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).

Christmas of my childhood

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.” 
Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

My earliest memories were from colonial days in the 1950’s, when we lived in Swaziland. There were certain rituals and traditions some of which have lived on through the generations.

xmas-treeThe first was the hunt for a Christmas tree. I seem to recall that there was some subterfuge required as pine and cypress trees in and about the town were council property. Daddy could not participate as he was a high panjandrum in the government, so it was up to Mum.

Suitable trees would be identified during the year. As it got dark, Mum would drive to the spot (usually next to Mbabane Oval) and the tree was quickly felled with an axe and the tree stowed in the boot and we would hasten home trailing pine needles. Dad would splutter but faced with a fait accompli he was powerless.tree-decorating

Decorations came out of a box: beautifully coloured delicate globes and silver and gold tinsel, with the Star placed on top by Daddy, which made him an accomplice. Presents were piled around the foot of tree – cause of much speculation and dreaming. Quite a few presents as there were six of us and Gogo (as Granny Vialls was called), Bessie (the dog) the servants: Samuel, Lamzima, Jane and Tsabetse, our convict gardener.

We also made streamers by cutting and plaiting strips of red and green crepe paper.

nativityCarols by candlelight were held at the amphitheatre. Daddy who loved to sing,  would sing protracted Noweeeeeeeels, much to the amazement of all in general and our acute embarrassment! There were a little crib and a live donkey: I always loved Away in a Manger thereafter.

The Christmas box was a local tradition where little gifts were given to deliverymekids-treen and service people like rubbish collectors. We carried wrapped sweets in the car to throw out to the Swazi children who would run along the side of the road calling out ma-sweeet, ma- sweeti!

Oxmas-sockn Christmas Eve we would be given orange bags as stockings to hang on the end of our beds for Father Christmas presents. We retired very early and awoke at about four a.m. to start investigating … soon rustle, rustle would turn to yips of glee and look what I’ve got’s.

The best gifts for my brother and I were a space-age machine gun which emitted a ferocious rattle and flashed sparks. No-one slept after four am that Xmas.

Gogo would make mebos (tart apricot preserve) which was a great temptation. As we would be going to communion we were not allowed to eat until after mass. The mebos suffered at the hands of early morning sinners…

Father Botta knew better than to delay his parishioners by a long sermon and we invariably passed the Anglicans as they came out of church. Dad would say: beat the Prods again! (Not very good behaviour for a papal knight!)

After breakfast, there would be tidying up and the grown ups would sip port and nibble mince pies, while we hovered around the Christmas tree where the family presents were piled.xmas-kids-and-dog

Eventually, Daddy relented and Tim and I being the youngest had to deliver presents after he had read the label.

Then tidying up again, laying the table, trying to sneak charms out the crackers and stealing nuts and mebos

Wxmas-faree still managed to eat turkey with cranberry sauce and roast potatoes, wearing silly hats and reading silly jokes… then came the pudding, bathed in blue flame with glints of silver treasure. In the pudding, Mum had inserted sixpences and tickeys (threepence) which was big money – our pocket money was tickey a week.

Then a toast to “Absent Friends” and Daddy would choke up and Mummy would finish for him.family-cricket

We’d clear the table and set up the kitchen table for the servants’ dinner; somewhat hurriedly as there was lawn cricket outside. We managed a few overs before Daddy nodded off behind the wickets.

 

We do it a bit differently in Australia these days and have Christmas braai (barbeque) on Christmas Eve, as it can get quite hot here in the day. But we still have port and mince pies and always remember “Absent Friends” which becomes harder as we grow older and the list grows longer…

One of our children has gone off meat so next year we will have vegetarian options:

  • Borshch (beet soup).
  • Vegeducken – layers of pumpkin, capsicum, zucchini and asparagus are filled with a crispy hazelnut stuffing and baked to perfection.
  • Vushka (small dumplings with mushroom).
  • Varenyky (dumplings with cabbage and potatoes).
  • Holubtsi (stuffed cabbage roll)
  • Kutia (sweet grain pudding).

merry-christmas-austrli

felinavidad

Collecting mushrooms

Imushrooms-in-the-fieldn early summer, after the first rains, Mum used to take us out to look for mushrooms.
Us being my brother Tim and Bessie our bull terrier nanny. We used to go to the Mbabane Oval, which was a grass expanse in front of the Club. Sometimes we were  looking for the foot of the rainbow to find the pot of gold… but found mushrooms instead.

All mushrooms are not the same, she taught us. The best ones are the small white mushrooms with pink-brown gills. As they grow older, their bonnets open and the gills go dark brown. Mushrooms in sauce on toast … my mouth waters even now!

But, there is a dangerous mushroom that usually grows under trees, which looks similar but has white gills. Beware, that one is deadly poisonous. So are dubiousthe pink-spots-shroompink ones with white spots and the long tall ones and most of the little forest fungi.

In those days, mushrooms were mushrooms; we hadn’t heard of fancy ones like shiitake, fonterels, chanterelles and morels. I guess they would have seriously confused our clear identification of dangerous ones!

We were quite taken aback when our big brother, who was a tree enumerator (before he was a policeman), arrived back from the forests with a sackful of the ugliest toadstools one can imagine.Oesterreich Pilzgebuehr The Swazi name for them was makowe. With great trepidation we tried some, after we had seen him eat two plates full and not die. De-wonderfully-luscious!!

However, that really messed up our simple means of identifying edible fodder: some look like the common and garden button mushrooms but are dangerous, some look like  huge frog-kin but are delicious!
amethyst-deceiver

I suppose that is how we should treat people. Just because they are
different, doesn’t mean they are poisonous and some that look the same are very poisonous!

Find out before you trust a mushroom and beware of strange ones!