The Brigadier – into his fourth drink – seems to relax as he continues with his story. The pent-up memories he tried to avoid for so many years, now demand release and freedom – and he appears almost helpless to stem the flow of words. The rest of the patrons in Boggel’s Place realise the importance of their silence, and listen without interrupting.
“That general told me they know everything about me. Everything. They even knew about Hester, the girl next door in Brakpan… I was shocked.”
“You have been selected, Corporal, because you are the best. Your dedication and discipline impressed us. We need a man like you to join a special unit.”
The general explained that the war against terrorism had many fronts. On the borders of the country with Angola and Mozambique, fighting was done with both conventional as well as guerilla warfare tactics.
“But that is not the problem. Our problem is the Third Front – the secret and hidden people behind the scenes who orchestrate the attacks on innocent civilians. These are the voices telling the terrorists where to attack, how to do it, and when. They decide which banks to bomb, which factory to sabotage, which farm road they’re going to mine.
“They rely on the fear of the man in the street to win this war – and we’ve got to give them some of their own medicine.”
That;s why, the general said, they formed the special unit. It had no name. Officially, it didn’t exist. It consisted of several ‘cells’ – three or four men, hand-picked, specially trained – which operated independently and in utter secrecy. And, the general said, this would mean he’d join the Permanent Force and be eligible for a considerable hike in salary. When the war is over, you’ll be a rich man, Corporal.
“You’ll join Cell Q as a lieutenant in two weeks time. After that, you’ll start training with Q for a special mission that’ll take at least six months. You are – as from now – on special leave for the next fourteen days. Go home. Marry Hester, make sure your affairs are in order; and come back to serve your country.”
“And that’s what I did.” The brigadier looks up from his empty glass, scanning the faces around him. “Got married. Had a weekend honeymoon. Told nobody what was happening, not even Hester.”
The first operation was a success. They blew up a house in Maputo. “After that, we were deployed to hit targets in Gabarone, Lusaka and Harare.”
They only reported to the general. “He controlled everything. After each mission, we got a week’s leave before the next operation started. It seemed as if there was a never-ending list of enemies to take care of.
“We were three men in Cell Q. To achieve our objectives, we were taught to steal, lie and murder. In short, we became the State’s criminals – but with the general’s blessing. I’m not going to bore you with details; it’s unnecessary. Suffice to say that this went on for several years and that Hester had a child in the meantime. I got promoted.
“Then we got orders for another operation – the final one, as it turned out.”
The general called them in and briefed them on MK’s Operation Vula. He informed them that the ANC had formed a President’s Committee (almost entirely from the Communist faction within it’s ranks), with the task of forming a People’s Army to orchestrate a People’s Revolt. The primary goals of the action were sabotage and attacks on civilians – especially white farms.
“Gentlemen, the ANC sees the white farmer as a soldier of the Republic. Now – mark my words – they won’t attack the fit young farmer who is able to defend his property and his life. They’ll target the old, the frail and the infirm. Their aim is not to win the war with guns and explosions: they want to win in with fear.
“Two known operatives: Siphiwe Nyanda (you’ll remember him for the Johannesburg bomb and his code name ‘Joe’) and Mac Maharaj has gone to Moscow to get Soviet assistance. This resulted in the 23 bomb blasts between January and July on this year. (1988).
“We know a lot of the planning for the attacks against non-military targets – known as Vula – is done in Moscow, London and Lusaka. But…there is no honour amongst thieves, men – there is a faction hiding in a small town in Southern Angola. And this, I’m afraid, is the head of the snake. This group has the knowledge, the expertise and the will to wreak havoc in our suburbs. What sets them apart is that they plan to hit schools and hospitals – the weakest of the weak – the action that’ll stir up the worst emotional reaction. With this, they plan to precipitate a civil war and start the worst bloodbath in Africa’s history. The so-called government -in-exile can then return to a devastated country, be seen as heroes, and be instrumental in stopping the fighting.
“It’s smoke and mirrors, gentlemen. We have no friends out there. The enemy is planning to destabilise the entire – Black and White – community and they won’t stop until they fire the last bullet.
“We have to act, and we have to act decisively. Your task is to take out that little village in Angola. If we use our planes, there will be an international outcry. But if something went wrong in their explosives store… Well, wouldn’t that be such a damned shame?” The general actually managed a smile at this point.
“So, after three months of preparation, we were on our way to Caramuti – a place so small, it wasn’t even on our charts. But we knew they were there – the planners of Armageddon – and we were going to get them.”
The brigadier remains silent for a while, his eyes straying towards the window and the distant horizon. Yes, he remembers every detail of that operation. Every little thing. Every shout, shot, scream, on that night they failed in their objective. Or maybe they succeeded? The line between victory and defeat can be so difficult to define. Sometimes defeat leads to another advance; and victory may be the slippery slope to the next failure. Where – on the straight line of history – does one focus to make a final analysis?
“Yes, we reached Caramuti,” he sighs, “and they were waiting for us…”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons; living or dead; events current or past; or names, organisations or places that might sound familiar; are purely coincidental.