Tag Archives: Africa

Lost!

In 1968, when you travelled towards the Chirundu border post in the Zambezi valley you took the Lomagundi road out of Salisbury (Harare). After passing through Sinoia (Chinhoyi) and Karoi you arrived at Makuti, 290 kilometres from Salisbury (Harare) which is where the road split and by turning left you would drive down to Kariba. Take out the old names and the exact same directions apply!

Up to 1980 the Makuti motel used to do a roaring trade out of the almost never-ending stream of service people traveling through the area. A great place where many a frosty has been gratefully downed. I gather it is still a welcome watering hole for travellers in the region.

Proceeding on from Makuti towards the Valley one arrived at the Marongora Parks and Wildlife offices.

The start of the section of OLD ROAD into the Valley was near Marongora. This piece of road is a narrow, steep tar/strip road off the new road and it reaches the Valley floor nearly 1000 feet below Marongora at a small stream (usually dry) where there is, or used to be, a large wild fig or similar tree. A lot of army patrols would base up near here and it was about two kilometres distant from where the new road reached the valley floor.

The old road then meanders along for a while but, if you don’t turn off west towards the hunting camps or Nyamoumba, where the Kariba gorge ends, then the old road takes you back onto the new main road twelve kilometres or so further on.

The area described above is roughly diamond shaped, twelve kilometres long by three to four kilometres wide at the widest point. The long sides of the diamond are bounded by the old road to the west and the new road – that still carried a lot of traffic in 1968 – to the east. On a quiet morning you could hear the trucks on the new road as they traversed the escarpment about two kilometres away.

A large stream bisects the area from north to south.

In 1968 I was a L Cpl and attached, from just before Easter to about mid-July, to the first company of SAP (South African Police) to be based at Chirundu. (That is 21 year old me in the picture, posing next to the helicopter).

At one point they had a small patrol base, as described above, at the foot of the escarpment on the old road. 

As already mentioned, the area was about twelve kilometres long with the two roads about one and a half to two kilometres apart at the base of the escarpment and at no point did the two roads diverge more than, at most, four kilometres from each other.

Anyway, one of the SAP’s first patrols in the area got lost, well and truly lost, BETWEEN these two roads. They ran out of communications or, most probably had not taken radios (excuse: they are heavy) so when they had not returned from what was to have been a twenty-four hour patrol there was some consternation and eventually we (the Rhodesian Army) were asked to get trackers in.

The trackers quickly found the somewhat wide-eyed, thirsty, and slightly panicky, patrol.

They reported that the patrol had walked to within a few metres of the main road a couple or more times and had actually CROSSED the old road at one or two places. Mostly, though, they had walked in circles although deliberately changing direction sometimes.  All within an area less than nine square kilometres in extent. I think the patrol members reported that they had fired shots a couple of times to attract attention but I cannot remember if that was so. The trackers also reported – again I am uncertain – that the patrol had walked past elephant and, at one point, perhaps either lion or hyena – entirely possible as there were, and are, plenty of these, and other, wild animals in the Valley.

The trackers also felt that the patrol had approached the main road so closely that they should have seen the road and heard, even seen, traffic on it. Presumably so bewildered at being lost they did not register these otherwise plainly noticeable things.

There was considerable teasing and quite a bit of sneering about this but the point is…

These young men were POLICEMEN who had been taken from the beat and been given a short, sharp, paramilitary course. Some (perhaps all) had received some training from the South African Army prior to coming to Rhodesia. Based on the attitude displayed to us Rhodesians, when we did further pre-deployment training with them at Inkomo Garrison, it would be fair to say that the same disdainful attitude to the training would have pertained among many of them and few, if any, lessons had been absorbed or taken seriously by many of the men. (More on this in another post sometime).

It is my opinion that policemen are trained to have a different attitude by virtue of often working alone or in pairs – the army way must have been a bit stifling and bewildering to them. This in charge, almost disdainful-of-authority, attitude really did not work in anti-terrorism patrolling when pretty much each individual felt HE should be in charge making the patrol leader’s task difficult. I am sure there are many other dynamics that could be brought into a discussion around this – that is not my intention.

So, with little training in the way of soldiering and very few of the various skills that a soldier is taught, this patrol was shambling around – lost – and it illustrates how easily one CAN get lost if the basics of navigation and map reading are not learned and observed. It also illustrates how the anxiety of being lost can affect a group’s powers of observation. They came so close to being able to follow a road and they just failed to register what was in front of them.

The calibre of these men was to improve as time passed and lessons were learned. However, they were to suffer a number of casualties before the reality sank in that this was actually a serious situation. It was not, as one South African journalist around that time commented, “…only a bunch of disgruntled cookboys running around in the bush with a few guns…” (or words to that effect), belittling the very real terrorist war that was just getting started.

This satellite image from Google Earth shows the area under discussion.

If you go to Google Earth and enter Rukomeshe research it will find it as Rukomeshe Research Station, Hurungwe, Mashonaland West Province, Zimbabwe. By zooming OUT and scrolling LEFT (or West) from Rukomeshe you will find the area of the attached map. Then, by zooming in you can actually see the old road fairly clearly. The faint blue triangular area is the area that was to be patrolled. The patrol got lost somewhere between the old road and the new main road, a bit west of the prominent river feature I believe.

If anyone reading this remembers the incident or can add more insight I would be glad to hear from them.

UDI – The day it all happened

11 November 1965 

Many people have over the years asked the question “What were you doing on the day UDI was declared?”

For those of tender years and those ignorant of the affairs of the world some 52 years ago this refers to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence declared by the tiny country of Rhodesia in the face of the intractability and dissembling of the western powers and in particular the British government of the day. See the following links…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodesia%27s_Unilateral_Declaration_of_Independence

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6fof-8r0kM

I had been in the Rhodesian Regular Army since the beginning of March 1965, having already completed national service between October 64 and end February 65. After an initial posting to Army Comcen I had been posted to K Troop, the signals unit for HQ 2 Brigade. The day had started as a normal warm early summer day in Africa. Another beautiful day.

In those days the concept of the brigade signals squadrons had not yet been discussed – certainly none of us in the rank and file had any idea of what was to come as far as our Corps was concerned or even how the composition of the Army itself was to change and grow.

We, the operators in K Troop, had been sent out in detachments to carry out a local signals exercise – sending and receiving messages and generally practicing our Corps of Signals role.

The exercise proceeded in desultory fashion for most of the morning. My detachment was at the balancing rocks about five or six kilometres from camp while others were variously spread around the suburbs – probably about six detachments in all I think.

At around 1100 we all received a message recalling us to base with immediate effect. We packed up and were back in camp by 1200 hours where we were told to immediately prepare our vehicles for possible deployment with the Brigade Headquarters. We were also told that there would be an important announcement made at 1300 hours and that we were ALL to attend in the Troop lecture room.

On entering the lecture room, we found a commercial radio had been set up and we were told to take our seats and be quiet for the Prime Minister’s announcement. At 1300 hours the Prime Minister, Ian Douglas Smith, came on the radio and the Unilateral Declaration of Independence was made.

I have often wondered about the timing of the declaration that coincided with armistice day in 1918 as at 1300 hours in Rhodesia it would have been 1100 in the morning in Britain. This is significant for those not familiar with the WHY of this…

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/what-is-armistice-day-why-do-we-wear-poppies-and-when-is-remembr/

There was a sense of relief mixed with foreboding – how would this now play out? Would we be invaded by the British forces or the United Nations. Would there be war, fighting in the streets?

Everyone in the Army was put on immediate alert and confined to barracks. HQ 2 Brigade only had single and married quarters for the African soldiers and the rest of us had to go home or to our barracks at KGVI and collect kit including our webbing and bush gear.

Accommodation was wherever you could find it and I think I ended up bunking down in the lecture room with several others. A field kitchen was set up to feed us and we were regularly briefed by our Officers – not that there was much to tell us of course. It was a sort of phoney war, this twilight period of uncertainty about what was to happen in the immediate future.

We soldiers – whether infantry, quartermaster, signals, engineers or whatever – grumbled at the confinement and inactivity, chafing for something, anything, to happen to relieve the tension.

After about ten days the emergency status was brought down a notch and we were allowed to go home or back to our normal accommodation barracks at night but still no leave was permitted.

The entire situation eventually sort of fizzled out and we got on with the day-to-day activities of a peace-time army although border patrol was under way and there were stirrings that, with hindsight, were portents of the dramatic events to come.

Our brave defiance was to end when our allies left us – the Portuguese capitulated in 1975 in both Angola and Mozambique leaving us totally dependent on South Africa for materiel and trade. When that country was driven to the wall financially they were forced (it is claimed) to withdraw all assistance from Rhodesia. The terrorists never won – financial interests and political expediency saw the country handed over to black majority rule and we all know how that turned out (if you do not then just google Zimbabwe economic history and Zimbabwe, atrocities).

The Irene Morning Market

I wrote this article for a course I was doing in 2012 – it was enthusiastically received and I thought I would share it – for those who may never have experienced South Africa?

Sadly, this market is no longer held at the location I have described here – in about early 2016 it was moved to another venue several kilometres away. It is still very popular but somehow not the same? I was last there in late 2016.


Irene is a small suburb south of Pretoria with a village-like atmosphere. It used to be a sleepy hollow but is now enormously popular – even trendy, particularly at weekends

In Irene is “Smuts’ House” that was once the home of General Jan Smuts, a statesman and soldier who was instrumental in the establishment of the League of Nations. (see https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jan-Smuts)

Smuts House is a museum and national monument surrounded by extensive grounds and, twice a month, the Irene morning market takes place there. People travel from all over the region to attend and stall holders arrive early to set up.

Most popular is the food stall area where you can buy almost any kind of food. From Indian delicacies to Portuguese snacks to Chinese spring rolls and custard tarts. There are traditional South African stalls with boerewors rolls (literally “farmer’s sausage”) Spicy and delicious, these are our answer to the New York hot dog.

Artisanal cheeses, preserves, pickles and jams. “Waatlemoen konfyt”, a watermelon preserve using watermelon rind to make a crisp, sugary, delicious treat.

The pancake lady and her twenty-five litre barrel of batter – with a tap. Rotating twelve pans on the burners and flipping pancakes. Her son manages the cinnamon sugar and rolling – they barely stay ahead of the crowd.

Moving on to find curio sellers, local and regional, with carved wood and soapstone, wire sculptures, beadwork and leatherwork.

Bedding, clothing, art, a children’s painting table, coffee and soft drink stalls. Second hand book stalls and plenty of old bits and bobs that my sister describes as the “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” section. Oh, and collectables of all sorts from old tins to badges, brooches, toys and, and, and…

Pets, particularly  dogs, feature a lot. I learned about “Merle” Great Danes from a tired looking couple ( http://www.all-about-great-danes.com/merle-great-danes.html ) with their magnificent young grey-dappled, white-chested Merle in attendance. Two chaps had a Scotty dog in a zippered “medics uniform” of waistcoat and peaked cap. A beautiful, bored Labrador retriever and a dignified border collie and a man with the slobberiest, puffingest bulldog named Larry!

Camel rides – on aloof-looking camels with the most exotic eyelashes.

A young blonde girl had a colourful “jewellery” stall – a real splash of colour. So eye-catching, I asked if I might take a picture. Poised and relaxed her bright eyes and friendly, unselfconscious smile made the braces on her teeth a part of her sparkle. There is a lesson in this for young people with orthodontic problems because that smile, already so dazzling and natural, will be a real winner when the braces come off.

 

 

People. Fat and thin, well-to-do and modest. Mothers and children, babies and grannies, hot and bothered and cool, calm and collected. Sleeping, exhausted babies and wide-eyed demanding tots in prams with grannies and mommies in attendance revealing varying degrees of love and tired defeat. People, bewildered and brash, shy and outgoing, smiling and grim-faced but all with a common purpose – the Irene morning market.

FLOT

FLOT –
The acronym stands for Front Line Own Troops and quite literally means the point at which one’s OWN troops are closest to the enemy in an engagement. It is important information for air support so that they do not hit the friendly forces they are trying to help. It is one of the reasons coloured smoke grenades are carried.

This is another of those stories that are legend and there is some doubt around the ACTUAL events but, in the craziness that is war and the characters that emerge, I have no doubt that it is solidly founded in fact (with a smidgeon of embellishment perhaps?).

Anyway the story is that some of our coloured troops were caught up in a contact with terrorists. As mentioned in another story these men were some of the most quick-witted humorists one could ever meet – even in moments of high stress.

While they were pretty much holding their own, the situation was not good and the group of terrorists looked set to get the upper hand.

The patrol called in for assistance and an armed aircraft was diverted to see what could be done.

  • Shortly the pilot’s ever-laconic voice was heard calling the patrol: 
  • “47 this is Cyclone 4 how can we assist over”. (it may have been one of the other squadrons of course…)
  • “Where you ouens?” comes the reply from the ground in a slightly surprised, almost defensive, tone.
  • “Approaching your position from the South, over”
  • “Roger, this gooks is in front of us and we can’t move”
  • “Roger that – can you mark your FLOT, over”
  • Something of a pregnant pause…then “What?”
  • “I need you to mark your FLOT, over”
  • Live mic for a few moments with obvious whispering in background, then…”What do you mean? over”
  • “I can’t see you – can you throw smoke, over”

Another longish pause then… “Madison or Kingsgate? over”

Kingsgate and Madison cigarettes (smokes)

 

 

 

 

Irresponsible unions

I make no claims to be a businessman, economist or entrepreneur. I am just an ordinary person in the early evening of his life but I am saddened and angered by a number of things and try to engage when and where my small voice might cause someone to pause for thought.

I once managed a small factory in South Africa that employed a number of people. Black people, mostly from Zimbabwe.

One day our welder, who was also our driver, came back from collecting a cheque and I noticed him talking to some of the others and gathered it was about the cheque – which had not been placed in a sealed envelope so had been carefully scrutinised before being handed in to the bookkeeper.

Asking what it was all about I was told (I will refer to the owner of the company as Mike) that Mike had just received a cheque for R400,000.00. The general feeling was that he was really lucky to be getting such a big amount.

Curious, I asked if the cheque had been made out to the company or to Mike in his personal capacity and of course it had been made out to the company. So I asked if they really, really thought that that money was going to Mike in his personal capacity. I could immediately see that this was considered a silly question – of course it must be for him as he is the boss and he sent for it to be collected.

I then asked them if they budgeted their wages and proceeded to describe an oversimplified family budget – rent, school fees, clothes, food, water and electricity, transport et al. I ended by saying that once all that has been taken care of then, and only then, could one look at what, if anything, is left over. If there is some left over then maybe one can go to a movie, have some friends over for a meal and maybe even put some aside – savings for a rainy day.

This concept was clearly understood so I now proceeded to ask them what they think becomes of money that the company gets in – earns. I got a kind of a puzzled look and asked if they had given a thought to the fact that the company also had overheads.

Wages, utilities, vehicle finance and fuel and maintenance. Equipment maintenance and new tools as necessary.

Once wages have been paid…and I went on explaining that every penny that comes in has to be accounted for in terms of expenses and then raw materials to make more product and then, and only then, could the owners and directors look to taking a share, or their wages, out of what was left from the month’s income.

It took some effort to get these men to realise that the buildings were not just there for us to use. That we paid for the phones and electricity and water and everything else out of the income from sales after we had paid all our accounts, paid our staff and so on. It was a bit uphill but the message got through. It was obvious that the costs associated with running a business had not really been given any thought. The business was just there, where they worked.

We all know that making rich or wealthy people poor, will not benefit the worker or the job seeker. The person with the vision who is prepared to take the risk in business will take his abilities elsewhere, where they will be appreciated and not be penalised for creating an enterprise that provides the means for others to earn a living.

Now interestingly these factory workers were mostly men who had immigrated from Zimbabwe in the late 1980s and early 1990s and had benefited from the one thing Mugabe had got right up to that time –  education. It was interesting to hear from these men that they were surprised by the levels of illiteracy they encountered in the townships but for all that they were still relatively ignorant in terms of the VERY BASICS of how a business operates – and a small/medium business at that.

The point of all this is that every year South Africa has the same riots and demands over wages and these demands are often, USUALLY in fact, outrageous and not sustainable – not to mention destructive and wasteful with town centres trashed, shops looted and even burned. All supposedly to protest poor wages…there is no logic to it.

In my considered opinion the unions carefully do NOT school their members and shop stewards on how business works and whip up their uninformed members every year regardless of the harm that it does to the economy and the image of the country as a business destination.

The unions are irresponsible and culpable in this because if their members were informed and basically knowledgeable on how businesses function then they would better understand why certain things are not easily granted. They would know that minimum wages are keeping many of their friends and family on the outside of the workforce. They might even begin to realise that the riots and strikes for unsustainable and unreasonable increases are mischievous in the extreme.

Until there is better understanding – REAL UNDERSTANDING – by the various workforces around this matter it will never be resolved.

Building a home requires everyone to work together but building a nation that is prosperous NEEDS a united vision and every time that vision starts to take shape it is quickly obscured by irresponsible, inept, greedy and selfish agendas.

Can the unions be rationalised? As long as they see the ANC as their protector and benefactor I rather doubt it and until then the country will continue to suffer because what the union is meant to be there for – to see to the fairness or otherwise of the workers conditions – has been subsumed by that thing that seems to be at the heart of everything – power to the few.

 

 

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

When the government of South Africa sought to protect the labour force from unfair labour practices, it was no doubt a laudable intention.

However, what becomes apparent to me, a mere layman, is that the new dispensation went so far to swaddle the baby that they choked off the oxygen to the parent – that is to say the employers of said labour.

They gave the labour unions huge power out of all proportion to the good that should have been achieved, creating a situation where labour effectively dictates to employers.

Industry, the education system, the police and army are all so unionised as to make them ridiculously ineffective a lot of the time.

When one trains in the army (make that a good, well-disciplined army) one has to do drill and weapons training. Many, many people are under the impression that all the square-bashing and shouting and associated hard-arsed training is just unnecessary bluster, breaking their darling children down.

Thing is though that when real action occurs all that training kicks in. Nobody questions when a member of the patrol, leader or otherwise, yells DOWN! The training kicks in and you get DOWN. Why do you do that? You do it because your TRAINING and your own instinct for self-preservation, and the good of the team, kicks in.

It is generally accepted that in a good army the leadership is well trained and professional and that by its very nature the military should be an autocracy of sorts. Precisely the same should be the rule in industry and commerce – perhaps less rigid?  The bosses, the employers, the leaders should be in charge not the workers and cleaners who lack the experience and training for such positions.

MOST IMPORTANTLY those who think a job is just another name for the security of a monthly stipend should be rudely awoken to the fact that WORK is the means by which that remuneration is EARNED. An unproductive workforce is something that employers should be able to rectify quickly and easily.

The lack of will to break the power of the unions speaks directly to the government’s lack of will to chance losing even a portion of the huge, union-controlled, vote. As long as that is the case they will be unable to even try to properly run the country.

I have no doubt that among South Africa’s vast population, and even among the ANC, are people of integrity and great ability but they will never come to the fore where ineptitude rules because of that feudal mentality that gives privilege and power to the least capable and most sycophantic.

Should capable people, under such a bad dispensation, actually find themselves in a position to achieve anything, through hard, disciplined work, they will not last. Stories will appear to discredit them. They will be threatened and then, to appease voters who do not want to pay for services nor follow the rules, those good people will quietly be redeployed to positions of neutrality or dismissed – if they are not already (suspiciously) dead by that time.

Sadly, that is the feudal village mentality – calling for loyalty to the chief at all costs.

Corruption and ineptitude

Some time ago, and while still resident in South Africa, I saw an article about the corruption in that country’s government and how the people in charge seem to think all government monies are there for their personal gratification. I wrote some comments to a friend intending also to write to the press. It never happened and I recently dusted it off and added a few words here and there because the subject remains relevant.

When the current dispensation took over in 1994 there was plenty of aid available with the world’s governments falling over themselves to contribute to their new darling, Mandela, and his supposedly rainbow nation. Having taken over a working, albeit skewed in places, world class country they then proceeded to plunder and divert money to themselves and allowed the infrastructure to slide into disrepair and dysfunction with service to the citizens becoming a passing interest – just about enough to keep people quiet – not happy but, most of the time, quiet – all the time playing to the apartheid bogeyman to scare the majority into voting for the ANC – for more theft and ineptitude.

The abovementioned article was about the personal ATM that the South African politicians and their henchmen deem the government to be, and the comment that they are not inept people doing the job badly but bad people doing their corrupt activities well, it occurred to me that there are very different attitudes in our society when it comes to criminal activity and imprisonment.

I – and many others, black, white and khaki – would, I am sure be appalled and ashamed at being sentenced to time in jail for an offence. That is because our mindset sees such a thing as embarrassing and a slur on our good name. We would feel shame at the fact we had been in prison or even that we had been accused of a crime.

When, however, you have people who do not understand that mindset, whose entire lives are built on envy and a grasping sense of entitlement and who have NO sense of shame AT ALL you are definitely on a road to a beating.

We have seen corrupt politicians who have served a jail term, being feted by serving government ministers as they are being RELEASED FROM PRISON – actually being carried on the shoulders of these serving ministers as they celebrate that corrupt person’s release.

I think I would be uncomfortable to be seen even visiting a prison and as for collecting someone…. Well I would do it but I would feel conspicuous and uneasy unless perhaps the person being released had been exonerated. Such is the mindset, I would dare to believe, of most law-abiding persons.

Not so the ruling (I use the word ruling VERY loosely) elites of South Africa. With their mindset and the envy and admiration of the don’t haves directed at them – instead of horror and condemnation – why worry at all?

Throw into the mix a police and legal system that is dysfunctional at best…and many of whose members largely share the feelings of the abovementioned don’t haves, and the recipe is rancid. Vast swathes of people see these swanky people and their vulgar displays of ill-gotten gains, as role models to be emulated. They believe that the end always justifies the means and, given the opportunity, they too would trample on their peers, their friends – their family even – just to elevate themselves. They see nothing wrong with this quite feudal approach to being the elite.

What a disastrous situation when a huge part of the populace appears to think like that?

Then, of course, those doing the grasping (the ruling elite) naturally exploit that feudal mindset and keep the people constantly off-balance and in awe of the apparent power that they have – displaying it in fancy cars, blue light convoys and flocks of fawning lackeys…

…and the people do not care how that status and vulgar wealth was obtained, they just want some of it and they openly admire those who have this wealth and status – irrespective of how it was achieved and oblivious to how much they themselves may suffer as a result.

Flat Dog

Some explanation of terms used is probably a good thing here:

  • ouens – (oh-wins) blokes, men, lads etc
  • Callsign – (Context 1 – original) The numbers or letters allocated to identify a unit on the radio network
  • Callsign – (context 2) slang reference to a unit or sub-unit by using their radio callsign
  • Sitrep – Situation Report
  • RLI – Rhodesian Light Infantry
  • Net – A radio NETwork
  • Ops room – Operations Room
  • OP – Observation post (sometimes in the context of OBSERVED)
  • NTR – Nothing to report
  • “…roger so far?” – have you received up to this point?

To the story…

I have a theory that this is when the term flat dog escaped from in-house use by the ouens of 1RLI and into the general population of Rhodesia and, ultimately, into the world at large. 

I was a young signalman, probably some time in 1965/66(?) and on ops room radio duty at HQ 2 Brigade. (The term used for deployed troops then was BORDER CONTROL.)

Although the war at that time was pretty low key with relatively few incidents it was to hot up considerably in a fairly short time. This however was a quiet, lazy weekend and everything was pretty routine and everyone – in HQ and in the bush – was suitably bored but doing their duty.

I am not sure who the duty ops officer was – I suspect it may even have been one Capt John Peirson?

In any event the callsigns were sending in their sitreps. The RLI callsign in the bush was on the net as callsign 5C (Five Charlie) and the duty RLI signaller at Chirundu, in the Zambezi valley, was Terry Miller.

Terry, who was in the RLI signals troop, spoke the callsign as FIIIIVE Charlie (drawing out the five) so you always knew when he was on duty! 

He was sending his sitrep and it was the usual boring stuff:

“…patrol here, patrol there, patrol this or that river and OP on that position…” and so on. It was all NTR or, maybe, “…observed movement at XYZ…” – pretty mundane stuff. From time to time an exciting report would come in on a callsign that was scattered by elephant or some other incident involving wild animals.

Eventually, after yet another “…..roger so far” duly acknowledged by me “Roger, over”…

“Fiiive Charlie callsign 15 – incident – shot one flat dog at grid 123456 over”

“Seven, Roger out” (I can’t for some reason remember our callsign at HQ but Seven comes to mind!)

I passed the report to the duty officer – I think the Bde Comd was there as well as another person so there were about four of us in the ops room.

The duty officer had heard the last transmission and been checking code word and nickname lists and came over to me and asked me if I had any idea what this code “Flat Dog” meant.

 I did not and was asked to get 5C to clarify.

“Hello 5c this is 7 over”

“Fiiive Charlie go!”

“Seven, we don’t have a code Flat Dog are you able to use plain over?”

“Fiiive Charlie, FLAT DOG is a crocodile, over” comes Miller’s voice.

For a moment, in the ops room, you could have heard a pin drop then the laughter started.

The rest, as we all know, is history but I wonder if anyone else from that era in Rhodesia has a comment around this?

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.

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.

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