Every white South African boy knew he was going to the military after school. There was not much of a choice, You could join the Police or even the Railway Police for 3 years instead of the two in the military. I don’t think anyone in my circles went that route, Refusing to do conscription lead to jail.
Deferments were available to those that were studying but even they would end up doing conscription eventually. This is my story of the two years I enjoyed but would never want to do again.
Way back in 1981, we were all 15 years old about to turn 16 or had just turned 16 in the last 6 months or so. In class we were handed forms to fill out. These forms were issued by the National Party Government of PW Botha.
These forms were to register for National Service. Without them the government wouldn’t know that we were almost of an age where military conscription could happen. This even happened in schools right across the country.
Soon after ths event I turned 16 and left school to find a job. There were a number of reasons for this. This story is not about that, you will need to wait for another book to read all about that. I was not a big fellow. At 16 I was four foot eight and weighed 48kg. At 17 I was still four foot eight and weighed 48kg.
During 1982 I was waiting for an apprenticeship opening and was driving an overhead crane at the Elandsfontein yard of the South African Railways, but this story is not about driving cranes.
Soon after my seventeenth birthday I was called home, because there was post for me. This post was an invitation to join the military. I use invitation in its broadest sense, This was not something you could RSVP to, You couldn’t say: “Sorry I am washing my hair that day” I talked about the options available earlier, there was one other option, you could get on a plane and leave the country for good.
In my house we didn’t do political discussion, Mom was much too busy earning a living. At school we didn’t talk politics, I don’t think most kids my age even understood politics as the only information we got was from the press and according to them everything was A OK. As a good South African kid I chose to do my duty.
I knew very little about the military, My mate Piet was in the army and he didn’t like it much. Piet spent almost 4 years doing his national service because he missed home and would take a pass without permission. He should have joined the Stasie Blompotte (Railway Police), he would have had a shorter conscription and less trouble.
My cousin Punchy had been killed the year before. I was apprehensive but did not question authority. Back then nobody questioned authority, not in my circles anyway. We were brought up to respect our elders and to bow to their wisdom.
At most schools throughout the country Cadets would march around the rugby fields once a week, we raised the flag at school and sung the National anthem. We were taught to have pride in our flag, our country and our ancestors. I had last marched in standard 7. Edenvale High School did not have cadets as I recall.
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