were some that were younger.
The first week was chaos, Medical examinations, queues for tests, forms to be filled in, kit to be received and then the haircut; down to bare bristles. We were allocated into bungalows. Our lives were controlled by bombardiers ( corporals) mainly conscripts themselves, and generally from the previous year’s intake. The treatment received at the hands of our superiors was terrible. From the first moment. Those in control of us were driven by some perverse sadism. A desire to exact pain and suffering, and competing with each other to show who could cause the most suffering among the recruits under their control. The were not allowed to physically beat us and mostly kept to that rule. When the did beat us they new they were doing wrong. They inflicted pain through forced physical exercise, sleep deprivation and psychological abuse.
By the second week we had officially entered the three month period of “basic training”. We wore brown overalls, boots and a plastic helmet inner called a “doibie”. We went everywhere with our R4 rifles. We spent a month in the bush near cape point, we slept with our rifles in out sleeping bags. There we slept on the ground under our ground sheets; two to a “bivie”. I shared a “Bivie” with a guy called Jason Dresser from Kwazulu-Natal.
The focus of our training was drill, physical training, musketry and fieldcraft, but the undercurrent was always one of fear, confusion. I excelled at most of the tasks and exercises, map reading, rifle assembly and target shooting. I was surrounded for the first time in my life with people who were not from my background. Many had not finished school. Most were afrikaans speaking, some farmers, some apprentice train drivers. Some criminals and drug addicts. I had opted as some form of protest not to collaborate with the system while within its belly. (too late!) I opted not to enrol on the Junior Leadership course. I was therefore doing my basics with very ordinary foot soldiers who lacked the ambition, fitness or the schooling to qualify for entering the Junior Leadership School that trained junior commissioned and non-commissioned officers. (standard 10 was one of the minimum requirements of the course) I spent my three months basic traing with this collection of fine individuals was known as the “Battery”. The group of about two hundred was under the control of a major with white hair whose name I cant remember. But our day to day dealings were with a tubby Sergeant Major, black hair, black moustache, vicious, but lacking the severe sadism of some of his underlings.
Our platoon was fortunate to have Clinton Berry as a Bombardier. A lot more civilised than most in control. Bombardier berry was only a year older than me. Younger than some of the guys, but his power was absolute. If the bombardier said sit, you all sat immediately, if he said run you ran immediately. Insubordination was not tolerated at all. When the Bombardier spoke to you, you stood to attention looking straight forward, no expression on your face, arms clipped into your sides, chest out. Many who have not experienced Military training cannot understand how the power of over the trainees can be so absolute. It is absolute. If you are ordered to stand to attention in the blazing sum you will do so. You will rather loose consciousness than disobey the order. I remember a day on an asphalt parade ground. It was hot and we had been drilling for some time. (Marching and moving in formation). We were standing to attention, rigid, eyes forward, chest out. The troop to my left swaggers, sways and falls face down on the tarmac. I remember the cracking sound as his face hit the ground and I remember the view from the corner of my eye of the blood and teeth that lay on the ashphalt as the medics dragged him off…I don’t remember his name. it didn’t seem significant at the time….