I see ghosts all the time. I don’t mean like The Sixth Sense or A Christmas Carol ghosts. They’re more like echoes of the past. It is as though the world of Then has an overlay of the world of Now. Like film that has been double-exposed? I’ve been like that ever since I can remember. People think me distracted and a dreamer, and to be honest I am all of those things. But most of the time I’m listening to music they can’t hear, seeing things they can’t see, walking paths they don’t know exist.

I’d like to share with you one of those paths, this one begins with a number: 79431185BG. It is a number that I have carried with me since I was 17 as if it were tattooed onto the gray tissue of my brain. This is how I received it:

In my matric year, my final year in school, I received my registration papers and a brochure from the Registering Officer of the South African Defence Force. It read as follows:


Please! Read this brochure thoroughly before completing your questionnaire. The computer won’t know if you’ve made a mistake – get the facts straight first. Discuss this brochure and your National Service with your parents or guardian.


The brochure was a treasure full of cautionaries, threats, propaganda and blatant lies. 


  1. South Africa is a large country with a small population. (what they meant was small white population) We live in an uncertain world where power changes take place rapidly and unexpectedly. A highly industrialized society such as ours is also extremely vulnerable to acts of sabotage and terrorism. (establishing that “they were out to get us”)
  2. The Republic of South Africa is involved in a state known as “total war”. This is a relatively recent concept, where the total onslaught upon a nation is of a multi-dimensional character, taking place not only upon the military front, but also upon the economic, the psychological and the political fronts. Under these circumstances our total defence must be as carefully orchestrated as is the attack; all defence fronts are interdependent and over-reaction upon the one front must not be allowed to undermine the effectiveness of the defences upon any other front. Should the nation be committed to a formally declared state of war, the situation would differ as the Government would then exercise more direct control and allot a greater priority to the needs of the SA Defence Force, including the manpower needs which could then be satisfied by formal mobilisation. Such a step would be extremely disruptive to the national economy and cannot be justified under circumstances where the military onslaught is of a relatively low intensity. An acceptable alternative to the more formal and economically more disruptive mobilisation must then be found. (defining the threat)
  3. National service is that alternative. This system trains the citizen to the level required for waging both unconventional and conventional warfare. It ensures that he remains available as a trained man for a limited period of full-time service in an organisation designed to counter the low-intensity military threat and to remain prepared for any escalation of that threat. It then makes him available for part-time service in the Citizen Force or Commandos for the balance of the 10-year active national service period, during which time the training he received in the National Service Force is maintained at the level commensurate with the operational requirements of the SADF. (the solution: offer up your boy-child as sacrifice for your security and to prove your fealty to your Country)
  4. It is important to realise that the period of full-time national service has been calculated to achieve two aims. FIRSTLY, to equip you with the necessary skills required of a serviceman under the circumstances of total war. During this training phase you must expect that your training will be thorough and arduous, and that during this period, which lasts approximately 8 months, you will have very little time for yourself. SECONDLY, TO APPLY YOUR NEWLY LEARNT SKILLS IN THE DEFENCE OF YOUR COUNTRY AGAINST THE TOTAL ONSLAUGHT. During this second phase you must expect that the original pace set during your training phase could slacken, but under certain operational circumstances, a pace could in fact be set that can hardly be emulated under the most realistic training conditions. (“the total onslaught” pep-speech)
  5. You will experience periods of boredom, periods of frustration, periods of longing for the comforts of home; but rest assured that the very fact that you are present within a camp within the framework of an orderly and well trained force, ready to act immediately to safeguard our fatherland, is one of the keystones of our defence system. When you experience one of these periods, REMAIN CHEERFUL, DON’T COMPLAIN; remember that you are SERVING YOUR COUNTRY in its time of need. (for our fatherland?!!!)
  6. As a citizen of the Republic of South Africa you enjoy a beautiful country. You are now being called upon to defend that which you hold dear. Contribute your maximum both to your training and to your service.


It is the duty and the privilege of every White male citizen to perform National Service. In addition certain categories of persons who are not South African Citizens are required to undergo National Service. (haha notice “White” has a capital letter)


In terms of the Defence Act, 1957, you are required to serve for a period of 10 years actively in the Citizen Force or the Commandos. This 10-year period starts as soon as you commence with your first full-time period of National Service of 24 months. On completion of the 24 months service you are required to do subsequent periods of service of which none shall exceed 30 days and which shall not exceed 240 days in the aggregate. Should you not do the required camps in the subsequent eight years, you remain a member of the Citizen Force or Commandos until such time as you have completed the camps, even if the period should exceed 10 years.

On completion of the 10 years active service you are transferred to the Citizen Force/Commando Reserve where you are required to serve till your 65th year.(the terms of your sentence)


You are allotted with the aid of the computer on the basis of the information furnished by you in your questionnaire.


You may be allotted to:

  1. Any of the SA Army units spread over the RSA.
  2. The SA Air Force, Valhalla, Pretoria.
  3. The SA Navy, Saldanha.
  4. The SA Medical Service, Potchefstroom and Voortrekkerhoogte.
  5. The SA Police.


If found guilty of deliberately refusing to do National Service, you can be sentenced to detention for a period of 36 months or a fine of R2000 or both, and you will still be required to complete your military service requirements; so it’s not worth taking a chance. (you also had the choice of being an objector and spending 5 years in jail and receiving a criminal record ie no employment for you, traiterous bastard) 


And so the brochure went on and on. You could feel the full weight of the Para-military State bearing down on you through its words. Yet you grinned and bore it, thinking it an honour, your family and friends all proud of you, and girls adoring the uniforms. In a country where the State controlled the media, arts and education, all and everything, totally, you grew up believing and trusting. Those in power were either too afraid to lose what they had gained or actually believed their own depraved philosophy, or in some cases both, and allowed the rape and corruption of its youth by a pedophile-like State. The cruel, foul, rotting beast of Apartheid.

In early January of 1982 I had received my dreaded call-up papers. I was to report to Natal Command where I would be transported by train to Kimberely in the Northern Cape. I would then be transported by army vehicle to SA Intelligence Corp to begin my National Service.