Every year on the night of 16/17 August I commemorate the death of my uncle, who was killed while dropping supplies during the Warsaw uprising. 1944 may be a long time ago, based on research, letters, photographs, (including that of his tombstone in Krakow, Poland), as well as correspondence with relatives of other crews, a portrait emerged of a 23 year old Warrant Officer, doing what he believed was right.
“Red Tabbed”, he died for a country which was a vassal of another. A country plagued by sharp political divide, (then and ever since). He fought for an ideology. A cause championed by a country which barely 40 years earlier practiced a scorched earth policy in his country of birth, resulting in a destroyed economy, and the death of so many white and black people in concentration camps.
Whatever one’s political or religious beliefs, it cannot take away the fact that he was a soldier, in the company of soldiers. The word soldier used here in the context of someone who goes to battle, be it in the air, on the ground or on water. A person ‘who was prepared to do rough on other’s behalf, so that they and their children may sleep soundly’.
The South African Army is 100 years old this year. It would be celebrated I thought, and because of my special interest, I wished to know more about this centenary. My mate Google, told me about an exhibition in the Voortrekker Museum. But further than that, he was not very eloquent.
On 26 October 2012, the president handed out five hundred medals to former members of the MK Luthuli detachment (first generation of members who joined around 1961 and 1962 when MK was established), in the category of platinum, gold and bronze for bravery, merit, campaigns and commemoration. “We are here to honour and celebrate a generation, which from the very onset, history assigned one of the most difficult, complex and yet noblest tasks,” Zuma said in his address to the veterans.
“Over the next few months to the end of the year, the Department of Military Veterans and the SANDF will also honour other detachments of MK as we wind up the celebration of its 50th anniversary. The government will also honour and recognise the contribution of those who fought as part of the Azanian people’s Liberation Army as well as the Azanian National Liberation Army.”
Apparently “these honours are in recognition of carrying out daring actions of sabotage and other unnamed missions as well as contributions to the intensification of the armed struggle, the building of the ANC underground structures as well as international mobilisation against eh (sic) racist regime. All these culminated in the ushering of democracy on 27th April 1994”.
Which all will secure the Veteran Vote for Mangaung, but makes a travesty of history that he of the Blade variety wants to re-write.
The costs of a two decade long war (actually nearly three), sanctions, the gatvolness of the general white population and sheer common sense ostensibly had nothing to do with an overwhelming vote during the National Referendum, which was taken as a mandate that culminated on 27 April 1994.
But to come back, no Army celebrations during 2012. No mention of any other decorations. None for those who also served their country well? On the “Border”, during WW1 or WW2 to name some theatres? Maybe they have all been decorated enough? But surely a published mention, at a parade, from the president just acknowledging their service and/or dying, would be appropriate?
The graves of fallen German soldiers of WWs1 & 2 were not covered up and the graveyards neglected. They are/were also visited by Allied soldiers. Their memories are valued and not sullied by attempts to erase it. Real soldiers do these things. It is called respect.
In contrast, awarding a medal to someone whose homemade bomb or landmine killed a woman or child somehow evokes a frisson of, let’s call it revulsion.
Should our president who wishes to have a personalised bunker and fortified house ever grant me an audience, I would wish to pose some questions about two highly decorated soldiers who placed loyalty to their country above race, politics and prejudices. They were equal to his colour, although the equality of their respective levels of moral fibre and bravery may be debated.
Did Sgt. Lucas Majozi DCM and L/Cpl Job Masego MM, come home and then led a life of violence, crime and mayhem? Were some of their comrades interned in a camp similar to an abomination, called Quatro? Did they tell stories about it afterwards that glamorised the war? Were these tales enacted by their children and grandchildren, by raping and killing women and children?
It is reasonably documented that most soldiers, having been in battle conditions, do not talk readily and much about their experiences and I thus believe that neither did Majozi and Masego.
I know my uncle did not. He never came home....