The Army Chronicles: Basics
subsequent deployment to 61 Mechanized Battalion. They started their National Service as boys,
but finished as men.
“Are you ready for this?” my mother asked.
I looked at her sun weathered face and the light of the early morning sun that glistened in
her soft orange coloured hair.
I sighed. “Not really, but I don’t have a choice.”
That much was true, I didn’t. The government made two years national service compulsory
and failure to adhere to your military call up resulted in jail time. I had no desire to go to jail and
had no ambitions to make a political statement.
Every year government officials visited every high school, and all boys that turned sixteen
that year had to register. There was no place to hide, and no getting away from it, unless
something serious was wrong with you.
The previous year was my final year of school and I merrily plotted my future career as a
journalist, when I received the big brown envelope in the mail. The moment I saw the
“OFFICIAL – CONFIDENTIAL” stamped on it, I knew it contained my call up papers.
On Monday morning the second of February 1987 at 07:00, I had to report at Sturrock Park
situated inside Wits University, for the start of my two years National Service.
I haven’t yet fully recovered from my eighteenth birthday party two days earlier, and at
that moment I wasn’t sure if the hollow feeling in my stomach was a result of the after affects of
the party, or if it was a nervous reaction. I was the only one from my school that was called to 1
South African Infantry Battalion based in Bloemfontein, and to be honest, I did not look forward
I opened the backdoor of my mother’s silver Audi and retrieved my kit bag from the back
seat. The letter said, only essentials and I hoped my idea of essentials matched theirs. When I
closed the door, I caught a glimpse of my tall lanky frame in the reflection of the window. My
dusty blond hair blew around in the fresh early morning breeze. I heard how short a haircut in the
army was, so in the two months since I finished school, I let mine grow. My father called me a
mop head but I failed to see the resemblance.
My mother was a short woman and she had to stretch to place her hands on the sides of my
face. There was sadness in her voice.
“Please look after yourself,” she pleaded.
I gave a wry smile and asked, “Don’t I always?”
Before we left the house, she promised she wouldn’t cry, but she couldn’t help it. I saw the
tears silently running down her cheeks. She was my mother and through the years had earned the
right to have that moment.
I used my thumb to wipe a tear away and said, “Mom, I’ll be alright.”
She smiled at me. “I know.”
From the day I received my call up papers, my father and uncles took great joy in sharing
their own army stories with me, which, quite frankly, filled me with horror. None of them were
in the infantry, so I hoped desperately that my stories would turn out to be better. They told me
the army experience would make me man, but at eighteen, I wasn’t quite ready to be a man yet.
Besides, I had a sneaky suspicion that the army and I had different ideas of what it took to be a