Widely called the Great Oxymoron because soldiers are regarded as knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, Military Intelligence is tasked with collecting, analyzing and disseminating militarily relevant information to those who need it to plan or execute operations. To that end, they attempt to penetrate or recruit assets in the armed forces of nations their own has interest in and seek data on morale, equipment, organization, effectiveness of troops and leaders, order of battle, strategic plans, nature of relationships between political and military leaders, as well as professional and psychological profiles of relevant officers. On the flip side of the coin, they also protect their own armed forces from foreign attempts to do the same and check for internal security risks and leaks.

How they do their job ranges from the sophisticated to something as simple as reading foreign newspapers and magazines. In World War I, German intelligence got the fright of their lives when they found out British intelligence knew nearly everything about their generals. There was no mystery how that happened- the Brits merely read German newspapers which back then published biographical and professional information about generals in society pages, so they knew everything those guys had done from basic training right up to the present day. In short order, the Germans stopped the ego trips and such information became classified. Before and during the Second World War, Abwehr incorporated the lessons learned and came up with new tricks which led Stalin to order the execution of Marshal Tukhachevsky on charges of plotting a coup d’etat with the German General Staff and partly enabled the initial success of Operation Barbarossa. The latter was done through strategic deception and the use of what were then innovative intelligence techniques, such as when admiral Canaris established a covert unit whose recruits were given legends and trained in unconventional warfare and how to impersonate Soviet troops. In one case, a member of that unit had the ability to mimic voices and impersonated various Soviet generals to confuse and misdirect troop formations responding to the German invasion.

When it comes to SANDF’s military intelligence, that formation is split into the Intelligence and Counterintelligence Divisions. While there is a lot of literature about infantry units and special forces along with their activities, Military Intelligence as it’s commonly called, is shrouded in secrecy and there’s not much about what they did and how they did it during and after apartheid. What we know is that Tony Leon, the first leader of the Democratic Alliance, had been in it during his national military service, that its greatest coup is probably the capture of Commodore Dieter Felix Gerhardt, who was spying on the SADF and NATO for the Soviet GRU. Wikipedia tells us he was arrested by the FBI after he was exposed by a Soviet agent, but the South African version I know is different. In that one, the story was Gerhardt returned to South Africa with a German second wife. His colleagues were suspicious at first, but he managed to set them at ease and carried on with his spying. Supposedly his wife was an East German Stasi asset who would give Gerhardt’s intelligence to her handler, who then forwarded it to the Soviet GRU. The South Africans knew nothing about this and even made Gerhardt commander of the Simon’s Town naval dockyard. Everything was going well until the West German Bundes Nachrichten Dienst (BND, the intelligence service) managed to recruit somebody in the Stasi and that source exposed the operation and Gerhardt’s wife as an asset. The BND then forwarded the information to the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or as it’s commonly known, MI6), who passed it to the South Africans, and then it was game over.

Given what Gerhardt was, where he’d worked and secrets he’d known, the damage caused was great and so was the influence of that case. The repercussions would echo for decades afterwards and cause problems for another man, this one innocent. Like a lot of other things, the exposure of Gerhardt couldn’t have come at a worse time for South Africa’s apartheid regime. The country was facing an uphill battle with world opinion, it had internal security problems which were driven by a greatly rejuvenated resistance against apartheid stemming from the 16 June 1976 Soweto schools uprising and the nationwide riots that followed, and to top it all, the country also fought externally against rising communist influence in neighboring southern African countries. The last thing an Afrikaner-dominated South African military needed was a traitor in their midst who not only worked for foreigners, but was influenced by a foreign ideology and had a foreign wife. This is because Afrikaner history is replete with examples of foreign interference and in the case of Britain, even conquest, dispossession and genocide, but they needed all the foreign support they could get and that required at the very least the trust of foreign political leaders, which was severely undermined by the fallout from Gerhardt’s exposure.

The damage assessment of Gerhardt’s espionage for the Soviet GRU is not public knowledge, so God only knows how many Royal Navy officers’ careers came to an ignominious (and possibly unfair) halt, the extent to which British and South African cooperation with NATO was affected, as well as the real-world impact of disclosures of systems and weapons to the Soviets. One thing’s for sure, though. If xenophobia was only a small issue until then, it would become bigger and after the ANC took over, cause everything from murder to diplomatic incidents. Somewhere in between all of that was a man who volunteered to serve in the SANDF…

“I’m in this war but got no gun,

Still standing strong, an army of one

So sign me up, I’m a soldier.

I’ve got a voice, that’s all I need,

A beating heart inside of me

I’m an army of one,

I’m a soldier.”

Army of One by Bon Jovi

He was a complicated guy. The product of two cultures, two countries, three political systems and by then nine years of running battles with all those who didn’t understand or care to understand him, he was in no mood for anymore nonsense. As an outcome of a series of severely traumatizing events, he became an unsympathetic and coldly analytical man who was utterly devoid of fear and to whom the thought of killing was no different from thinking about how to cross the road. A superb empath capable of calculating human behavior with scary accuracy, he was self-taught about a broad spectrum of security-related fields such as surveillance and counter surveillance, protection and penetration. Possessing a highly developed eidetic memory and very good imagination, he desired to become an elite professional soldier specializing in psychological and unconventional warfare, counter terrorism, small unit tactics and operations planning.

The lack of fear enabled him to tell the truth no matter how uncomfortable or disturbed it made others feel and to fight against odds which would’ve frightened off anybody else. He had a detached clarity that helped him look at things as they were without any bias.

Nothing he did was random. Where he did random things, it was only to confuse current or potential adversaries, because in the back of his mind he had at least three plans for nearly everything.

But, as he would say later, “I may be a one man army, but I’m still just one man”. Thus while he took on 75.000 soldiers by himself, he was only too aware that it was impossible to win- yet he still fought.

The fight started during selection at his nearest base. He expected to face a stiff challenge due to his foreign origin, so he immediately set about attracting the attention of a Special Forces captain and dropped tantalizing hints which made him a lot more interesting as a prospect than most of the others. Of course, he had no intention of serving in the conventional army more than he had to, and believed that SF was the best way to get useful skills and experience, so it was a no-brainer. At the same time, with that guy on his side, he had a better chance of getting in because generally speaking Special Forces get what they want as a matter of operational requirement.  The colonel in charge of the recruitment board questioned his loyalty due to his dual citizenship, but he remained unflappable and told it like it was. His improvisational skills came in handy when the colonel asked him to come up with 10 different uses for a rubber band. He came up with at least 7 and showed absolutely no sign of being distressed or afraid because he couldn’t think of more because quite honestly he wasn’t. Asked if he had a problem taking orders from women, he responded truthfully that he didn’t, because he believed none of those distinctions mattered when bullets began to fly.

One thing he knew would result from attracting the attention of that Special Forces captain was the certainty of a background check and resultant involvement of Military Intelligence, who did such vetting and were bound to spot the potential, then approach with an offer of their own. He had a plan for that, and it was simple- refuse. Of course he also knew those guys don’t like to hear “No” and there would be some sort of trouble, but he believed the SANDF had functional mechanisms to which he’d have recourse if things got out of hand. He found out differently later…

After three months, he received his orders in the mail and reported to base on the appointed day. Warnings that this was a bad idea came less than two hours later, when he encountered the first of many a military screw up- the bus that was supposed to drive them across the country wasn’t working. It took another two hours for it to be fixed and after a 12 hour journey they made it to boot camp at around 22:00. By that time the base’s cadre had been up for 17 hours and were tired, pissed off and in no mood to process another busload of recruits. Still, they had a job to do and they did it. Meanwhile, some NCOs and officers were prowling among the recruits, trying to get to know them. A black female corporal asked him where he was from and he answered. Upon hearing it, she let the entire assembly know that they’d make sure he wouldn’t make it. Realizing her faux pas, she tried to hide, all the while being followed by his cold and unflinching gaze which masked his desire to lay a complaint against her. In the end he decided not to do anything about it because he hadn’t even been in the army for an hour and such action would very likely lead to retaliation further along the line from as yet unknown quarters. He was right, but this was merely the beginning of a pattern of harassment which went on for months until it ended in blood and death.

After they and their belongings were searched and some additional processing, the recruits were led to the unit stores, where they were issued with a steel trunk which contained four blankets, a pillow, steel food tray, utensils and a pathetically small plastic cup. Tired and hungry, the recruits were led by a corporal to a bungalow and told to bed down for what remained of that night. It was 01:00 by then and military screw up number 2 awaited inside- there were no beds. Like everybody else, he put a blanket on the floor and the pillow on top, then promptly fell asleep, not having gotten a wink in the preceding 40 hours. Seemingly seconds later, the lights came on and an excited voice roused everybody to get ready for breakfast. Looking at his watch, he saw it was 3AM and while the army does weird things, serving breakfast at that time was not one of them. He tried in vain to get everybody else back to sleep by telling them it must’ve been somebody playing a practical joke, but nobody listened, so they waited for the next two and a half hours. Eventually a black sergeant major came by to give a sort of welcome speech and offered some explanations about military life. Afterwards, they were formed up and went for breakfast. Not having eaten since his last evening as a civilian, he made sure to eat everything on his tray, even if it was bland, greasy and indifferently cooked. It turned out to be the biggest meal he ever had in the army because they got progressively smaller over the next three days and stayed that way for the rest of his military service.

They were moved to another bungalow and met military screw up number 3- there were beds, but not in sufficient numbers. As it turned out later, some guy called mommy to complain, and mommy got hold of a general she knew and the base commander got his ass chewed out. By then, he’d seen enough to get a good idea of the neglect and lack of resources its staff labored under and on the third day, when the colonel made an offer for those interested in backing out to leave, he was sorely tempted because the army was clearly having serious problems. There was no place to go back to and no money to do it with, so he stayed with the idea of keeping his eyes on the end of the contract, then bug out. John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re planning something else”. He was to find out the wisdom of that aphorism over the next four months, much to his discomfort and loss.

The guys he was with integrated quite quickly and were working as a team by the end of the first week. It had the promise of a solid platoon, if only they would be kept together. They weren’t, because the South African army doesn’t work like the British one, which has regiments that recruit from catchment areas and the men pretty much all know each other. His platoon sergeant quickly took an interest in him and advised to do whatever he had to in order to remain in his platoon. Like everything else turned out, this didn’t go according to plan either, because one sunny morning, the colonel stuck an index finger in his chest and told him “you go there”. When it’s the Finger of God, there’s nothing a lowly recruit can do, so off he went. By then he’d also come to the attention of a Special Forces recruiter who was prowling the base for talent. After the advent of so-called democracy, a lot of men left Special Forces and numbers were so low that it was decided they’d recruit straight out of boot camp, after the end of the “bush phase”, when troops would select or be selected for the various formations and corps training to follow. Unlike previously, this was a fast track to SF and the guy’s main concern was physical fitness for the arduous training that meant, but it was casually brushed aside with a “don’t worry, we’ll make you fit” comment by the recruiter.

Moving to his new company and platoon took a couple of trips to lug all the extra kit he now had, and by the time he brought his stuff over, somebody had snagged his mattress and left one missing a corner in its place. It was to prove a constant problem later, leading to daily negative marks for inspection because that corner could never be squared away and to further rub salt into the wound, the leftover mattresses in storage were all FUBAR. At any rate, they had two lockers in the early days- one for military stuff next to the bed, and another in a room at the other end of the bungalow. That didn’t last long because the army apparently hated the thought of its soldiers owning anything and having it secured too, but it provided an opportunity to make friends with an Afrikaner. This friendship had a strong impact on the guy, because he found himself thinking that he ought to stick it out in the SANDF and try to make a difference. It was a fateful decision which would affect the rest of his life…

Until then a loner and taciturn kind of guy, he now found himself watching over his friend. That guy was probably the shortest in the platoon and constantly bullied and messed with because of it. Things went on like that for a while, until his much taller friend decided enough was enough, so he told the platoon in a loud and clear voice that henceforth any man who fucked with his friend would have to go through him, and he knew twenty ways to kill a man. That put an end to the nonsense, and for as long as he was there, nobody messed with his friend without coming to regret it, and that included a drunk sergeant who was trying to extort him. That particular incident nearly ended with the sergeant cut in half, which was narrowly avoided when he took his friend along to see the platoon commander and ask her (yes, a woman) to order the sergeant to stay away.

This kind of situation is one thing, but having decided to stick around, he now found himself constantly drawing attention to the myriad of shortcomings they were expected to work under. In a lecture, the major gave a basic explanation about some army rules and regulations. At question time, the guy asked in front of the entire company if copies of the relevant legislation and army regulations were available. The major answered “No, there’s no money in the budget for it”. A little earlier, a captain from Legal Services gave an even broader outline of the situation in the SANDF and said one thing which stuck with him- there was a moratorium on courts-martial because the SANDF was in the process of harmonizing military law with the civilian one and the constitution. This meant that for all intents and purposes, the most common disciplinary method would be doing push-ups and if things got more serious, the equivalent of a Captain’s Mast. If that didn’t work, the highest legal proceeding a soldier could attend would be a Board of Enquiry, while remedies would generally have to be sought via time-consuming administrative processes that typically took one week per rank until they reached somebody with authority to make decisions, which by then would either not matter or be unhelpful. I mean, there’s an awful lot of ranks between a lowly private and the General Officer in Charge of the formation concerned, never mind what would be above him, if a soldier had to go that far!

Old equipment was another problem. The boots and uniforms were new, as were towels and such sundries, but battle jackets, backpacks and other things were not. By the time his company was issued with those items, the Quartermaster’s store had been picked clean of everything functional, and he would have problems when the zipper of his battle jacket broke, to say nothing of the biggest overalls they had which were at least two inches too short between the crotch and neck for the lanky guy. Medical services were a joke. The sickbay was on base, but it worked on a first come, first served basis, and they made no allowance for time-pressed troops who needed some stuff now and had no chance to wait the whole day while doctors saw to the 30 or 40 military spouses who decided to visit the quack that day. It would have made a lot of sense if they had teams of medics and a few doctors work after hours, but no, the fuckers closed up shop promptly at 1600. Worse, the doctor they had was of a “if you want answers, bring pliers” sort who not only didn’t listen, but was rude and utterly uninformative about what was plaguing anybody. Just as the guy was about to lodge a complaint with the battalion commander, the doctor was replaced by a better one, who while sympathetic and helpful, was nevertheless hamstrung by idiotic army regulations which were guaranteed to not only prolong the recovery time, but also add agony into the mix.

By far, the biggest problem was food. Napoleon once said “an army marches on its stomach”, and he was right as far as infantry troops are concerned. “Old guys” who’d served during apartheid had told him about cleaning potatoes and taking turns to cook, but also mentioned big steaks and plentiful food. Well, for one thing the potato peeling business was over and so it was with troops and army chefs cooking. Instead the army got the bright idea to disband the Catering Corps and let civilian contractors feed the troops. As you can imagine, the damned civvies had no skin in the game (they didn’t eat the food or live on base to be beaten up in the middle of the night by troops for the crap they served), were motivated by profit to the point at which they served chicken at least five times a week (it was the cheapest and it’s such a light meat that the infantryman’s stomach burns through it in two hours), but they also used stock that was on the verge of expiry and more often than not, didn’t cook it properly. So, there was blood on the tray but not on the dance floor and troops were always just one meal away from food poisoning and death from malnutrition. Another favorite of theirs was lamb chuck, which was really two lies for the price of one, because there was little lamb and more than enough bone to just chuck the crap in the bin. Chuck is the cheapest part of the lamb, being made of ribs cut in one inch pieces which have gristle and about a spoonful’s worth of meat in the size of serving dished to the troops. I don’t know about you, but a soldier can’t get by on a spoonful of meat and the indifferently boiled vegetables that came with it had almost no nutritional value besides the farts they generated.

As if he didn’t have enough problems already, he became notorious among officers and NCOs for his constant moaning about the insufficient and crappy food. Once, the company sergeant major was walking around the mess hall and noticed he was grumbling. Curious, he asked what the problem was. By coincidence, they were serving lamb chuck that day, so after chewing the spoonful of meat he had scrounged from the bones, the guy sat at attention and said “well, sergeant major, it’s like this. There was only a spoonful of meat in my portion and the rest is bones. Take a look at the others at the table and you’ll see I’m not alone in this situation. Now how does the army expect me to run around on such little meat?” At first the sergeant major thought he was taking the piss, but looking at the glum faces around the table, he said “I see what you mean. Follow me.” And with that they went to the vegetarians’ table, where a tray full of chuck was sitting uselessly and after hearing that none of the veggie fanatics were going to eat it, turned to him and said “There you go.” And that’s how at least that one time he managed to get TWO spoonfuls of meat out of lamb chuck. The situation was screwed up. Troops were losing weight and unlike on American bases, there was no McDonalds or Burger King, while the nearest pizzeria was about 25 kilometers away and the delivery charge cost at least twice as much as the pizza! The problem is rapid weight loss combined with physical exertion and high levels of stress weakens the immune system and worse, leads to mental problems such as loss of concentration, manic mood swings and eventually depression- serious problems for guys who carry military grade weapons… No amount of talking and complaining sorted that problem out, and since there was no cash machine on base, the odds of supplementing one’s diet with a hamburger from the after hours canteen (before they were sold out) were slimmer than the increasingly skinny soldiers.

Women didn’t do P.T. alongside the men and lived in a compound on base which men were prohibited from entering on pain of arrest. While guys lived in barracks, the chicks lived two to a room. Their version of P.T. was a diluted joke that had women do push-ups on their knees and other far less strenuous exercises. As a consequence, while men suffered from rampant erectile dysfunction due to exhaustion and were barred from the women’s compound anyway, the women were horny as hell and used to enjoy entering men’s bungalows after dinner at around 1830. In the early days of training, one couple was even caught having sex in a guard tower by a roving night patrol. That escapade ended up on the colonel’s desk the next day, if not that night, and the story did the rounds in the unit before lunch time next day. However, while military regulations supposedly mandated the “lucky couple” be dismissed from the army and frog-marched out of the front gate, nothing happened to them, or the 19 women who became pregnant against the stipulations of their enlistment contracts by the end of that year. In fact, there were stories that NCOs would give women a town pass (troops only went to town for a few hours on the first Saturday after pay day) during the month in exchange for sexual favors and at least one woman was impregnated by a H.I.V.-positive corporal.  But if there was one thing he managed to fix, it was the matter of women entering the men’s bungalows. One day, out of sheer frustration at coming out of the shower only to find a couple of “ladies” in the bungalow one too many times, he went to his platoon sergeant and told him in no uncertain terms that it had to stop. Furthermore, if it didn’t, then he would institute legal proceedings against the army for sexual harassment and discrimination because “if something is good for the gander, then it had better be good for the goose too”, meaning if men were prohibited from entering the women’s compound, then the women should stay out of the men’s bungalows. It sounds petty, but there are few things worse than the corrosive effect of sexual politics on a military unit, and that guy had already had a problem with a woman in his platoon, who had the hots for him and got nasty when he turned her down because he valued his budding military career more than a roll in the hay with the woman concerned AND her friend. I know it sounds like something out of Hustler magazine, but it did happen and that situation had some nasty effects until he left the unit, not the least being a suspicious platoon sergeant who thought he was messing around, when in fact he wasn’t. That’s a big suspicion to have against your name when you’re just starting your career, and it was very likely never dispelled, groundless though it was.

Two other problems were outright dangerous. The first was safe weapons handling, which is to say there wasn’t any. Troops habitually cocked and aimed their rifles at platoon mates, then pulled the trigger on an empty chamber. The problem with the R4 rifle is that it doesn’t need a clip in to fire. If a bullet is loaded into the chamber while the rifle is cocked, it’s tickets- and there were a lot of loose 5.56 and 7.62 mm rounds laying in the dirt and bushes around the “instruction hut” areas. Troops used to find handfuls of ammo on a daily basis, which they’d hand over to the sergeant as instructed, but unit command never called for or authorized any cleanup effort. As such, and given there were plenty of guys with grudges, there was always a risk that the guy who pointed his rifle at you would be the last thing you’d see before meeting your Maker. The sergeant and every other member of the chain of command ignored this dumbest of habits which was illegal even in civilian life. Hell, pointing a firearm at somebody, whether it’s loaded or not, is grounds to get shot. If by some stroke of luck you avoid that, you’d get arrested, the firearm will be confiscated and carry permit revoked, then you’d spend at least a few months in jail and afterwards learn to live with the consequences of a lifelong criminal record.

The second problem was worse, especially if combined with the first. This guy had attracted a lot of attention very early on. Besides the usual annoyances of a few hundred people’s curiosity, ambitious officers and NCOs got it into their heads that there was a foreign penetration agent in their midst and they were going to be big heroes if they managed to expose him… Very early on, both NCOs and officers were asking everybody questions, trying to get to know their troops. Fair enough, but in this guy’s case things got worse. He was questioned daily by various superiors, some not even from his company, about his country of origin, reasons for joining the army, his marital status, last girlfriend, his family- where they were, what they were doing, why they were there, etc. This went on for three months, but it was sometime during the first two weeks that he noticed things were off. He got the feeling of eyes locked on him and when he looked, superior officers he didn’t know looked away quickly. The questioning didn’t slack off. In fact it intensified and began to probe deeper into his life, but their repetitive nature and looks on the face of his questioners indicated they were looking for mistakes. That wasn’t gonna happen. A spy might slip up or attempt to embellish the details, but he was no spy and there was nothing to embellish or get wrong. Some time later, during an exercise with his new company, he saw a flash off glass around 150 meters away, just above the waist-high bush outside the fence. He informed the operations medic (aka ops medic) and gave target indications without pointing, because the flash was from a flat and highly polished surface which moved much slower than if it had been because of the wind blowing back then, and it dropped under control back into the bush. Somebody was there, taking pictures, and as any sniper would tell you (his best friend before joining the army had been a Green Beret sniper who’d fought in Vietnam), if you see a flash, then it’s aimed at you. The ops medic countered that it was from the window of an abandoned house further away on the same bearing. It wasn’t. This was much closer, and there was a tree in front of that house which cast a shadow on the window which did indeed flap loosely in the wind. The smart thing would’ve been to send a security team around the base to check the area and perhaps flush the guy out towards the gate, where there was another team, but it wasn’t taken seriously enough. Around that time, while drilling on the parade ground, he was told to report to the battalion commander’s office. When he asked why, the sergeant told him there was a British army colonel visiting and both wanted to see him. The British army? Sure, he’d sent them a letter a few months earlier, but it was the South African army which had replied first, so that was that. He wasn’t English anyway, so what the hell? A little later, word came down that the meeting was cancelled and no explanation was ever given as to its purpose.

Perhaps around that time, the company got itself organized for sports. This meant troops had to choose the sport they’d play and if they joined the team, might have to travel to represent the unit. Absence from “sports parade” was looked upon as an offence because technically it was “being absent from place of parade”, and messing around meant jail time. They didn’t have basketball, which he enjoyed and was also the reason for his height, so he took up volleyball. Others got into competition shooting, soccer, rugby, and cricket. It was the last which would prove fatal. There was no safety equipment for rugby or cricket, and a guy trying out as batsman stood in front of the stumps without a helmet. That ball is made out of hard leather, has a wool outer core and a wooden inner core, and there’s a good reason why helmets must be worn. The guy was his friend’s brother. As he got ready to bat, he was distracted and turned his head. In that moment, the bowler threw a hot one and when he turned, the ball caught him in the face. It smashed his cheekbone and knocked him out. He was airlifted to 1 Military Hospital (colloquially known as One Mil), where the surgeons operated on him, drawing bone splinters out of his brain and eventually putting a titanium plate in his head. He was in a coma for three weeks and declared clinically dead five times. By the time he came out of the coma, he’d been declared dead so many times and given last rites that the chaplains were practically running a shuttle service to his bedside. After he came back to the unit, his brother died in his friend’s arms from a cardiac arrest due to excessive P.T. By some miracle or perhaps just blind luck, he was revived and taken to a sickbay 25 kilometers off-base and returned to light duty a week later. That was just as well, because by the end of the day he died, stories were doing the rounds about how the major was in deep trouble for exceeding the parameters of the exercise, and how the company sergeant major had ordered a corporal to kick his friend repeatedly while he was unconscious on the ground. Had he not survived, that unit would’ve been a sergeant major and a corporal light, because this guy’s friend would’ve killed them both in retaliation.

A couple of weeks later, they were on the shooting range on the outskirts of town. The first morning didn’t start very well because he woke up shivering under a soaked blanket at 0100 and couldn’t go back to sleep for the rest of the night. To add insult to injury, the entire company had to use one decrepit bungalow’s facilities for the morning routine, so you can just imagine what it was like when 100 guys had only three sinks to use… Worse, it turned out at breakfast time the food contractor had brought a truckload of mildewed bread and it was taken back only after troops began to complain, causing breakfast to be delayed by at least an hour. The army was so screwed up they only had 5 rounds of ammo per man for a practice session from 25 meters, before shooting Table 1 for evaluation. They had never fired their rifles before, and all of them were un-zeroed, now they were expected to get marksmanship badges for evaluation! Shit, at anything from 100 meters and up, his rifle was shooting 5 inches up and 5 inches left of the bullseye, and no ammo was given to zero the damned thing in, or permission given to get his rifle kit to do it. Towards the end of the first day, they were told to strip and clean their weapons. Fair enough, but powder residue needs to be removed with solvent and all they were given were a few 1 inch square bits of fluff-less fabric and multi-purpose lubrication oil! How the hell are you supposed to get burnt powder residue off the cylinder head with that? It was a cluster-fuck of gigantic proportions and as it turned out, those 35 rounds were all he’d ever fire in his entire military career. Later conversation with “old guys” who’d served in the SADF during apartheid revealed that they used to fire around 1.000 rounds per man on the first day alone, so you can imagine the marksmanship proficiency of the average SANDF soldier today… But it was on the second day that things would begin to get worse. The day started off as usual at sunrise and after the morning routine, they were getting ready to shoot Table 2, when there was a sudden flurry of activity. It turned out orders had come down for 150 troops to report back to base, where they would write exams for the army’s Junior Leadership Selection Course, or as is commonly known, JLS (pronounced jay-ells). The sergeant ordered him to drop off his equipment in the HQ tent, then get on the bus and report back to base. Before leaving, he told his friend “I’ve got a bad feeling about this. I don’t wanna go to JLS, but we’re out of cigarettes, so I’ll take the trip back to base and see if the bus driver will stop by a garage (gas station) so I can buy a few packs. Then I’m gonna turn down the offer for JLS and come back here.”

“Life is what happens when you’re planning something else”, indeed. By then he was thoroughly fed up with his unit. The chaplain kept trying to save his soul, he had to explain his religious views every Sunday to whoever was in charge so he didn’t have to go to church. His platoon mates were a bunch of lackadaisical idiots who cut corners and dodged duties, while their constant indiscipline led to just as constant punishment for the entire platoon. The interrogations by officers and NCOs were a daily thing and he’d lost 45 pounds of the 180 he weighed going in over the last two months because the food was insufficient to cover the daily exertions. Now just imagine what a guy who’s 6’ 4” looks like weighing 135 pounds, and how much physical effort he can perform, to say nothing of the intellectual side. Medical care was up to shit, victimization of those who complained was rampant and by then he’d suffered a lot of it himself. Racism against whites was a unit pastime the command structure did nothing about because they were afraid of being falsely accused of racism by the racist blacks, sexism and sexual misconduct went unchecked and xenophobia was worse.

So, in the end, after hearing stories about being served better food on porcelain plates with knives sharp enough to cut more than just butter, an end to collective punishment and the nonsense going on, as well as the promise of more sophisticated company, he decided to go to JLS. There were three tests on the first day. The first, a general knowledge test, had a time limit of 35 minutes, but he finished it in 6. The second was an English comprehension test with a time limit of 45 minutes. He finished that in 9 minutes flat. The third was a psychometric test, no different from the IQ test he took in high school 9 years earlier. That one he finished second-last in the class, getting as far as the second or third-last question.

By then, the visiting cadre of officers and NCOs administering the tests were looking at him oddly, and a sergeant major started calling him “Speedy Gonzales”. Next day there were more tests, designed to gauge ability to collect information and make decisions in groups, followed by a weird test which gave the candidate five minutes in which to work out, write and recite a rescue plan in the event of a unit’s plane crash, a subject never covered in training. The last was an interview with the selection board, in groups of 6 or 7. He went through that and as usual pissed off the officer in charge and made his own company commander uncomfortable with his direct and frank answers from which he refused to back down. In the end, 120 troops were selected based on Employment Equity statistics (the percentage of top candidates for every racial group based on that of the economically active population of the country) instead of merit, which not only diluted the result of everybody’s efforts, but made them question the abilities of everyone else because the results of all those tests were never made public- and of course blacks formed nearly 80%…

“They’ll come at you sideways. It’s how they think, it’s how they move. Sidle up and smile, hit you where you’re weak”. So said Shepherd Book in the movie Serenity, and it’s one of the best descriptions of how spooks work I’ve ever come across. Morgan Freeman’s character said in the movie The Shawshank Redemption that geology is the study of time and pressure. That’s true, but so is the military. They’ve got the time to put you under pressure, as well as thousands of years of the study of applied violence and its effects on human beings to back them. Hell, the modern military training is based on a threefold combination of Spartan military training, the Prussian method of World War I and modern mind control techniques- and it works. However, it becomes a nightmare when Military Intelligence gets involved. I wrote in Part 3 that James J. Angleton wrote the book on how CIA officers are supposed to interact with the world. I left out the bit about how it’s used to insulate them from society in order to lower the risk of penetration, and its effects on the minds of spooks. These men and women don’t live like we do. Their world is separate from the reality of our existence and they operate by very different rules. This causes them to develop unusual approach methods which are liable to rub the wrong way certain people. At the same time, they prefer to primarily resort to manipulation and coercion instead of appeals to their targets’ goodwill, because they are taught very early on to control their assets. The hand of SANDF’s Military Intelligence was behind almost everything this man went through because it was part of a scenario designed to make life so difficult for him that he would look to M.I. as saviors when they came to make their pitch in his darkest hour- and then they thought they’d have him…

It didn’t work out that way, but here’s what likely happened until the paragraph above. M.I. performed a background check on this guy and it revealed some interesting things which pointed to capabilities the organization probably desired. They included dual citizenship, two passports, a man who spoke a foreign language and had some connections as well as useful talents combined with a “flexible morality” as he once told a colonel. There very likely were some questions too, and they needed clearing up, but there would be plenty of time for that. Meanwhile, even though his preferences were known, the idea must have been to force him to change his mind about his dislike of (actually hatred for) intelligence services and the work they do. The best way to do that was to make his life in infantry a living hell and tempt him with compromising situations such as honey traps (there were at least two), then appear seemingly out of nowhere and in the nick of time to offer him a deal to get out of a difficulty in exchange for his service. What they didn’t understand was that this guy not only wasn’t interested, but that he’d known for months who was behind it all and absolutely despised M.I. for setting his superiors on him.

The new unit was a shabby mix of early 20th century British government architecture and some modern buildings which dated back to the 1970s or 1980s. It tried to portray an image of dignified old mixed with the new, but instead came across as a dazed and confused octogenarian sitting forlornly and remembering old glories that would never come again. The base perimeter fence wasn’t much to write home about, roads were cracked and in disrepair, there were prefab office buildings with broken windows, ripped up carpets and floors covered with human feces, facilities were minimal and as usual, there was no evidence of planning for the housing of another 120 recruits. Some of the group were placed in another company and spread across platoons who could accommodate them, while the bulk were packed 50 to a bungalow which operated best with about 30 soldiers. That proved problematic from the start, because there were interminable queues to use the electrical plugs for clothes irons and the wash basins, which caused no end of hassles for guys trying to get their stuff ready for inspection.

Arriving on a Sunday after dinner, so there was no food, the best one could do was to buy some biscuits from the only shop on base and walk around to get familiarized with the base layout. A leisurely stroll revealed a much bigger base than that of his previous unit, which was in a terrible state of disrepair. Mostly through habit, he took in all the details unconsciously, but eventually drifted back to the company lines. There he met up with a guy he’d met during selection in his hometown, who told him in no uncertain terms that officers had been telling them about the arrival of this guy for a month already. Strange, but orders were only issued a few days earlier… Already troubled, his sense of foreboding only got worse. Next day, with less than 15 hours on the base, he performed a little intellectual exercise out of concern for the base’s security situation. In about 5 minutes, he came up with a plan on how to clean out his company’s armory of every weapon in its arsenal in less than 30 minutes. It detailed the amount of Special Forces troops required (about 25), guard posts to take out, people in the leadership structure to incapacitate or kill, places where to attack the communications infrastructure, where the armory’s key holder lived and to coerce him to open the vault by taking his family hostage, then gas troops barracks with some CS and drive away. His platoon mates laughed, but the NCOIC (NCO In Charge) got a troubled look on his face and said just in its bare bones state, the plan had at least a 70% chance of succeeding…

The food situation did indeed improve, although what they got with one hand, like porcelain plates, was taken with the other, because while the food was three times better, it was also three times less and the workload was three times greater. I’m talking about being given a ladle of spaghetti and a serving spoon of mince, then expected to go running around for the next four hours. Yeah, good luck with that. By the time he left the army, this guy was spending at least two thirds of his pay on food ordered from a local fast food joint after hours, and he would join at least 50 other guys at the front gate who waited for their burger or pizza orders every night. He simply wasn’t getting enough nutrition to keep going and his body was eating itself just to stay alive. The situation would have catastrophic effects a few weeks later, but meanwhile things were getting stranger…

While officers and NCOs interrogated him on an almost daily basis at his former unit, at the new one he realized that he was under constant surveillance, but so was everybody else. It was understandable, because potential officers and NCOs have to be evaluated in all respects so as to provide the most comprehensive data to the selection board which ultimately decided their fate. However, a week or so after arrival, they were given a town pass on a lovely Saturday afternoon. He walked with a buddy of his from the previous unit, when they bumped into a black female corporal and a black male sergeant. It turned out the corporal remembered him from the selection board in his hometown, and was the one who had asked him if he had any problems taking orders from a woman. While they were chatting, the corporal’s cellphone rang. After answering, she gave it to him, saying “it’s for you”. Puzzled, he went on to listen to a male voice which identified itself as a captain on his base, who gave him a phone number to call if he got in trouble. The guy already had a coffin. Now he was beginning to collect nails in a big hurry. A couple of hours later, he and his buddy were sitting down at a table outside a pizzeria, when the captain who’d called earlier showed up. He clearly wanted to speak to this guy alone, but smiled and made a bit of meaningless conversation before leaving in less than a minute.

The pressure ratcheted up over the next few weeks, and most of the time was spent learning about the Lower Level Command and Control System (LLCCS), the leadership system used by the SANDF, and going over all the material they’d been taught since the beginning of basic training for the upcoming evaluations. Somewhere in there, it became clear the pressure and surrounding anxieties were taking a toll on his fellow soldiers. Human nature being what it is, they began to turn on each other instead of pulling together. Undermining of fellow candidates became the norm and the platoon wasn’t coalescing into a unit. Eventually a black female recruit from his company accused him in public of being a spy for a foreign intelligence service. While he laughed off the slanderous accusation, behind his eyes the mind was memorizing the woman’s features (most troops had no name patches on their uniforms) and evaluating both the witnesses around because he wanted to drag her to the duty room in order to lay a complaint with the NCO and officer in charge, as well as all the variables an open investigation by the Counterintelligence Division would involve along with its impact on his future career in the military. The answers kept coming up wrong, so he did nothing, given that he couldn’t trust his fellow soldiers and the command structure which by then had made quite a big and unreasonable deal about his ethnic origin. An investigation by counterintelligence wasn’t a good idea either, because from a career perspective it froze everything until it was finished. I’m talking about being restricted to barracks, under constant guard, no access to information, endless interrogations and polygraph sessions, as well as a permanent remark being left in the personnel file- all of this in the middle of a promotion course! A really bad move if there ever was one, equivalent to calling an entire carrier air wing to drop every bomb they’ve got on your position, with the almost certain knowledge that you won’t come out alive. On top of the surveillance he’d already been under and harassment he had endured, that would’ve been too much- or so he thought.

A short while later, the evaluation was complete and troops got ready for four days of Easter weekend leave. He spent it in Pretoria, going on an epic bender that eventually left him with 57 cents in his bank account. As was to be expected, there was a roll-call upon return and when the NCOIC called his name, he yelled “Present, Staff!” as he was trained to do. The staff sergeant got a surprised look on his face and faffed around with his papers, which gave the guy a weird feeling, then moved on. He would find out the next day what it was all about. It turned out the guy was supposed to attend a Sunday lunch with a family friend and he’d forgotten about it. His family then freaked out and called the army to declare him missing. The army saw things its own way and had him listed as AWOL, then sent out MPs to search for him all over Pretoria. The unit’s 2IC, a lieutenant-colonel chewed his ass out the next day and gave him the phone to call his family to explain, after which he carried on with the rest of his day, which didn’t start well and sure as hell ended worse. In the South African army there’s P.T. every day except Wednesday (battalion parade followed by sports) and weekends. This time, it was different, in that it was a “rifle P.T.” session. This meant they ran in T-shirt and camo pants with army boots and carrying their rifles. Things weren’t too bad, but by the time they got to doing all sorts of aerobic exercises with a rifle which weighed over 10 pounds unloaded, his body had had enough of trying to do too much work on too little food and he just stopped as if he was a Formula 1 car with its clutch and accelerator cables cut.

When ordered to carry on, he declined, explaining that he could not, and just stood there for the rest of the exercise. At the end, they were ordered to sit down and the staff sergeant asked him in front of everybody what had happened and why he didn’t comply with orders to carry on with the exercises. He stood up, came to attention and in proper military fashion proceeded to explain that he had been unable (not unwilling) to carry on because he was starving and hadn’t been getting enough food to cover the energy expenditure. His closing remarks were “what the army puts in me in terms of food is what it gets out of me in terms of performance. I’m not getting enough food, please help!” To be fair, the staff sergeant asked everybody present (another 73 recruits) if any of them had the same problem. To a man and woman, they replied negatively, even though a lot of them had been regularly ordering takeaways after hours. Two hours later, the recruit was told in front of the entire platoon by the lieutenant “tomorrow after battalion parade, you will accompany me to the major’s office, where disciplinary measure will be brought against you for complaining, because a leader does not complain!”

This was a serious problem on multiple fronts. First, disobeying an order is a serious criminal offence in the military, which carried the penalties of a R600 admission of guilt fine, or if challenged, two years in military prison if convicted, along with a dishonorable discharge upon release from prison and a criminal record for the rest of his civilian life. Furthermore, the lieutenant’s comments indicated the leadership structure had already made up its mind about the case and no argument would help, a big problem when one is about to go on trial because it’s like having the spectators’ gallery, the jury and the judge against you while you don’t even have an attorney to defend you. Matters were further complicated by moratorium on courts-martial, which meant there would be no legal forum in which to air one’s complaints, produce evidence for the record and have even a small prospect of being given an impartial hearing. Just as bad was the very likely outcome of the upcoming disciplinary hearing, because without a lawyer present and jumped on by his immediate superiors, the odds were not only good that he would be summarily found guilty, but that at best he could hope for paying the R600 admission of guilt fine, getting a criminal record and then be RTU-ed (Returned To Unit), which by the way also meant dying in a “training accident” because the NCOs at his former unit had made it clear that would be the fate of anybody who returned because there were many more deserving candidates who were not given the opportunity to try out for JLS. All of this was bad in and of itself, but his possible responses were even worse.

Dear readers, like I told you much earlier in the story, this guy never did anything without having at least three plans for every possibility and it was no different now. His top three possible responses were as follows. First, he could take his chances at the hearing, but success was unlikely because of what the lieutenant had indicated. Second, assuming he wasn’t RTU-ed within 48 hours, to plead guilty, take his lumps, then wait for an opportunity to attack the base’s guard complement in order to get a weapon and enough ammunition to kill his superiors and anybody who got in his way until a responding security team took him out. Third, this being an unjust act against a soldier’s honor, somebody’s blood had to be shed to clean it up. If it wasn’t going to be a bunch of weaklings who were too worried about their careers to stand up for one of their own, or the corrupt officers who were trying to cover up the screwed up conditions on the base, the only one left standing to take that on would be him. In the space of at most three seconds, he’d run through the above scenarios and having come to the conclusion that the first two were impractical due to time constraints, uncertainty of outcome and lack of necessary intelligence on his targets, suicide was the best way to resolve the issue.

Over the next three and a half hours he listened to about three quarters of his company saying how right he had been and wrong the situation was, and held the contempt he felt for those cowards hidden behind an impassive face and calm demeanor. A little under 7 hours later he was dead from exsanguination after he cut almost every big vein he could find with a disposable razor blade. Don’t ask me why, but like his friends, he wasn’t dead for long and woke up to find himself back in the blood-spattered toilet. Unable to stand, he opened the stall door and crawled out, to lean against the nearby wall, where he was found by a buddy and then passed out again. A while later, he woke up on an operating table, about to be stitched up. The major who until a few hours earlier was ready to nail him to a wall stood there, asking him why he’d done it. The soldier asked for a gun to finish what he’d started and the request was denied. He then asked to be shot. That was denied too. He tried to resist being operated on, but he was too weak and was restrained. Eventually, the op was done and he was sent back to his bungalow under escort, with orders to dress in full uniform and present himself to sickbay. In the bungalow he found some of his mates busy cleaning up the slaughter house he’d left behind, got dressed under the watchful eyes of an officer and went to sickbay. There he saw the base’s head of psychology, a major to whom he explained everything that had happened and warned that if his platoon commander ever said anything that stupid again, he would kill him with his bare hands. Afterwards he was given a letter in a sealed envelope and told to report to the base medical transport and make his way to 1 Military Hospital. On the way, he opened the envelope to find a note written in Afrikaans which stated the absolutely minimum relevant facts of the matter yet indicated absolutely no course of action upon arrival at 1 Mil.

There he went from pillar to post until he eventually landed at the mental ward, where he sat down next to a corporal and filled in an admission form (where he answered “No” to the question of whether he wanted to see a chaplain) and then went on to have an at least two hour-long session with a psychiatrist to whom he told everything written above. Afterwards he went downstairs for a cigarette and upon returning to the ward, found a chaplain leaning against the wall just outside the door. The chaplain asked “are you Rifleman so-and-so?”, to which the soldier answered in the affirmative. The chaplain then said without a hint of irony “I’m Chaplain so-and-so, the chaplain of the Training Formation. I’m here to let you know the army cares about you”. To this the soldier replied “The army doesn’t care about me, Chaplain.” Nonplussed, the chaplain said “Of course it does!”, to which the soldier replied “You really think the army cares about me? Well, follow me and I’ll tell just how much the army cares”… They then went to the room he shared with an air force NCO and proceeded to tell him everything. The chaplain sat quietly throughout, but shortly went beet red in the face and stayed that way for half an hour, looking like he was about to explode and when the soldier finished, said “Is that what they’re doing? I’ll fix them!”

The chaplain of the Training Formation was the leader of all the chaplains in the army’s training units and as such fell under the immediate command of the General Officer in Charge of the Training Formation and could speak to him at any time. Assuming he did this, there should’ve been further visits, not least by the GOC, statements taken down and investigations begun in at least two units. Do you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. That was on Wednesday. By Friday, the soldier went through everything ranging from a CAT scan to long hours with the psychiatrist and eventually one hour with a psychologist who administered a Rorshach Test and left him a book with 500 multiple-choice questions. That afternoon, he was taking a nap when there was a knock at the door. Outside stood a middle-aged white guy in civilian clothes who wore an access card around his neck that had no name on it. He asked are you “Scout so-and-so?”, to which the guy responded, “No sir, I’m Rifleman so-and-so”. The visitor gave his name, identified himself as the Chaplain of the Intelligence Formation, and said he had a card from the GOC of Military Intelligence for “Scout so-and-so”…  “They’ll come at you sideways. It’s how they think, it’s how they move.”, as Shepherd Book said. If until that moment he was 99% sure M.I. had him under surveillance, here was conclusive proof. According to the chaplain, he showed up on M.I. computers as one of their own and the head of M.I. was concerned enough to send one of his top guys to let him know he cared.

The first question that popped into his head was why the chaplain thought it was normal for M.I. to have people working undercover in the Training Formation, and the second, if that was the case, then how many were there and what the fuck were they doing? Did the GOC of the Training Formation know? If not, what would happen if he ever found out? Just as important was to ask what would happen to whoever told him, especially in the “new” South African army… Outwardly smiling and at ease but inwardly a seething mass of firing neurons that were rapidly calculating scenarios and their odds of success, he proceeded to go through what would’ve been more fitting as part of a spy spoof movie, because he told the chaplain that he wasn’t in Military Intelligence and the guy didn’t want to believe him, thinking at first that he was merely going through the motions to maintain his cover. By the fourth totally serious insistence that the man wasn’t a spook, it finally dawned on the chaplain that something was seriously wrong and the look of horror on his face when that realization dawned was priceless to say the least. I mean, how often does one get to see a spook realize the leader of his organization had just blown an op?

Going to the Chief of the Army with Training and Intelligence formations’ heads in  tow for a little ass-chewing session was out of the question because it had become abundantly clear by then that the SANDF’s top echelon were trying mightily to cover up problems in their commands due to pressure from above which in turn came from the political leadership as high as that of the president’s office, and if the situation was pretty bad now, it could only get much worse, especially since his family was vulnerable and the army had already been in touch with them. Yes indeed, they “Sidle up and smile, hit you where you’re weak” like Shepherd Book said. There’s almost no one weaker than a sane soldier in a loony bin, whose family is 1200 kilometers away and frantically calling the hospital five times a day for days now. Anyway, the approach had been made, sideways though it was. The answer was deferred, sideways too. By then he’d realized his instincts to refuse the sexual advances of the strawberry blonde wife of the corporal whom he’d sat next to during admission had been wise, because it was possibly a honey trap.

A retired admiral he’d met and to whom he’d spoken about his troubles was keen to help and so was the air force NCO. Another guy, a MP who’d survived an assassination attempt by his in-laws after they accused him of killing their daughter (his wife) through witchcraft (hey, this is Africa, the blacks really do believe in this stuff) gave him some legal advice, and an old lady who was plugged into the personnel system ran a check on his force number to confirm that he did indeed form part of the Training Formation- these were all sane people with whom he’d had quite sane conversations and who in turn regarded him as far from insane and/or dangerous as possible. These people were not the problem, the shrinks were. The psychiatrist and psychologist said one thing to his face and as he found out 15 years later, wrote another in their report. The psychiatrist told him he didn’t have a mental problem, that he had a labor relations problem with the army instead, but he couldn’t write that in the brief discharge form and because he was unable to find any conclusive evidence of mental issues, he was going to call for a medical board to be convened. Then the issue would be decided by a committee and his ass covered… The psychologist decided after only spending one hour with the man that he displayed serious indications of depression, but once again, there was no word on the causes, as if they had appeared out of thin air and the destruction of the guy’s career along with months of hell after nine years of even more hell had nothing to do with it- because wouldn’t you know it, it’s never the fault of the system or country, it’s always the individual… Despite these two parodies of medicine regarding the man as “potentially dangerous” among other things, neither ever prescribed him so much as an aspirin during his two-week stay, and the man did absolutely nothing to nobody, besides once asking the officer on duty to give an incessantly talking former nurse (that one was indeed crazy) a shot of Thorazine so she’d shut the hell up. Believe it or not, that captain had never heard of Thorazine and it wasn’t found in the South African “medication bible”. Go figure. Anyway, Sunday came around and at 2000 there was a knock on his door. At first glance it looked like the chaplain of the Intelligence Formation had come for another visit, but it actually turned out to be his best friend’s parents, and the father merely resembled the spook chaplain almost perfectly. They had given up their Sunday night movie to visit the man who’d saved their son’s life earlier. They went downstairs and he filled them in on what had happened, after which his friend’s mother asked him to tell them how and why their son had died in his arms. The guy had no problem doing it because it was his ability to see and be part of terrible things which sent him to the army, but he was concerned for those poor people and how the story would affect them. After getting a confirmation that they really wanted to know, he gave them a blow by blow account of what he’d seen, including a graphic description of how their second son had died within a matter of weeks. Their eyes welled with tears and they were desperate to hide them. For his part, the guy felt nothing because to him it was not only duty, it was “business”, the business for which he’d signed up in the first place. He was never haunted by those deaths, including his own. However, it was the fact that three soldiers had died for and because of an ungrateful army without their deaths and suffering being investigated that would rankle him for nearly two decades, as well as what happened next.

The following week was taken up with less frequent sessions with the psychiatrist, finally telling his family to stop calling and demanding answers on tapped phone lines at the country’s premier medical facility (committing suicide is a criminal offence if you survive, and he WAS under investigation on other charges too), along with Occupational Therapy and memory tests, which he very likely scored above 90% because of his nearly photographic memory. By the end of the week he had more reasons to feel angry. Word had reached him from sources in his unit that his superiors were engaged in a cover up, first by telling the battalion that they never wanted to charge him, only to speak to him. Well, given what the lieutenant had said in front of the entire goddamned platoon, that was patently a gross lie and he only got angrier the more he thought about it. Come Friday, he was sitting in the psychiatrist’s office, listening as the shrink said “You don’t have a mental problem. You have a labor relations problem with the army, but I can’t write that on the discharge form, so I’m going to give this preliminary diagnosis (F60.9, Non-specific Personality Disorder, kind of like a mechanic saying “Maybe there’s something wrong with your car, but damned if I can find anything wrong with it myself.”) and arrange for a medical board as soon as possible”, after which he had a farewell lunch with the air force NCO in the canteen downstairs and made his way to the transport back to his unit.

Once there, his fellow recruits bent over backwards to welcome him back. A couple of the hottest chicks in the unit even gave him a hug. He put on a smile and acted as if he appreciated it, but beneath the façade lurked a seething mass of contempt for the cowards who had left him to dangle in the wind. As usual, he made his way to the bungalow for the session of orders for the next day, and accepted the lieutenant’s welcome back to the unit with the stiff military decorum he’d been trained to provide, biting back the desire to say “Let’s cut the bullshit lieutenant, you’re crappin’ your pants because I’m back”. After the platoon was dismissed and warned of a mandatory study period to follow in about an hour, the lieutenant called him to his office in the bungalow. By then the guy was just a hair short of a nuclear meltdown and he bungled coming to attention, but after sitting down, his words cut the lieutenant real short and real quick to the core. To whit, he told him in no uncertain terms that the lieutenant’s actions on the evening before his suicide had been wrong and prejudiced, that the welcome was a farce and he knew what he and the others in his chain of command had been doing to cover themselves over the preceding two weeks while he was away. He also told him quite clearly that he was fed up with the bullshit going on in the unit and wanted out. To that end, he made it clear that he was demanding, not asking, for a meeting with the O.C. (Officer Commanding, the battalion commander) ASAP. The now pitiful eltee stuttered for a bit, clearly scared, and after getting back a semblance of control, he promised to see what he could do and dismissed the soldier who saluted, did an about face and stormed out of the office. Things got even more interesting an hour later, during the mandatory study period, when a buddy of his pulled him into a room to have a chat.

What he heard there was worrisome. His buddy told him that he’d pulled his file and looked at it. Quite how a low-ranking guy could do that and see the whole thing baffled him, but the story sure got interesting. His friend said that he was caught in a three-way fight between the Training Formation who until he tried to kill himself wanted to make him an instructor at the base (weird and unheard of for a guy who only had three and a half months of military training behind him, but anyway), Military Intelligence who wanted him for something of their own, and the Special Forces. The story sounded far-fetched, but the person who told him this had no reason to lie and did indeed have the connections to pull a soldier’s entire personnel file. He was told to hang on and choose Special Forces, who would protect him from everything. His response was simple- “Tell them not to bother, I’m leaving the army.”- and none of the arguments that followed managed to convince him otherwise. Three days later, he was called to the colonel’s office, with his company commander in tow. The colonel, who had on the first day on base impressed him as an ambitious fuck-nut who’d sell out his unit to make general, proceeded to try to intimidate him, but it didn’t work. In the end, he made it clear that he wanted to resign from the army and asked the colonel to process his resignation. The colonel then asked him for access to his medical file on the grounds that such access would help him speed up the resignation. By the end of the meeting, in which he told the colonel that being RTU-ed was out of the question because he would be killed and he had no intention of staying any longer at the present unit either, the soldier was assigned to the company headquarters to answer phones and in general play secretary, and that he was relieved of all other duties until he left the army.

What followed next were two weeks of easy duty in which he acted as platoon lookout in the headquarters, always coming back with intel and warnings of upcoming events that he overheard officers discuss. By the end of that, he was called into the major’s office while the battalion was packing up for deployment to the “bush phase”, and told that he was to go back to the bungalow, pack up all his kit and get ready for “uitklaar”, that is the administrative “clearing out” procedure of handing back his kit and weapon. In conclusion, the major put a fake smile on his face, extended his right arm and offered his hand for a final shake and “you’re always welcome to visit here” quip, to which the soldier responded “I’ll never come back here, sir. Too many bad memories.” and departed. What he actually wanted to say was “Major, if I ever come back here, I’m gonna burn down this fucking base and kill everyone in it.”, but he just wanted to get the hell out and swallowed his boiling hatred. The kit was collected, and everything handed in at the quartermaster’s store. With the exception of two overalls, the helmet and its camo cover as well as some toiletries and the rifle, nothing else showed up on the system. As things stood, he could’ve walked out with his uniforms and almost everything else because the South African army had seemingly not discovered the system of inter-unit asset transfer and accounting, but he was an honest man to the end. On the way out, he bumped into his platoon commander, plastered on the fakest smile he could, shook hands while trying not to tear out the motherfucker’s esophagus and made his way to the pick-up truck in which a grandfatherly looking sergeant major waited to take him to Pretoria. On the way, he heard that his former platoon commander was a private only the year before and saw further how previously unseen sections of the base were in such an absolutely wretched state that they resembled the rusty Soviet navy dockyards after the fall of communism. Soon enough, they got to downtown Pretoria, where he bid the sergeant major farewell and thanked him for the ride, after which he rendered a final salute and walked with a bag in each hand to the hotel where he checked in without looking back.

Epilogue.

 

In the beginning, the soldier thought he’d left the South African poor excuse of an army behind, but that was just life giving him a false sense having a future. In the end, the bloody crucible of those 4 months and 2 days never left him, and neither did the sense of obligation he’s felt to draw attention to the plight of South African soldiers who suffer to this day. Around 15 months later, he read an article in which the Chief of the Army told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence that the reason why whites didn’t want to join the army was because they wanted more pay that it was willing or able to give them. To use a South African term, “he stripped his moer” at the blatant and insulting lie, then proceeded to write close to 15 single-spaced pages to the Chief of the Defence Force which outlined the problems he’d seen that made a lie out of the Chief of the Army’s assertions. In that letter, he also made it very clear he had no intention of getting involved in any legal or extra-legal army proceedings and that if forced to do so, he would make come true the nightmares his last unit never experienced. The Chief of the Defence Force the replied in a letter written by the Chief of Defence Force communications that since the former soldier was unwilling to give testimony, he wasn’t going to do anything either.

That seemed to be the end of the matter, but at most 18 months afterwards, the minister of defence said the same damned thing before the same damned people. This time utterly berserk, the former soldier wrote an even longer and more detailed letter to the minister and basically told him to stop talking shit. The minister didn’t respond himself either. Instead he ordered his chief of communications to write a letter which pooh-poohed and denied almost everything while neglecting to address the matter of Military Intelligence involvement and all that happened with the guy’s file during military service. A few years later, over 2.000 South African soldiers in uniform mutinied in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria to draw attention to the terrible state of the defence force and horrific conditions they were forced to serve. The MP units deployed there provoked the marchers and a riot broke out, while simultaneously every unit in the country held roll calls to find out who was present and track down the absentees, as a way of not only preventing them from attending the march, but identifying the marchers themselves. Yes, those soldiers broke the military law by protesting while in uniform, especially in front of a national key point such as the Union Buildings, but by then they had had over a decade of lousy conditions which were not fit for animals, let alone human beings sworn to fight, kill and if necessary die for their country. It took the new minister of defence quite a lot of effort to scrounge funds for base repairs and long overdue pay increases while promising to solve the myriad problems which beset the SANDF to this day. A general military revolt was averted, but conditions are shitty to this day, so it’s just a matter of time before the troops revolt en masse, and then South Africa will really shit its collective breeches.

Dear readers, Military Intelligence was involved in the case I wrote about. That is a fact. It is also a fact that they had an innocent man under surveillance for months and whatever was in his file triggered the xenophobic and ambitious instincts of this man’s superiors, who hounded him until he was forced to commit suicide. It is also a fact that the SANDF shrinks involved in this case contravened the Hippocratic Oath and whatever other professional standards they were supposed to uphold by lying to the patient and writing a report that was more reminiscent of a KGB smear campaign against troublesome dissidents, as it did from the days Yuri Andropov approved the tactic while Soviet Premier, when they used psychiatrists and psychologists to declare dissidents insane in order to cover up the system’s failings. At the same time, it is also a fact that his man’s entire command structure was involved in a conspiracy to deny him the right to access legal counsel by never informing him he was under investigation and entitled to such, and then fraudulently accessing his confidential records in order to have him dismissed from the SA army on the grounds that he was medically unfit for duty, instead of processing the soldier’s resignation as he’d requested. It is also a fact that the guy did not know any of this for over 15 years, and only discovered it when he accessed the report from 1 Mil, which was never given to him while he was still in the army. It is also a fact that most of these people are currently untouchable by virtue of the statute of limitations having expired, even though there was a clear concerted effort to conceal the facts and documentation relating to the case from the man in question.

Furthermore, as sad and sometimes upsetting as the story might be to you, this was merely one example of the SANDF railroading its soldiers and suppressing complaints about inadequate facilities, equipment, administrative and logistical support, because they did just as bad if not worse to the remains of the 228 Parabats and Special Forces who fought while being abandoned to their fate at the Battle of Bangui. In the aftermath of that battle, SANDF generals went to 1 Mil where the wounded were being treated and coerced every one of them to sign further secrecy forms which aided in the subsequent cover-up of the events and decisions which led the South African government to deploy unsupported soldiers without a hope in hell of rescue, over 2.000 miles away. To this day, the Battle of Bangui is shrouded in the fog of a far away war. The AAR (after action report) is highly classified and inaccessible to civilians, while those who fought and bled there are under surveillance by Military Intelligence’s Counterintelligence Division and unable to share their stories with the media and the interested public.

Much as it saddens me to say it, it is another fact that the SANDF is on its last legs and those who dare to call attention to problems are quickly silenced by very brutal means. Whether South Africans like to hear it or not, it is also a fact that this is merely the beginning, for the corrupt influence of the communists and crooks who’ve infiltrated all spheres of government are gearing up for the beginning of the end of a supposedly free South Africa, and more good, honest people are going to die. In conclusion, I will say this much- what I’ve written so far was not the complete truth because some events, personalities and techniques are classified, but it is nevertheless completely true. What you do with it is up to you, but I’ll tell you one thing- the fight is not yet over. It is still being fought even after almost two decades, and it went asymmetrical long ago. After all, somebody has to protect naïve white boys and girls who want to serve their country from the potentially deadly and certainly ignominious consequences of their patriotism, because the SADF that once was far outshines the complete dehumanizing disaster the SANDF is today, and nobody, including a trade union leader and the leader of an opposition party cares about the more than 30 deaths which have followed since those three poor, skinny guys died, or the efforts one man has put into trying to stop them.

I say this because the trade union leader advised the guy to “contact the Public Protector” even though as advocate and expert in such matters he would’ve known the Public Protector has no authority to investigate the South African military, while the leader of that opposition party recommended through one of his aides that the guy who was trying to secure witness protection in order to testify before an open and televised session of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence that he contact the Military Ombudsman, as if that guy had the power to investigate three deaths and the conduct of the highest-ranking military and civilian command structures in such a wide scope of activities and events. The people in power don’t care. Those who once had power didn’t care either, so men die. If you’re a white South African reading this, rather send your child to a foreign army, because not only would your kid be made to feel unwelcome in the SANDF, but if he or she has a conscience, you’re going to get a flag-draped coffin and no explanation. Think carefully, for the nightmare is real, and so are the scars of those who’ve been there and done that over the last 23 years.

Mircea Negres

Port Elizabeth

South Africa