Tuesday, 13 March 2007


The sergeant who appeared to live in the small prefabricated box at the gate was actually a staff sergeant, the rank they gave you in the Permanent Force of the SADF when you had been there long enough to prove you were useless at absolutely everything. He was lanky and clumsy and grizzled by too much sun. His face was a Martian surface of craters and broken veins.

He hated soutpiele, moffies and kaffirs, but not always in that order. Since he wasn’t technically allowed to shoot any of them, he shot everything else, gemsbokke, blesbokke, springbokke, impala, eland, warthogs, baboons, leopards, kudus, klipspringers, dassies, ratels, bushbabies, fish-eagles, cormorants, leguans, mongooses, jackals, hyenas, vultures, crocodiles and caracals.

If you want to know why there was so much game around Greefswald in 1971 you only have to open Google Earth and go to 22 degrees 12’55 South and 29 degrees 21’35 East. The thing that looks like a black mamba is the Limpopo River, running from west to east. That whitish scar coming down from the north is the Shashi River that separates Botswana from Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia in those days. Greefswald is on the southern side of the Limpopo exactly below the point of confluence.

Most of the year the Limpopo is more of a beach than a river. And the Shashi, as you can see, is just a very wide beach with a thin trickle down the middle. Farms are evident on the South African side, but they weren’t there in 1971. A new dam has been built about ten miles to the east.

But look at the vast uncultivated tracts of bush and scrub north of the Limpopo, on both sides of the Shashi. This was paradise for all those animals that hadn’t been corralled into the game parks in the east and the west, and maybe it still is. And for water they would come down to the banks of the Limpopo, less than a rifle shot from Greefswald.

Every now and then, during the course of that year, the big brass would come from Pretoria in jeeps and black Mercedes Benz limousines. They would shoot buck with machine guns and party around a massive braai until the early hours of the morning. We could smell the charcoal and burning kudu steaks from the top of Greefswald koppie. A few days later, after they had gone, we had to go down to the river and clean up everything that hadn’t been eaten by the vultures.

I’ve look very hard at the image on Google Earth but I can’t make out any signs of the camp. The resolution is desperately poor, like my memory.

Who will help me describe it?


Duncan said...

I had two spells there in 1970 when I was in 4 Field Regiment SA Artillery. We were still busy building the bungalows from cement-filled sandbags and digging pinkish gravel from pits to maintain the roads. I wired the camp using my mess knife and rolls of insulation tape!

Now and then we would take a rotation of building/repairing to do COIN Ops.

Although we worked our butts off, it was a great life. The camp was on the top of a ridge which ran north towards the borders, with the ground falling away steeply on three sides, so we had terrific views into Rhodesia and Botswana, especially from the OP. Often when I had a chance I would go out into the bush and just enjoy the quiet and beauty of the place, always on the look out for the snakes and the baboons! I also went up Mapungubwe once, even though it was out of bounds.

We tried to dam the Limpopo once, how dumb was that! But they were still good days.

DAVET said...

Spent a camp there with the Jocks two PFS'with us Cpl Louis Heckroodt and Capt Struwig, our oc was Maj Grigoratis and Neville Bennets the CSM.Struwig and Heckroodt used to sneak out at night and shoot Impala with the R1 for biltong.We had in those days really tough okes from the south to mind two names I remember were Loxton and Haines these oaks were rough.Often wonder if the Jock (TRANSVAAL SCOTTISH)badge we built on the way to the back area where the corrugated iron hut was ever survived.

Jim Mc said...

Like Duncan, I was there with 4th Field in 1970; it was exactly as he describes; my additional memory was being there when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon - it was a beautiful clear night. On one exercise I lost a compass - worth a month's pay; I had to go out by myself armed with my R1 and climb over successive "ou klip" ridges in search of the compass, but to no avail.

antonius smink said...

i spent about 7months there from oct/nov 71 to mar/april 72.the training was hard but bearable
the view out from the observation post over then ,s.rhodesia and botswana was amazing
many exagerated accounts of how it was have been given
i was there because my attempt to get posted from valhala air force gymnasium to durban =backfired.we had 3 different commanding officers and sets of n.c.o,s during that period
the last of these was a major kruger who have me my army knickname=GENERAL smiler
sure ,that stint has left its scars ,but it was also an incredible experience
which some sadly missed ,even though there,one day i may try to give the full account of it all from a perspectives not clouded by hatred self -pity or glory hunting
the general =antonius smink