The Battle of Bangui and other ANC Bungles

I’ve just read that the defence department has been ordered by a judge to release three internal reports on the “Battle of Bangui” – the country’s worst military defeat since apartheid – in which 15 South African soldiers were killed by rebels in the Central African Republic.

Rifling through the extensive archive that I laughingly call my brain, I remembered writing two open letters about this incident in 2013:

An Open Letter to SA National Defence Force Chief, General Solly Shoke

Dear General,

I got quite a shock when I saw you on telly the other evening. I was under the impression Magnus Malan still had the job.

Like many white people, I stopped taking an interest in current affairs in 1994. However, I didn’t think for one minute that the new government would ever put a black man in charge of the armed forces.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Some of my best friends are black men. Well, that’s not strictly true. But I do know someone who has a friend who works with a black man and they sometimes go for a drink together after work. If they were to ever invite me, I would definitely go. It would cost me a bit more because darkies aren’t so quick to buy a round, but it would be worth it just for the sake of good race relations. Plus, if we had to go for a leak at the same time, I could see if it’s true what they say about black men. Just kidding! When I am at the urinals, I always make a point of not looking. Unless the other chap looks first. Then it’s open season.

Anyway. This is not why I am writing to you.

I wanted to congratulate you on the magnificent performance put up by your men in Bangui, the beautiful capital of the Central African Republic. What was it – 200 men against half a million drug-crazed rebels? And we whipped their asses. In fact, we have been whipping African asses all the way from Cairo to Cuito Cuanavale for the last 70 years.

Remember Tobruk? I can. I was there. I personally took out a Panza tank and a Stuka bomber and was on my way to give Rommel a swift kick in the nuts when a member of the Italian Motorised Corps advanced on my rear and I was forced to flee. Some effete little pantywaist by the name of General Klopper waved the white flag and handed the city to the Nazis soon after.

You will never be a Klopper, General! You are a Rommel! Don’t stop at the Central African Republic, I implore you.

We can take Chad easily. I knew a Chad once. He was a pushover. Literally.

Niger will capitulate in exchange for three goats and a bottle of whiskey.

Algeria’s a bitch so you might want to skirt that one.

My suggestion is you take a left at the Niger border and go through Mali. They only wake up on Tuesdays for an hour or so, which gives you plenty of time.

Then punch through Mauritania. Your men will meet with no resistance. Well, almost none. My sources tell me they should expect to be confronted by an elderly man with one leg and half a face. He is in charge of the government’s human trafficking department. Give him two of your smallest, most effeminate soldiers and move on to the Western Sahara. It calls itself a country but nobody really believes that.

From the top of a hill, you should be able to see the lights of Casablanca. Once your men have taken Morocco – easily done on a Friday when half the army is at prayers and the other half is stoned on hashish – you need to regroup in Tangiers. Give your men 24 hours off. The whores are excellent and the opium even better.

I expect you will get a call from President Zuma congratulating you on “defending” all those democracies. But he is a nationalist at heart and will probably suggest you move on to Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, where the men can take some time off to watch the migration of refugees across the Serengeti.

My advice is that you ignore his orders. During the wild years, Zuma was the ANC’s head of underground structures and chief of intelligence. If he were a superhero, his name would be Supermole.

Once you have taken Morocco, steal a fishing boat and get your men across the Strait of Gibraltar and into Spain. Europe’s transportation system is effective and reliable and, with the right tickets, they should be able to get off and defend democracy in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Let them rest for a while in the brothels and cannabis cafes of Amsterdam before unleashing them on Germany. Once Berlin is ours, the world is ours.

Ideally, of course, we’d help to secure peace and democracy in America, too. But that would mean having to fix our submarines and there just aren’t enough spare parts in the world for that.

I am something of a military man myself, having served in the illustrious 2 Signals Regiment. Our emblem was a little dude with wings. He might have also had a bow and arrow. Maybe it was Cupid. The infantrymen called him Jimmy the Cunt. I don’t know why. Or maybe they were just talking about Jimmy, the guy two beds down from me. I don’t remember much from that time. Post-traumatic stress, probably. Or alcohol abuse.

What I am saying is that you need more signalmen and fewer paratroopers when you next decide to enforce democracy in a country that falls two rungs below basketcase.

Parabats love jumping out of planes but you can’t keep them on the ground for too long. Once they have defended democracy for a day or two, you need to get them into the air and have someone push them out at 20,000 feet or risk having them become all listless and dispirited, which obviously makes it easier for rebel armies to sneak up and shoot them.

Signalmen, on the other hand, never sleep. They are constantly tapping, whether it be sources, Morse code or the sergeant-major’s one-armed daughter.

So I am asking that the next time you send a frigate up the Umgeni River to bring peace and democracy to the savages of Lesotho, you give me a call. I apologise. The uMngeni River. Old colonial habits die hard.

By the way, did you hear that the new pope has called for an end to the violence and looting in the Central African Republic? This is outrageous. I don’t even care that the Catholic Church has its foundations in violence and looting. Without hypocrisy, organised religion just wouldn’t be the same.

But for him to bring this up in his very first general audience suggests this is a meddlesome pope. A dangerous pope. A pope who has the interests of ordinary Africans at heart, much like the early missionaries who came to Africa. They had the Bible and we had the land. They said, “Let us pray.” We closed our eyes and when we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.

I think Archbishop Tutu might have said that. It’s a great line. Truth is, I could do a hell of a lot more with a Bible than I could with a piece of land. I don’t have a clue about the proper care and feeding of a beetroot, but I do know how to use a book as a doorstop or tear out a page when the Rizlas run out.

The International Crisis Group – based in Brussels in case you think it is a bunch of crack addicts based in Muizenberg – described the Central African Republic as a “phantom state”. Listen to me, general. Forget about rearming. You need to rebrand. Your unit in Bangui? They are no longer paratroopers. They are Ghostbusters. You can thank me later.

In the meantime, let us scramble those fancy Swedish jets of ours and target the people who are really responsible for this mess. Yes, general, I am talking about carpet bombing Paris and Versailles.

Since we have only two pilots trained to fly the Gripen, I would suggest we let one bomb Paris and then land on the Champs-Élysee and let the second pilot take over and continue on to Versailles with instructions to either bomb the palace or, if he is too drunk, make a U-turn and ditch into Disneyland.

Looters and gunmen are roaming the streets of Bangui as we speak. Perhaps we should send in ADT. They deal with this kind of thing every day of the week.

I think we should support the rebels. Maybe sign a memorandum of misunderstanding with them. When I was a schoolboy, a teacher called me a rebel. I threatened to burn his house down. He laughed and patted me on the head. It was the last thing he ever patted.

I’m ready to go, general. All I need is a gun and a bag of bullets. And maybe a cooler box full of beer. We can win this thing.

Let the “training and capacity building” begin.

Your man in the frontline,



An Open Letter to President Jacob Zuma

Last week I wrote to General Solly Shoke congratulating him on the army’s bold attempt to capture the Central African Republic as part of an ambitious plan to conquer Europe. I must apologise. That letter should have gone to you.

As commander-in-chief of our fabulous war machine, all credit must be bestowed upon your head. And, might I add, what a magnificent head it is, too. I do hope you intend to donate your brain to science. It must be the size of a basketball and is surely the world’s most valuable repository of knowledge and information.

While I am always quick to shower you with general praise – by shower I mean no disrespect – today I wish to heap particular praise on your most awesome statement ever.

“The problem in South Africa is that everybody wants to run the country.”

It sounds so simple but, like many of your utterances, your words contain ineffable nuggets of wisdom that are only revealed to the very fortunate. And when I say fortunate, I mean those of us who are perpetually three sheets to the wind.

This is all the fault of the Freedom Charter. “The People Shall Govern.” Really? What the hell were they thinking? How could they not have foreseen a situation arising, say, 58 years down the line, when people would start taking it literally?

A lot of people in this country read the Bible, but you don’t see them taking the Ten Commandments literally. All that nonsense about not stealing or killing or coveting your neighbour’s ass has no place in today’s modern society. The Bible, like the Freedom Charter, was written at a time when rebellion was in the air and wine was cheaper than chips.

I have just noticed that the Freedom Charter also has Ten Demands. Was that a coincidence? Perhaps the same people who wrote the Bible wrote the Freedom Charter. No, wait. That doesn’t make sense. No wonder I failed history.

If the ANC hadn’t put “The People Shall Govern” at the top of the list, you wouldn’t be saddled with this problem of everybody wanting to run the country.

Imagine if everyone started demanding a share in the country’s wealth or that they be treated equally before the law, or that there should be work, houses, security, comfort, peace and friendship for all. It would be chaos. Oh, wait.

Like the Ten Commandments, the Freedom Charter must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Both documents were overtaken by events and need to be updated. For a start, I think you need to amend the first demand. Instead of saying, “You shall have no other gods before me” … ha ha. Just kidding. Instead of saying, “The people shall govern”, rather say, “We shall govern on behalf of the people and if they do not like it they can fuck off.”

My advice is that you keep ignoring the opposition. It’s what you do best. Besides, they only represent six million voters. You don’t need them. Actually, you do need them. Get your men to round them up overnight and send them off to the Central African Republic. What we need right now is more cannon fodder. Soldiers are red-blooded patriots. Every death is a vote lost.

Three million people voted for the Democratic Alliance alone in the last election. Put them on the next boat to Bangui. Some would probably prefer to take their cars. You should let them. I rather like the image of combatants wearing floppy hats and sunscreen heading off to battle in a convoy of Volvos and Camrys, singing Kumbaya and rattling their jewellery.

Africa, as a hole, is in deep trouble and it takes a man of your calibre to save it. You are a military tactician by nature. One only has to look at the R200-million strategic security installation at your home in Nkandla to know that.

I hope you have someone competent watching your nuclear missiles. Gatsha Buthelezi wouldn’t like it if one of them accidentally took off and landed in Ulundi.

As far as our operation in the CAR goes, I think it was a smart move to relocate our base from the capital to the airport. Bangui duty-free is among the best in the world. If I were a soldier, I’d far rather shop than get shot until I drop. Posthumous medals for bravery are so 1985.

I’ve just heard that we’re pulling out altogether because the African Union doesn’t recognise the rebels – or, as our defence minister would have it, reebils. Is this true? What a shame. The mission had so much promise.

A lot of nosy parkers are still asking why our troops had to die in a country that makes Swaziland look like Switzerland. I liked your answer at the memorial service for those 15 dead soldiers. “Our servicemen died in defence of the country’s foreign policy. They died defending our commitment to the renewal of the African continent and the promotion of peace and stability.”

I must admit, I shed a tear when I heard those words. I wasn’t the only one laughing, either. The entire neighbourhood erupted in screams and cheers. Perhaps the rugby was on at the same time.

I am your biggest fan, comrade president, but you need to dial it down a bit. This isn’t Vietnam. Our foreign policy is limited to sending car guards back to the Congo. I’m surprised we even found the Central African Republic. Are you sure we weren’t meant to be promoting peace and stability in Zimbabwe and overshot?

As for the renewal of the African continent, didn’t that sweet little fantasy splutter and die with the embers of Thabo Mbeki’s pipe?

The memorial was touching, though. Every country needs images of weeping war widows to bring people together, even if they couldn’t pick out the Central African Republic on a wall map of central Africa.

Commander of the fallen soldiers, Major Stephen Jiyane, said: “They waited like tigers for my command and fought like lions until the end.” Perhaps I am being old-fashioned, but when I accidentally cost us the war during the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, my commander knew fairly well in advance that the enemy was in the area.

Perhaps the major would be more suited to working with circus animals. I can hear him speaking proudly of his new recruits, “They waited like parabats for my command …”

Replace the major with Trevor Manuel. Do you remember him? He used to be the finance minister and is now something called the minister in the presidency. You might have seen him skulking in the corridors.

Anyway, he seems to have turned rogue and is suggesting the government stop blaming apartheid for its shortcomings. He wants politicians to start taking responsibility. This is ridiculous. The man has lost his mind. Many of our public servants have made a career out of taking bribes and sick leave and it would be unfair to expect them to take responsibility as well. They only have two hands, after all.

Send Clever Trevor to the front, wherever it is this week. He grew up on the Cape Flats. Give him an Okapi knife and he will be fine.

I bet you’re pleased that war correspondents are a dying breed. Who knows what they might have uncovered in the CAR? I met one, once. He was slumped in a bar in Durban’s Point Road filing an eyewitness account of a skirmish in Mogadishu. Okay, so it was me. So what. Everyone does it these days. It’s better that way. People aren’t strong enough for the truth.

It’s important that you keep using our troops to protect your assets – I beg your pardon – our interests. There is nothing more important than money, my honourable friend. Shoprite’s Whitey Basson earned R600-million last year. Nobody would take South Africa seriously if they knew our Chief Darkie earned less than Whitey.

Have you considered art as a sideline? A German bought Brett Murray’s defaced painting of you for R120-thousand. Nkandla should have an artist-in-residence churning out depictions of the presidential love muscle. MaKhumalo could sell them in her tuck shop.

A last bit of advice from a fellow soldier of fortune: Keep an eye on North Korea. Kim Jong-un might look like a blancmange with a bad haircut, but he has captured the world’s attention by threatening to nuke half the free world. You need to do something big. Launch a pre-dawn assault on Madrid and Spain could be ours by Tuesday.

You’re a big man and you need to start thinking big. Having twenty children might impress your fellow Africans, but it does nothing to get the attention of the Big Five. Just to be clear, I’m talking about the permanent members of the UN Security Council and not rhinos and elephants.

Hillary Clinton wrote a book called “It Takes a Village”. She was wrong. First, we take a village. Then we take a town, a city and finally the country. Pass it on to your commanders. Not the book. The advice.

Good luck, comrade. I have a feeling you’re going to need it.

Your man in the trenches,


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