“Tree Aan for Sport Parade”
The recent media exposure given to the End Conscription Campaign made me realize that over 20 years have passed since the end of the South African Bush War. Needless to say this occasion is passing by with hardly a mention anywhere. This is sad because the Border was something a whole generation of young South Africans had to face and was a rite of passage for nearly two decades of SADF National Servicemen.
(Above: SADF on patrol : The Charlie Kaplyn during the South African Bush War)
The dreaded brown envelope that contained the SADF national service call up papers was received in Matric. Being a swimmer and a surfer, one obviously opted for the Navy when completing the required forms for the South African Defense Force. Obscure details like having attended naval cadets for a few months in Standard Four were naturally included in the form in the vain hope of actually being called up for the Navy.
The day arrived and my brown envelope was in my hand. I had to report to 2 SAI Walvis Bay in January 1985. Cool, January was the call up everyone wanted because it meant you could get your two years over with as quickly as possible, as opposed to the July call up where it seemed a death sentence was waiting for you for six months.
Walvis Bay, but that’s in South West Africa was the first thought that went through my stunned brain. Hey, but at least it’s at the coast so maybe I have been called up to the Navy after all, was the second consolation thought that hit me. I showed my call up to a mate of mine who had an older brother who had been to the “Mag” already. Nah, he said 2 SAI means that you going to the infantry.
Wonderful, I am going to a foreign land for two years to serve in the Infantry. It didn’t get much worse than that, believe me.
I asked some of the local surfers if there were waves in Walvis Bay and whether I should take my surfboard with me. There were vague mentions of a surf break called Guns near Swakopmund but the unanimous decision was not to believe the army when it said you could bring your own sports equipment for the Wednesday afternoon Sport Parade.
The first Sport Parade after “klaaring in” was very important. This was when you chose your sport for the next two years. There were two blonde PF women admin soldiers at Walvis Bay who played tennis who attracted many to the sport. But Wednesday after Wednesday brought negative reports from the troepie hopefuls who were trying their luck.
There was wind surfing as well at Walvis Bay. Luckily one of the ou manne warned me about the wind surfing. The wind surfers had to “tree aan” and carry the equipment on the “loopas” all the way to the lagoon and “makkirie pas” and “om keur” so many times that by the time they got to the lagoon it was almost time to come home again.
Some of the “roofies” opted for pistol shooting as their sport. This was also a fatal mistake because the shooting range was quite a distance away and pistol shooting attracted many of the P.F’s which meant that most of the national servicemen spend Wednesday afternoons being asked if they could “sien daardie sand duin? “Daar gat julle”
Ou manne also warned us to stay away from “Bondel Sport”. Bondel Sport at Walvis Bay meant throwing medicine balls at each other for the entire afternoon with the P.F in charge shouting at the “Dienspligtes” to throw the heavy balls harder at each other.
There was a volley ball court right next to the bungalows at 2 SAI and that seemed to be the safest option to me, so I decided that volley ball would be my sport for the next two years. There were so many guys doing volley ball that one never got a game but at least you could chill and relax for the afternoon.
Then rugby started. Each platoon had to form a team to compete in the company trials. A mate of mine Lionel Neethling was a Western Province Schools rugby player who had been classified G3K3 due to high blood pressure. G3K3 meant that you couldn’t do physical exercise in the SADF and was quite a sought after classification by the sick, lame and the lazy.
However, once it was discovered that Lionel could play rugby, he was ordered to attend the Sport Parade and play rugby, despite being a G3K3. He was also ordered not to fall over dead during Sport Parade.
Having played on the flank at school I was asked if I wanted to be in the platoon team for the rugby trial. Sure I thought, it could actually be fun to play some rugby but luckily I said that I would only play if they really needed me.
Sitting on the sideline of the rugby field as a reserve suddenly made me realize that the only place where there was any grass at all in the 2 SAI army camp was at the rugby field (apart from the grass that was being smoked that is).
2 SAI was on the edge of the desert and was a very bleak place. Actually being able to lie on a patch of green grass was something a troep at Walvis Bay did not do, because there was just sand and the odd malnourished bush here and there.
(Above: Sitting on the grass at Infantry School, Oudtshoorn cleaning R4 rifles with the weeks washing in the background)
The first trial started and a few minutes into the game a sickening tackle by a PF corporal on a young troep jolted all those sitting on the touchline. Yeessh, this was not schoolboy rugby we were witnessing as the injured player was removed from the field. Fortunately it was a centre that needed replacing and suddenly none of the reserves could play centre.
I never made the company rugby team but my name was on the rugby attendance register which meant that every Sport Parade as well as Monday and Thursday afternoon PT sessions all the rugby players had to report to the rugby field.
It was bliss. A few hours to relax and dream of home away from the madness of basic training while your mates were being drilled to death in the PT sessions or carrying windsurfers up and down to the lagoon or climbing sand dunes while pistol shooting.
Twenty years after the days when the boys had to go to the Border and it seems like nobody even remembers. It is probably a noble thing to honour the ECC people and it was brave to make the choice to rather go to jail than do two years national service. But many of us did do our national service and this article is written for them. Tree aan…..staaldak, webbing en geweer………