The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man
Getting around on the South West African/ Angolan Border had for many years proven a tricky and dangerous business, especially in the 1970’s. Landmines of Soviet manufacture made it extremely risky. The solution was to develop troop carriers that would increase the chance of its occupants surviving the blast. Thus the Buffel Troop Carrier. Earlier vehicles up on the border were Unimogs, Landrovers, Bedfords and such like, unarmoured, death-traps.
(below) A drawing I did of a Mercedes Benz Unimog at Rundu Base, 16th November 1984. When I was on the border there were not many of these vehicles to be seen.
(below) A drawing I did of an old and abandoned Bedford water tanker at Eyuva base, Kaokoland. 26th of June 1985.
I had a love-hate relationship with the Buffel Troop Carrier. For one, they were such interesting vehicles, especially to my artistic eye, what with all their angles, planes, lines and details. They made for the perfect drawing topic, where always around to draw, and so I sketched a lot of Buffels during my two years. In addition, to a guys who likes all things mechanical and machined – the Buffel was to my young impressionable mind, just about the epitome of invention.
However, I have troubling memories of my first introduction to the Buffel during Basic Training at 3 SAI Potchefstroom. During this training we were required by our trainer ‘Killer Smith’ to race up the sides using the hand grips, climb in and sit down within a designated time. And then on a command jump fully kitted and armed from the top of these troop carriers, over and over again, a height of at least 2.5 metres. Knowing how to do this was essential on a training level, but most of this was done as punishment to satisfy his brutality. Such was the painful shock on landing on our feet, that those of us who had not developed shin-splints while running and marching during general training certainly developed them after this abuse. It was around this time that I first experienced a particular pain in my left foot, as if I had a piece of glass embedded in my sole. It was many years later that an X-ray revealed an unusual bony sheathing of one of the tendons in the sole of my foot, the result of this pedal abuse.
(above) I drew this image on a sheet of official military logue paper while on guard duty at the 3 SAI Potchestroom Vehicle Depot, 1984.
The conventional way to exit a Buffel was to climb down using the foot and hand holds, or at a rush the armoured and hinged sides of these carriers could be unlocked and dropped.
While on the Angolan Border we only moved in these vehicles. We were required to be strapped into the hard rubber seats at all times, but young idiots that we were, it was more fun to stand up and hold-onto the rollbar. Numerous young men perished in these vehicles, not so much from road mines, but if they overturned, the plated sides would cut any unlucky ‘troep’ who was unstrapped, to pieces. Supposedly, if a mine was detonated under these vehicles, the water held in the v-shaped under-tank and water-filled tyres would cool the blast. As far as I recall, only one of our drivers ever hit a mine in one of these vehicles. He was unharmed, not unarmed.
(below) Mortarist, Mark Williams photographed atop a Buffel troop carrier.
(above) Rear view of a Buffel troop carrier showing the back bin. We were required to place our kit in the bin so that should a landmine be detonated, we would not be injured by flying kit. Eyuva Base, Kaokoland, 3 July 1985.
(above) Sketch in black ball point pen, of a SADF Buffel, anti-mine troop carrier. 1985. Drawing them I got to know these troop carriers well, but not as well as the poor ‘Grease Tiffies’ who had the endless task of keeping these vehicles on road and terrain.
(above) A sketch of a Samil 50 Truck with its logo. This vehicle was the general transport vehicle while I was in the army. There were a few old surviving Bedford Trucks around too. One of the initiation rites for new recruits was for drivers to give their passengers a rough-ride. This was termed a ‘Roofie Ride’. I remember our initiation as something rather fun, even though we were tossed about in the back like skittles. My younger brother had the misfortune of his ‘roofie ride’ going a little wayward when the overzealous driver rolled the vehicle. Fortunately none of his comrades were badly injured. It is now troubling to reflect on all the young men who needlessly died during their service, not from combat, but from mindless vehicle accidents.
(below) A Samil 50 Water Tanker that I sketched in pen and ink at Eyuva Base in the Kaokoland.
(above) A black ball-point pen sketch of a Samil 50 Truck alongside the Kavango River, Kavangoland, near Rundu. We were brought for some rest and relaxation to this wonderful river. We were told that this stretch had no crocodiles, and so we spent much of the day diving into the clear water from the steep mud banks. On the Angolan side of the river was an old abandoned Portuguese resort town (Calai) with fantastic Mediterranean style buildings. When the Portuguese left, the whole village was deserted, including the river cruisers, pulled up on the banks and rusting away.
(below) The same samil 50 Truck as I sketched above. In this photograph – Zayne Newlands, Unknown, Wayne Jelly, Glen Watson and Charlie.
(above) En Route, 8 May, 1985 (Wednesday) Epuwo, Kaokoland. A sketch of myself loaded like a pack mule and lugging a bound pack of paper and drawings in my hand. This drawing illustrates my draughting weaknesses at the time for drawing arms and hands from memory.
(above) A pen and ink drawing of a break en route. We drove everywhere on the border in Buffel troop carriers and in convoy. This image was drawn in the Kaokoland, on our way to the Opuwo Base on the 25 June 1985. A break like this gave us chaps a chance to stretch our weary legs and to take a necessary leak; and for me – a chance to make a quick sketch. The scenery in the Kaokoveld was awe-inspiring and wild, triggering in me a strong urge to draw. Perhaps in some way I was never more alive, not knowing what or where our destination was. Each mile unfolded yet another marvelous vista and another amazing mountain and rock-strewn landscape. In the distance of this image a small Himba’ settlement can be noted.
Graham Leslie McCallum