I don’t often write blogs anymore - as a marketing tool it is hopeless, and my time is limited, I would rather write books and be with my wife in those books where I have fun. When you get closer to 50 years on this earth, you rise above what bothered you 20 or 30 years ago, in fact, you move on. But as always you cannot help but notice the lack of respect for the law in this country. It starts with the parents, yes, the parents. When you drive above the speed limit, put there for your safety and others like you, you are breaking the law whether you are caught or not, you are still a criminal. I heard all the excuses and none make sense and I dare say 95% of all people on the roads are criminals from this point of view. How do I know? I counted them yesterday, keeping my vehicle exactly at the right speed, yes, boring, but law abiding and inside the vehicle’s limits of safety and then I counted the criminals coming past. There is no racial pattern here, nor male or female, rich or poor, it is evenly mixed - does not matter if it is the British Revenge (Land Rover to you) or Mercedes or whatever, we drive way above the speed limit and we will overtake on blind spots, against hills and across double white lines, we just don’t give a (you know what).
I raged about this before without any effect, no one cares and the snotkoppies (Afrikaans slang for teenagers) sitting in the car playing with their mobiles, will do the same one day. I know, because I saw it, that a wife abuser’s son will abuse his wife too, it runs in the family, pathetic a family as it may be. If you cannot even keep to the speed limit, you will no doubt steal from the taxman too, you will do your mates in during business and you will attend church for effect only, you do not have the love of Christ in you. Never doubt, my friends, that such action will one day be held against you by the One seeing everything, so get ready to explain why and be ready to look foolish when you do but that is your problem, I don’t care, go flashing past and may you die alone when you do so once too often. I have no sympathy; you want to die. And then, I saw something worse, stopping at a local Wimpy restaurant for coffee, my elderly mother loving their coffee since the I can remember, decades now, I saw a young man, probably about 16 years old, in a South African Police Camouflage jacket. I asked him: “Where did you get that jacket?”
He was well behaved, not a hooligan, his mates also wearing camouflage, the type hunters wear for some reason, God knows why. Animals see different than you as a human being, what you cannot see, they may well see, so it is entirely useless as a concept in the veldt. I should say wear bright red, so your mates don’t shoot you by accident, it will make no difference on the hunt if you are even a mediocre shot. Anyway, he replied “His dad gave it to him” and he was polite even if taken aback stating “the police do not use them anymore.”
I wish his dad, as a former policeman was there, to explain to me why his lad does not know about the fact that such uniforms are still being used, yes, by the old Special Task Force and others. And why on earth will you allow your child to wear a police uniform piece in the street, against the law by the way, and by doing so, placing that child in terrible danger if he becomes a target by criminals, not knowing he is a fake? Does he even remember that we found the Strydom Plein shooter in just such a jacket? Yes, go and read my biography Mean Streets – Life in The Apartheid Police (Book 2) The Mean Streets and that we did not kill Strydom because he had that jacket on, as a former policeman he had access to the uniform he disgraced by wearing it that day. To me, and many like me, the old camouflage uniform is not a “symbol of terror” as it was apparently for many, I say “apparently” because life was not as simple as many say today - read my books, educate yourself. To get to wear the camouflage uniform you had to pass a six week counter insurgency course, my mate George M James wrote about that (as did I in my police memoirs) as follows: “I recalled an experienced company commander saying that to us when I arrived for counter insurgency training, a six-week course, long before I made Selection. He said that “Everything in life has a price, if you wish to join the crack police counter insurgency units, you need to be trained as well as you can be trained by him and his staff (standing behind him, giving us hard looks) and so we need to switch on and become sponges, to learn from him and his men, but it will cost us much in physical energy.” And so we started walking patrols, shooting (double tap, bush lane) and conducting ambushes, counter ambushes and everything else known to man in those skills, paying the price in blood, sweat and tears if not prayer at times. The counter insurgency training was better than the army version according to those men that did both, compressed into 18 hour days, except Sundays.” (Taken from his forthcoming book Code Name Mel’s Choice.)
I have to ask, but I did not of the young man, he was too shocked to hear he may be arrested, what the hell were you thinking in disgracing my uniform? I sweated blood and I saw men die in that uniform. We wore it with pride, and with dignity and we were proud to do so. And now you hand it down to your snotkop and let me quote you something else, this time from my own memoirs, it is rather long but so it is: “At first the SAP members had neither camouflage uniforms nor specialist vehicles which offered landmine protection. That is probably where the art of appropriation was first learned but SAP members were always practical men. With the years a camouflaged uniform and the brilliant Casspir anti-mine armoured vehicles were in service and this was totally unique to the SAP COIN Units. The Army never had camouflage uniforms and the SAP was frequently misidentified as the Army by foreign long haired liberals. That was a major insult to us to be corrected with a fatherly talk. The camouflage uniform itself was designed by the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) and not discarded Rhodesian camouflage as I read on the Internet the other day much to my amusement. Unlike Rhodesian camouflage, it was well made and did not fall apart easily.
There were two different SAP camouflage uniforms which looked slightly dissimilar. That is the uniform before 1976 and after 1976. I took immense pride in mine (new style) and made sure that I chose the patterns which looked the best at SAP Quartermaster in Silverton. For an expert eye, the differences are easy to spot though it cannot be used as reliable evidence to establish when the pictures were taken for many kept wearing the old style uniform (it was never withdrawn officially) until the end. It was in fact a status symbol to have the old style camouflage but you better also be entitled to it for the owners did not take kindly to interlopers and wannabes. A wannabe, I can tell you, was spotted miles away and dealt with accordingly. For us, the experts, it is easy to see or to ask a few questions to know the truth.
We all wanted floppy Australian type bush hats which was only manufactured up to 1976 and thus scarce. Since we were never actually issued the bush hat, we wore a baseball style cap with the gold SAP Police Star engraved on it. This cap did not give nearly as much shade as a floppy hat but worked well enough. It came with an orange day glow inner so that the Air Force gunships could see us during a contact or thereafter by wearing it upside down. It also made us sweat more than usual as the heat could not escape as easily. All in all, a good design and even if we never used it, it had another design feature which was an inbuilt neck protector which could be released and rolled down to cover our necks against the sun. According to our instructors that made us look like “degenerate f Cubans or something worse!” So much worse in fact that I cannot repeat it here. Sufficient to say there was a toilet involved in their less than elegant description. Hence we almost never used the neck function. Anyway, I never saw it used.
We had neither combat helmets nor bullet proof jackets which amazed a former US Marine Colonel who found himself attached to us to observe or something. He used to say we are mad (crazy, not angry) and operate in ways which they would never consider unless part of the Recon Platoon. I don’t know if this is true but we did operate in small groups and very rarely above section level. What exactly that Marine Colonel was doing there I would not know and never asked as our lieutenant told us not to be long haired liberals and made sure the ancient Colonel is safe from all harm including us.
He was a Korean and Vietnam veteran and I can tell you, I have never seen a man that old that fit ever in my life since or before. He never got tired and always polite no matter what. Hell, he kept us safe and I greatly admired him. (I think he was just jealous with his remarks on us not being all there – we were rather happy to be considered normal.) You may be sure I learned what I could from him which was much for he liked to talk about history, combat and poetry. All things I loved to talk about myself so we got on very well. He refused to believe I was a sergeant though and suspected me being an officer from Military Intelligence (what an insult, almost ruined a friendship, I was never in the Army).
* I don’t know why that US Marine was with us for those days or why with my section in particular so it is no use writing and asking. I doubt if it was “official.”
It was a status symbol for us to wear faded camouflage as it indicated veteran status in our macho world. As always we took that to the brink and it reminds me of a rumour I heard. It may be true for it was told to me more than once. Apparently, during the Rhodesian war a small contingent SAP COIN members that completed their tour of duty met up with a fresh contingent beginning their tour. In those days SAP COIN flew to Rhodesia and did their refresher course there. Thus one group landed and went home and the other boarded and went to the bush with the same aircraft. It was usually quite easy to distinguish between the two groups as the veteran's uniforms were faded and the fresh contingent brand new. A veteran walked over to give them the lip (as SAP custom demands) and was held / kept on the same aircraft from which he just arrived.
No one believed him when he said he just came back for he wore a new camouflage uniform for reasons only he will be able to explain. The new contingent sincerely believed he was making jokes in rather bad taste when he wanted to jump off and started crying and made horrible threats about kidnapping innocent constables returning from Rhodesia and minding their own business so to speak. Therefore, they handcuffed him to the aircraft and he had to do another three months which he did, not being a long haired liberal. His former lieutenant paid his bonus into his bank account when they realised he was missing at pay parade. I believe, seriously, he should feel lucky he was not arrested for absconding without official leave. Anyway, he was told exactly that when he came back three months later a wiser man but somewhat bitter, having now lost seven months of his life at home. SAP COIN was kind enough to send his old kit to him the next week which was lying around so he had no real complaints.
* The policemen came from all over the country to form ad-hoc platoons and companies. So they would not have known each other well enough to know he could indeed be returning from the bush. Anyway, no harm done.”
I say to you, daddy of the snotkop I found, go on your knees today and thank our Lord you were never under my command, the mere fact that the lad’s camouflaged jacket looks brand new, shows me all I need to know about your police career. I have no time for wannabees, you would have regretted meeting me but you would also have honoured our traditions.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a practicing commercial law attorney for eight years. He also wrote several books on business, law, counter terrorism and security issues. He is a widower and lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa.