Thursday 27 October 2011

WT - Johannesburg Stopover

One of the reasons for our stopover in Johannesburg is to ensure that we do not offend cousin Lucas (I know that I have been a little put out when people have been in close proximity and I have not been afforded the opportunity to say G'Day so I want to be sure that I'm not guilty of same). Lucas is almost like an older brother since boarding with our family when I was 12 till I was about 20. As with all families there are bitter-sweet memories of this period but life at that time was difficult for most families living in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe, and whilst they are the same geographic location it is most definitely not the same country).

Cousin Lucas family, my fathers sister Helen and her husband Jappie and family were farming (or rather managing and running a research farm) at Nyamandhlovu. Cousin Sarie, Lucas's older sister had recently married and cousin's Ian and Dion the younger brothers were still in junior school so it came about that Lucas boarded with us when we still lived in the old hotel on the corner of Marula Ave and Sauerstown Rd.

At the time even at the age of 12 we were all very aware of the political situation and of conscription. I vaguely remember that we were celebrating Southern Rhodesia's 75th Anniversary or more accurately I remember talking to friends while we as young boys admired the 75th Anniversary Commemorative coin/medal. I think it was in Mitchell Conradie's (my best mate, tragically killed just a few weeks later) possession. We looked forward to our call-up (conscripted national service) with both anticipation and trepidation for even at that age we were vary aware that whilst we looked forward to our coming of age, becoming a man at age 16, this was no joking matter, young men were dying in the fight for our freedom, hence the trepidation.

Whilst life was obviously very different in Southern Rhodesia. We had come to learn very early on how terror and terrorism could impact one's life and this was some 33 years before 9/11. We had bombs in shopping centres, grenades and molotov cocktails in cinema's and night clubs, booby traps set in bright coloured objects specifically for children, and in our favourite family picnic area's. Travel between towns needed to be done in convoy under armed protection. Viscount aircraft were being shot down and survivor's brutally butchered - and the silence of the world was deafening!

We grew up quickly and very young, learning early in life that some decisions cannot be undone, so we lived hard and played hard when the opportunity arose. The drinking age at the time was being reduced from 21 to 19 but anyone in uniform was allowed to drink because, as the saying went, if he is old enough to die for this country then he is certainly old enough to drink for it!

Lucas was my predecessor (a sort of precursor) to all of this, being older and a bit rebellious (he would probably deny this) I saw what I supposed was glory, left school early, in the military at a young age drinking and smoking hard always trying to be accepted and in fact idolised to a degree the rumbustious attitude of the young men in the military while they were on leave or R & R. It wasn't until a little later having tasted a little of the real conflict and watched helplessly as men, women and children died around me that I came to realise that there is no glory in war, just disgusting inhumanity! Where a minority use the most vile acts to impose their will upon the majority.

In between call up's there were parties and nights out on the town at a lot of favourite hang outs such as Talk of the Town, Top Hat, Marjorie's, Electric Circus, Magic Moon  and others. There were picnic's at Hillside dams, drag races on the Salisbury, Jo'burg and Kahmi road's. Late night burgers at Fritz's Sunday drinks at the Terrace and Ice Cream at Eskimo hut. Scuffles at Callie's and music at Park Inn. Sneaking into the drive in theatre where you could have a Braai (BBQ), a dip in the pool, a beer in the cocktail lounge all while watching the main event. 7 Arts Theatre to have cocktails during intermission, between Newsreel and the Cartoon's. Late nights working on Mini's in Cousin Gary's back yard, bicycle races around the block and gate crashing parties. Wedding's and family get together's through convoy's, ambushes and atrocities. Laughing at a world that couldn't understand a people that played tennis with a sidearm strapped on.

I am here in South Africa at this stop over to rekindle these memories after 30 years and yes it is what has happened since those times that we are interested in but those times are our common ground, our connection point and for some, just too painful.

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