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The South African Border War and what it has left behind

02 February 2013, 19:18
"War is about men who love their country but even more than that love each other. I left that battlefield knowing that they will continue to sacrifice for me. There are some events that are so overwhelming you can't simply be a witness. You can't be above it you can't be neutral you can't be untouched by it. You see it, you live it, you experience it and it will be with you all of your days." – Joseph “Joe” Galloway. (From Vietnam in HD on the History channel, in case FeebleGastro or Onlinepolls were wondering).

It’s not often that a child witnesses the breakdown of a father. It’s not often (If ever) a child witnesses their own father cry. There is nothing more heartbreaking, especially when the pain in that person is so incredibly overwhelming to the point where you yourself begin to feel distressed. I am sure I am not the only child of a veteran who has had this experience or one similar to it.

Men damaged by war never speak of their experiences. This is just an observation I have picked up on with my own father and many of his friends. I always knew my father was in the army, but I just never brought up the subject matter with him and he never brought it up with any of us (my siblings and I). However, when it was required of all IEB students to do a massive History research project in matric on a topic of our choice I decided I would venture into the unspoken territory of the South African border war. Obviously I knew the History of the war as it is part of our syllabus but what I was really interested to find out about was the psychological impact the war had on military conscripts. That is, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. (Yes FeebleGastro and Onlinepolls, that is a real syndrome, I did not dream it up.)

I set about putting together a questionnaire of various questions to ask and the time came where I had to approach my father and ask him to answer my questions. I happily bounded up to his room like an eager puppy, quite excited to get started and completely aloof to what I was about to find out. I sat in front of him chatting away explaining my project and what I was researching only to eventually meet his gaze (I can get a little carried away explaining things and when I am excited I usually speak in a comedic manner) and see his emotionless face staring at me. He just sat in his armchair and looked down at his hands that were crossed on his lap. You see, I had done all the research to find out about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in soldiers and read numerous cases about soldiers from World War one and two and Vietnam but I never came across any cases of South African soldiers. Even while reading these cases I felt a lot of sympathy for veterans, I could not really (and I mean truly) understand what they felt. At least I thought I did, but I was in for a big surprise.

I started off with some simple background questions to find out about my father’s military history to discover that he awoke on his eighteenth birthday (7th January) to find one present waiting for him. A letter in the post-box of military conscription. He then went on to explain how he boarded a train to the middle of nowhere for basic training completely unaware of what to expect and feeling a lot like a lost sheep.

In total my father spent ten years in the South African defence force as a Lieutenant Sniper and fought on both the Namibian and Angolan borders. He was part of the first Transvaal Scottish battalion and bitterly added that his battalion were always the first wave of soldiers sent in to fight and they were all either white English speaking South Africans or black South Africans. He seemed to make it quite clear that the “Dutchmen” (sorry about the racist remark) were nowhere to be seen.

He then went on to describe the war and what it was like in active combat and how he lost many friends who were shot dead next to him and about many horrific things he experienced. It was nothing less than incredibly frightening and very sad.

The worst was yet to come. After giving me an in depth vision of the war, he just stopped talking. He sat quietly for some time; looking at his hands in his lap and when he looked up tears were streaming down his face. He shook his head and all of a sudden he bowed it in shame. (I was pretty shocked at this point, not knowing what to do I just sat there awkwardly glancing around the room a little embarrassed as I did not know how to console him).

My father looked at me and said, “You know. . . I was forced to fight a war I knew was ethically and morally wrong. We fought liberation movements from Angola and Namibia and we fought the armed wings of the ANC and IFP. We stood with automatic weapons and slaughtered these boys, boys. Some of them were fifteen and sixteen years old sharing one gun between two or three of them. What chance did they have? The worst is the fact that they were fighting for a real cause, for something good and there we were defending a doomed policy and mentality. For what? So that a mother from the townships can bury her son? What choice did I even have? It was either join the army, or go to jail. I was forced to fight a war I did not believe in and now I am vilified because I did.”

“I really hope that there is some kind of God out there, because I cannot forgive myself for the things I have done. I really hope he can”. This coming from my father who is an atheist.

This really saddens me and I am sure there are many stories much like my father’s where these men sit broken and unnoticed. Such pain many from all sides have suffered and I am sure maybe some of these men’s family members.

I just thought it was something different to write about and something to think about. Maybe there are other users on this forum who can relate to what I am trying to get across.  

FeebleGastro and Onlinepolls, I am sure you will proceed to tell me that I am in actual fact an orphan and that my father never wanted me from birth and therefore the whole story is a big, fat lie and that the I.E.B schools do not even have such a project for metric students and that no South African veteran suffers any after effects from the border war what so ever. If so, please contact St. Andrews School for Girls (in Senderwood) and ask for further referencing on Sinead Geoghegan’s Metric History research project, class of 2010, Athlone. My History teacher’s name was Miss R Mowatt.
My father’s full name is Kieron Mark Geoghegan son of Brendan and Ethne (maiden name, Ferraris) Geoghean, born 1955, 7th January. If you google my father’s name, you will find out all you need to know about him.

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