Special Courts

(This is an extract from my book “Rough Justice” which records some of my experiences in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe during and after the liberation war. –Available on Amazon)

Part of the strategy for combatting the war against terror, was the establishment of Special Courts, which travelled into rural centres to try offences against the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act.

Offenders were people who carried arms of war – active terrorists; gave aid and support to terrorists and / or failed to report the presence of terrorists, which were capital offences with a mandatory death sentence  upon conviction.

The death penalty was a very strong part of the judicial armoury in Africa up to the 1970’s. As was corporal punishment – a light cane for juveniles and a heavy cane for adults.

sten gunJudges’ Clerks were required to act as Chauffeurs and Bodyguards for our Judges and we were issued with Sten guns, 45 calibre sub machine guns, produced in WW2 for 2/6d, which usually jammed after the second round.

The best part was driving the big Mercedes Benz car merited by the judge.

The administration of Justice was very swift, with most of the accused admitting the facts, notwithstanding the mandatory death sentences and despite the efforts of their appointed defence barrister.

On one sad day we passed the death sentence on four people: two in Inyanga in the morning and two in the afternoon in Umtali.gallows noose

After the accused were found guilty, it was the duty of the Judge’s Registrar to address them were as follows:

You have been found guilty of the crime of contravening the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act by giving support to people bearing arms against the State: do you know of any reason or have anything to say as to why sentence of death should not be passed upon you?”

My repugnance for what we were doing grew after one dignified old gentleman replied: “My Lord, when a man bearing a rifle tells me I must report anyone who carries weapons who comes to my village or I will be hanged, and then later, another man also carrying a rifle tells me if I report his visit I and my family will be killed, what must I do?

He was duly sentenced as the Act required, but I know the judge recommended clemency. That evening was the only time I saw a judge get drunk.

He resigned after that.

In fact, most if not all mandatory death sentences which did not include murder or acts of violence were commuted to life imprisonment and these people were released on independence.

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Slaughter in the night

(This is an extract from my upcoming book about working on the mines during the South African struggle.)

“Mama ….. Mamie … Ma…”

I covered him with a blanket. Then he died.

Still young, his innocence and lack of survival instinct had left him sleeping in his room, where the killers found him. In keeping with custom, he was stabbed and sliced by all his attackers, in order to bind their silence by joint guilty involvement.

His arm hanging by shreds of skin, he was left to bleed to death; his killers slinking away at our approach. We were just in time to hear him die. I wished afterwards that I had knelt and pronounced words of absolution – many Sothos were Catholics.

Ghostly groups of hunter killers slipped away through the early dawn mist and tear gas remnants. We called for an ambulance.

The ambulances were busy – 14 men had died in this senseless, hateless violence which set workmates at each other’s throats because sides had to be chosen. Many were injured in these crude, clumsy clashes with iron bars and bricks from torn down walls as weapons.

Amongst the casualties, who didn’t die, broken ankles were the main injury, sustained leaping out high windows to escape the hunter killers who slunk through the night seeking victims … anyone from the other side.

Most bodies were mutilated with multiple wounds, many clearly in sleeping attire, some still in their rooms.

As it became lighter, two factions formed, kept apart by armoured security vehicles and a SA Police unit with a mounted machine gun. 3000 men lined up facing each other about 50 metres apart.

They were divided along ethnic lines, those who teta – spoke with clicks, mostly Xhosa, armed with sabres and iron bar spears, facing the rest, predominantly Sotho, with some Shangaan, Swazi and Tswana, wrapped in blankets, mainly armed with cudgels and bricks.  Trees in the hostel had been stripped of branches and a 12 foot brick wall had been knocked down and the bricks taken for weapons.

 

The Happy Hookers Fishing Club

(This is an extract from my upcoming book on my years at Vaal Reefs Exploration and Mining Company – most of those 14 years were pretty rough; but there were some happy times too)

Maurice (James) and I and Denis Simpson started talking about a fishing trip to Henties Bay in Namibia. We constituted a fishing club and soon had an eager group planning the trip. Henties was on the West Coast in Namibia and was renowned as a fishing mecca.

Bossie Boshoff, Peter Turner, Alistair Barr and Andries Oberholzer were some of our fellow hengelaars – some were quite serious about fishing, others were mainly there for the beer (no names, but you can guess)

Most of us were amateur fishermen, but enjoyed the associated conviviality and the 4000 km round trip across Botswana and Namibia was a great success – some of us even caught some fish! Maurice and I were also keen bird watchers.

We were joined by Bushy Going from TEBA (the mines employment bureau) which was a major coup. TEBA had fully equipped and serviced manager’s houses in very remote areas of Southern Africa and we managed to visit 3 of the most exotic and exciting of these camps.

Shakawe was on the banks of the Okavango River, near the Caprivi Strip.tigerfish                carmine B eaterThere were boats, wonderful tiger and bream fishing and a rainbow array of birds and wildlife.  There were also crocodiles and hippos…

That trip alone deserves a separate book.

Kosi Bay was situated in a kwaZulu Natal reserve about 200 metres from the Kosi Bay estuary – the only house for miles. We caught no fish over 3 days!

narina-trogon.jpgPafuri is a private rest camp at the northern tip of the Kruger National Park where the Narina Trogon was spotted.

Peter Turner’s family had a house in Morgan’s Bay on the Transkei Coast.fresh-calamari.jpg    We caught only one fish between the two cold fronts that passed over dumping rain by the ton.

We were forced to eat our bait (squid/calamari) – quite good actually! (although our powers of discrimination were somewhat diminished…)

These fishing trips entailed many planning meetings and conviviality and provided great stress relief, during quite tough times.

Going back to Africa

I must confess to mixed feelings now.

It has taken some time to get to this point. Nearly twenty years in fact.

This has been quite a sudden realisation; not so long ago I wrote a poem about returning my spirit to Africa, where I grew up and where 10 generations of ancestors are buried:

Journey

Like a boomerang, we go forwards to go back

to our hearts home where our mum’s wombs rest.

From light to dark and smooth to shoddy.

People simple but direct, not so friendly.

But it’s the home of our heart and soul,

darker Africa, so far and so near.

The warm people now despondent

about unrealised comforts, leached away by lazy overlords,

Maybe blamed on us, who give, build and take.

 

Where I die, twirl a thorn twig,

catch my ghost and take it home,                                         

like a boomerang, back from where we came,

to the bosom of the family we left.

Then maybe I will rest.

 

Now our near family is here, not there. Without a doubt, feelings are mixed.

But now I feel as if I am leaving home, not going home.

I am happy and sad.

(The picture is a twig from the Umlahlankosi tree that can be used to carry the spirit of the deceased from the place of death to a new resting place).

The magic of Edward Lear

One of the sweetest things happened recently: our daughter confessed that  she always associated Edward Lear’s poem: The Owl and the Pussycat with us, her Mum and Dad. The connection had been made via two photos of us dancing: one at a school dance and the other at our wedding.

It is a wonderful poem with delightful images of traditional love rituals.

pea green boat

The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are.”

Pussy said to the Owl “You elegant fowl, 
How charmingly sweet you sing.
O let us be married, too long we have tarried;
But what shall we do for a ring?”

 They sailed away, for a year and a day,                                 piggy ring
To the land where the Bong-tree grows,
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose, his nose, his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?”
Said the Piggy, “I will”
turkey marriedSo they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand.
They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

by light of moon

Serendipitously, I quoted from Edward Lear’s Jabberwocky in my wedding speech which I related as my father’s advice on getting married:

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son! 
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! 
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun 
      The frumious Bandersnatch!” 

 

We must never discard the magic interwoven in our memories nor disregard the fairies at the bottom of the garden.