Bureaucracy

I was still living in South Africa when I found an 87th Precinct book that I had not read. In it I came across this passage that I thought was just so apt in relation to the drama I had recently gone through in order to have some plans registered at my local municipality.

While I did not have to purchase a postal order I DID have to go to the lift, down three floors, go out of that building and through security then walk around the civic centre offices to the rates hall – several hundred metres. There I had to stand in a queue to make my payment and make sure I got a receipt to take back to where I had started. I then had to go down the passage for the second part of this procedure and lo and behold they ALSO needed a payment, and they ALSO were unable to take payment.  I am sure we have all had experiences that this scenario might fit. 


In this city, ten people were necessary to do the job of one person.

What this city did was hire high school dropouts, put them in suits and then teach them how to greet the public with blank stares on their faces.

In this city, if you needed a copy of, say, your birth certificate or your driver’s licence, you stood in line for an hour and half while some nitwit pretended to be operating a computer. When he or she finally located what you were there for, you had to go over to the post office and stand in line for another hour and a half to purchase a money order to pay for it.

That was because in this city, municipal employees weren’t allowed to accept cash, personal cheques or credit cards. This was because the city fathers knew the calibre of the people who were featherbedding throughout the entire system, knew that cash would disappear in a wink, knew that credit cards would be cloned, knew that personal cheques would somehow end up in private bank accounts hither and yon.

That’s why all those people behind municipal counters gave you such hostile stares.

They were angry at the system because they couldn’t steal from it. Or maybe they were pissed off because they couldn’t qualify for more lucrative jobs like security officers at any of the city’s jails, where an ambitious man could earn a goodly amount of unreportable cash by smuggling in dope to the inmates.

Quoted from The Last Dance by Ed McBain – an 87th Precinct novel
Ed McBain is a pen name used by Evan Hunter (The Blackboard Jungle, Privileged Conversation)

Antenna – again

I first learned about antennas on my National Service signals course in the period December 1964 to February 1965 (that I mentioned in another post). I then did two further courses – my Regular Army Class 3 course followed by a Class 2 upgrade course some years later. In addition, I not only had to USE this knowledge in practical applications in the field but I also had to instruct on communications.

In order for people to understand that antenna size is dictated by the frequency that is being used we would do a lecture titled THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FREQUENCY AND WAVELENGTH.

As part of this course we would do simple calculations at different frequencies. This was so that the class could have some basic understanding of why different antennas would be found in use with different types of radio according the frequency band in which that radio operated.

Without belabouring the point, the basic calculation for a WAVELENGTH is 300 divided by the frequency in MEGAHERTZ (MHz) that would give a measurement in METRES.

Very simply at a frequency of 10 MHz the full wavelength would be 30 metres.

Very simple diagram of an open dipole for HF use

At those low High Frequencies* (HF) we used what are termed HALF WAVE DIPOLES and we calculated a quarter wavelength because the radiating element of the antenna would be a half wavelength overall with a quarter wavelength on either side of the feed cable (see the simple diagram).

*(Sounds like a contradiction in terms but is correct and quite a long subject to address)

Now, in about 2005 t0 2010 I found myself regularly doing orientation lectures, where I worked in South Africa, for new staff so that they might gain SOME degree of understanding of two-way radio industry equipment.

I was doing my calculation (which we in Rhodesia had shortened somewhat) and I told the class that to calculate a quarter wavelength they needed to use the standard of 75 over the frequency in MHz – writing it out and showing the result for 10MHz as 7.5 metres. Before I could finish a radio technician (should I use that term advisedly?) who was sitting in “just for interest” interjected that that formula was WRONG.

I invited him to call out what I should do and he said that I needed to use 300 over the frequency and then divide by 4 and as I followed his instruction and it became obvious that this longer method was going to give the same result I noticed the man heading for the door – while the people in the class started to smile.

“Where did you learn that?”, about all manner of communications-related matters was a question I was quite used to and always delighted in replying “In the Army, in Rhodesia, in 1964” which by then was 40-plus years previously.

Really?

I was looking at a news report the other day and found this gem of a leader:

XYZ posted photographs taken by XYZ photographer John Doe showing commuters hanging out of trains and even hanging onto the roofs in their desperation to reach their destination on Facebook.

…and I wondered about the destination on Facebook that they could be headed for. 

Grammar and punctuation matter so this would have been better perhaps…

XYZ posted photographs on Facebook, taken by XYZ photographer John Doe, showing commuters hanging out of trains and even hanging onto the roofs in their desperation to reach their destination.

 

Proofing and Editing

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Poor grammar, punctuation and spelling, which is not everyone’s particular strength, can damage the credibility of any offering. Generally unnoticed by many there will be those for whom such inaccuracies will be important when deciding on the credibility of what is being offered.  

EriktheReady also writes, proofreads and edits INSTRUCTIONS.
The great majority of instructions appear to be written by the creators of the product. Products with which they are intimately involved and that they use intuitively. In-house jargon, and the assumption that the buyer knows things (…everyone knows that…?) can be seriously confusing to the purchaser using the product for the first time.

Good examples are:
•Electronics – when the instructions assume the user KNOWS to save each step and the instructions do not clearly state how to do this (press MENU, for example).
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ABOUT EriktheReady’s
    …proof reading, editing and instructional experience.

I have always enjoyed writing and have an eye for detail.

During my time as proof reader for a typesetting company my accuracy and careful work was rated excellent and it was something I enjoyed doing.  I, and the company, received many compliments from clients after I spotted errors and suggested rewrites.

As part of my military service I was taught to instruct and compile instructions in an environment where peoples’ lives could depend on the accuracy of the instructions.

As a civilian I have been required to do proofing and editing for my employers and write instructions on equipment supplied to our customers. This was in addition to delivering lectures on the equipment we supplied – both in-house and to clients.

The EriktheReady focus is be on the use of simple, expressive phrasing that can be understood and appreciated by anyone who uses the English language. I am confident that a top notch service is always provided.

Here are two reviews posted to my FaceBook page by two of my clients – the first, Anita, is in Santiago, Chile.

13 March

Thank you for your patience and engagement to my projects as if they were your own. 

Check out the website: http://kumiko.co

Masaya Nagayasu reviewed Erik The Ready5 star

13 June at 10:39

For more information, contact erik@eriktheready.com

Demands and tragedy at Marikana

In 2013 an incident occurred at Marikana, a mine in the North West province of South Africa. There was much discussion of the matter (and still is for that matter) and left and right wing takes on it passed blame around like the proverbial hot potato. I was in the habit of writing to the press at the time and drafted my comments but various things, including the death of my wife at the time, intervened and the draft has languished on my computer.  My comments on tactics are based on my own training, reading and common sense.

I believe the Marikana matter has still not been properly resolved and probably never will be.

In my opinion the overweening power of the unions and the misinformation that they allow their members to be fed is largely to blame as is the poor handling of the operation by mostly untrained and inexperienced police. Of course the management of the mining house did not come out entirely squeaky-clean either. Altogether a debacle but here, for what it is worth, is my take on the matter as written in 2013…for those interested I suggest a web search for Marikana/Marikana killings and similar. (I have added one or two explanatory asides for the wider audience)


Firstly, long before we get to strikes and protests there is the matter of free choice in the job you choose to take.

Having looked for work and chosen to be a miner you knew what the remuneration was to be and you can’t, and should not be allowed to, suddenly demand that you want double pay.

When you took the job you knew the nature of your responsibilities in respect of family and home. It seems though, that if you are in a unionised environment where the union has overwhelming representation it is accepted that once you are in you can behave as you please. You can do just enough to avoid any serious sanction against yourself. You know that you are fire-proof in terms of current legislation that is so skewed towards labour that it loses sight of the requirements of good business practice.

It is in this environment that DEMANDS are born. Not reasoned requests or applications at appropriate times but savage demands backed up with brutalising behaviour.

Notwithstanding the above it appears that the employer in this case was clumsy in their handling of certain issues around pay. Furthermore, they, the mining house, should still shoulder the blame for not being sensitive to what is going on within its organisation and they should have been in a position to respond or even pre-empt the escalation of the matter. That they remained obdurate when the situation started to deteriorate and the first deaths occurred is shameful.

Before proceeding to my next point – journalists please note:

There were NO machine guns on site. There were semi-automatic rifles (probably in 5.56mm) and semi-automatic 9mm pistols – NO machine guns so learn the difference in the interests of accurate reporting.

As to the reaction of the police it appears that poor training and even poorer leadership – on the ground and all the way to the top – is to blame and not the men on the spot. Bear in mind that they had seen not only the bodies of two of their own men who had been killed and brutalised with pangas but also the bodies of similarly mutilated miners. These now fearful individuals may quite reasonably have felt: “If they could do that to their own people then what could any police member expect”.

Oh and why would the rioters attack fellow-miners? Perhaps those miners had tried to be reasonable – comment has been made that a moderate voice on that hillock would have got short shrift – or were they denounced by a sangoma (witch-doctor in common parlance)? Maybe an opportunity to take care of a grudge presented itself?

It appears that among the police were a fairly large number of poorly trained, nervous people concerned that what had happened to their colleagues might happen to them – bluntly these were armed, jittery men who were, in military slang, SHIT SCARED, without experience or appropriate training for the situation.

When, on film, I saw the miners burst out of the bush a moment before the police opened fire I got a fright – and I was only watching a film!

Notice that the FIRST reaction of a number of the police was to run AWAY from the oncoming charge. Only on hearing the firing of those who stood fast did they turn and add their fire to the fusillade. Well trained men do not run and certainly do not fire from BEHIND the firing line endangering their comrades. Press photos also appear to show some members ducking away behind their colleagues – or could that have been when the first shots came from the rioters – something one gets the distinct impression is being denied or suppressed?

A good riot control squad would firstly have had disciplined, trained and respected section leaders in control. NO-ONE would have opened fire without a clear instruction and that instruction does not seem to have been given on the evidence presented.

The first volley might have been birdshot, or similar, designed to hurt and break up the charge. And the sharp pain of such incapacitating ammunition would have dispelled any thoughts of muti protection actually working! (muti protection being some kind of charm – even an oil or ointment – given by the sangoma [witch-doctor] that the users are told – and which they believe – will make them immune to the bullets/weapons of the police – this practice and belief has been seen a lot among terrorists in Africa).

Only if the charge could not be broken should high velocity ammunition have been used and then it should have been controlled and aimed and not been a random volley of shots. Stop the leaders, break the charge. Of course the main instigators hang back and send a few fierce, ill-considered firebrands to lead the charge so it would be no surprise to learn that not one of the dead will be identified as a leader or instigator.

All the repeated cease fire calls also point to belated attempts to stop a panic reaction.

But I am on the side of the police here – the poor buggers who should have been properly trained and led. Well trained police and soldiers are not fearless but they are disciplined and work as a team. Through continuous training and discipline they learn to trust each other and their leaders and they understand the dynamics of situations because they were trained for them.

Furthermore, it is no good having a nucleus of a few well-trained individuals and padding it out with poorly trained and inexperienced members – there is going to be no trust and no cohesion.

Just giving the police military ranks was not going to magically endow them with the appropriate training or ability either.

Had the specialised paramilitary reaction units, trained for such situations, been maintained it may well have been a different matter. Even this is debatable with the decreasing standards that are evident everywhere.

Antenna – the mid-60s

In my recent post about Exercise Long Drag I made mention of the G5RV dipole antenna.

A simple dipole in the field. The earth stake would to earth the RADIO

This antenna was invented by Louis Varney in 1942. He was a British amateur and his call sign was G5RV. There is a brief resume here  http://www.msars.org.uk/fa1.html and a Google search will find more of the same. (take care not to get confused by the composer with the same name!)

There are several variants of the antenna and with some variants it is suggested that an antenna tuner should/can be used.

Without getting too technical – I will leave that to the boffins – the variant that we used had the standard 51 foot (15.5m) radiating elements and the feeder was a 34 foot (10.3m) 300 ohm TV tape tail with a further 5m x 72 ohm tail to the radio equipment. Because the 72 ohm was usually twin ripcord with no connector one had to be fairly creative to make the connection to the radio equipment. We did not use a balun at the junction of feeder and radiating elements.

We never used the G5RV with an antenna tuner and only used it for a while with the C14 radios. I believe some units used the antenna for quite a while though because it was fairly broad band. I can’t help thinking we should have learned more about the antenna and persevered with it.

How it came about was that (then WO2) Bob Jones, Tp SM of K Troop, 2 Brigade, was a radio amateur (Callsign ZE1BF) and he learned about the antenna through his radio amateur contacts and the radio amateur literature of the day. (I seem to recall that originally the story fed to us was that it was a Zambian amateur who invented it but it may have been that the Zambian connection was merely a member of the amateur radio fraternity).

Bob suggested to our Troop Comd, who was a WO1, that we try the antenna as a quick and convenient ready-made solution to deploying our new C14 radios. The idea was put forward to Army HQ (Signals) who gave them the nod.

The antenna were a great success although, of course, some puritans disdained them. Bob Jones (and Louis Varney) never got any recognition from Army HQ…someone did – but not them!

I will touch on antenna – which we learned about in considerable detail on our signals operators courses – in other posts.

 

Exercise Long Drag

In August 1965 less than a year after my basic training as a national serviceman and now a regular soldier I was deployed on Exercise Long Drag. I was, by this time, posted to K Troop, HQ 2 Brigade.

This exercise was the culmination of the retraining of the RLI from a light infantry role to a commando role and was to be probably the biggest exercise that the Rhodesian Army would hold before things became VERY REAL.

I was supplied with a C14 HF SSB radio and tasked with providing communications for the exercise’ umpire net. Mounted in a Land Rover this was the latest piece of kit in Rhodesian Signals and was a powerful, 100 watts PEP, 4 channel radio (8 channels effectively if you take the sidebands into account). I was attached to the SAS headquarters detachment who were to represent the ENEMY for this exercise. Major Dudley Coventry was the CO of the SAS and for this exercise he was provided with a new Toyota Land Cruiser pickup and the alias of FUNGAYI SING, leader of the infiltrating forces.

Major Coventry (picture from internet)

Major Coventry, an experienced veteran of Malaya and other conflicts, was one of those LARGER THAN LIFE characters with a flamboyant grey moustache and was respected and very well-liked by everyone who ever served with him. To suit the persona of his dodgy terrorist character he had fitted himself out with a headscarf similar to what one would have imagined Lawrence of Arabia wearing.

One of our earlier stops, at the beginning of the exercise was in the Lion’s Den area on a remote farm where we were visited by the Prime Minister, Ian Smith, who flew in on an Alouette helicopter. After a chat with the officers he went around to everyone in the camp and greeted us all, asking for a name here and there. A thorough gentleman completely without pretension.

Another memorable thing about that layup was that I shared a bivvy with one of the SAS men. I think his name was something like Erasmus (??) and that he was from a Rhodesian Afrikaner family. He was about my own age (19 at the time) and he made us one of the best rice puddings I have ever eaten – using only the ingredients of our 24-hour ration packs with the addition of some raisins that he said he never went to the bush without.

In those days I think our rat packs were the best ever (not that they were ever NOT good) and we got big tubes of condensed milk in them. Youngsters who had never been camping or in the bush would sometimes pack their rations badly and end up with condensed-milk flavoured clothing when the tubes ruptured in their pack! No fun if you were going to be in the bush for a while.

We moved on and proceeded along back roads, and sometimes the main road, making our way to the Karoi area where we drove off down a dirt road leading west and north in the general direction of Lake Kariba. After some time, we went completely off road and laid up in an area of bush that was pretty remote.

The exercise now being in full swing I found that the G5RV dipole antenna I had been given to use had no PL259 connector for the antenna socket. I used some matches to jam the ends of the antenna into the socket and rim of the connector and established communications strength five.

Contrary to some stories I have heard, the G5RV amateur antenna had actually been suggested by our Troop SM, Bob Jones, who was a radio amateur with the call sign ZE1-BF. I believe Bob had used the antenna himself with great success. G5RV was the British amateur call sign of Louis Varney the man who invented the antenna in 1942.  

I am not sure how long we stayed based-up in that location but, by probably the morning of the third day (having been there now for at least two nights), I recall that C Sgts Jock Hutton and Geordie Wright (both already legendary figures in the Rhodesian Army) were constantly on the Major’s case to move or we would be compromised. Major Coventry was supremely confident that we had arrived where we were without being noted by anyone and that we would not be found before we could move on and continue to elude the searchers.

About mid-afternoon that day I answered the call of nature with shovel in hand (I think I was unarmed because of being with the umpires). Casting around for a few minutes I reckoned no one could see me from camp, dug a scrape and relieved myself. After covering the evidence, I walked back into the camp.

An hour or so passed and shortly before last light BANG, FLASH, RRRRAATTATATA and much yelling heralded our camp being overrun without the slightest retaliation. I think Maj Coventry and his men were suitably embarrassed and it must have been hard for his senior NCOs not to play the I told you so game. Not so the RLI sticks that had overrun us so easily. They were absolutely jubilant. A rather chagrined, but always magnanimous, Major Coventry congratulated the RLI chaps on a job well done.

As part of the exercise pseudo TERRORIST FLYERS had been distributed in the area. A farmer had seen the Major and his distinctive vehicle and reported the sighting. This had given the SECURITY FORCES (read RLI) the general direction in which to patrol and search.

That evening we were all friends and all on the same side again and there was much chat and laughter around the fires (no longer a need to remain clandestine). It turned out that I had nearly been captured to silence me – which would also have meant the RLI springing their assault somewhat earlier. I squirmed with embarrassment when told, amid gales of laughter, of being observed only a couple of metres from the RLI forward scouts, having a shit!

The exercise was continuing down in the valley and along the shores of the lake. The SAS detachment and Maj Coventry were now tasked with carrying out ENEMY PATROLS to try to infiltrate the RLI protected area. I took part in one such patrol and was well and truly KILLED about two or three times. One memorable occasion was when the borrowed SLR rifle I was using jammed solid – just to embarrass me – on the blanks we had been issued and I was unable to clear it!

The exercise carried on for about another week and was deemed an unqualified success.

Joining the army part four

National service – first phase continued 3

“Does anyone want to join the regular army?” the instructor asked.

Two of us immediately stepped forward.

“Why do you want to join up?” the instructor asked me. I replied that I had always wanted to and I had a number of friends in the regular army. I had been turned down when I applied in 1963 but I now felt that as I was being trained I wanted to try again.

I due course I was marched in to see the OC A Coy (I think it was Major Willar). He posed much the same question and put me at my ease by sitting me down to tell him my story.

I explained to him that I had tried to join the army at the end of 1963 but had been turned down because of my eyesight. At his prompt I added that I felt that if I could be shot at as a spectacles-wearing short-sighted territorial or NS soldier then surely it made no difference if I was a regular and besides, my friend Graham in RLI signals troop was equally short-sighted.

“So where do you want to go if you join the regular army?” and I replied that I wanted the RLI signals troop.

I don’t really remember what happened then but a few signals must have gone between Army HQ and DRRR because when the intake was being split up into the various specialty training groups I was in some kind of limbo – not having been allocated anywhere yet. I was called in and told that while a decision was being made I would be temporarily put into the RPs (Regimental Police) – where I was to languish for about ten days.

A new intake arrived during this time and I was with the MEET AND GREET party of RPs at Heany Junction. With great enthusiasm we started cursing and swearing at these new recruits in exactly the way we had been welcomed on OUR arrival – doubling the men here and there (being bloody bullies actually, on the premise that WE had been subject to this shit so….)

Imagine our surprise when we were taken aside and told that we were to moderate our language and not make the men run until they had all had their medicals…WHAT A DOUBLE STANDARD we muttered. As to the swearing we were admonished that there had been complaints from parents…we were gobsmacked that some youngsters could have snivelled to their parents.

I was in the guard room one day and heard a woman shouting outside. Keeping a low profile I looked out and saw that there was a woman BERATING the guard – in fairly robust language – for not saluting her and for not opening the boom – forcing her to stop her car.

C Sgt Gregan who was in charge of the RPs came out and spoke to the woman.

“Madam” he reminded her, “you are not a serving member of the Army nor are you an officer. As such you are NOT entitled to the courtesies accorded to such rank” (or words to that effect, as we used to say when framing a charge sheet). The woman was apopletic but the C Sgt went on and told her that the boom guards were merely doing their duty and following the orders of the CO of the Depot. One such order was that ALL VEHICLES will stop at the boom and the drivers will identify themselves before being allowed to proceed.

With some further rather startling invective the woman drove off vowing to have the RPs, and the C Sgt in particular, sorted out.

It may have been later that day or the next morning an officer came down to the guardhouse and spoke to C Sgt Gregan. He apologised if his wife had been rude (knowing of course that she had been) and assuring the C Sgt that he understood perfectly that the men had acted in accordance with standing orders. We suspected that Colour Gregan having a talk with the RSM about the matter may have had a lot to do with this apology. The clerks in HQ confirmed that it had started with bluster from the officer, a visit to the CO by both the officer and the RSM and a somewhat subdued officer leaving to speak to the NCO in charge of RPs.

A few days later C Sgt Gregan came into our quarters and told me to pack my kit. I was then driven down to Brady Barracks, on the outskirts of Bulawayo, and handed over the the School of Signals where I was to join the Regimental Signals course that the Intake 70 men had started nearly ten days previously.

I did not have too much trouble catching up and enjoyed learning voice procedure, basic electricity and battery charging, radio set handling, line and field telephones and – MORSE CODE and procedure. It was unfortunate that we were taught morse code in a way that some of us found difficult as the speed increased but we managed to pass it anyway.

At the end of the course I think I was in the top three (maybe I came first – I really don’t remember) and while everyone was getting ready to go home I was summoned to the School of Signals offices.

“Do you still want to join the Corps of Signals” asked the adjutant.
“No sir, I want to go to RLI signals”.

Looking at my records he commented on my excellent results as well as the results of my aptitude tests and said, “You can join the Regular Army, Corps of Signals, or you can NOT join the regular army at all.”

I accepted the ultimatum, not realising at the time that THEY wanted ME and that he probably did not have the authority to make that deal – to coerce me really. Anyway, a signal would have been sent to expect me at recruiting in Salisbury.

I attested into the Rhodesian Regular Army, Corps of Signals, on the fifth of March, 1965 – a few days after completing my national service – fourteen months after the dissolution of Federation and a mere eight months before UDI (the Unilateral Declaration of Independence) that was to take place on 11 November 1965.

The Signals badge BEFORE Rhodesia declared itself a republic in 1970

As it was to turn out I think that it was the right thing for me to go to Signals because I suspect I would not have been a particularly successful infantryman.

Glossary of terms

Rhodesian Army

(Please offer corrections if I have made errors?)

Glossary of army terms, ranks and abbreviations – some not covered here will be annotated as they appear in my recollections. Hopefully this will help with reading the anecdotes but also make the reading flow more easily.
Not covered here are the equivalent NCO ranks used in the Artillery.

Ranks
(Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs), Warrant Officers and Officers)

Private soldier

Most admin and some infantry – Private (Pte)
Commando/special forces – Trooper (Tpr)
Corps of Signals – Signalman (Smn)
Corps of Engineers – Sapper (Spr)
Rhodesia Regiment – Rifleman (Rfn)

Lance Corporal (L Cpl)
Corporal (Cpl)
Sergeant (Sgt)
Colour Sergeant/Staff Sergeant (C Sgt / S Sgt – C Sgt only used by infantry/special forces)
Warrant Officer Class Two – (WOII / WO2, Sergeant Major, SM)
Warrant Officer Class One – (WOI / WO1– addressed as Sir or referred to as Mister)
Regimental Sergeant Major – (Almost always a WOI and referred to as RSM)
Second Lieutenant – 2Lt addressed as Lieutenant or Mister (and informally referred to as a subaltern (or subbie))
Lieutenant – Lt (subaltern 2Lt & Lt were also referred to as Mister)
Captain – Capt
Major – Maj
Lieutenant Colonel – Lt Col (addressed as Colonel)
Colonel – Col
Brigadier – Brig
Major General – Maj Genl (addressed/referred to  as General)
Lieutenant General – Lt Genl (addressed/referred to  as General)
General – Genl

Terms of address
All ranks up to C Sgt or S Sgt addressed warrant officers and officers as Sir.
WOs2 addressed WOs1 and officers as Sir.
WOs 1 Addressed officers as Sir.
Officers addressed any officer who was senior to them as Sir.

Appointments
Officer Commanding – OC (would normally be the officer who commanded a sub-unit smaller than a battalion – such as a company or troop commander. He would normally be a Major but could also be a Captain).
Commanding Officer – CO (would normally be the officer who commanded a battalion strength unit and was normally a Lt Col – sometimes a Major).
Commander – Comd – (this appointment was usually the command of a Brigade or similar sized unit and although normally a Brigadier it could also be a Colonel in command.
Various Corps such as Signals and Engineers had a Lt Col Commander based at Army HQ).
The head of the army was the Commander, Rhodesian Army.
Adjutant – a staff officer appointment, the Adjutant would usually be a senior Lt or Capt who worked closely with the CO to ensure the smooth running of a unit

Unit and sub-unit abbreviations
Troop – Tp
Platoon – Pl
Company – Coy
Commando – Cdo
Squadron – Sqn
Battalion – Bn
Brigade – Bde

Joining the army part three

National service – first phase continued 2
(Pictures used were mined from the internet. The butts are somewhere in England and there was no caption on the picture of the range. No harm is intended by the use of these pictures – they will be removed if so requested by copyright holder).

A lot has been written about basic training in the army – the Rhodesian Army as much as perhaps any other army so I will not harp on this aspect too much. Once weapons training had started things became a lot more interesting and serious with weapons safety being a point hammered into us at every turn.

A typical military range see where LOW shots have gouged at the mantlet in front of and below the numbers. The STOP BUTT is the higher mound BEHIND the targets.

Before going onto the range for the first time for live firing A Company was addressed by WO2 “Pinky” Mould, an ex Guardsman who always had a rather red face made worse by the african sun.

The butts, on an army shooting range, is the area below and immediately behind the mantlet (the raised berm from behind which the targets are hoisted). The much higher berm further back is called the STOP butt – for the obvious reason that it is meant to STOP the rounds that have been fired at the target. Every so often a stop butt would be MINED for the astonishing amount of metal from spent rounds that could be recovered from it and sold.

Toward the end of his briefing SM Mould instructed that the butts party must ensure that they patched every target properly. There was plenty of target patching glue, he said, but should one run out he off-handedly suggested semen be used, emphasising this with a well-practised flick from the region of his groin that resulted in a large gobbet of patching glue splatting onto the zeroing target in front of us. Among the ribald laughter one of the men was heard, and seen, vomiting! Poor sensitive soul was teased mercilessly every time we were on the range after that!

Sometimes a shooter would aim too low and the butts party would get a shower of sand and grit as the round ploughed across the top of the mantlet. One day such a round hit the top of a target frame and ricocheted in under the mantlet where I was sitting on butts duty and landed in the crook of my arm. The round was spent but it was still bloody hot! I still have that item among my bits and pieces somewhere.

Typical view of the BUTTS the mantlet on the right protects the butts party. Note the target frames with zeroing targets fitted

We did a lot of live firing with many of those from rural backgrounds showing better results and those of us not used to firearms struggling a bit – but we all became proficient and passed the training.

One day we were being taught to shoot from fire trenches – in front of each firing point there was a roughly four foot deep slit trench and we had to learn to load and fire from this cramped position.

In one of the squads was a young man from Cyprus whose English was not really up to scratch but who had been disdainful of the training with claims that he had been in the fighting in Cyprus as a guerrilla a few years earlier.

DOWN RANGE was the mantra – the rifle must ALWAYS POINT DOWN RANGE.

Our Cypriot had a stoppage while in the trench at the number one firing point and turned to call an instructor. As he did so the loaded rifle was turned to point down the line of foxholes, the instructor screamed at him and nineteen heads disappeared into their foxholes! SM Pinky Mould had been standing behind this man watching him with considerable distrust and he leapt forward, snatched the rifle and stomped the man down into the trench – all the time yelling at him in the choicest language (and he had an impressive vocabulary) about how stupid and careless he was.

The Cypriot was incensed and tried to go for the SM only to get clobbered and marched off to the guardhouse for a week in the RP (Regimental Police) cells.

This was several years before the mandatory issuing of ear defenders for range work and anyone caught with four by two (weapon cleaning rags) in their ears would be teased and vilified implying deficient masculinity. I am sure that some of the problems I have today with hearing higher frequencies stem from those days – especially during zeroing when the number of men on the firing line was doubled and the rifles on either side were about a metre away. Further range exercises and listening to noisy radios while wearing earphones in my first few years of service probably also contributed!

Some very mean, bullying tricks were played occasionally. There was a very slightly built chap (a first class bloke – let’s call him Mike – with whom I was to become friendly a few years later) who had been made pony master (he was in charge of the regimental mascot) but he still had to learn drill and shooting. One day on the range some smartarse turned Mike’s SLR gas regulator to zero while he was not looking.

The gas regulator controls the gasses from the fired round directing some of them to sharply push back a piston to automatically reload the weapon. Normally set to around position five, lower settings meant the recoil became increasingly, and unneccesarily, violent – not good for the weapon nor for the shooter.

Not noticing what had happened Mike took up his prone firing position but when he fired the weapon he let out a yell of agony and laid the rifle down. I think he may have had a cracked collar bone. He was horribly bruised around the shoulder area and in considerable pain – much to the amusement of the bullies behind the trick. (I think Sgt Annandale sorted them out though).

A few weeks later we were to fire the Sterling sub-machine gun and Mike, who probably only weighed about a hundred pounds or so, turned up with a pad of cloth around his shoulder (not knowing or believing that the nine millimetre Sterling had no recoil to speak of). When the SM spotted the padding he humiliated Mike by showing it off to all those on the firing line which I felt was rather unfair and poor Mike was so embarrassed.

Young and overwhelmed by all that was going on – and feeling sorry for Mike – many of us did not say anything but when we were asked why we were not laughing we had to smile weakly in order to BELONG – and not become targets ourselves.

In spite of these unsettling incidents I feel there was nothing particularly special about my initial training.

Grenade training was fun if only for the TERROR shown by some of the men – some of the BIG DEAL bullies at that! Many of the guys wanted to throw the grenade and run and had to be held UP by the scruff of the neck by the instructor and MADE to watch the grenade land. I watched my grenade roll to a stop but did not need the instructor to pull me into cover though! Years later I had to instruct some people on hand grenades and it was odd to observe the “students” from the perspective of the instructor – and have to be ready to grab the runners.

One morning before we were marched off for another round of drill we were asked by the instructor:
“Does anyone want to join the regular army?”….

Joining the army – part two

National service – first phase continued.

The people in my barrack room ranged in age from around 18 – like me – to the early-to-mid twenties. Some of the older young men had been to university or been overseas but inevitably the call-up had netted them.

A few smug individuals had older relatives who had completed their call-up. They had, variously and through these relatives or friends, obtained boots that were highly BONED, brasses that had been squared and buffed for them and some even had mess tins and so on that had been CHROMED so that they merely had to wipe them for inspection and could use their issued kit for day to day use.

It was interesting to see how the various instructors reacted to this preparedness – some accepted it and others would throw these items off the beds and sneeringly tell these men to make sure that the ISSUED kit was presented for inspection. Of course the PREPARED boots and brass would pass muster. I remember that I battled with drill boots (we called them STICK BOOTS) until one of the batmen came round and, for about ten shillings or a pound they boned the boots for us. A few times the batmen’s quarters were raided and then those without boots for inspection were in deep trouble! I was lucky and was not discovered having my boots set up by the batman!

Many of those who had benefitted from the experience of their predecessors had DURAGLIT™ – something I had never heard of and was marvellous to use compared to Brasso™. I also learned to scrounge some beaverboard (sometimes call softboard) on which one could REALLY shine brass with the help of Brasso™.

Lots of tips and tricks were shared or observed and a team effort emerged because it was in no-one’s interest for any member of the barrack room to fail inspection.

About three weeks into training my feet and ankles started to swell from the hours of drill and the pain in my feet was excruciating. Sick parade was no fun and the doctor and medics were mostly indifferent to us recruits. I started to worry that I would be back-squadded – everyone’s biggest fear – that meant staying for a second round of recruit training. I don’t know what made me think of it but I stuffed my packs and other gear under the end of my mattress to elevate my feet at night. Within two days I was OK and had no further fear of being back-squadded. I did this for several weeks until I had no more problems.

Outside A company and ready to go on pass. The bush jackets were only for stepping out and ceremonial
Picture courtesy ORAFs

In those days all drill was done in stick boots (leather soles with hobnails) with puttees and hosetops, starched khaki shorts and shirts and a slouch hat with the brim up over the left ear. Of course the intricacies of putting on the puttees correctly gave the instructors plenty of scope for criticism at inspections – never mind the boots having to gleam. (the picture is from 1962 – two years before my time in those barrack rooms)

“You think those boots are shined, boy?”
“Yes, colour!”
“What!” screams the Colour Sergeant in the recruit’s face – so close that little specks of spittle land on the poor unfortunate’s shirt. “I’ll put my boot up your arse so fucking hard it will come out of your mouth and FUCKING BLIND YOU – that is what shined is you fucking arsehole!”
“Yes, colour” but the NCO had already moved on and was regaling the next unfortunate with his expletive ridden, sarcastic criticism.

We had THREE Smiths in our squad and one morning the instructors were observed marching up to the barrack rooms a few minutes earlier than normal. There was a scramble to get out onto the road and form up for inspection before they arrived.

This one Colour Sergeant, a small built man with an English accent that the rest of us struggled with (he was not our normal squad instructor) completed his inspection and looked at the squad, and looked at us again. Marched up and down each rank, looking each inwardly trembling man over and obviously puzzled by SOMETHING that was wrong.

He marched out again and turned to face the squad. Just as we thought he was about to march us off he SCREAMED – “SMITH!” Three Smiths took a smart pace forward. “Not you and you,” he shouted, stabbing at the other two with his stick and they, smartly and with obvious relief, stepped back into line.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing, Mr Smith” he bellowed, standing about a foot away from Smith. “What, Colour?” came the bewildered reply.
“Do you think you are fucking clever, Mr Smith? Did you think you could get away with this you little shit?” (made funnier because the NCO was about five foot six and Smith was over six foot)
“What, Colour?”

Most of us had seen what Smith had done and to this day I don’t know if he was bucking the system or if it had just been as a result of undue haste but his hat was on back-to-front. Where everyone else had the upturned brim with the badge over the left ear his was the opposite way round. (see picture above where all the hats are correct)

“Do you see that hangar over there?” said the NCO, pointing with his stick at an aircraft hangar made small by distance. Smith’s head snapped to the side, “Yes, Colour”. “You will DOUBLE AROUND that hangar and when you come back into view you had better be properly dressed, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“No, Colour, er yes Colour, er, what, Colour?” “Run, you fucking idiot or you will be on a fucking charge”.

As Smith took off for the distant hangar the NCO, who had been aware of the sniggers of the rest of the squad, suddenly screamed “What the fuck are you laughing at?” causing the squad to immediately brace up. “You keep laughing and you will join that fucking idiot”. A suppressed laugh or two later and we were off for the distant hangar, at the double and with dire warnings about being last back…

One morning, instead of being marched out onto the old airfield for drill we were marched towards the stores and issued with rifles from the nearby armoury – the SLR (Self Loading Rifle). Used by the British army the L1A1 was widely considered a more rugged improvement on the FN FAL that would become the Rhodesian Army’s standard issue rifle a few years later.

We were to do several days of drill with the rifle before starting weapons training but everyone was suddenly more interested in this new development.

Joining the army – part one

National service – first phase

I had thought about joining the army for some time when I was still in high school and after writing my high school finals in 1963 (in which I got terrible results – another story for another time) I decided to go for it.

It must have been about November 1963 when my best friend at the time, Willie van Rooyen, and I presented ourselves at the Army recruiting office.

I was quite short-sighted and wore heavy horn-rimmed specs and Willie had a bad limp.

Willie had fallen off a roof a couple of years earlier while bunking school. The neighbours in the council flats where we both lived thought it would teach Willie a lesson to be left in pain – assuming he would get up and limp away to nurse his bruised ego. What they did not know was that the head of his femur had popped out of the hip socket and, from lying there for several hours unable to move because of the extreme pain, the fluids in the joint had dried up (my understanding of what Willie was to tell me about it later) and it would now require surgery and bone work in order to be put together again.

The nett result was that Willie’s one leg was shorter than the other and he walked with an increasingly pronounced limp.

After our tests we went for a medical and were told we would be informed of the results. We were concerned about Willie’s tests because of his leg but when the letters came he was accepted with no restriction and I was rejected for being short-sighted! We had made a pact that if we could not BOTH join up then neither of us would and we kept to that pact.

I was puzzled though, because my friend Graham McCallum was in the regular army – and had been for about 18 months already – and he was as short sighted as I was if not more so. I approached the recruiting office and they said there was nothing to be done and assured me that any chance of serving was to be forgotten. “Even National Service?” I asked and was assured that I would not be called up. (with hindsight this was the end of Federation and that may have had a bearing on attitudes and so forth as far as recruiting was concerned).

I went and got a job with the OK Bazaars, supposedly in their advertising department hoping to become a commercial artist eventually but I ended up selling pots and pans, much to my chagrin.

Fast forward to September 1964 and I got a call-up notice and was promptly fired!! (they could do that in those days and I had said, in good faith, that I was not eligible for callup).

In mid October, having turned 18 in the August, I entrained from Salisbury station to join Intake 70 at DRRR (Depot the Royal Rhodesian Regiment). We arrived at Heany Junction the following morning where several army trucks, drivers and junior NCOs were waiting for us.
We had the usual hazing that all new recruits went through – on and off the trucks – never fast enough getting on or off with our luggage but eventually we were taken to the barracks quartermaster stores to be issued with our kit.

Loaded like pack mules with our civilian kit and our army issue we were formed up in a shambling column and marched (well sort of marched!) up to the A Company lines by our instructors.
Of course we kept calling the instructors SIR, this and SIR, that and got yelled at for doing so:
“I am not a fucking officer boy! I am a fucking COLOUR SERGEANT DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“YES, SIR”
“NO, YOU STUPID CUNT, YOU CALL ME COLOUR! I am a COLOUR sergeant!”
“YES, COLOUR”

This exchange was going on in every barrack room and was to continue for a few days until we got the hang of it.

We were then told to ensure that the floor of the barrack room was gleaming for the next mornings inspection and told to get the polish (in huge 25litre cans) off the back of the land rover.

On opening the polish (that waxy, stoep/veranda/cement floor type of polish) we found that it was black while the barrack room floor was green. Some brave souls approached the staff and told them there had been a mistake. “NO, THERE HASN’T BEEN A FUCKING MISTAKE” bellowed the Colour Sergeant, “we want the fucking floor BLACK by 0600 tomorrow morning. Get the paraffin and rags and brushes off the truck!”

There were a few “But, buts” and other comments that brought down more wrath on the heads of the speakers and we all retreated into the barrack room to get started – by this time it was getting late and we still had to go and have supper (we had been introduced to the mess hall at lunch time).

It took all night. We moved everything to one end of the barrack room and cleaned and scrubbed and scraped then moved the gear to the other end and did the rest. We then had to put everything back in place and be ready for inspection. We saw the sunrise that morning without benefit of sleep.

Typically shiny barrack room getting ready for inspection
Picture courtesy ORAFs

We were to be cleaning waxy green/black paraffin-infused muck from under our nails and the pores of our hands for days but at 0600 the barrack room had a black floor. One of the junior instructors had come in a couple of times during the night and hazed us but also given some valuable advice. A few recruits from B Company messed us around but soon left us alone when a couple of them were nearly flattened.

We had a grudging approval from the Sergeant in charge of our barrack room who was a pretty decent chap named Annandale although the platoon warrant officer, WOII Mould, was not so easily pleased – ever!

We had one chap who professed to HATE the food and determined he would NOT eat what was served in the dining halls. He used to buy what he could at the canteen but there was not much in the way of proper nourishment available considering the extremely physical routine we were being pushed through. One morning he came to breakfast, wolfed down EVERYTHING he had been able to get on his plate and asked the people nearby for any toast or sausages they weren’t going to eat. No one said anything but everyone was highly amused.

I actually don’t remember too much of the first few weeks – it was a haze of doing things at the double, of marching, of weapon training and field work and we gradually started to work as a unit, as a team,  responding to the army way of doing things. We also became very fit in phase one training…

Leadership, Authority and Responsibility

These are qualities that can, to quite a large extent be taught to those with the correct attitude.

Responsibility is really the first and underlying quality – together with integrity. Anyone who wants or demands authority and is not prepared to accept the attendant responsibility is not fit to lead.

Many people do not appreciate that responsibility is a two-way street. A less senior person might be responsible to their superiors but their superiors have an equal and possibly more important responsibility for and to their employees or juniors.

In the military the responsibility is to see that men are prepared through training – both physical and in the area of skills in arms and in their specialties. Officers need to ensure that their men are prepared mentally and they need to learn to trust those men to carry out their duties.

The leader earns the men’s trust by showing that he trusts them and takes seriously his responsibility for them, at the same time being firm and impartial in matters of discipline and adherence to the army’s rules.

The men under the command of the officer or NCO learn to respect not only those qualities of fairness and firmness but also the person – not just the authority of the rank or position.

The good leader, already granted the authority with his rank or position, has taken the time to earn the respect of those under his command without throwing his weight around or allowing anyone else to do so. He does not have to demand the men’s obedience or respect. The loyalty he has shown to those men has in its turn, earned their loyalty. They will behave and carry out their assigned work responsibly and be accountable for their performance. They will be a team.

A leader displays loyalty to staff in several ways. He ensures that they know and understand what is required of them. When they make a mistake he takes the time to establish what happened and why. He does not allow others to attack his people. He will stop such attacks and will sort out matters of discipline, training or other problems, internally.

If censure is required, he will ensure that it is administered firmly and fairly and he will do it himself. He will not abdicate this unpleasant task nor will he allow his superiors or peers to attack and demean his staff or censure them even if it is deserved. He will stop such moves and be responsible for sorting out the problem and, if needed, report his resolution of the problem to his own superiors. He will be RESPONSIBLE.

He does not allow his staff to be embarrassed in front of their peers, their seniors nor, and most importantly, in front of any junior staff.

The leader is firstly an individual who accepts authority knowing that with it goes great responsibility. Learning to handle all those things and thriving in a supportive environment some people become good supervisors and managers. Some among them become leaders and some become really good leaders.

All these things only happen in an environment that is conducive to such a culture. In order to function efficiently the military must have a responsible leadership culture. It is why they train and train and re-train their members. Those that have the aptitude will work their way up the ladder. Some individuals will find a level that suits their abilities while others will remain among the rank and file. Systems are not infallible and from time to time talent will be overlooked and fall through the cracks but, for the most part, it is a system that works.

The military systems are built on training and excellence but the driving force is not commercial. Rather it is a strange mix of loyalty, camaraderie, discipline and pride – a hard to define esprit-de-corps.

Many of those in charge of large civilian/commercial enterprises are heard paying lip service to training and developing leaders. With the main driver being the bottom line it becomes easy to lose sight of the people who make it all work. How often is the phrase “Our people are our most vital asset” heard by surprised staff who would swear it was not so.

Brash, commercially successful individuals are often promoted to management positions over really competent people. Such people will frequently be insensitive to others and, when in charge, become a bully. This is tacitly allowed because of the person’s success rate. No one notices the decline in morale and performance and perceived shortcomings are simply punished.

Staff reporting to such managers may become afraid and anxious and, not wanting to lose their jobs, they scramble to please, to be seen as acquiescent and helpful. The fact that productivity slips, errors occur and inefficiencies creep in is lost in the clamour.

It is often acknowledged that the best sportsman in any particular discipline will not necessarily be the best captain, coach or manager. So it is with management and leadership.

That rather loud individual who can sell lots of anything, or fix anything or excel in many other ways, should be allowed and encouraged to follow his core competency. He should be made to realise, through discussion or even blatant flattery, that he is hugely important to the company. Emphasise that a manager and support staff are in place to help him continue his successful career. He needs to see it as removing obstacles to his success, such as the need to be in the office and being responsible for the performance and success of others when he is much better at being successful HIMSELF.

Train the people with the right skills in responsibility and the exercise of authority. There is always a need for individuals with these competencies. The good ones will thrive and become supervisors, managers and leaders according to their abilities.

A person who is willing to accept responsibility and at the same time behave with integrity is a rare person indeed and all too often is not recognised by the very people who need them – business bosses. Business LEADERS however will recognise the need and ensure such people are not only hired but supported and encouraged in every way.

Responsible people take things seriously and tend not to let others down. They are thorough and hard-working and usually bright and intelligent. Frequently these people are creative and love to contribute but are seldom, if ever, encouraged and their voices are lost in the noise around big sales, big conferences, big ideas – and big egos.

People who WANT to be IN CHARGE and who, if promoted, take every opportunity to tell anyone who will listen how important they are should be kept under strict control and never be allowed much, if any, authority over staff. Selfishly they do not want to be responsible for anything but themselves and what is theirs which is what makes that kind of person a great salesman and marketer and even a tradesman but, more often than not, a poor manager of people.

Governance in Africa

I drafted this as a LETTER TO THE EDITOR of one of the South African newspapers quite some time ago and then, as with other projects I started at the time, life (and death) again intervened and I never submitted it.

I came across the draft some days ago and, having often been served by the kind of ineptitude that leaves South Africa and most of Africa in the state it finds itself today, I though brushing it off and posting it might not be a bad idea.

While it points to a specific area it is also a chilling example of what has happened throughout Africa. Rather like a truculent child with a new toy, they – the new dispensations – will not be advised and will not ask for or accept help to look after the asset.

Anyway, here is my delayed comment on something I feel very strongly about.


Comments on healthcare and effectively the nation.

Some years ago a visiting professor from Australia, made a few good points but he should have been aware that apartheid in health care as he called it has recently been visited on the country NOT by whites or wealthy people as he implied but by the very government that, given the opportunity, could not arrange a decent booze-up in a well-stocked brewery.

Why does he think that the private healthcare industry has flourished? Bear in mind that this is the very same PRIVATE healthcare that the country’s leaders [I use the term advisedly] subscribe to for their own health issues. It has flourished in the almost COMPLETE ABSENCE of adequate public healthcare. It has flourished because of the government’s lack of vision and its inability to maintain and build on what they inherited which was not dysfunctional and was, in fact, WORLD CLASS.

Private healthcare is a BUSINESS and is run on BUSINESS principles and that business saw a gap in the market and it ruthlessly exploited it.

While it is unequivocally accepted that apartheid was wrong and should not be defended there are a few truths that seem to be conveniently overlooked when discussing the “legacy” of apartheid.

Why do African LIBERATION movements deem it necessary to FIX what is not broken when they take over?

Using the analogy of a motor vehicle let us say that one is given a perfectly good, well looked after, motor car.

Instead of taking the same care of the vehicle as the previous owner and maintaining it with a view to its value for a later transport upgrade YOU JUST USE IT.

Not only do you use it but you allow friends and acquaintances (the masses) to rip the seats to pieces, dump rubbish on the floor, let water enter through broken windows – that THEY have broken. You neglect to top up the oil and water or budget for regular servicing – MAINTENANCE. You decide to upgrade but you can’t get for the car what you should REASONABLY HAVE BEEN ABLE TO EXPECT had it been maintained.

You are now stuck with no savings and in need of transport. Your cash went on using the car to run your erstwhile friends around Those same friends who trashed the seats and left the windows open and allowed their fast-f0od to spill over the floor and upholstery. They, who bashed the doors into things and scratched the paint. Those same friends who never had any money for petrol, or a few bucks to help fix the car but expected, no, they took it as a RIGHT, to call for lifts here, there and everywhere and at any time. Those same non-contributing friends who were annoyed with you, were actually quite offended, when the car was in one of its increasingly frequent down times with some backyard mechanic.

And you came to dislike the traffic cops because you felt they were targeting your car just because it looked A BIT dilapidated and smoked, A BIT, from the very noisy exhaust.

The current government is like that neglectful car owner and the ever-observant media like the traffic cops, always finding the faults. …..and the friends? The friends are the MASSES, truculently RIOTING and DEMANDING but never contributing a damned thing.

A large part of the infrastructure the current rulers had handed to them over twenty-plus years ago may have been skewed towards one part of the population but it ALLWORKED. It was all run and maintained by competent and experienced people who knew how to manage, maintain, budget and generally look after the assets entrusted to their care – and if they did not do their jobs they knew they would be fired and replaced.

A simple example of carelessness and neglect? The toilets in many hospitals are today frequently found with walls and floors smeared with faeces and vomit with no paper, broken seats and filthy toilet bowls – if they work at all.

So why did they not retain and maintain the best of the best and build on it? Are they so blind that they are unable to see what incompetence and an almost total lack of management skills has done elsewhere on the continent, in southern Africa in particular? Why not build systems with those aforementioned excellent examples in mind.

We, the diaspora of white Africa can answer these questions. However, the uncomfortable truth of our answers is not convenient to those invested in the lie and certainly not to those with their snouts firmly in the trough of corruption and nepotism.

Why not work towards the HIGHEST common denominator you might ask in bewilderment?

The highest common denominators are in the private sector where people are expected to EARN their income.

God forbid that government should stoop so low as to look for good examples to emulate – that would endanger the cadres, the loyal lackeys in the highly paid status positions. Well paid positions that ensure that they say and do the right things (read – do what they are told – as and when they are required to do so). They become experts at obfuscation and denial but not at doing the work required of their exalted positions.

As a struggling wage-earner I would have loved to see the public sector thrive in excellence enabling me to pay lower medical aid fees but, truth be told, I paid a small fortune that I could ill-afford because the thought of relying on the state for any serious care filled me – and many others – with dread.

Of course all of the above, perhaps with a bit of editing, could be applied to pretty much the entire government of the country – as well as much of the rest of Africa

Beard coming…

There seems to be quite a fascination for beards here, where I now live – particularly among young men, and I mean YOUNG men!

Thing is, many of these beards just look so odd.

There’s this beard coming towards me. A huge, luxuriant brown handsome beard and I notice that the beard has this skinny little guy attached to it.

The beard turns so that it can look at someone and you observe a rather attractive young thing in animated conversation with the bush on legs. The beard turns to the front and continues its approach and then one sees the cap and a pair of eyes glittering behind the foliage, under the deep shadow of the cap brim.

This chap is so proud of his beard but it is TOTALLY out of proportion to the little fellow that it, the beard, is wearing.

Another time and another beard heaves into view. This luxuriant, reddish monster is forked. Each fork is about twenty centimetres long and the distance apart at the ends is probably also twenty centimetres. From the centre of the fork to the moustache is probably the same distance. As it gets nearer one notices a nose and a pair of eyes peering over the shrubbery. Once again the face is shadowed by the bill of one of those omnipresent baseball caps.

Below and behind this forked growth is a youngster of perhaps 20-22 years with the build and innocent-seeming eyes of a child. He looks up at something and the beard levers away from his chest to a position horizontal to the ground, weirdly reminding me of the bonnet of a car being opened!

Now there is nothing wrong with a beard – I myself have sported one since 1980 – but somehow these slightly built, young guys just look so incongruous with these luxuriant facial jungles that are so out of proportion to their stature.

I’m sure that out in the woods somewhere there are great big lumberjacks who would LOVE to have such magnificent growths as I see strolling around with these waif-like fellows attached!

Then again of course there are blokes who are in in charge of some truly smart beards that are perfectly balanced to their faces and frames. Where the man dominates and the beard knows its place!

I suppose it is like body art – to each their own…and I must add that some of these slight, magnificently bearded, fellows seem to have no problem with the chicks! Perhaps there is a lesson in that – but we won’t go there.

About instructions…

Being reasonably logical and literal in my approach to instructions I get confused when something I understand to mean one thing actually means something rather different or when part of an instruction is omitted because everyone knows that.

Let me digress for a moment to better illustrate my point:

Many years ago when I was in the military (the Corps of Signals to be precise) I was sent on a course-cum-seminar to learn how to write user manuals for soldiers. Bear in mind that these manuals had to be quite unambiguous and therefore had to be written so that an untrained or semi-trained individual could, by following the instructions, make effective use of the equipment. Effective that is because LIVES may depend on the user getting it RIGHT.

All of us had a number of years experience in the job and had previously been on instructor courses and I clearly remember that on my course we often presented the SAME LECTURE over and over only to be told several time that we had failed before we got it right.

What, you might ask, did we fail on. It was not the actual USE of the equipment once it was working it was the SETUP.

For example, we would fail because we did not TELL THE STUDENTS to connect the power source. We then failed again for not precisely describing HOW to connect the power, such as ensuring battery polarity was correct. Again we would fail – “You did not tell them to SWITCH THE EQUIPMENT ON

As you may imagine we would respond to these criticisms with a rejoinder along the lines of “…but everyone KNOWS that”. The reply would be “YOU CANNOT RELY ON THAT – LIVES MAY DEPEND ON EACH STEP BEING LOGICAL AND LITERAL AND UNAMBIGUOUS”.

An example: – think about using remote controls to programme televisions, decoders or recording devices.

At one time I found that after following –  TO THE LETTER – the instructions in my remote programming manual – and those for front panel programming –the programmes did not STICK. My younger neighbour came over one day and programmed the recorder for me. I followed each step as he went through the instructions but I noticed him doing something that I could not relate to a step in the booklet.

When I asked him about it he said he was pressing MENU at the end of each step but, when asked, he could not show me where it gave that instruction in the booklet. I then learned that to SAVE steps there is often no key marked SAVE and it may be menu or enter or something similar – and that that step – that INSTRUCTION rather – is, more often than not, omitted because the designer/inventor (not user, note) ASSUMED that EVERYONE would know to do that.

The INSTRUCTIONS just DID NOT reference how to SAVE each step.

Many user instructions exist, not only for electronic equipment, where the writer and/or developer of the item does TWO THINGS that create confusion:

1. Assumes knowledge – everyone knows THAT – on the part of the user/buyer.
2. Uses in-house jargon so that the words used in the description do not match what the user/buyer is looking at.

…anybody looking to hire an instructions writer…?