Graham Leslie McCallum

The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man

SADF – Military Service – through the eyes and pencil of an 18 year old – 13. Nepara Sands


Our last border trip was to Sector 20 again, this time the four sections were swopped over. This time my section was stationed at Nepara Base, nicknamed Napara Sands. We were accompanied by a Sergeant called ‘Kaffir Smit”. Nepara really was a boring spot of the earth, with nothing around the base for miles, I was constantly fighting boredom and frustration. Now ‘Oumanne’ (seasoned conscripts) with only months to go before the end of our two years service, the time dragged by monotonously. Any chance to get out of the base was a welcome relief. Sometimes the Dominee and me would ride out in a Buffel with boxes of Christian literature and Bibles in the local vernacular. If my memory serves me correctly the locals spoke Chokwe. This gave me a chance to see the surrounds, especially the fantastic birdlife.

My ability to draw and paint has aided me all my life. At Nepara base too, just as it had at Opuwo. At first our PF Sergeant Kaffir Smit took a strong disliking to me. Everytime he saw me he would conjure up some infraction or the other and have me punished, which usually meant doing press-ups on the spot. I started to get the impression that my gay orientation was no longer a secret and I was going to pay the price. Then one day he went into the bunker alongside the mortar pits and found several humourous caricatures I had drawn while wasting time one night during mortar practice. He called me in and asked if I had drawn the caricatures.  After admitting I was their origin he said… “Nou verstaan ek hoekom jy anders is” (now I understood why you are different). Surprisingly, he asked if I would draw a caricature of him. Taken aback, and apprehensive – I did, walking the slim line between a funny pic and and an offensive one. From that date he had me draw and paint images for him. He had me do a painting from a photograph he had of himself skydiving. After this he would not have me labour with my fellow Mortarists. “Sit hier in die Dominee’s se kantoor en teken en skilder” (you sit here in the Reverend’s office and spend your time drawing and painting). And so I did. The last official task was to paint a huge sign on the roof of the mess to be seen from the air, namely ‘NEPARA’. Not long after this our time was up on the border and we were flown back to Potchefstroom for our Passing-out Parade.

Nepara Base, Okavango, 5 November 1985, SADF, Military

Watercolour and ink pen painting/ drawing of the Nepara Base, Kavangoland. The base was surrounded by high sand walls (see image) with several guarding points built of sandbags set into this wall. I was appointed the Dominee’s (Reverend) assistant at this base, and enjoyed all the benefits that came with this cushy post. My only secondary duty was to assist the mortar defense of the base should it be ‘revved’. This was our last border trip before we ‘klaared out’ (returned to civilian life). 5 November 1985.

Nepara Sands Base, showing Mortar Pits, 1985, Military

(above) Photograph of Nepara Base with the observation and water tank tower in the background. Water was a constant problem in this base. The Dominee and my office as Coffee Room can be seen in the foreground of the tower. From the privacy of this office I was able to do a little art and a lot of reading. In the foreground are the mortar pits and the tents where we slept.

(below) Photograph taken from the observation tower looking down to the empty swimming pool.

Nepara Sands Base, Angolan Border, SWA, view from Aapkas, 1985, military

Angolan Border, Nepara Sands Base, 1985, military

(above) Photograph of the tent where the Mortarist slept, alongside their mortar pits.

The food at Nepara, Kavangoland, SADF, Military 1985

(above) My opinion of the food at Nepara. I was and still am no fan of liver. A slab of liver could quite easily be mistaken for a steak, hence this image. During Basic Training back in Potchefstroom – Sergeant Killer Smith had me sit in the mess until I had eaten a large helping of grey-coloured cabbage. He thought my heaving was amusing.

Getting Letters on the Border, Nepara, Kavangoland, SADF, Military, 1985

A letter back to my Mother regarding my excitement at getting her letters. Nepara, Kavangoland.

'Ek Kan Nie Meer Nie!' 27 Days to Go!  SADF, Military, November 1985, Nepara, Kavangoland

A page of a letter I sent to my Mother near the end of my two year military service when I had 27 days left to demobilising. My weariness is very evident, for our ubiquitous Skutter Snoeks’ lament is… “Ek kan nie Meer nie!” (I can do no more). Of interest – the poem is by Wilhelmina Stitch (1888 – 1936) the pen name of the poet Ruth Collie.

The 'Min Dae' Bug. Cartoon, Nepara, Kavangoland, SADF, Military, 1985

The ‘Min Dae’ Bug (Few Days) that infected us Ou Manne (Old Men) with Mindaelitis.

PF (Permanent Force) a doodle, 1984, SADF, Military

A doodled cartoon af a PF Lieutenant.

Skutter Snoeks, a doodle, 1984, SADF, Military

Skutter Snoeks (Rifleman Snoeks) the South African Defence Forces equivalent of GI Joe and Britain’s Tommy Atkins. Of interest – the British troops nickname for the Boers during the 2nd Anglo-Boer war was the ‘Jackies’. Skutter Snoeks has just been awarded his Pro Patria medal for his two year service and looks nonplussed. I guess we all identified with  Skutter Snoeks in one fashion or another. I know I came home and tossed my medal into a cardboard box. Presently, I think it is in the same box, only now relegated to the attic.

Take no thought, Skutter Snoeks, 3 SAI, O Coy, 1984 Intake, SADF, Military, 1984

The spiritual encouragements my Mother sent to me in letters and my own personal faith saw me through many difficult times. In this little cartoon, I was reminding myself of the advice of Jesus not to worry and to live only for the day.

Graham Leslie McCallum


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