Sometimes I dream of Rundu

I dreamt about the army again on Friday night. Though it has been twenty years since I went in I, still have dreams about that time. They are not usually truamatic or stressfull. In earlier years there were dreams of being chased by men with guns. But more recently the dream is set in the present day, I am in the army again, and I cant seem to get the message across to those in control that I have already spent my two years and that it is some mistake that I am in the army again, but in the dream I am caught up in the daily things of a conscript and have resigned myself to just waiting out the term….

I have these dreams without having experienced any major trauma or having comitted (personally) any violent acts, but what about those with blood on their hands, or those that saw thier friends die? What kind of dreams are they having at night?

I think it is important to say at this point that though I am apologising for my time in the army in 1986 and 1987, that I dont have any gory details to share, I never shot anyone, beat anyone, I never saw anyone get shot or anyone getting beaten. I was, though, part of a machine that did kill mame, bomb, poison and throw bodies out of aeroplanes! I was just fortunate not to be at the killing end of that machine. I wrote this piece below in 1993 some time after I came out, clearly some stuff still bugging me.

I killed no man

… why then these tears ?

Why do I regret that time ?

…why is it stained on my mind….ingrained ?

when I was not shot nor stabbed,

never starved nor overcome by cold,

nor felt bright Napalm burn my skin,

hot shrapnel rip through my throat;

or my blood brother’s head burst beside me;

hair, bone, brain spill and splat on my face,

my rifle, my boots….

…And me crying, sobbing,

cowering, clasping, crawling

in that dust ?

I did come pretty close to the war at the end of 1987, when I spent three months on the Agolan border at a base near a Namibian town called Rundu. We were flown up to Rundu from Cape Town in a troup carrier. It was the first time I had flown in a plane. We boarded a c130 at Wingfield on a cold and rainy August day. We flew at altitiude. The c130 is not presurised, so it is noisy inside and very cold, you sit in straps that form a hammock of sorts that hangs from the wall of the plane, icicles form against the metal inside the plane. Eveyone is sitting huddled together, kit on the floor, some afraid, some confused, some throwing up into paper bags.

What is important to explain here is that none of us really new where we were going on that day. We had been told some weeks before to pack our kit and be ready to leave at short notice, and that we would be going into the “operational area” for an unspecified time. (I realise now that the secrecy had to do with intelligence protocols, but no one at the time explains) Then after weeks of rumours and expecting to leave at any momement, the trucks arrive and we are all tumbled off to the airfield.. even the mode of transport is kept secret… we could have gone by train or truck, they never told us that we would fly. The secrecy ofcourse breads a network of rumours, everybody has a brother or an uncle that has told them where we are going, how long we would be there for and what our mission would be…. these rumours are rife and conflicting, you choose to believe what you will, but normally you have a reasonable idea of what is going on.

Eventually we land, very bumby. We come to a standstill, it is dark inside the plane, we clutch our rifles in our hands, a whisper goes around the plane that we have landed in Rundu, (others say we are in Grootfontein) but we dont know if this is good or bad. We have heard the names of these bases in stories told to us… Rundu, Oshakati, Grootfontein, Kutimo Molilo. The rear rampdoor opens and a white searing heat enters the plane. As we scurry out of the plane, we dont know if we are about to be shot at or attacked we look around nervously, checking to see if we should take cover, run or shoot! Everything is scorched intensly white, incredible bright light out of the darkness of the plane, slowly we see that we are on a runway, in a large military base, fuel storage, bunkers tents, offices and streets. it all seems reasonably safe……

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.

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