A wide-eyed South African conscript relates his small share of the war in Angola and Namibia in the 1980s. This is not the usual military history, written by a commander armed with facts, nor a researched story of a war or campaign.
It is a personal experience. Being brutally honest it will resonate not only with readers of all things military but also with a wider literary audience, for its poetic prose and subtle sentiments, and for its entertaining narrative. It may thus be of interest not only to the South African men who were there, but to their women who were left behind, and to all men and women anywhere. It is a book by a non-warrior dumped into a war, which nevertheless provides vivid alternative first-hand accounts whose validity cannot simply be brushed aside by professional historians.
Descriptive writing takes readers right into the colourful past, into action and into personal interactions. Notes made at the time preserve intimate details of what it was like to be a White South African during Apartheid, and the surprisingly humane culture within its small but effective White-led Army. Dialogue is remembered verbatim as is the unique jargon and profanity of the time, with English translations where Afrikaans is spoken. After a brief life background the narrative moves chronologically through two years of military training, deployment, combat and demobilisation, with comments on the human effect of these experiences. The result is a compelling time capsule: the South African Defence Force ceased to exist in 1994 when South Africa began its non-racial democracy. Surprisingly, because it was a humane army it was a good one. This is not just a liberal attitude. It meant that when a thing needed doing, it was done conscientiously and thoroughly, with thought for secondary effects. It was a dangerous opponent to have, inflicting maximum casualties where this was necessary, but when the need passed, it switched easily to a humanitarian purpose.
There was much lost that being unique (and laudable) in the Old South African culture and in its Army's approach and attitude, is fascinating today.
Paperback, 208 pages. Published 2017.