Plucked from my mother’s breast.


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
Jo Tyers
Barbara Rowe
Edna Fourie

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….

Talk about it!


Some time earlier this year Archbishop Desmond Tutu made a statement about white south africans not having responded adequately to the generosity of black forgiveness for South Africa’s apartheid past. He spoke of the fact that there was no mass apology from white south africans, no outpouring of remorse or regret.

I gave this some thought for a while. At first I thought to myself, “lets get over it” why is this man going on about this thing. Then later I thought that perhaps he is right. There is a need for an apology and an acknowledgment of wrong doing…. But how? Through what mechanism? Then I thought let me not bother about the great “mass” of white South Africans. Let me concern myself rather with my own experience and history. Let me make my “full disclosure”; but let me do it in such a way that others may join me if they see fit.

An so this little blog is born. Anyone can post a message here. You are free to “subscribe” so you can receive by email the contributions that may be made to this blog as and when they are made.

So here goes my story….
What troubles my conscience is the time I spent in the South Africa Defence Force from January 1986 to December 1987.
The country was going through great difficulty at that time and the South African Defence Force was a significant piece of state apparatus used to perpetuate and deepen apartheid rule. If the South Africa Defence Force did not exist; apartheid would not have survived as long as it did. South Africa would have been driven out of Angola and Namibia much earlier or would not have been able to establish a presence there in the first place. The ANC and other liberation groups would have organised with far greater freedom in Lesotha, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland. If the South African Defense force did not exist, the State’s of emergencies declared in the eighties would not have restarded the mass mobilisation of ordinary people in the towns and cities to the extent that it did.

In short; the South African Defence Force prolonged and expanded the suffering of Millions of South Africans. If the SADF did not exist that suffering would have been less, and if people like me did not serve time in the SADF then it, in itself, would not have existed nor been in a position to cause the suffering it did. And therein lies my culpability. I served in the SADF. I gave of my time. I was trained and went into active service inside and outside the borders of the Republic of South Africa. For this I seek forgiveness.

I can of course not expect forgiveness from anyone if I don’t supply the full details of the actions that I would like to see forgiven. I will set them out as best remember them in the blogs that follow. I encourage you to contribute your thoughts, memories, disclosures (and photos) they will be displayed immediatly for the world to see at http://www.slegtroep.blogspot.com.

Send this email to others who you know will find it intersting or useful.

Defenders of the Skies

Geoff Wright, Brent Basset, Tim Hewitt-Coleman, Bruno Goedeke, Ingo Zelmar, Justin Babaya and Rob Tilney training at the DF Malan airport in 1986.

It could just be a haze in the background, but that year Crossroads burned almost continually. We were in the second state of emergency and things were going horribly wrong! By this stage we had already been trained in what was called “coin urban” which included all the useful practical knowledge one needs when knowing what steps to take before opening fire on and unarmed mob with hardpoint ammunition. Posted by Picasa

On top of "Tietkop"

Tim with Niel Burns on top of “Tiet Kop” near Touws River. We camped in Touws river first for a month in winter 1986 and then for a month in Autumn of 1987.

Niel and I were made to run to the top of this hill for punishment for some petty infringment or other. I probably made an “omkeer” clockwise instead of anti-clockwise and Niel was probably smiling when he should have been keeping a straight face… cant remember! Posted by Picasa

"Feedtray" in action

Mark van Breda gave Bruno Goedeke the nickname “Feedtray”, after Bruno single handedly brought an entire wargames programme to a standstill by inserting a “Feedtray” back to front and upside down in the 35mm Oerlikon Anti-Aircraft Gun!

Bruno is seen here in action on the False Bay coast in November 1986 on one of the rare days he was not on sports leave playing tennis! Posted by Picasa

Frankfurt Stadium


I arrived back in SA from Franfurt this morning:

My thoughts on Frankfurt Stadium are as follows:

The “Park in the Forest” has given Franfurt a very specic context to refer to. It informs the approaches and the way it which the building responds to its edges.
We must be careful in PE that we do not take too many direct cues from this building. In as much as PE stadium is in a Park, it is more urban (trying to be).

The approaches to the stadium, the activity that happens on each of the boundaries of the site must inform the design and the siting of the buidling.

I enjoyed the way in which the levels cut into the podium on the “practice field” approach.

I was interested to see how the palyers and VIP’s crossed over public areas. (I am not sure where I got the idea that players and VIP’s were to be kept sterilised from the general public)

The feel of the Bowl was intimate and enclosed. (48000 seats we were told)
I was suprised to see no moat and no (inpeneatrable) physical barrier between the pitch and the seating.

I was interested to see the allocation of standing room only parts of the stands. I know that this is a south african tradition for both rugby and soccer, and am interested to find out why we are not planning for this in Port Elizabeth.
I was pleased to see the siplicity (almost roughness) of the detailing. Nothing luxurious.

Impressed with the use of precast concrete. very neat.

Interesting towers above the standby generators.

Ich bin ein Berliner (I am a pork sausage)


Berlin is a beautiful place. It seems very comfortable for people to live here, bicycles, busses, underground. Not harsh and diffuclult like jhb, or even pe.
The stadiums are lovely and very nice to have seen. things work here, they are designed and though through with consideration. I like that. we need to become like that at home. I am dedicated to bieng part of a growing movement to transform our cities into livable places for flourishing human habitation.

The Old Man’s Profession

Saturday, October 14, 1995

Timothy Hewitt-Coleman, Young Architect.

“Ah, but its an old man’s profession”, is what established firms like to tell their young graduates when they complain about receiving pay cheques less than the sweepers at VW. This priceless wisdom is generally imparted with a patronising tone of finality that makes it clear that the subject of pay is not one that is to be brought up by the young and underly. And, after all, Frank Lloyd Wright never paid his interns at all!

But, is liberation from this bondage and “initiation” attained upon completion of the period of Architect in Training? No, sadly not; and in fact this whole article deals with the plight of the young Architect in the “Old Man’s Profession” and tries to look at ways in which the youth can claim the power they need in order to leave their mark on the profession and the built environment in general.

Architectural graduates not only leave university powerless but seem to grow very slowly out of their powerlessness into the full status of what an Architect is and needs to be. Now this is not because it is inhumanly difficult to learn all that needs to be learned, but rather because it is in the interests of those Architects who have this power and knowledge not to allow young Architects to grow powerful enough to challenge their domain.

In attaining full status as an Architect all of us must work through and grow old with three “Old Men’s” institutions; University, Practice and Institute. Each of these, in their own special, way add to the frustration of a young Architect trying to grow into the fullness of her chosen profession. Each of these promote the status quo of domination by established interest groups and each of these in the final analysis also play their part in damaging the profession and the quality of the built environment as a whole.

University

We must commend our university for the unquestionably high standard of education that it provides its Architectural graduates. A five year degree at UPE or similar courses at other universities equips the graduate with probably the most intense design training that can be obtained. Sadly however this rich training does not result in skills being acquired that are in great demand in the profession and the pitiful salaries earned by young graduates attest to this. The practice of architecture is a very specific kind of enterprise. It has very particular limitations, advantages and opportunities and it would seem that Architectural Graduates though highly educated struggle to apply their skills when faced with the constraints of Architectural practice. This situation makes it difficult for the Architectural Graduate to enter a practice with the confidence to demand proper reward for the work that is to be done, and having entered the practice on a weak footing, a low base is created from where salaries will be increased.

The second great shortcoming of the University, is the failure of the degree course to in any way equip the young Architect to enter into a practice or partnership of her own. Here the need is not for practical skills because those are learnt elsewhere. Rather the young Architect requires perspective and clarity on ways to apply the creative skills that have been acquired, to try and sell them on the market. This role of preparation for private practice must be assumed by the University because it is clearly not in the interests of established practices to do so. Even the Institute could face loosing the support of its established firms if it were to train young Architects in the mutinous skills of setting up for private practice.

Practice.

Architect’s-in-Training are seen as a predictable source of cheap labour and are very seldom exposed to any structured training programmes within practices. The tradition in architectural practices has become that new graduates would endure a period of internship and then very slowly rise in the practice, being exposed to more and more responsibility and gradually gaining more insight. Of course only a very small number of Architects can ever become partners in established firms and therefore many hopefuls allow themselves to stagnate, believing that they will eventually be selected as a partner after many years of loyal service. This system may function well to motivate young Architects to do their best for their bosses, but it is not a system that best promotes the individual advancement of Architects into professional maturity. It is a system that has evolved to meet the needs of established and entrenched practices over many years but is being seriously challenged and questioned by a young generation of Architects with an appetite for free information exchange, transparency and open networks. These young Architects don’t take as easily to hierarchy, but work better witin collaborative management structures. Many progressive thinking young Architects are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the tendency of large firms to limit the exposure of the salaried architect so that she does not become familiar with the inner workings and management of the practice. Exposure that desperately needs to be acquired in order to function as a professional in the fullest sense. Skills essential to an Architect are not passed on to the youth. The profession suffers and the built environment suffers with it.

Institute

But what of the young architect who embarks against all odds and good advice to set up alone in private practice? The high design training received at varsity does not put bread on the table and she is lacking in important skills that should have been attained as an Architect-in-Training. But faced with the pitiful salaries offered to qualified Architects in private practices a few (more desperate) young Architects to go it alone. Only there, to be confronted with the overwhelming ignorance among small to medium sized clients about the role and funtion of the Architect. Larger clients, generally enlightened as to the role of the Architect in the construction industry, are harder to attract because they have been cornered by the established practices. Even more potential small clients are lost to young Architects because of a lack of awareness of what services an Architect could offer them. Clearly the marketing of the Architect’s profession in such away to assist small practices is not happening in any significant way. This kind of marketing (the same kind that encouraged the public to “ask their Pharmacist”) is what one would expect the Institute to co-ordinate but instead they seem to be concentrating their efforts at a national level in continuous negotiations with government and other sponsors of large construction projects destined for he drawing boards of the old established firms. (notice how much better of the established firms rate on the Pilot Roster than the small young firms!) The Institute of SA Architects has no visible programmes to assist clients in selecting an Architect appropriate for the project at hand and thereby entrenches the status quo where large commercial clients appoint the same firm time and time again making it difficult for the young architect to gain access. In fact the Institute has very little at all to offer young Architects in their plight. Here we must also remember to that by far the largest majority of young Architects are salaried and the only representative voice that they have is the Institute, who has repeatedly failed them, leaving them unorganised to ply their individual wits against organised established practices.

But perhaps now is an oppourtune time for young Architects to ensure that the new, voluntary Institute will represent there interests. If a voluntary institute is to be successful in any region in South Africa it will have to convince young Architects what programmes will be installed to further their interests. If the new institute does rise to this occasion it could become the platform from which young Architects reach out to the universities, the established practices and the potential client base and as a result not only advance the interests of young architects earning salaries but also those in private practice. If the new voluntary institute does however not embrace the concerns of young Architects, we will have to find some other means to secure our careers and our futures or we will have to be content to remain weak and powerless to the detriment of ourselves our profession and the built environment as a whole.