Reflections Of A Soldier, on the passing of the first commander in chief of the SANDF.

2013-12-17 19:31

I recently sat down with a member of the SANDF for what was supposed to be an interview, it morphed into something much more, and I decided to publish his story as he put it to me. Soldiers in the SANDF are not allowed to express their views to any media, so we will call him  Sargent Anonymous South African soldier

The fall of the berlin wall, the untimely death of Lady Diana, the observation of Haley's comet and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison all signified the prominent moments in the world of my teens. By the time I became a man and stood my ground as a soldier in The SANDF I had been through a trial by fire in the pre-democracy SADF and had later successfully weathered the storms of the post apartheid integration of the Forces. When I joined the Navy in January of 1994 I was 20 years old and had been studying law from my family home for a year prior to that. Before that, in 1992 I had been called up for compulsory military service and had spent the year In various bases including 8 SAI in Uppington, 10 Anti Aircraft in Kimberley and SAMS Training Centre in Voortrekker Hoogte which is now called Tabatshwane, where I successfully completed the Operational Medical Ordery course. The rest of the year I spent on deployment as an OPS medic in the 10AA base in Kimberley from where I was deployed until my discharged in December of 1992.

Serving in the SADF (pre-democracy) had opened my eyes to a lot of the systematic unfairness which was openly pitted against recruits of colour during the initial integration of black recruits into the SADF (between 1990 when Mandela was released and 1994 when he became Commander in Chief). Having been deployed to Infantry and Anti Aircraft units where mainly white recruits where employed, and then having chosen to do a course along with members from all arms of service a few months down the line, I suddenly found myself doing the OPS Medic course alongside an intake of black men that was somehow selected to do the course simultaneously with us white recruits. In retrospect I assumed that this intake of black men, a lot of whom where (as I found out only much later) members of the non-statutory forces in apartheid South Africa, were there (logically) as a part of probable negotiations done (possibly) between Mr Mandela and the NP government with the (apparent) goal of creating a stable and integrated SANDF a few years down the line. (I guess it was no secret that statistically it was obviously going to be a new South Africa for everyone, including the freedom fighters and the ignorant white boys from small city suburbs down south where black and white politics was never even heard of.) Yet at the time it was not officially made known and the 'undercover brothers' where treated pretty much as unwelcome guests in a whites-only run Defence Force. Their human rights not yet protected by policy, they were subject to some crazy human right violations and often we were all witness to this violation of their rights. It was also the first time I had been in contact with black men that I only later found out where members of the non statutory forces; highly skilled and intensively trained soldiers in their own right.

We were all thrown under the bus at the same time and shaped into operational medics by the same permanent force, "apartheid regime"-mentality course leaders and instructors. It was during this unwitting exposure to apartheid policy that I observed such human right abuses as I had never before (and in retrospect since then) experienced firsthand. It was also during this time that I myself was exposed to the horrors of the old South African "legal system" and the abuses of its custodians at the time in the form of the air force police whom accused me of theft, intimidated me in a small dark room with a fire arm until I cracked and subsequently signed a false declaration in order that they would stop 'torturing' me. They were too glad to have 'cracked' "the case"(me) so that I might be imprisoned for a crime I did not commit. The time I spent in the SADF was by no means a fun experience, but it made me the person I am today in many ways, and it most certainly gave me a fundamental appreciation for the changes I observed in the SANDF when Mr Mandela was inaugurated as president and our country became a fair and free democracy with a constitution geared towards human rights and freedom.

When I joined the SA Navy in 1994 the military was still the SADF, and in April of that same year the SANDF was established as the Defence Force of the new Democratic Republic of South Africa. All soldiers that were a part of the SADF at the time was reintegrated in the new SANDF and awarded the UNITAS medal for being in service during this very important change in the basic constitution of the country and its Defence Force. During the inauguration of our ex-Commander in Chief, Mr Mandela on the 27th of April 1994, I was a part of the ceremony which took place at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. It was a grand and momentous occasion never to be forgotten as the Party of the people democratically elected Nelson Mandela as the President of the New South Africa, a country at the time seeming pregnant with opportunity, possibilities and the unflinching promise of a better life for everyone, especially the poor and the previously disadvantaged. What unfolded in the 20 years post apartheid has been described by many as a reversal of the apartheid rolls with the white man now sitting at the back of the bus. Under the ruse of freedom and democracy policies where slowly set in place to ensure that Black economic empowerment would benefit but a small handful of prominent black families while the rest would remain in shacks to be manipulated time and time again to vote for the party which kept promising great things, but subsequently never delivered them due to the statistical impossibility of the nature of their lies.

Now, after 20 years, as we bury the father of democracy of the new South Africa, and as we bow our heads in respect and honor of his great ideals we also cannot help but feel a sense of disappointment that he did not have a few more years to see his ideals come to fruition, particularly since so many of the ideals he had spent most of his life in prison for are now being trampled by corrupt officials and misguided policies set in place to enrich the already wealthy and rob the poor of the chance to create a better life for their families.

         

As I stood watching the coffin slowly being towed past me on a canon carriage at Qunu the other day, I could not help but feel that along with Nelson Mandela we are also burying the hope of our wonderful nation. Goodbye unity, goodbye prosperity and goodbye freedom. I could not help but feel that the end of happier times were not too far in our future. Yet as I drove back home after the ceremony I saw so many people along the way waving at our big luxury bus with the SA NAVY print on the side, and so many small children happily running and mock marching along the road that it somehow gave me a glimmer of hope that we might still have a shot at democratic prosperity. I believe we can do it, if we can remember what it means to be free, to be fair, and to be one nation. Thanks to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, our Madiba, we may continue to strive for a better tomorrow with a fairer dispensation for all the people of this rainbow nation. Although we are all different and separated by culture and colour, when we come together we can signify the power of our diversity, and with that in mind we can keep the hope alive that more real South Africans are trying to make a positive contribution in South Africa to make our land a better, safer home for our children.

As a Soldier, still after 20 years of service I wish to serve this wonderful Country with its multitudes of poor people, whose rights I feel obligated to protect. As a soldier I feel proud today to say that I have served with honor under Mr Nelson Mandela, and will continue to serve with that same honor under the government of the day until I retire, and I can say this because I believe that the integrity that make the Defense Force worthy of respect is not determined by a single Commander in Chief, but it is determined by me, the soldier, how I honor my code of conduct, the constitution of the country, and how I respect my own role in the SANDF of South Africa today. 

Anonymous South African soldier

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