From the Wrong Side of the Tracks...CHAPTER 11 – First Border Trip

Whilst stationed at the uniform branch at the Cambridge police station, they sent me for Counter insurgent training (bush warfare).

I trained at a police training camp, or farm as it was known, namely Malesoskop. Here we underwent bush warfare training. As the police handled the safety and security of the South African borders, they sent us to do border duties at the different borders of South Africa. The border duties comprised three-month spells away from your workplace and family. The six-week course was grueling, but it prepared one for the worst conditions on the various borders where we were to be posted. Our duties were to prevent insurgents sneaking across the South African borders from the neighboring countries into South Africa.

Amoure Kleu Author, Andre Els Chapter 11, From the wrong side of the tracks, First Border Trip

After a 4 day Border Patrol

My first Border trip was on the border between South Africa and Mozambique. Our base was very close to a Game Reserve that was on the Mozambique border near the river. The information gathered was that the then Frelimo Rebels from Mozambique would cross the border into South Africa, attack farms and plant landmines on the roads. Also, bringing in limpet mines and explosives, they would then identify soft targets in the cities, killing civilians. There were also other police bases scattered around the Mozambican border, some close to the one where I was stationed. One of these bases was very near to Kosi Bay, situate in the far North-Eastern corner of what is now known as KwaZulu-Natal.

What a dream base, built right at the ocean. We heard that on their off-duty times, the guys that were based there went fishing and surfing. We did not believe the surfing part.

One day, we had a surprise visit from a Colonel from head office in Pretoria, who came to inspect the bases. He had a Portuguese surname and was known as a very strict man. He tolerated no shit from anybody, including some who thought they were somebody. After inspecting our base, he left to visit the beach base. We were told not to warn them, although it was long before cell (mobile) phones. Back then, we always alerted each other when unexpected officers arrived from the Head Office. This was done with the police radios linked to all the bases and by using some pre-arranged code word. However, the problem was that the Colonel had a radio in his Land Rover that was tuned into our frequency and he knew about our codes. Well, the next afternoon he was back, and he had a passenger sitting on the back of the police land rover he drove. The passenger was holding onto a surfboard.

They overnighted at our base and the surfer cop told us he was busy surfing the waves when he was called out of the water, told to pack his stuff and also bring his surfboard. Word was he was to be sent to Ovambo Land (then South West Africa, now known as Namibia). Apparently, he was told he could surf sand dunes in the desert. He was a cop from Durban.

Amoure Kleu Author, Andre Els Chapter 11, From the wrong side of the tracks, First Border Trip

Overlooking the Ocean at Kosi Bay with my Sergeant


We did foot patrols during the day and we laid ambushes during the night, close to the river.

The entire area has tropical temperatures and with that came the pesky mosquitoes. At night, they stung us right through our camouflage shirts. If you dared putting on your camouflage jacket, you sweated like a pig. Sound travelled and you could not make a noise when laying an ambush. It was not a simple time. Further, the area was covered with mango and banana trees. The fruit would drop from the trees in the night, the noise of which kept you alert all night. There were also the little bush babies (galagos) that jumped from tree to tree, adding to the noises. Whilst laying in ambush, drowning in your own sweat, when a mosquito stung you, it burnt like hell-fire.

They divided us in six-men teams. We had patience, camouflage, discipline, a good plan that was well rehearsed, but alas, no prior knowledge of the enemy. Our ambush site was always on a vantage point that provided a clear field of fire and observation. We had suitable cover and concealment and a well-planned withdrawal route, just as they trained us to do.

I was the LMG man. I carried a 7.62 mm machine gun mounted on a folding bipod and belt fed ammunition. It is an exceptional weapon. Once it fires, and if loaded with tracers, you did not want to be on the receiving end. It has a spare barrel that can be changed once the barrel in use gets too hot whilst firing. During our training in Malesoskop, one night we were made to lie flat, and the instructors were firing the LMG with tracer rounds from three different angles over us. What a dangerous, but beautiful sight.

From experience, I can tell you that the LMG was a heavy bastard to carry on a patrol. There was a story doing the rounds. How true it is, though, I do not know. It was said that a police patrol came under attack, and as they hit the ground, everybody shouted for the LMG man to come forward. Apparently, it was raining and all the guys on that patrol were wearing their rain slicks (shaped like ponchos). Walking in a single file formation, the LMG man on that patrol had only the barrel sticking out underneath his poncho, to ensure that the weapon did not to get wet. When he came forward, it was found that he had left the heavy machine gun at the base and just took the spare barrel, pretending to have the complete weapon underneath the poncho. When called on it, he retaliated that ‘the bloody thing is too heavy’.

Amoure Kleu Author, Andre Els Chapter 11, From the wrong side of the tracks, First Border Trip

Carrying the LMG on patrol

One night, we were laying our ambush at a place where we picked up strange boot tracks on the previous day’s patrol. We set the ambush up about fifty meters from the river bank. The river was running quiet, but strong. It was at its narrowest at that spot and the river was not very deep there.

At about two in the morning, the heavens opened, and the rain poured down hard. We heard a splash in the water, but could see nothing because of the heavy downpour. Back then, there were no such luxuries as night vision binoculars. Two minutes of quiet and we heard some noise in the water again. My sergeant in charge of the ambush was lying about three meters from me with his R1 and a 7.62mm automatic rifle (our standard issue at that stage). His rifle was pointed toward the noise in the river. The next moment I saw a person in dark camouflage nearing the riverbank on our side. Behind this person were more people behind him. They were crossing the river in single file. I clearly saw the person in the front carrying an AK 47. He was about five meters from the river bank.

I got the pre-arranged signal from my sergeant to fire. The LMG started coughing its deadly copper jackets, the other five R1 rifles joined in. After I finished a belt of about two hundred rounds (bullets) that I fired into the river, there was a deathly silence. While we were firing, I heard screams above the firing, and a lot of splashes in the water. Now there was silence. I expected to see bodies, there was nothing.

We quickly moved from our ambush position to our pre-arranged withdrawal route, still observing the river, but now taking up a new position. Here we laid waiting till day break. Once it was light enough, we went to inspect the river bank. We found no bodies. We concluded that if anybody was shot in the water, they would have floated downstream with the current.

Back at the base, we had to report our contact to Head office in Pretoria. An officer was sent down, and the scene was re-visited, sketches were made photos taken and statements taken. Nothing was ever again said about it thereafter, nor have we ever heard about it again.

While at the base, I kept fit, jogging with a rifle outside the base while my sergeant followed me in an armored vehicle called a (Swerwer), which is a small troop carrier. It could carry a driver in front with the gear lever between his legs and it six seats, three in a row on each side facing each other. It was armor plated with bullet-proof windows and had a long nose. As I discovered when I rolled one a year later, it was also very top heavy. This vehicle was more useful and was used in the urban areas during riots, but at that stage that was all we had on this base until a Casspir (a Mine-Resistant Ambushed Protected Vehicle) was later introduced to the base. The reason for him following was not because he was guarding or protecting me. Oh no, he had his fishing rods in the back as he was a keen fresh water angler, and on the jog back, we would always pass a lake that was teaming with monster size barbel (Catfish). Here I witnessed him catch the biggest barbel I have ever seen. While he was fishing, I would swim out far into the lake and back.

One day after one such a jog, and while the Sarge was fishing, I took a pair of binoculars, got onto the roof of the Swerwer, and looked out over the lake. I spotted three or four dark objects floating in the water about two hundred meters away. After observing these floating objects for about twenty minutes, I went ice cold. It was crocodiles. Needless to say, there was no more swimming in that lake.

Within the first week of arriving at the base, I was on guard duty known as ‘klaar staan’, which is to stand from the period just after sunset to just before sunrise. I heard bleating. It sounded like something in genuine distress, just outside the wire perimeter. After my shift, I sneaked out of the camp in search of this bleating. I found a newborn goat. This tiny kid was only a few hours old with a piece of the umbilical cord still hanging from it. For some unknown reason, its mother abandoned it. I knew it would not survive the night, so I picked it up and took it to the base. So began my three-month babysitting duties. It needed milk, so I made a homemade teat. The cow’s milk did not go down well with the goat and it caused diarrhea.

The rest of the guys on the base did not take too kindly to her in the beginning. I named her Toeksie. The upset stomach eventually ended and within a month, she had a few more friends on the base. Her favorite pastime was to stand on her hind legs and pull out the laces at the bottom of the legs of the camouflage pants hanging on the washing line.

The cook we had stayed on the base permanently. He was a Zulu that could really cook delicious meals. One day he asked me what I was going to do with Toeksie once we ended our three months tour. I had not yet thought about what to do with her when we left. But she will have to stay behind, that I knew. I soon realized why the cook was so interested in the goat.

He planned to slaughter and eat her. I would not allow that. So, the night before we left our base to return home, I took her out of the base into the bush. I did not have the courage to slit her throat, so I shot and buried her.

Amoure Kleu Author, Andre Els Chapter 11, From the wrong side of the tracks, First Border Trip

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