Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Less than a year after I completed two years' military conscription in June, 1981, I was called up again - this time to do a month camp with the East London-based Kaffrarian Rifles near Komga. Komga is a small town not far from the Kei River, which now formed the border between South Africa and the supposedly independent Republic of Transkei. It seems the SA authorities were terrified that ANC or PAC guerillas would be crossing the "border" from the Transkei into SA, so this had to be patrolled. Fortunately I had sustained a perforated eardrum after a tiff and, after seeing a Komga doctor, was given the task of manning the phone tent.

Back to basics. Having lived in tents for three months in Ladysmith during basic training in 1979, I was back doing the same thing three years later.

I suspect this is the tent I was based in, which was close to a public phone booth no doubt set up especially for the troops on duty. I had a field telephone with me and whenever a call came through, I had to ring the okes deeper in the camp a few hundred metres away and they'd call whoever was being sought. At least that's how I remember it. Mostly I just remember lying around all day, reading. It was here that I digested The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

This seems to be a view from inside a tent towards a group of okes doing, well, nothing. Hanging around waiting. That looks like a water truck on the right.

Unlike Kimberley, my last military "home", there was lots of vegetation in this area. Had I been a bird-watcher then, I might have spotted some good ones, but I was not. This could well be a view of the toilet tent, a delightful set-up comprising rows of long-drop loos. So you'd literally share the tent, or was it two joined?, with others while doing your business. I can't recall whether there was any soap and water to wash your hands afterwards. It seems unlikely.

Another view of the dense vegetation of the area. I recall it being incredibly cold - around July - and having to shave with icy water in a fire bucket and a tiny steel hand-held mirror. There were no basins, so brushing your teeth was equally difficult. Evening showers were in a sort of mobile set-up through which you walked starkers, did your hurried ablutions, and then moved on. A bit like going into the gas chambers, I suspect, only less lethal.

This single line on poles may have been for the field phone, or just for the phone booth next to which I spent my time.

In those pre-cellphone days, the public phone was the troops' only contact with family for a month. Here telephone lines form a bold part of the composition.

Ah, the phone booth, as seen from inside my tent, which I might have shared with someone else, though I can't recall.

A happy customer. One of the many okes I would hear pouring out their hearts on that phone. Remember many of these okes were older than me, with young families. It was a miserable disruption of one's life. My girlfriend at the time, Anne, through contacts at her work, bravely slept over in a "coloured" settlement nearby one weekend, and was able to pick me up for a brief break from the tedium, as we travelled down to Morgan's Bay for a few hours.

This is yours truly reflected in the glass door of that phone booth. Note the words "Push-Stoot".

With so little around to provide any visual stimulus, I was forced to delve into the intricacies of nature, such as in this detailed drawing of a tree trunk.

Or, on this occasion I drew some oke's hand on the edge of a mattress.

Or this pet rock became a subject worth drawing. It was a huge thing.

And why not sketch the notorious fire bucket, alongside an apple? I can't, however, work out where they are standing.

Another direction looked, another tree drawn.

Finally, a little bit of life. This cat seems to have paid a brief visit.

This lazy sketch of a soldier with a Naafi beret and equally un-paraat rolled up sleeves seems to sum up my attitude to the military. The first in a long haul of "camps" which tormented me during the 1980s, was finally over.

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