welcome to war, now go out and die

‘One day I began a relationship with a fellow being on the Border – a Southwest desert gecko. She was pure white, with scales on her body. Later I realised that she was pregnant – that’s how I knew she was female. She was my best friend on the Border. She was tiny when I found her amongst my tent bags on the ground, but she soon grew large. I tamed her by stroking her head and body. Anyone else would have found her hideous, so I kept her absolutely secret.

‘And then one evening, just before I turned to the States (that is South Africa), I came upon her dying in front of the Ops Room, where she lay pregnant and dying near my tent. It broke me more than all the death I had seen in the war. I will never forget it – it will never leave me. I kept her warm in my bed, and the next day I buried the ugly, swollen creature next to my tent. I think a bit of my soul went into her grave with her.’

I’m reading a secret burden: memories of the Border War by South African soldiers who fought in it. It was compiled and edited by Karen Batley who waited many years before she could find a publisher, such is the unease and discomfort felt when remembering those battles on Namibian and Angolan soil. The book makes you think about the individual young men who fought for the South African Defence Force as fodder for the National Party, and not simply ‘those bastard Afrikaners’ (just as those American soldiers sent to Iraq are largely, victims of the mad Republicans). The book’s making me rethink my responses to those South Africans I’ve met who have joked with me about their time on the border, and who repulsed me in that moment of conversation. How much choice do young men (and some women) have, really?

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6 thoughts on “welcome to war, now go out and die

  1. Hi

    I looked up the blog and appreciate what you say. As you have seen, there are many who don’t laugh, so the poetry must be heard and read.
    K

  2. I’d like to read all of it Karen, even the material you had to edit out. The diary of Cuito Cuanavale, in particular, has got my mind buzzing.

  3. I was one of the “fodder for the National Party” – soldiers and I can assure you that while the war in Angola (and the border war) was perhaps futile and unjust, it was not as if it was for the National Party. It occurred with (for the most part) full backing from the West and was wholly part of the Cold War.
    I spoke to 3 soldiers with British accents in Angola in 1987.
    Also the earlier war in 1975, when South African troops apparently came with sight of Luanda, was with Western backing, and when the Americans withdrew their blessing, Luanda was not attacked.

    You might say it was a battle for whiteness.

    What kind of mental block would you call your denial of interests other than the National party? Perhaps the same kind of mental block that allows you, and British people in general, to generally speak as if the war against Iraq is an only an American and not also a British one?

  4. Oh dear, Alleman, I really think you misunderstand me here.
    First, to get the issue of Iraq out of the way. There may be British people who think the Iraq war is an American war. But I don’t know anyone who is British who thinks that. And you have chosen to pick with someone who was very active in the anti-war movements around that war. I even marched to parliament way after the British – and many foreigners living in the UK – had lost interest. I also did not invite a very old friend of mine to my wedding because he had voted in favour of the war. The idea that I don’t think the war is also British doing is absurd. I also marched despite BBC threats against its own staff to march. Of course Britain was and is part of the war in Iraq. Unless you are mixing with half-wits, I am amazed that you can think British people think otherwise.

    As for the border war Angola-Namibia (oops sorry South West Africa), I don’t think anywhere here have I suggested it was simply about the Nats and was not supported by the West. Of course it was. I was parodying the British mentality – of great hyprocrisy – towards the Afrikaners. If you haven’t understood that in the text, I’m sorry, but I can’t take responsibility for you deeply defensive position.

    Moreover, my affection for the book is obviously a clear sign of my own awareness of the nuances and complexities around war. Most people who get sent to fight for war are, IMHO, ‘fodder’. Some are willing, but many aren’t. And if you have read the book I have blogged here, you would get the impression that many of those fighting for the SADF didn’t want to be there.

    Oh Alleman. It’s kind of hilarious that you accuse me of being patriotic. You couldn’t meet someone more critical of the British and the British government than me.

    Oh well….

  5. I did misread you – and I’m sorry about that. My expectations somehow predetermined what I understood – how embarrasing.
    As for British people and Iraq, it is not that they would deny the basic facts, but when they assign blame, they mostly talk about the Neocons.

  6. Moreover, the woman who compiled the book blogged here is a British woman, not an Afrikaner. She was the one who did so much to compile the thoughts and poems of mainly (but not only) young Afrikaner soldiers.

    But thanks for your apology.

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