Meanwhile, American airlines were shitting themselves trying to juggle their complex systems. Much as it hurt, they counted the financial costs along with disruptions as far less than the backlash if it was ever revealed they tried to wriggle out of this. Therefore, within 30 hours six Boeing 747s with spare crews were assembled at New York’s JFK airport, waiting for clearance to take off for direct flights to South Africa. They got it real fast and took off with journalists who’d been tipped off filming the occasion. It made world news very quickly and across South Africa, embassy staff along with Marines running on amphetamine fumes sighed with relief and gratitude, then got ready to depart. Documents were shredded and burned, hard drives were formatted, swept with magnets, formatted again and hammered to pieces, classified communications gear not essential until the last minute was destroyed thoroughly, the SCIFs (Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility or “the bubble”) were rigged to blow up if broken into so as to protect classified technology, the embassies’ weapons and ammo were handed out to everybody who could carry them, unnecessary personal belongings were smashed and burned, and in general as little as possible was going to be left behind. To the northwest, six planes were flying and one captain said to his co-pilot “Hmmm. If only God had had James Mattis as president and us flying out the Israelites… Shit, this is really like something out of Exodus, man.” His co-pilot, an ex-Air force guy, replied “I hope this goes smoothly, or it will be the shortest rescue mission in history because we don’t have any escorts. I wonder about the whites being hunted down in South Africa. Who’s helping them? At least we’re trying to get our people out. To keep the faith, that’s something worth dying for and telling our grandkids about if we survive.”

 

Three thousand miles behind them, president Mattis was watching a presentation by his Sec Def and some generals, who gave him some alternatives to picking up Americans from the embassy in Pretoria and consulate in Johannesburg. The troops, supplies and planes had landed in Botswana and were housed at the base there. It didn’t look good. In fact, not only was it crazy, but it looked like it had the makings of a fine Battle of Mogadishu II, because lightly armed U.S. Marines would have to escort buses from Botswana to South Africa on pickup trucks while Air Force planes flew overhead. It was a suicide mission and the president rejected it without prejudice, because he did say he wanted plans, crazy or not. He chose another option, and that was to have the Marines link up with the Botswana military as border guards while the planes stood by in case the South Africans invaded or it became necessary to take out the country’s radars and air defenses. Meanwhile, both military and civilian intelligence platforms were on South Africa’s case and they provided satellite pictures of the situation on the ground. The whites were streaming mostly towards Namibia with a few from Gauteng going to Botswana and South African units were on them worse than flies on shit. The slaughter on the ground had to be terrible, but picture resolution wasn’t quite how Hollywood envisaged. Still, South African military radio chatter was full of battle reports and calls for supplies and relievers for road blocks all across the country, which Sigint and Elint platforms reported continuously. The whites were fighting with whatever they had and in some cases scoring hits, but more often than not they went off-road to avoid blocking units. Mattis watched the clocks on the wall, mentally calculating the planes’ position out of habit. He needn’t have bothered, because the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) had passing satellites keep track of their transponders and showed blinking dots in the Atlantic on one of the big screens in the Situation Room.

 

It took another seven hours, but finally the jumbo jets were nearing South African airspace. Two were given clearance to Cape Town, and four to Johannesburg as soon as they contacted ground control. The South African military decided discretion was best and didn’t so much as light up one radar, let alone send up the few Gripen jets it had. The diplomats, their families and Americans who’d made their way to embassies and consulates were given the heads-up planes were an hour out, and began to queue up in anticipation of the arrival of South African buses guarded by military units. Of the four planes which landed in Johannesburg, two refueled and then took off for Durban International to pick up Americans from the consulate there.

 

At every American diplomatic facility, Marines in their famous blue dress uniforms formed up and took down the flags, which they then handed over to the leading diplomats. After that, they picked up their rifles and took their places in the security arrangements. The buses came along with their escorts. The South Africans looked uncomfortably at the armed Americans, but they’d been told that if anybody so much as farted in the Americans’ way, they’d better pray the Marines killed them quickly, because the army generals wouldn’t. Within minutes, every American was aboard and the convoys hit the deserted roads to the various airports. The Americans took advantage of the South Africans’ reticence to pull out cameras and cell phones to take pictures of the epic scenes of devastation along the way. What the Americans saw was the sanitized version of Hell on Earth. Windows were broken, some buildings scorched, looting evident, blood stains on sidewalks and building walls, but no bodies. Whatever had happened was cleaned up to a certain extent, but nothing could disguise the scars of murder and mayhem everybody saw. They drove in silence and got to the airports. There was even heavier security present, almost as if the South Africans thought the Americans would be attacked, but they all passed through Customs without any hassles and with armed Marines at their front and rear, made their way to the waiting aircraft. It drove the metal detectors nuts, but everything went like the clockwork for which the USMC are famous- there was no jostling for first class seats because the first to embark walked to the end of the plane and sat down, the jets filling up in orderly fashion from the rear to front, irrespective of rank and status. With the exception of the ambassador’s voluminous suitcase filled with sensitive information, nobody had anything bigger than a small carry-on bag, so within 25 minutes of boarding every airplane was ready for takeoff.

 

The Cape Town flights turned northwest and headed directly for New York. Those from Johannesburg headed for Namibia and those out of Durban went to Dubai, then Europe. Nobody was going to fly over Africa longer than absolutely necessary, and without exception, there was a thunderous round of applause and cheering when the pilots announced “ladies and gentlemen, we have left South African airspace”. Thousands of kilometers away, word was relayed to the White House. Everybody in the Situation Room breathed a sigh of relief and shared some handshakes, then went about the business of running a government, because until the flights landed they’d be the pilots’ problems and under constant surveillance. Meanwhile, the situation was becoming more frustrating on the political front thanks to Russia, China and their friends at the UN who kept blocking resolutions to censure, never mind send peacekeeping troops to South Africa. It was a few days away from getting worse for South Africa and a lot more complicated for other governments, but nobody knew that yet. Until then, president Mattis had Girl Scouts to meet, business leaders to cajole into bringing their factories back to the States and members of Congress to discuss legislative hurdles with…

 

End of Part 12. To be continued…

Mircea Negres

Port Elizabeth

South Africa