It wasn’t even a year later and the dreaded registered mail slip arrived in the post. I’d left the SAAF in July 1984, had found a job in civvy street and even had a car! Life was good. Except that donderse piece of paper.
In those days the then NATS had failed to look after campers and national serviceman alike with regards to their salaries. In short, your employer was not forced to pay you for your unintended holiday, and this one was a whole 60 frikking days. Quite a cheek really- you’re expected to protect the state but the state couldn’t protect you.
Never mind that like Pietersburg where I did my two years, I had no idea where Hoedspruit was once the brown envelope had been opened and revealed its contents revealing my intended temporary home.
Packing my kit into the trusty Tarzan car ( A canary yellow 323) I headed to Pietersburg and then through Phalaborwa, Gravelotte etc toward Hoesdpruit. The long way round yes, but a nice drive anyway.
Hoesdspruit Air Force Base was modern compared to Pietersburg. It even had aircons in the bungalows and the bungalows only had 14 beds or so in them. The ablutions were clean and the hot water never ran out.
The attitude was also more rustig, with the PF’s knowing that we were tired off all their bullshit experienced over the 2 years previously, except some two liner called Potties who was there to try and make life miserable. We were civvies and they/he knew it.
They gave us all R5s and it was only two week later that we headed to the range to fire the things. Many of us had only had fired G3’s so something light without the recoil of an angry buffalo made a refreshing change.
In the meantime they kept us busy by sending us on a daily stroll around the perimeter fences in pairs. They’d drop us off at 5km intervals and off we went at a leisurely stroll for the next 6 hours. Given we hadn’t been set a target on how far to walk, we didn’t walk much on a few occasions.
Half way through the beat the trusty Bedford would do its rounds with orange juice on tap. I’m sure it was Mazoe and we soon caught on that filling one water bottle with Vodka and the other with water helped to make the walk more interesting. When the Bedford came into range, we’d empty the water from the one bottle and pour half of the Vodka bottle into the now empty bottle. Both bottles were subsequently topped up with orange juice after which the Bedford would continue on its way. Walking all of sudden became a lot more pleasant.
For those that don’t know, Hoedspruit was a declared nature reserve and the place was teaming with creatures, especially warthog, the next subject.
The group of campers that we were relieving were a crafty bunch and had potted a ‘hog a week or so previously that they claimed had a broken leg of sorts. A good bullshit story that was hardly believed by the brass at Hoedspruit but innocent until proven guilty always works when there are no witnesses. They kindly offered to throw a departure/arrival party for the two groups and the security officer agreed in principal to that notion with the kind request of ‘don’t dop too much’
We borrowed a Bedford and beatled off to the dorp to fetch grog. Then we set about bribing a few national serviceman to act as barmen and cooks for which they could enjoy the braai with us and obviously, have a few drinks too.
The aircons came in useful at this stage and kept the beers at an amazing temperature
The ‘hog had spent the better part of a week in marinade and if you thought granny’s roast pork on Sundays was good, you haven’t tasted well prepared warthog yet. It was tender, tasty and in abundance too.
The security officer’s eyes nearly popped out his head the next morning when he saw the aftermath…. The 44 gallon drum was overflowing but by that time, half of us were on duty and half had buggered off just in case he decided to reward us with an impromptu opfok for our fine efforts.
On that subject, the corporal Potties took exception to one of my sniggers when he shouted an incorrect command during parade one morning. “Moenie op my parade grond lag nie troep” he barked.
True to form, he rounded up the group the next morning and gave them a bit of exercise. I was on the early morning stroll so he missed outright, much to his chagrin and the group that wasn’t on beat that morning.
On the subject of grub, there was a quaint steakhouse in the dorp which served the most amazing pepper sauce burgers, a meal that made a welcome change to the rather boring ‘menasie kos’ normally on offer. We soon befriended the owners who made our trips worthwhile – a starter salad, a generous burger and finally washed down with a Don Pedro, all for R30 bucks.
We soon cracked the nod to watch the infamous “The Wall” by Pink Floyd at their place and accepted. The screening of the movie was accompanied by some rather potent gorilla grass, Even after several viewings, I never quite got a handle of what it was all about with each version dishing up a different interpretation.
When we weren’t strolling around the 37km perimeter fence we dawdled around if we were off in the morning, or if we’d done early morning duty, often headed to the dorp for entertainment at Motel Fort Coepieba or ‘Kapieps’ in colloquial terms.
Probably the most run down joint in the Lowveld it offered a cheap reprieve which became even cheaper once we got hold of it…
The dump boasted two bars- a “Ladies” version and the plain old men’s version, which were joined via a small corridor and shaped in a loose “L”. Both bars had bulkheads onto which the bottles of common drinks with optics were attached and secured. If you leaned forward a bit, you could reach the optics…
It didn’t take us long to work out that poor Alfred couldn’t see what was going on in one bar if he were serving in the other, so a simple stretch was all that was required to charge your glass with a double brannas. To hide or disguise the game, the occasional single was ordered but the coke sales rocketed. Poor Alfred- as one group ordered, the others were recharging and of course visa verse. This went on for hours….
Our visits to the Riverlodge Motel also had interesting consequences. Situated just outside the Strydom Tunnel it had a nice view and cozy pub.
Of course our fascination with the large fruit jar on the bar counter led to a rather unintended windfall. It had a tulip shaped shooter glass placed in the bottom and the jar was filled with water. Finally the large lid had a small slot cut in it so essentially it became a money box. Dropping a coin through the slot would see the coin falling through the water in a very erratic fashion and supposedly a drink per coin was the reward if the coin landed in the glass. There were several in it when we started…..
The challenge was on we were soon on a winning streak. After many experimental runs using different denominations by my pal Martin we’d worked it out. A volley of some 30 old nickel 5c coins found themselves in the shooter glass.
Our enthusiasm in getting so many in and a coin per drink was soon dampened when the barman claimed he didn’t see our efforts and our reward could not be honoured. Not to be outdone, we simply told him to empty the jar, and we’d start all over again. He could then count our coins and honour the arrangement. He obliged by emptying the shooter glass and also moved the glass from its original position hoping to outfox us. We also bought back the 5c coins which offered the most consistent travel. Beeg Mistake!
Given we felt a bit screwed the first time out, Martin made a concerted effort to reclaim our lost winnings and after a few test runs, dropped a record 21 consecutive 5c coins into the tulip glass. The barman nearly had a fit, but rules are rules
The mixers were chargeable but to our joy, we spent just R38 each on coke over the 6 hours of madness, but hell that was a lot of coke in those days. We kept a tally of drinks won/drinks consumed and with our generous balance sheet, were buying all and sundry complimentary drinks. When our tally ran low we simply got the barman to empty the glass and we’d start all over again.
Once such farmer was enjoying our generosity and took pity on us trying to play 301 which saw 1 out 3 darts actually reaching the board, but nowhere near its intended target.
He’d “show us how to do it” was the next offer and after missing the bull with three darts promptly potted it with .38 special.
Seems this was a common occurrence and after the marksman handed the barman R120, a new dart board was procured to replace the now destroyed one hanging on the wall. The numerous slugs still embedded in the wall when the new was hung up proved this theory.
It was at this stage that we decided to head home. On return a few days later, the glass jar was nowhere to be found..
The second camp, now a one monther came and went and besides a few braais at Swadini, proved largely uneventful. Ok, I burnt the living sheet out of my thumb spooking a brandy bottle which was followed by a shot of Omnopon by the medics but soon recovered..
It was at that stage that I got the local MP to query parliament as to why there was no law to force companies to pay us during our yearly camps.
The feedback was that there were no plans to introduce such law and being a bit wiser to the world, decided to call it a day after two camps and ninety days of walking around fences.
I didn’t change my address when I moved again and sadly, or gladly, that was the last the SAAF heard from me.