Chapter 7:

“I will NOT send half-trained troops to their death!” thundered RSM Struwig.

Be reasonable, RSM.” Colonel Viljoen tried to placate the enraged RSM. “The training programme has only been truncated by three weeks.”

“Yes Colonel, but those are the three crucial weeks. They form the final part of the Bush Phase. Without bush training the troops will be sitting ducks.”

“They can pick up the skills as they go along. These troops are needed in the Operational Area, and nothing you or I say will change the facts. They will be deployed in nine weeks time. That is final.”

But why, Colonel? Will three weeks really make that much of a difference in the Operational Area? I mean, we do have upward of fifty thousand troops deployed at the moment. Those three weeks can literally mean the difference between life and death for the new troops. We are already losing three days of initial training due to the boots fiasco.”

Yesterday, the State Security Council had a meeting with the Chiefs of the Defence Force. All the Officers Commanding of Training Command were called in by the Chief of the Army this morning. He informed us that Castro is ferrying his Cubans to Angola by the shipload. The East Germans are also increasing their troop strength dramatically. It seems that they are contemplating switching roles from military advisors to actual fighting. The real bad news is that the MPLA Government (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola - The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola – a Marxist party who took over the Angolan government when the Portuguese granted Angola independence in 1975) has come to an agreement with the North Koreans to provide more than twenty thousand fighters. They are determined to wipe Savimbi and UNITA off the face of the earth once and for all.”

Jonas Savimbi was the leader of UNITA (União Nacional para la Independência Total de Angola - The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), a pro-Western organisation and South Africa’s ally in Angola. UNITA received their arms from South Africa and the US. They also received some training from the South African army. The South African Defence Force also fought on Angolan soil at the behest of UNITA. The MPLA had close ties with SWAPO (The South West African People’s Organisation) in Nanibia and the ANC (African National Congress) in South Africa. Both SWAPO and the ANC were fighting a liberation war against the South African Apartheid government. The MPLA provided them with military bases, Russia provided armaments, the DDR (East Germany) provided military advisors and Cuba provided foot soldiers. If UNITA could be eliminated, the South African army could be weakened to the point of withdrawal from Angola and the eventual capitulation of the Apartheid government in South Africa itself.

RSM Struwig understood the seriousness of the situation. The South African Defence Force was hanging on by its fingernails in Angola. ANC insurgents coming from bases in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique fought a guerilla war in South Africa proper. These “terrorists” or “freedom fighters” as they were called by the rest of the world, had to be tracked down and destroyed, UN sanctions were playing havoc with the economy and the US and Britain threatened to abandon the Apartheid state to its own devices. There were just not enough soldiers or resources to plug all the holes.

His shoulders slumped. “So we are sending these boys to their deaths” he sighed.

All is not lost” replied Colonel Viljoen. “Our boys have the advantage that they are fighting for their homes and families. The Cubans and North Koreans are fighting for an ideology. Our boys are better motivated than their troops. Our cause is just. Besides, it will be a feather in our caps if we manage to compress a twelve weeks’ training course to nine weeks. It shows that we are taking pro-active steps to solve the army’s personnel problem. We are demonstrating our commitment to the forthcoming campaign in Angola. This can only be good for both our careers. ”

RSM Struwig was utterly disgusted by Colonel Viljoen’s callousness. The colonel was spouting bullshit by the barrel load, just like a politician. He had heard that Colonel Viljoen had political aspirations. This speech convinced him that there was substance to the rumour.

“What about the three days training we lost with the boots fiasco? Can we at least have three more training days to make up for them?”

“Not possible. Your instructors messed up; you carry the blame for that. What have you done to prevent this from happening again?”

“There is not much to be done. I threatened to have the ring leaders court-marshalled. I stressed that if someone was found guilty, he would be found guilty of treason or sabotage and would be put against a wall and shot. The instructors are not stupid. They know I’m bullshitting them. They all but laughed to my face.”

“Why are so many troops injured? What went wrong?”

The new troops were issued with new boots. Standing Orders state that a recruit has to break in new boots before being subjected to rigorous marching. The instructors conveniently forgot about these orders. Their excuse is that there is not enough time to break in the boots and complete the training programme on schedule, which is the truth, actually.”

All right, RSM. I think I can help you out on this one. As punishment, all leave will be cancelled. Saturdays will become full work days up to the completion of this group’s training. This will provide you with a few more days training time over and above the three days you lost.”

“But this will punish the recruits as well, Colonel. The troops need some time off for recovery. You know how gruelling the training schedule is.”

You can’t have your cake and eat it too, RSM. You and your department messed up. You will bear the concequences. I can easily make Sundays full working days as well. This is an emergency and I do have the power to do it. Do not irritate me, RSM. I am your superior and you will do as you are told. Now, do you have any preliminary figures on the recruits’ physicals for me?”

RSM Struwig took a deep breath to calm himself. Colonel Viljoen could ruin his career with one word, and he was keenly aware of it. “So far, just over three hundred recruits have had their physicals. At least seventy percent of them are G1K1. It seems that this intake is healthier than the previous one.”

RSM Struwig referred to the medical classification system of the SADF:

“Inform me when the physicals are completed” ordered Colonel Viljoen. “We have many holes to plug.”

RSM Struwig left the Colonel’s office with a heavy heart. He was genuinely concerned for the young men placed in his care. His instructors were decidedly sub-standard. Good instructors were also good soldiers. With the all-out effort to stem the tide in Angola, his decent instructors had been transferred to the Operational Area. He was left with the dregs at the bottom of the barrel and an Officer Commanding who did not care one whit about the well-being of his charges.

Nearly half of the recruits suffered from massive blisters on their feet. The ever-pragmatic RSM Struwig decided that all the recruits had to go barefoot for the next three days. This would eliminate further damage to the blistered heels and some drilling might even be possible. This decision sounds strange, but Afrikaans boys love being barefoot. Being barefoot is part of the Afrikaans culture. Even in primary school, wearing shoes is optional – for boys and girls. The national sport – rugby – is also played barefoot on primary school level. Boys only start playing rugby with boots on their feet in high school. RSM Struwig’s decision was enthusiastically received by the recruits.

“Can’t we finish Basics without shoes?” Jannie asked wistfully. “Thease bloody boots are HEAVY.”

“Nahh” replied Vaatjie, “Basics might become fun and the bloody army will never allow that.”

Just before 16h00, Peleton 44 arrived at the sick bay. They had barely entered the waiting area, when the siren went off for afternoon tea. All activity ceased immediately. The sick bay was equipped with a huge urn. The tea in it was so strong, it could be cut with a knife just the way most South Africans love their tea. The recruits, who have left their firebuckets (the metal cups they were issued with) in their bungalow, were provided with Styrofoam cups by the friendly medical orderlies. The tea break turned into an impromptu tea party. An orderly produced several packets of dog biscuits to go with the tea. A dog biscuit is a very dense and heavy biscuit, full of nutrients and with a vanilla flavour. It is extremely hard and has to be soaked in liquid before eating, if you don’t want to break your teeth. Peleton 44 cheerfully dunked their dog biscuits in their tea and started comparing notes with the orderlies.

The South African Medical Services was a different service branch to the army. The SA Defence Force consisted of four service branches: the Army (the largest), the Air Force, the Navy (the smallest) and the Medical Services. The “Medics”, as they were called, wore blood-red berets to distinguish them at a distance from other soldiers. It was generally thought that they had a much easier life than the other conscripts, which was of course a total fallacy.

As Peleton 44 were still “roofies” (scabs – troops with less than six months service), the orderlies stretched their gullibility to the limit. They were treated to grapic descriptions of how much damage an AK47 bullet can inflict on the human body. How an exploding landmine can reduce an entire truckload of soldiers to unrecognizable bits of flesh. How an exploding rocket can instantly incinerate a whole platoon and how a SWAPO “terr” (terrorist) can disembowel a soldier with one slice of his knife.

Even the ever-hungry Vaatjie lost his appetite at this point. The recruits turned green with nausea. Their eyes grew larger and larger. They were terrified. Johan unconsciously clung to Riaan. The whole group of recruits bunched together, as if to shield themselves from the horrors that would be inflicted on them.

Fortunately, teatime was over before the grinning medics could start on all the diseases that could be picked up on the border. The recruits sighed a collective sigh of relief when a doctor in a captain’s uniform entered the waiting area and told them to strip to their underpants.

There were three examination rooms available. The recruits formed up into three rows and entered the examination rooms one by one. Each doctor was assisted by two orderlies.

As Johan entered the examination room, he was told to lie down on the examination table. A thermometer was stuck in his mouth and his blood pressure was taken. The doctor perfunctually shone a bright light in his eyes and stuck an examining tool into his ears.

“Do you wear glasses or a hearing aid?” asked the doctor, as he held down Johan’s tongue with a spatula.

“Hnnng” replied Johan.

Have you ever had a venereal disease?” The doctor asked as he put an icy-cold stethoscope on Johan’s chest.

“No” replied Johan with flaming ears.

Mmm, good lungs” remarked the doctor and pulled down Johan’s underpants. He fumbled with Johan’s testicles. Johan blushed a deeper shade of scarlet.

“Cough” ordered the doctor. Johan wheezed a good imitation of Vaatjie after thirty pushups.

“Sit up straight” ordered the doctor when he released Johan’s privates. Johan shot bolt upright.

“I see your heels are not blistered. You’re lucky” said the doctor and whacked each of Johan’s knees with a little hammer. We only need a specimen from you, and then you can be on your way.”

Johan got off the examination table. One of the orderlies was busily completing a form and the other asked Johan for his force number. Unlike Vaatjie, Johan had memorised his force number. He gave the number to the orderly, who wrote it on a label. The orderly stuck the label on a plastic cup and handed the cup to Johan.

Go to the toilet and piss into it” he told the puzzled Johan. “Then hand it to the sister in the room at the end of the passage. Return to the waiting room and put your clothes back on. You’ll have your results in a few minutes.”

There was only one toilet and Johan had to queue for it. After he filled his plastic cup, he joined the line of embarrassed recruits, waiting to hand their specimen cups to the sister. Riaan emerged from the next examination room. “Go piss quickly, I’ll wait for you” Johan told Riaan.

The sister was also dressed in a captain’s uniform. She had three orderlies in attendance. The orderlies took the specimen cups from the mortified recruits and stuck lithmus paper strips into them. Johan and Riaan were told that they could return to the waiting area and put their overalls back on.

Vaatjie was in full cry when they entered the waiting room. “The bloody quack did not even ask me to breathe, he just put his stethoscope thingie on my chest and told me my lungs are fine. I am sure I have asthma” complained Vaatjie.

“You’re not going to weasel yourself out of this one. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you that a good diet can’t cure. The army saw right through you, you lazy bastard.” Jannie gleefully rubbed salt in Vaatjie’s wounds.

What’s this with feelling up your balls?” asked Pieter Jooste. “It’s plain indecent. My privates are just that – private.”

Army provides you with a cheap thrill” guffawed Wouter. “Enjoy it while it lasts. There won’t be very many of those, I can guarantee you. It will be you and your trusty hand only, unless you’re a moffie (queer) of course. Then you might find someone to do it for you. I heard that all the cooks are moffies. Go check out the mess after dark. If you walk like a duck tomorrow, we’ll all know that you got lucky.”

Pieter attacked at Wouter with murder in his eyes. The others intervened to prevent bloodshed. Johan sighed sadly. He realised how intolerable his life would become if the other recruits found out that he was queer. Riaan caught Johan’s look. “Nobody will hurt you. I’ll take care of them” he promised Johan. Johan smiled wistfully.

The sister appeared with a clipboard in her hand. She read out the recruits’ medical classifications to them. There were no big surprises. Johan and Riaan were both classified as G1K1. So were Jannie and Wouter. Vaatjie got a G2K2, probably because of his weight problem. Koos Pieterse and Jaco Davel were the only two recruits with a G3K3 classification. Apparently both of them had asthma problems. Vaatjie regarded them enviously.

The ban on running was still in effect. Peleton 44 leisurely marched back to their bungalow, where a livid Corporal du Plooy awaited them.

“Your fucking stupidity resulted in our weekend passes being cancelled” he snarled at them. “As from now, Saturdays will be ordinary working days. If you pieces of shit make ANOTHER fuckup, you will work Sundays as well. Is THIS what you wanted?”

Wouter tried to explain. “We were not told that the new boots would blister our feet, Corporal.”

The enraged corporal grabbed Wouter by the front of his overall and shook him like a rag doll. “Are you trying to make out as if it was MY fault?” he screamed, spraying Wouter’s face with spittle. “You have SHIT for brains. You think you can FUCK with a corporal! I will show you who fucks with whom!” He slammed Wouter against the outside wall of the bungalow.

As Corporal du Plooy balled his fist to hit Wouter, Lieutenant Basson appeared from around the corner.

WHAT is going on here?” He shouted. The recruits froze.

This maggot is trying to make out as if it is MY fault that his feet are sore, Lieutenant” shouted Corporal du Plooy.

It IS your fault, du Plooy. If you had the brains of a cabbage, you would have seen to it that their feet do not blister. But no, CORPORAL du Plooy does not implement standing orders. CORPORAL du Plooy thinks he knows more than the Surgeon General who issued these orders. CORPORAL du Plooy pisses on orders he does not understand. CORPORAL du Plooy thinks he can assult a troop in full view of the whole camp. You are the stupidest piece of shit I have ever had the misfortune to lay my eyes upon, du Plooy. If you had ONE brain cell, you would take the fucking troop inside before beating the shit out of him. You disgust me, du Plooy.”

And as for you, you miserable turds, if you did not have sore footsies, you would have been pissing blood now. You managed to ruin every weekend for us. It will be my personal pleasure to make you suffer for this. Your first lectures will start directly after supper. Corporal du Plooy will collect you from the mess hall. Tomorrow morning’s inspection had better be prefect. Blistered heels do not prevent you from doing pushups. Come along, du Plooy, I have a few matters to discuss with you.” Lieutenant Basson strolled off, with an extremely worried Corporal du Plooy following him at a respectful distance.

“Oh Boy, we’re in for fun times” prophesied Vaatjie.