Sundays are for quiet reflection

Sundays, for me, are for sitting silently. For reflecting. For taking it all in. And today was a lovely Sunday. The sun was out . It was windless. But in that quiet time today it seemed, for the first time, as if everything was beginning to add up. Beginning to make sense and that all the bits were beginning to talk to each other.

I have told you before that I have not really full understood what has driven me to buy Pebblespring farm.
It has been a compulsion that would not let me go. It is something that I have had to do because I know that the regret of having not bought it would be far greater that the sorrow of having tried and failed. But having bought the place, I have been left wondering. What now? Where will I find the money? Where will I find the time? By doing this, am I really doing the best that I can do for my family? and what of my career? Is it not just too weird that this architect would rather spend time with his cattle, his gumboots and his chainsaw than “networking” on the golf course or the banks of the Krom River? If I seem certain to those around me, it is an illusion, because I am constantly in doubt. I am constantly questioning the wisdom of what I am doing.

But today was different. Today I felt certain. Today I knew that for me it has always been about one thing.Today I could see clearly that in fact I have been dabbling over the years in aspects of the same idea. Today, I see that, more than anything else, I demand for myself…. FREEDOM.

Perhaps this burning for freedom came from the time when my freedom was taken from me. When I was locked behind those high fences in training camps and on parade grounds. For two years in the eighties, everyday when I woke up I would think of the time when I would be free. I did not even really know that I was free before that freedom was taken from me. They took my clothes, they took my hair, they told me where and when I would sleep, what I would eat, when I would eat. When I could sit, when I could stand. They told me how I should walk and what clothes I must wear. I had no freedom to choose anything. In the Angolan Border war, in the Townships under siege, I was not free. I was a pawn in their game. But then out of the army, to University in the late eighties, I immediately disregarded thoughts of my on freedom, and what felt like to have lost it. I got caught up in the sense of doing “the right thing” about the ending Apartheid. I took it very seriously, even though the little protests and campaigns we ran were of such a little impact so as to be meaningless in any lasting way.

As I came to the professional world and my first job, I did not last long working for a boss. After two short years I could see that this was not for me and I opted for the relative freedom of going into practice for my own account. Yes, I was free, but I was now married and compelled to earn the money required of a marriage. As the practice grew, I came into partnership with others who would help me to work on ever larger and larger jobs. Things were busy, there was no time to think about freedom. Bigger offices, bigger projects and bigger payrol.

And this is where I am now. I have built a business for myself. It gives me a lot of things, but I am coming to see that it does not give me freedom. Its is my own fault of course. I have built up around me a family who has become addicted to the money that is brought in from our business. We have become addicted to the same things that everyone around us is addicted to. I love my family and I would not have it any other way. But that does not make me free.

But when I am on the farm on a beautiful morning like today, I see a hint. A faint glimmer. A possibility of freedom. A life not without work. A life not outside of society. But a life that does not require me to “keep afloat” a company that pays the salaries of so many people. A life that does not require my to do business with mindless state and corporate machines. Machines that are necessary, if our world chooses to continue as it does, but that are mindless, and need to be mindless in order to function at the scale that they do.

This faint glimmer tells me that I do not have to forget about freedom after all. That it can be achieved and that it can be real and it can be in my lifetime.


(Image Courtesey of Ben Carver: 6SAI – Grahamstown – 1985)

The word “reminisce” just does not see right for me. I dont know what the correct word would be for talking about this war.

What I do know is that, for me, there is an energy in these discussions. At this time, I am able to spend hours writing and talking about the war when I am otherwise exhausted and depleted. There are other things too in my life that attract a similary inner energy, or vibration. I am slowly learning to not be to worried about why these things give me energy when I allocate my time to them, but just to allocate my time to them.

I find I have a preference for reggae music, carpentry, pornographic movies, fishing and road running. All of these I have “energy” for. To be honest I don’t know where these preferences have come from or why they come with “energy”. They are just there, and I just go with them.

What I find perplexing though, is why so little is spoken of this war. We know more about the battle of Isandlwayo, Custer’s Last Stand, the Falklands War, Yon Kippur, 9-11 and “Bloody Sunday”, than we do about the Battle of Cuito Cuanavalle. How can this be?

I remember when I came back from Rundu toward the end of 1987. Coming back home was eary,… surreal. It was as if though to me the “real world” was happening back up there, north of here. This big war, this massive operation, day long convoys, body bags lined up on the tarmac, Migage F1’s shot down, airforce scrambling 3 times a day, red alert, readiness state High!….guys back from frontline with new browns and the “thousand yard stare”

But when I got back home, to my family, nobody new anything of what was happening. I was simply swept away in the curent of petty, sub-urban realities. Straight into first year at Varsity. Classmates straight out of school. Nobody had heard of Rundu, Grootfontein, Oshakati, Cuito, Operation Modular (remember it was just refered to as the “operational area” it was illegal for the media or anyone to be more specific). I did not feel sorry for myself, or did I in any kind of pain, I was relieved not o have had it as bad as those who were in the thick of the fihting, I was elated to be finished with my time and have it all (almost all) behind me. And for these reasons, there was not really much talk about the war at that time (and I suppose ever since).

But also I think, so little is known of the Angolan Bush War for the reasons that Michalel Graaf points out. ….”History is written by the victors”. And in this case neither the National Party or the ANC (the two major powers in SA since the eighties) can claim any stake in the victory. The National Party considered this as a defeat. This is evidenced by the fact that in spite of there massive propoganda machine, they made no attempt to popularise the “history” of the Angolan Bushwar.

What is more suprising though is that as the ANC became dominant, so liitle effort has been made to record and popularise this significant epsiode where conventional forces came head to head in Southern Angola in the late eighties, resulting in a bloody and crushing battle, which lead to a South African withdrawal from Angola, the acceptance of UN resolution 435 and the paving of the way for UNTAG to take control in Namibia. All this, a very significant blow to the forces of Apartheid, ….but no real contribution from MK and the ANC…..

Is it because the ANC cannot claim involvment in this defeat of the Aparthied System that we will pass slowly into the past without being acknowledged by “History”?

The Famous Falklands War

When I was in Buenos Aires in 2003, I visited the Memorial to Argentinian conscripts and professional soldiers who lost their lives in the Falklands war . What interests me about this war, is the general media and public interest generated by the incident. (Or maybe more correctly, the media dis- interest in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale and the Angolan war.) In many ways the Falklands War was a much smaller (and less strategically significant) story than the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. 907 Soldiers died in the


while at least 4000 troops died at the


At the time, the South African Military PR, tried to sell the battle as a success, history has shown however, that, in fact, this battle set in place a sequence of withdrawals and retreats for apartheid forces in Angola, Namibia and perhaps even South Africa!

This disinterest does not trouble me. I just find it curious!

Metro FM Music Awards and other small things.

Last night Hlubi and I attended the Metro FM music awards here in PE. It’s a glamorous event that awards such titles as, best Kwaito Album, best singer, best Hip-Hop Group etc. It is a celebrity showcase where everybody who wants to make it in the entertainment industry wants to be seen. The event is young and black and very trendy.

I attended the function this year and last year and was really impressed, confused and amazed by this craze and frenzy for celebrity and anything “famous”. There were of course various live music and dance acts and there was great excitement in the air. Fun really… but as I watched those around me being brought to tears and screams because, Ntando, or Kabelo or “Teargas” just stood up or sat down or sipped their Coca Cola, I could not help to realise how difficult it was for me to be caught up in the general mania. I was enjoying myself, but I did not scream, I did not leap out of my chair waving my arms and shouting “I love you Mzekezeke” … Why not…. I began to wonder? Why do I not get excited? Why do I not get emotional? Is it perhaps something that comes from my army days, when we were trained to continue forward while grenades and live ammunition crack about your head. Not to get exited, not to freak out. Made not to show your pain, but to carry on. Shown how to stare bankly forward carrying the dead on your shoulder. Or perhaps it was more than that, My father conscripted into service in South Africa and Namibia in the early sixties, My father’s father a combatant in World War one, where he survived the battle of Delville Wood, my mother’s father served in North Africa, fighting Rommel in World War two…. Perhaps all of these contributing to a sterness, a militarisation of family culture, a suppression of emotion, a recessiveness. A militarisation that is perhaps not noticed growing up in white middle classes because everyone is very similar. But last night at the Metro FM awards those around me were from homes different to the one that I grew up in and they have no difficulty getting excited in the trivia, the small things of life, ….I suppose the things that make life beautiful!

Cuito or bust!

PW Botha died in his bed in Wildernis last night. He lived to the age of ripe old age of 90 and never stopped wagging his finger at people when talking to them. In his day he was a tough man, I am sure, he was not afraid to take on the world or the armed forces of the ANC, Mozambique and Angola…..which brings me back to Rundu in 1987!

The Angolan border with Namibia was a war zone in the eighties, and (I suppose like any other war zone) information available to combatants is restricted to a “need to know” basis. You do “need to know” that you have to wake up at six in the morning and polish your boots, you don’t “need to know” that the South African Defence Force has just launched a major land and air offensive deep into Angola where they will be thoroughly beaten by Angolan and Cuban forces at the


You don’t “need to know” that for now Angolan and Cuban forces have no plan to chase South Africans all the way back to Rundu and bomb the shit out of your chopper tent!

Anyway, we (some of us) sensed that something was happening by virtue of the fact that huge military convoys (taking a full day to pass by) were crossing over into Angola, the runway was piled with body bags as the Puma helicopters came back over the river to base. Mirage F1’s, Impala’s and Pumas’were “scrambling” two or three times a day and coming back all shot up and buggered. We were on “readiness state high”, sitting on the anti aircraft guns, generators running and ammo bins full. Yet in the middle of all this we are all loaded onto troop careers and brought into base and piled into a hall/hanger where we are told to wait for a “surprise”. We had of course, with time, become suspicious of surprises, like the “surprise” of litres and litres of (normally scarce) fresh milk they dish out to drink before forcing you to “leopardcrawl” kilometres through the dust and till you puke all over you’re your overalls.

So, we are sitting in the hot, sweaty hanger and eventually after a long wait we are presented by the Officer Commanding with the President of the Republic, PW Botha. Then we really new there was big shit going on! He spoke to us of how grateful the nation was for the great sacrifice we were making, and how right would persevere over wrong. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember that, without him giving any details, that we were caught up in the middle of something serious and we were all going to die.

Only after returning back to South Africa and the passing of three months until January 1988, did the news eventually hit the newspapers that there had been a major “operation” in southern Angola (


). History will remember operation Modular as the great turning point in the Angolan war. South Africans badly beaten at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, retreating and eventually causing the government to concede to the provisions of United Nations resolution 435, opening the way for the “UNTAG” international peacekeeping force and Namibia’s first democratic elections that followed.

Anyhow, that was the last time I was in the same room as PW Botha.

Note from James Cranke

Hi Tim .
Thanks for the mail ; it is an interesting and courageous idea .
The T.R.C. Hearings were initially what got me thinking about my time in the S.A.D.F. , but at first my reaction to my own conscience was a self-imposed deniall . Excuses such as how young and naive I was , about whether I had a choice or not , the limit of my involvement , etc. all seemed fairly relevant at the time . Eventually ,
though , I had to admit to myself that I had been on the side of wrong ; I had played an active part in a terrible wrong-doing . By being in the army , I supported apartheid . This I regret , immensely .

James Cranke

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

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