Border-Line Insanity. A National Serviceman's Story, by Tim Ramsden
In Tim Ramsden memoirs, Border-Line Insanity: A National Serviceman's Story, the reader will encounter plenty of four-letter words, cussing and obscenity. It would be unrealistic to moderate the offensive language; this is how soldiers everywhere express themselves, they are unlikely to exclaim 'goodness gracious' when death is staring them in the face.
This is the story of a key part of my life written from the perspective of a young and naive 18-year-old conscript in the South African Army. Under the ruling apartheid government, every white male between the ages of 18 and 40 had to answer the 'call of duty' to serve and protect his country. In 1984, I began the daunting task of becoming a soldier as I entered into a new and very scary world of strict discipline. For myself and my fellow recruits, the world became an army camp confined by wire fences and concrete guard towers. We were beaten down daily by loud, tormenting and intimidating shouts of demeaning abuse. We were forced to run long, agonising kilometres with full military kit, willed on by the sheer terror of not keeping up — despite blistered feet, aching limbs and shattered spirits. For a year, we were broken down and then slowly built up through intense infantry training — until we were confident and highly skilled mechanised soldiers capable of performing practice attacks with live ammunition. After ten months, we had meshed into a tightly knit unit of young men from all walks of life, with stamina and endurance second to none. We developed a depth of camaraderie that only a soldier can truly know. After entering a black township in a show of force to restore peace, we were transferred to another infantry base. In 1985, my company was flown to the operational area, where South Africa had been at war with SWAPO (the South West African People's Organisation) since 1966. We served along the South West African/Namibian border and sallied into Angola. We learnt what real fear was and how to control it, as we laid ambushes and patrolled in scorching heat or torrential rain. We hated every suffering minute we were there. Along this borderline our insanity set in, for we were plagued by the miseries of army life far from home. Surviving on dry rations, we were pestered endlessly by mosquitoes and flies in a land ripe with malaria. Boredom and despair overtook us and careless actions came to the fore. It was while we were wallowing in this mental state that one of our countless patrols led us to the aftermath of a bloodbath where innocent women and children had been brutally massacred. Our platoon also served along the borders of Swaziland and Mozambique, based in the Kruger National Park with its abundant wildlife including the big five. There, three soldiers from my section were captured by FRELIMO within shouting distance of our position. They were led away at gunpoint and imprisoned in Maputo for three months — leaving them, and us, to suffer the anguish of not knowing what their fate would be. The constant struggle through daily army life brought our platoon closer together. Drunken binges helped to suppress the raging anger and dreadful fear that came and went as we counted each day to the end of our mandatory two years of service. Most of our service was spent in filthy uniforms, sleeping on the ground, and cooking over an open fire. Our nerves were highly strung and a loaded rifle was always close to hand. One minute, I would be scared out of my wits, and the next I couldn't have cared less about anything — a make-believe shield of invincibility being there to protect me. The infantry unit I served in was rarely granted home leave and our pay was a mere pittance for the hardship we endured. It was the price white boys had to pay for the privilege of living in an apartheid state. After the completion of two years of National Service, my Citizen Force call-ups began. On my third and last call-up in 1988,1 was again in the operational area, an element of the largest massing of troops and armour on foreign soil since World War II. I lived in fear of the seemingly inevitable attack against Cuban forces deep into Angola. We had entered the army as carefree young boys, but we soon discovered that expectation and reality were rather different things. We lived out a distorted adventure as we made the most of unpleasant circumstances, until we returned to our home towns as tough, disciplined men with minds forever changed. We of Platoon 3 also forged unbreakable friendships and loyalties during those two and a half challenging years. This is my account of the events that unfolded — the adventure, intrigue and boyish fun tempered by anger, resentment, tension and frustration. The determination to survive and return to a sane civilian life willed me on until the bittersweet end.
This is an excerpt from Border-Line Insanity. A National Serviceman's Story, by Tim Ramsden.
Titel: Border-Line Insanity
Subtitle: A National Serviceman's Story
Author: Timothy Ramsden
Cape Town, South Africa 2009
ISBN 9781919854243 / ISBN 978-1-919854-24-3
Softcover, 17 x 24 cm, 352 pages, numerous photos
Ramsden, Tim im Namibiana-Buchangebot
Border-Line Insanity: A National Serviceman's Story is an insight into the life and times of a conscripted soldier in the ranks of the South African Army during the border war in Namibia and Angola.