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LIFE AS WE KNEW IT; "THE OLD SADF "; 1977 to 1994; R.I.P.
This is my story,
My family's history has actually followed that of South   Africa. My Dad is of Dutch/French descend, farmers who were involved in the Great Trek , people who lived off their land , lived for their religion and believed that their government and leaders always did the correct thing. They never questioned this as they believed that a government is a tool used by the Creator to ensure peace and prosperity as well as civil obedience and order. On the other hand my Mom's people came from England and Ireland , deeply religious and people who were artisans , people who only believed in the Creator and depended on their skills to survive.
To be the eldest child and the only son in a family from different religions and backgrounds , resulted in a rebel (Irish) , for God and country (English) , reasonably religious (Dutch); and hardheaded (French) type of person. Because of this I often had problems with the way people did things or behaved. The perfect combination .. a hardheaded , religious rebel who is prepared to fight for God and country ..; one for trouble.
In the family it was expected that every male do his duty to the country .. it was required by law and by the senior members of the family , nobody had to try to worm his way out of National Service as according to them it was your patriotic duty and it made a man out of you; nobody mentioned dying once as far as I can remember.
So at sixteen , while still at school I had to register for National Service .. the result was Rifleman Daniel Francois van den Berg SADF no 73296436 .. a number .. not knowing what to expect , only that I had to report for duty as soon as I left school or college. The other guys who had done military training always told me how tough it was , what they had gone through , generally speaking I was scared to death , not knowing what to expect. This number became part of my life .. a second ID number , will always be at the back of my memory.
To be honest , prior to reporting for military service I did not jog or do anything special as preparation for National Service .. I just decided that whether I was fit or not , if the soles of my feet were hard or soft , I would still have to go through the same as the other guys .. just chilled out prior to reporting and waited for the big day to dawn.
On the 7th of July 1977 (07/07/77) I had to report at the Castle in Cape Town , hair cut short , minimum civvie clothes , no liquor , bag with everything as prescribed on the list; that accompanied the callup instruction .. Brasso , polish , oil , chain and locks , etc. and a few Rand pocket money, destination .. Grahamstown .. 6 South African Infantry Battalion. We were processed by a group of mean looking individuals and searched for anything illegal. The family had gone on holiday .. Saved me the embarrassment of being seen herded to Cape   Town station. Till today I still have a fear of equal numbered dates in history,  spells possible disaster.
The train departed and the big journey started. A journey that started as one year and ended as two years plus 720 day and many more.
As far as we traveled other guys were picked up .. some were handed over to the police .. threw the hardboiled eggs and other objects from the train; not even at base and already going to DB .. adding extra days to their National Service.
At Grahams Town we were rushed onto the Bubblenose Bedfords .. comments like :"Troep jy sien jou ma nooit weer nie", "Ek is jou vrou , jou ma , jou ouma en jy gaan kak",  were heard .. good memories .. the dominee just stood, without saying anything. Our kit was thrown onto the vehicles and we had to duck .. and then came the "roofie ride".. we fell around as the vehicle accelerated and were flung to the front of the vehicle as the drivers braked, what a welcoming party.
In base we were allocated bungalows , if you worked for the then South African Railways , you were appointed to see that the geysers were always fired up and hotwater always available , if you worked for the Post Office , you were the platoon messenger , the Post Office / Telkom guys were appointed as "Bungalow Bill", had to do all the maintenance. The farmers had to see to the gardens , the apprentice's became "kakhuismechanics" and the rest had to do the neverending "chickenparades". We were ordered to shower .. "Julle stink na civvie straat" , "Skrop julleself", "Julle is vuil".
The next morning we had to run to the sickbay for a medical, what a medical !!! colourblind . ..three electrical cables about a centimeter in diameter, were shown to me .. black , blue , red,; even a blind man could pass this test. This was actually the most difficult part of the medical. Very few did not pass the medical .. cannonfodder obviously was needed. The next stop was the barbershop .. even if your hair was cut re the regulation you had to go as well .. this was deducted from your money at month end , with the chutney you never saw .. together with the deductions for breakages in the mess , company fund , contribution to the church and whatever contribution was the flavour of the day. Then we had to do the admin as required and ID photos were taken ..  Die Army is nou jou Ma en Pa , troep!. We were issued with clothes , bedding and a rifle .. had to carry everything at once to the barracks .. walked in a line helping one another .. poor buggers who had to lead and end this line.
Beds were made and ironed , "inspeksiekas", arranged , floors polished and .. then the fun started; our first "afkak parade", .. including "airplane PT ", and waterbottles, great fun if you were a NCO/Officer. This did not end till at least half of the platoon vomited. This "opfok parades" became part of the everyday life in base .. nobody knows why and nobody ever tried to ask.
During the days we marched , had to attend lectures .. "Who is the minister of Finance ?" .. heaven knows what he had to do with the Army .. did firstaid/buddy aid classes, ran from a to z and further. At night it was inspections, lectures and the special treat , "opfok parades". Then followed second phase and we went to the shooting range .. on the way again a "opfok parade". It seams to me the Army could never afford fuel as we had to push the vehicles from one point to the next .. it had to teach us disciplin , teamwork , endurance , and whatever the NCO's could think of. "Staaldak" , webbing and "geweer"; became part of everyday life, with the 2,4's added for fun and always under the threat of receiving a DD1 .. to be "klaad aan"; for everything/anything that could be dreamt up.
One evening .. I think it was September or October  , we had to rush out of the bungalows for rollcall . The NCO on duty said : "I have good news and I have bad news .. what's first?"  We requested the bad news , expecting the worst. "Elvis has just passed away and the good news is that National Service has been extended to two years". Absolute silence followed, .. the next moment someone said : "Fok die Army", A choir repeated it .. chaos. The next morning at rollcall not all the troops turned up , the rest was on AWOL. Took a few days to get everybody back to base.
I had to get out of this circus .. the first opportunity was selection for the then State President's Guard .. to short .. the next was Parabat selection .. passed all the requirements and tests, .. then InfantrySchool popped along and I did the selection . Two days later I was on my way to Oudtshoorn , not knowing what to expect.
Arriving at Oudtshoorn station we formed up and the first words were : "Bid ..rower ..bid , jy sien jou ma nooit weer nie"! In base we were asked ; "Wie wil grens toe gaan ?" , overeager hands went up. "Daar's die grens van die kamp , hardloop soontoe"! The same routine followed as at Grahamstown , with Buttkop , Fnkop , Noordhek , PG , Luiperdskloof , Fourways , Vasbyt Vyf , etc. added. We did Phase One , the rest followed and just before the Specialist Phase we were told that due to the Namibian situation everybody had to do the Platoon Leadership Course. An accelerated course , meaning longer hours , more lectures , inspections and less sleep followed and then we flew to Grootfontein; the Border; not knowing what to expect, filled with fear.
When the "Flossies" opened the cargodoors we felt the intense heat . Helicopter gunships were flying overhead . At the other end of the runway we saw Impala fighterjets armed with missiles .. welcome to the operational area. Sunburnt troops returning to the "States"; boarded the plane as we packed everything onto the tarmac. Everybody boarded the "wit olifante"; and then we were transported to "Southern Slums" , the transit camp. Here we were issued with ammo. The next day we left for Etali-base via Oshikati on the white road. At Oshivelo we did some training for a week or so and were then deployed at Etali (old base), the normal patrols , guard duty , escort duties and kitchen duties.
There I hit the jackpot , while on patrol I had to be casevaced .. foodpoisoning due to diesel that was spilt on our rations, most of the platoon was also later evacuated for the same reason. Other platoons also experienced the same. When recovered we did operations , eg. Vasvat from Okatopi base and left the operational area for Oudtshoorn after plus minus 60 days. We left minus one of the guys who was killed in an unfortunate incident.. shot by accident by one of his own buddies. His last words before being casavaced was , "Pray for me" , which the Corporal and platoon did. He died in the casavac chopper just as it took off from the TB .. this was relayed by the pilot to the platoon . A sad loss .. he was young , bright, and could have contributed a lot to society and to his country
The next Saturday was the Passingout Parade .. some chap were RTU'ed (returned to unit) the previous evening .. all the effort for nothing, mom and dad attending and congratulating the new generation of NCO's and Junior Officers . .. excellent canonfodder. When given a choice of bases I requested to be posted to The Castle , The South African Cape Coloured Corps or Regiment Eastern Province. As always in the Army you get what you want .. on Sunday morning I flew back to Namibia,  to 31Bn, Omega Base in the Caprivi.
Arriving there , via Grootfontein and Rundu, nobody knew that we were on our way and we had to sleep in the veld .. we were given a 9mm pistol with an empty Uzzi-magazine , a G3-rifle with an empty R1-magazine and a few AK47 rounds to defend ourselves with and dropped in the veld , a distance from the base. The next morning we were picked up and had to walk 20km via a route back to base. Allocated to companies we started training with the platoons , actually a very pleasant time in my life . Operations followed , eg. Grappa 1 and 2 , plus several other transborder ops , eg. Safraan , etc.. What an experience working with the Bushmen , fantastic people , quite a memorable time. . Ops were conducted from old Kwando base in the Caprivi and all over the operational area eg. Mpunguvlei , etc. I was amazed by the animal life in this area , could not get closer to paradise. Sadly my ways parted with this gentle and reliable people just after celebrating 40 days. After an ops a few of us were casevaced back to the "States" with malaria and yellow jaundice. Stayed in 1 Mil in Pretoria for close on 60 days , was sent home to recover and back again to 31 BN to "Klaar out". Was sad to leave Omega and its people , but even the best in life has to end sometime. Finished , but not yet, Had to bum my way back to the good old RSA .. a lift from Omega to Rundu .. stayed over for a day or so as there was no transport or flights to the "States".. bummed a lift on a "wit olifant" to Grootfontein .. stayed over in the Meteorite Motel/Hotel .. was not in the mood for a night in "Southern Slums .. nearly ate myself to death .. bummed a flight with troops returning to Oudthoorn .. hitched from Oudtshoorn to Paarl as the then Aircape had no available scheduled flights to Cape Town, and hitched from Paarl to Wellington .. eventually back at home .. nearly seven days later .. thought I was finished, but not yet ..it was only starting .
Two months later I was informed that I had been allocated to Regiment Boland , a local military unit as a Citizen Force Member. A few months later the first call up arrived , resulting in 90 days mostly spent at Concor Base close to Ruacana in Namibia , after 14 days re-training at Luhatla.. Survived a RVO (Raad van Ondersoek) ..a Commission of Enquiry into an explosion and damaged caused by a rifle grenade that caught fire , exploded and destroyed a radio , luckily without the loss of life or injuries , nobody could have prevented it. Other Operational camps followed at Ruacana with training at Oshivelo and several internal camps , eg. Wellington , Worcester , Robertson , Mamelodi , Cradock . As time progressed and courses were completed at Infantry School at Oudtshoorn and Danie Theron Battleschool at Kimberley promotion kicked in as full Lieutenant , Captain and Major , eventually being promoted to unit second in command .This was actually a very pleasant time .. troops were visited at different locations , Margate , Mamelodi , Atteridgeville, etc. Could not have asked for better people as fellow soldiers , dedicated , well trained and honest human beings. Brave men .. giving everything they had to South-Africa .. sacrificing their time , family and finances , sometimes their future as well.
The social events were the highlight of the year .. feeling proud wearing messdress , attending functions with the wife , etc., listening to patriotic speeches by Members of Parliament and Military personnel , but everything had to come to an end .. after attending a final Officers gathering under the Old Regime we were informed that due to certain financial restraints and rationalization Military Units were either being closed or amalgamated with others Units; this decisions were echoed by the New Government.
When we had the final farewell function at our Unit , the atmosphere was somber , everybody felt that they had been "dropped", left on their own , rejected after so many years of faithful service , not even with a thank you. The general feeling was till here and no more further. Even the speeches were depressing , as if it gave a message of no hope for the future. Somebody even compared the situation to that of a patient being loaded into an ambulance , with no hope of surviving the trip to the hospital. That was the last time I dressed up , everything was packed away , for ever and ever .. browns , boots , beret , messdress , .. the whole lot. I don't even know where most of the kit is at present. I think the "staaldak" is a waterbowl for the ducks and the shelter is used by my son to cover his motorcycle during rainstorm .. well at least a use was found for it.
If ever my sons were forced by law to do National Service I'll refuse that they report , even if it results in helping them across the border .. why ? .. if your country needs you and you respond .. actually walk that extra mile .. but later find yourself in a situation where they reject , ignore you or even deny the fact that you ever existed .. why go through al the trouble and hardship , even to the extend that you might even loose your life , if they turn the shoulder and leave you to fight and defend on your own .. even being subjected to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission , while those who gave the orders deny everything, was it worthwhile ? We only were given orders by higher authorities and as in every disciplined army we had to do as ordered , whether you like it , wanted to do it or not. Like pieces on a chessboard we were moved around by someone higher up , someone we seldom or never saw , only to be taken off the board by a clever move at the end of the war .. checkmate and game "all over".. nobody wins , nobody loses .. only the guys on the ground who fought the war.
I never received any notification from the SADF/SANDF stating that any further camps , etc. was required or that I was discharged /exempted from any further military participation .. never asked as well.
In the past "Borderstories" were heard at every barbeque .. when last have you heard this ? .. in a few years this generation will be gone and the stories, lies, forgotten .. lets keep the memories alive .. the stories .., the ";illegal"; photographs .. so that the generations to come can see what had happened , what happened afterwards and what we can avoid in future , actually the truth about the Border War. America had their Nam (Vietnam) , we had our Nam (Namibia), both human disasters .. wastage of life , money and time. The once young soldiers are now middle aged guys with pounches , no more young or fit, but the memories and fears are still with us .. what will happen in the future .. to us and our children or their children ? Some say they still have flashbacks.. luckily I have escaped this .. was help offered to them ? .. not sure , but I doubt this.
What has happened to all the momentos, the pens made fromoperational cartridges , the baracudda nets , the moulded R1's , R4's and 9mm's that use to hang above the bar , all the stuff that we bought at SAWI , nobody knows why? is there a place/museum where this can be displayed ? .. let's not mention everything "illegally" brought back .. sometimes to impress the folks back home and then thrown away, lost forever .. a massive gap in history.
No memorial wall (to the best of my knowledge) where one can sit for a few minutes in silence and recall the past .. this will help to heal the pain and memories.
This is dedicated to those who came back home in "Jiffybags", (bodybags) , or came home crippled , both mentally and/or physically , forgotten and rejected; we salute you ..
As an Afrikaans speaking friend once said in his broken Westcoast English :
"We once was kings , and kings we were....
Forgotten , but not broken
History , but still not out on our feet."
Wally , Johannes , Hutchie, Kichner .. this is for you and all the other; we won't forget you .. or what you have done .. goodbye for now .. we'll chat about it when we meet again on the other side .. one day .. what a party we'll have .. .. the beers will be on me my friends,  till then, I lift my hat and salute you!
Cheers,
Bergies.
May 2005.
PS1:
Much more could have been written , but I think the above says it all.
PS2:
Was asked by a friend to rejoin to help out with some admin/training and for the social. When I went for a Medical Exam I was turned down .. reason; high bloodpressure .. well let's be honest  .. I'm not the young person I use to be .. but they ignored my past record ..clean , no criminal record , 17 years plus of excellent service. .. I would not have been operational if accepted .. just saying that in the new SANDF they cannot accept me with high bloodpressure .. just then a person walk in , wearing the new SANDF uniform .. Overweight and struggling for breath .. obviously not fit for service in the old SADF or the new SANDF .. no further comment .. the old SADF uniform stays in the cupboard for ever and ever as far as I am concerned .. much safer. High bloodpressure and all,  I can live with it.
If the language in this offends somebody I have to apologize; that was the everyday non-official language used in the SADF .. well , when it comes to the grammar and the English used , please bear with me,  it was a Boertjie who wrote the above.. I did not keep any record while involved with the Forces (1977-1994) , this was written from memory and if something does not make sense please refresh my memory and tell me. Namibia was used instead of the then South West Africa , just so that people not involved in the War will know where it happened.
Apologies to people/persons I have mentioned and who would prefer not to be mentioned or identified for reasons known to them,.. will remove references if possible and when notified.
History
Units :
1)6 SAI - Grahamstown
2) InfantrySchool -  Oudtshoorn
3) 31 BN Caprivi - Namibia
4) Regiment Boland - Worcester
Courses :
1) Junior Leadership; InfantrySchool - Oudtshoorn
2) Battle Team; DanieTheronBattleSchool - Kimberley
3) Revolutionary Warfare; InfantrySchool - Oudtshoorn
Camps :
1) Concor, Ruacana - Namibia
2) Republic Festival, Durban
3) Battle Team, Oudtshoorn, Infantery School
4) Ruacana, Namibia
5) Revolutionary Warfare, Danie Theron Battle School - Kimberley
6) Eastern Cape, Cradock , Adelaide , Somerset East
7) Boland, Worcester/Ashton
8) Boland, Wellington/Paarl
9) Pretoria, Mamelodi , Attridgeville
10) Several weekend camps - Worcester
11) Worcester , The Castle , Silvermine
12) Functions, Worcester , Cape Town
13) Visiting personnel all over South Africa, Attridgeville , Grey Town , Margate , etc.
14) Training Sessions, The Castle , Silvermine , Worcester , Franschhoek
15) Parades, Worcester , Wynberg Military Base
16) Commemorative Marches, Cape Point To The Castle in Cape Town.
Awards/Medals :
1) Pro Patria Medal
2) John Chard Medal
3) Merit Certificates, Regiment Boland / 31 BN
4) Service Medal
5) Several Certificates
Promotion :
1) Rifleman to 2nd Lieutenant, 1978
2) 2nd Lieutenant to Full Lieutenant , 1981
3) Full Lieutenant to Captain, 1984
4) Captain to Major, 1989.
Positions :
1) Rifleman : As part of a Section/Platoon , Radio Operator , Etc.
2) Platoon Commander
3) Company Second In Command
4) Company Commander
5) Unit Second In Command
6) Various : Base Commander , Battle Team Commander , Operational Commander , Etc., just names , does not mean much.
General
Positive Points :
1) As the songs say: I saw places I would never have seen before.
2) I met people who became good friends .. some still are.
3) The last year of National Service and the camps were a total contrast to the first year , a better life and more pleasant circumstances.
4) I came in contact with one of the oldest tribes in Africa , if not the world , who learnt me a lot about nature , life and survival , remarkable people who were also abandoned by the SADF after the war.
5) I experienced the best music ever.  Who can forget Rodriguez (Sugarman, I Wonder) , Jethro Tull (Aqualung , Locomotive Breath) , Deep Purple (Smoke on the water , Burn) , Journey (Wheel in the sky , Open arms) , Eric Clapton (I shot the sherrif , Layla) and the worst music ever on Forces Favourites .. patriotic and enough to cause depression .. "Aan Jannie erens in die bos .. vasbyt van   Ma , Pa en die hond"; &.... and as requested "Troepie Doepie" or "Ek verlang na jou" was played .. enough to drive you insane or the "Dear Johnny", on air for everybody to hear "Peter I won't be home when you return .. will be with Jack , Thank you for everything, and the song played "What becomes of the broken hearted; suicidal music .. all part of the propaganda machine ?
6) When a person wearing a uniform walked down a street , he or she was treated with respect , not that one expected it , but it was how people reacted at that stage .
Part1: A personal story by Danie van den Berg - former SADF member
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Part 2 of Danie's SADF experiences will follow soon...
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