Book review – The honour to serve

James Ngculu tells the story of ­Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the masses of young people who flooded its ranks in exile during the late 1970s and 1980s.

Forced to flee South Africa by the violence inflicted upon them by the apartheid security apparatus, these young people found a home in the training camps of the ANC where they hoped to quickly train as soldiers and return home as ­freedom fighters.

This book tells of the commitment and bravery of the MK soldiers, their burning desire to return home and fight, the low morale brought about by the hardship of life in exile, and the problems and tensions that arose as a result of the slow process of being infiltrated back home.

The author spent most of his exiled life in training camps in Angola and the ­attempts to capture daily life in those camps.

But while this is one of few accounts that ­attempt to demystify MK, I’m not sure if Ngculu succeeds in bringing the humanity in the soldiers alive.

Although he does touch on incidents of suicide, loneliness and hope; the writing could do with a lot more emotion.

The ­soldiers ­remain men and women in ­uniform and do not emerge as ­ordinary ­human ­beings who cry, laugh, love and hate like everyone else.

Don’t expect to get teary eyed from ­gripping tales of loneliness or to get ­goosebumps from orgasmic writing detailing the singing that reverberated through the ­Angolan sky.
 
» The Honour to Serve: Recollections of an Umkhonto Soldier is published by David Philip (R240)

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