Way back when PW Botha’s face presented itself on TV every night, his finger wagging, wet lips salivating, warning us of the “swaat gevaar” (black danger) or “reds under the bed” or the fact that he would not be trifled with, there were funny sides to the awfulness.
One was the sheer, sheer pomposity of not-very-bright, white men in uniform, raised with a sense of superiority, trying to make you do things in the name of peace and order. They wanted fear, settled for obedience and were completely unhinged by laughter.
And when doing stupid things, resistance or laughter was what they got. It went a little like this:
|Openly take photos of a family having a barbeque, repeatedly, starting when the eldest daughter is 14.||Ladies in the family bare their chests. Congratulations, you have just broken the law by taking photos of a half naked minor. Not that the police bothered much with the law.|
|Several years later, take photos of eldest daughter who is at the beach with a group of hairy arsed bikers||Get photos of a row of bikers, with their leathers down, back view first, front view next, shortly before you are pelted with beer cans|
|Relenentlessly, endlessly, follow said family to and from work, to and from school, to and from the supermarket, to and from friends, to and from bloody everywhere.||Eldest daughter spots you and you obtain several photos of her fingers making interesting signs, most of them obscene.
Ever seen an 8 year old raise her middle finger? You just did.
Mom takes you on the odd endless drive around the industrial site before heading back to the mountains and takes you up and down and around the range. Hopefully you got some good mountain shots. The irony here is that part of the father’s reinstatement package included free petrol. So the state is paying for that nice communist lady to drive you around the town.
|Occasionally, you are a bit late off the mark and get on their tail just as they leave the squatter camp and are heading back home.||Ever had an 8 year old wave and blow you kisses out of the back window? You just did.
|As a low-ranking security policeman who spends his days following the father of the family and often spends his nights harassing and tormenting black people, it is understandable that you are sometimes tired and fall asleep in your car, under a bridge.||The father of the family stops, knocks on your window to wake you up and says “you not coming to work behind me today? Get a move on”.|
|You decide one night that as the eldest daughter has an Afrikaans boyfriend, you are going to start a campaign of harassment. So you: (i) follow him home one night. He lives just under 2 km away. He walks home and you have a police vehicle behind him every step of the way.||He stops at his gate, turns, waves and yells “thanks for the escort, I’m safe home now” before going in.|
|(ii) You go and visit his parents and tell them that their son is involved with someone very dangerous.||His mum’s response is to (a) worry; (b) to make you a nice cup of tea. His dad’s response is to regale you with three hours of the Boer War and how these children are both betraying their respective heritages. But both parents agree that she is a very nice girl, her Afrikaans is coming along a treat and not at all dangerous; thank you for the warning and show you out.|
|You give their house a thorough going over in search for illegal material or clues as to what goings on there are.||Did you really think eldest daughter was stupid? Her room is a tip on purpose!
|Joy of joys! You find the family’s son, doing what countless other children have done, learning to drive on the school field, in his friend’s car. He makes a dash for it but you catch up with him and arrest them both. He is under age, knows his rights and as a white South African boy under the age of 18 accused of a slew of traffic offences (ie not serious crimes), you need his parents there when you take him away.
You are naturally very proud to have made this arrest and you are ensuring that everything proceeds according to the law. You have a nasty little habit of bludgeoning black people but have to be careful in this case because although they are communists and you’d like to bliksem them too, they are still white.
|When father and eldest daughter arrive home to find a police van and the two kids standing outside it, the first thing you see is the eldest daughter mouth “oh for fuck’s sake”. You are very taken aback when she aggressively demands to know what is going on and you reel off the 14 different offences with which the two boys have been charged. One look at your uniform and she is supposed to be shitting herself, so you get more and more confused and more and more irate.
Your eyes widen when she says that you must be very ignorant if you think that other youngsters do not do the same thing and demands to know whether you have a whole vanload of arrested kids hiding somewhere.
She looks around and asks whether you just shot them instead.
It gets worse when she reduces your not-very-bright sidekick to stammering. It may have involved him telling her that he would “arrestid her” for resisting arrest if she continues to obstruct him in putting handcuffs on her brother.
She explains that (a) she has a right tit, a left tit but not an arrestit and could the nice polisieman please show her what that was; (b) she could not be arrested for resisting her brother’s arrest, only her own, and the proper offence was a public order one.
It all goes downhill when she holds out her hands for the handcuffs, begging to be “arrestit” and then tries to get in the back of the van, saying her brother was not going anywhere alone.
Fortunately, at that moment, the father of the other child arrives and he is less likely to cause a fuss. A pity that only one of the charges was made to stick and the child pays a fine.
The eldest daughter’s parting shot is to yell “I’d look after that blood pressure if I were you, it will kill you one day” as you get in your van.
When the father of the family makes it his mission to complain to your Kommandant about your conduct, your Kommandant arranges a meeting for them, in a room full of policemen, just to keep them nicely intimidated.
The father’s hearing aid goes off, everyone starts turning their radios up and down; and for several minutes there is chaos, resulting in the eldest daughter nearly peeing herself with mirth. It’s not very professional and lacks that oppressive edge.
The father describes you as someone who has “come fuck me up” written across his forehead, as you are such a dick (he does say it more nicely than this) and that he fears that someone, one day, will murder you because of your attitude.
A footnote: a year later you are murdered in the course of arrestitting someone. The family all laugh.
A further footnote: some years later, your ex partner is standing outside the shops when a woman marches past him. She doesn’t recognise him but he remembers her – the last time he spoke to her, he was trying to arrestit her under the wrong law. His hands move instinctively to cover his nuts.
The father, watching from the car, absolutely cans himself and is still laughing several minutes later when the woman exits the shops. Conversation ensues, she laughs her head off, looks for him, gives him the middle finger and they drive off.
|Your job is to listen into their conversations on the phone.||You have to put up with the eldest daughter ringing her best mate most days and starting the conversation with “Hello, it is the Russvian Ehmbessy here” or “I have Reds Unner Ze Bed, it is kehching”. They think it’s hilarious.|
|Your job is to listen into their conversations in the house.||You have now heard that fucking Free Nelson Mandela song so many times, it plays in your head on an endless loop. Even you begin to wish that they’re friggin release him.|
|Eldest daughter has moved to Johannesburg but as a local policeman, you are told to keep an eye on her. Your chance for some fun comes one night when she is walking home alone late at night after her restaurant shift. Your partner stops and you get out to try and pull her into your car. It’s illegal but who cares, no-one is going to worry much about her for a few days by which time you will have covered your tracks well.||No-one tells you the frigid bitch is armed. Also angry.|
|You interrupt a meeting organised to put together a group of semi-skilled men and a major employer looking for semi-skilled men and get them into work away from the town in which they can’t obtain work because they are black, but still within commutable distance.
This isn’t on and even if it isn’t the communist, anti-government meeting you fear, you still don’t want those bloody blacks to have an income. You raid it, with two police vehicles and a ratel. You are all armed.
|The father of the house tries to reason with you, but you are not having it. So the very annoyed black guy who is the community organiser has a go. Except he is so annoyed he can’t get the words “but you are just a civil servant” out.
After several goes “sivil serpent”; “civis serval”; “civic centre”, several people start laughing. In a puce fury, you round them all up, threaten them with detention and get them to disperse. They disperse as instructed, several still pointing and sniggering at you and saying “civet serval”.
|You are in a ratel at the squatter camp. You can’t do anything except be there as that bloody family have managed to get the leader of the bloody opposition in parliament there. So you follow the family down the road.||Eldest daughter, who is still in her school uniform; thinks that walking in front of something several times larger than her, with armed men behind her is not her best experience so decides to act out. She waves, she grins, she blows kisses and finally she puts a bunny ears behind her back where the leader, Zac de Beer can’t see them, but you can.|
|You are aware that that bloody family have members of the Black Sash coming to meet with them. One of the visitors, a woman, smokes a pipe for fuck’s sake. So you perambulate up and down the road in as many vehicles as you can muster up, to show them that they are all a bunch of communist reds.||The mother and daughter sit on the verge with cups of coffee and wave at every single one of you.|
|You arrange for the local English high school final year girls to come to the local army college for some brainwashing some information on how they can best support their brothers, relatives and boyfriends who are off at the end of their school careers to go and be brainwashed to fight an unethical, illegal war on a number of different borders, as well as cause forment in the townships do their sacred duty to keep South Africa safe.||You have to end the session abruptly when several of the girls ask (i) whether it would not just be easier to end apartheid and then people wouldn’t want to bomb us; (ii) whether their boyfriends were all going to come back raving racists, like their brothers did.
You try and send them back to the school in disgrace but the bloody headmaster’s wife is one of those liberals and all they get is a bit of a talking to, with the headmaster smiling out the side of his mouth.
|A few weeks later, several windows at the army college shatter late one afternoon.||Despite getting the dogs out, you don’t manage to find the culprit, who has scarpered off to have tea and tarts with her family, the headmaster and his wife. She also gives the rather goody two shoes headmaster’s daughter a tale she will enjoy later in life.|
|There is a massive church service for the Lawaaikamp settlement and overseas media are there. This is in the days before digitiasion and the internet and everything is on analogue film. Despite surrounding the place and closing the service early, the crowd still manage a spine chilling, heart-rending version of Ikhosi Sikhlele iAfrika.
No footage survived of the service or the way you forced people out of the church because you managed somehow to wipe all the film as the camera crews flew back from East London.
|That night, every single army and police vehicle in George (and there are loads of them) are plastered in anti-apartheid, End Conscription Campaign and UDF stickers. They don’t come off easily and for weeks afterwards, the family can still see traces of them on the police vehicles in town.
|The event I wrote about here which still makes me laugh my socks off … https://titflasher.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/oh-god-its-so-black/|
The funniest thing however, is despite pretty much constant surveillance (we must have cost them a fortune), they missed out on some key events, like visits from the Umkhonto we Sizwe guy, most of the Lawaaikamp people’s visits (to be fair, they mostly snuck in and out, taking “leap” transport 1), the guy who used to sleep in our garage every few months, who was either a comrade or a criminal, but as he never harmed us I suspect he was the former and a whole myriad of my mother’s shenanigans, from getting people into flats in the city centre so they could escape the political violence (which I have written about before).
There have been some studies done which link racism with levels of stupidity generally and certainly everything I have seen of the far right in the UK bears this out. As of course, does my time in South Africa when despite everything, we still managed to run several rings around people who were stupid enough to think that they were, by the mere accident of their birth and the mere colour of their skin, entitled to suppress and abuse others.
1Transport obtained by one guy flagging a vehicle down for a lift, before the others run out of the bush and jump in :-). Favourite method of transport in SA for people who had no money for travelling. Nowadays sadly it’s a common hijacking tactic but back then, it was a legitimate form of hitchhiking.