This Ride Report was originally posted by Whethefakawe on the WD forum. Link here.
I have about 170 photos of my all expenses paid, "a little more adventure than you planned" tour of southern Africa in 1982,. According to the masters of puppets at the time it was "just barely inside SWA and nowhere near Angola". All righty then.
In that case these photos were taken in the mine dumps outside Brakpan by Simon Fourie. A few of these have been seen by maybe 5 or 6 people, but most have just sat in a box, lately I've been looking at them more often.
While scanning these I remembered many details that I had forgotten. I also noticed several things that I never even realized at the time: even when screwing around, R4's were always close at hand, the way the guys always kept good separation especially when stopped, the way the bikes turned from brown to red as the weeks went by and the paint was rubbed and scratched off.
Except for photos of our 3 serious casualties, they are all "happy" shots, of a bunch of 19 and 20 year-olds having a jol, wheelying, swimming, braaing, and fixing flats. I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but if I close my eyes I can hear conversations and see images and "footage" from 25 years ago as if it happened 25 minutes ago. Good and bad, and some that I wish I could print so, for instance, the smiling face of a dead parabat would stay in sharper focus. The other senses remember too - touch and especially smell, it's an amazing capability of the mind.
All the faces in these photos went safely home to mama, minus a reasonable amount of blood, skin, and bone sacrificed to the Gods of Moto These are shots of fun on two wheels, plain and simple. No political statements or subliminal messages.
Bike squad was based at SWASPES outside the little town of Otavi, together with the other specialist units like horses (berede), tracker dogs, and human trackers. It's an area of dense bush, hot as hell in summer and very cold nights in winter. During the annual dry season "farm incursion" by swapo's special forces my platoon was heavily involved as were gunships, Ratels, parabats, and Koevoet units. This terrain wasn't really suitable for bikes so we spent much of it in Buffels or on foot. Tracking took up much of our time, after a while I could do a decent bloodhound impression from sticking close to the highly-trained trackers, who were, by the way, all white guys in this case. We still had the "old" XR's, with the 23 inch front wheel. They had huge bashplates and brushbars mounted, which contradicted the mission: if the bush was dense enough to need them, you couldn't go fast anyways. Bike doctrine was all about SPEED. Not only that, but it made them handle like pigs, and the bashplates were designed as the perfect tool for breaking ankles. We didn't like them much.
Wasting our time somewhere, channeled onto a track through bush too dense to ride in.
Early one morning after riding up and down a railway line all night shooting off massive amounts of ammo as a diversion.
We spent some nights doing farm protection. This specific farmer had a very sexy daughter who was going to university in SA the next year, we assured them that we'd pull in any time protection was needed.
At another farm, another story.........
We were not the only ones with fun toys: Alouette gunships, with the 20mm cannon sticking out the left door. One of the pilots could wheelie rather well. The gunners were incredibly good shots.
Around May we fetched 60 or 70 brand-new XR's from a transport depot in Grootfontein. My bike had 0.5 km on the clock. As I recall, the highest mileage on any one of them was 4 km. Of course, one of the guys moered down on the tar road turning left out of the depot, total mileage 0.8 km
After the farm show, a new loot and I took over the other bike platoon from the July intake leadership who were headed home. There were only two bike platoons, a total of not quite 60 guys. We spent some time training, basically all we did was ride all day every day. As the platoon sergeant, I quickly figured out that my guys couldn't partake in picking up cigarette butts or digging toilets, we had "maintenance and training" every day. It was also a very effective way to control 25 hooligans - I made them a deal, as long as they didn't cause shit and get me in trouble, I'd stick to that story, but if I got ONE BIT of grief from the higher-ups they would dig or sweep or scrub something until my problem went away. Of course, the troublemakers in the platoon had to test the terms of the agreement once or twice, but they saw the wisdom of my system right away I have always been a firm believer in the principle of mutual benefit.
Daily training. The oke closest to the camera was 16 years old at the time. Next to him, the 19 year old loot executes a perfect front wheel landing. New bikes, still all brown.
Our local MX track, called "Back of the Stables". Second moto in progress. We laid out tracks everywhere and raced around like madmen, even in Angola.
About 40 k's away at a mine named Kombat was an actual track, mostly deep sand with a few jumps, it was good training for what was to follow. Practicing my sand riding.
Right next to swaspes base was a rock quarry that provided excellent training and lots of thrills and spills.
We did a lot of riding on railway service roads, they were typically fairly nice tweespoors that switched back and forth across the rails where terrain dictated. On one such ride, two guys kept playing the old falling-back-and-racing-to-catch-up game, and I warned them they were headed for a fall. We came to a spot where the track went between two bushes and made a blind, sharp left turn across the railway line, and we all knew this was going to be a laugh. I hid behind one bush, and everybody else waited and watched across the rails out of sight. As expected, the two hotshots came screaming between the two bushes at about 80, and never even saw the turn. I heard them swearing as they went by me, they bashed a long way into the bush and one moered down. The rest of us were in stitches. I still clearly remember the sheepish looks on their faces after they got themselves extracted from the thornbushes and rocks and got back on the track. Much later I discovered what a brilliant shot I managed to snap as they went by me:
Note the audience at top left, and the fact that neither is even on the brakes yet
At the races. This base was called Tsintsabis, we laid out a mean track in the thick sand just outside the wall. I learned a lot about sand riding that day, mainly KEEP IT PINNED!!
1. The silencers on those XR's were very efficient, as long as you didn't take the baffle out it was surprisingly quiet. Notihng like modern Hondas and KTMs, if anything they were very much choked off. In the first week or two in Ovambo we got curious about it, and did some informal testing, found that a single bike could sneak up to about 150m before you'd hear it, a section or more made a rumble at 300m or so, but it was very hard to determine what direction it came from. While doing this, we also noticed what a huge difference it made when the headlights were disconnected. With lights on you could easily see bikes coming towards you 2k's away, without lights you couldn't make out what it was till 3 or 400m away. A captured swap at Mahanene later told us that they were shit scared of the bikes, because we would appear so suddenly at high speed.
2. We were all issued red and black MX boots at Berede in Potch, but those soon ended up at the bottom of our balsaks cause walking in them was a bitch. We did lots of THAT during the farm caper, I can remember one specific morning tracking for 15k's nonstop. They were kak boots anyways, I never wore them.
3. The rear wheels were standard 19 inchers, just like modern dirt bikes. Honda moered off the wagon with that big front wheel, they had some handling theory that turned out to be just that.
After the last "special forces" terr, whom we chased for weeks, was accidentally captured by a farmer and his son out hunting not far from our quarry racetrack, we did a period of training with the new (to the loot and me) platoon on the new bikes. We went to Oshivelo for 2 weeks of typical infantry rondfok: ambushes, TB's, mine drills etc etc, as if there was more to a mine drill for bikes than picking up bits and pieces. A "coin refresher" they called it There was a big commotion the day we left, some huge operation starting, the most interesting thing to us was a dog on one of the Kwevoels, by the name of Smoke - he was supposed to be the meanest, most vicious mutt in the whole dog unit. Didn't look like much, just your average pavement special with a curly tail. We kept more than his leash distance away to compensate for errors in judgement though.
Once in Ovambo, for admin purposes we were based at 52 Bn at Ogongo, we only spent enough time there to make a mortal enemy of a typical PF doos, this one was an Intelligence captain (what an oxymoron) who wore a fucking beret in the bush, in addition to shorts with kneelength socks and GRASSHOPPERS A total wanker, he made us run 2,4's and 7 k's in the sand, and gave me and the loot a sandbag opfok one day just cause he could. I hated that bastard with a passion, especially since he tried and came within a whisker of killing me once, only a decision made in the middle of the night by who or what I don't know to this day caused a Buffel to set off a cheesemine on the cutline instead of me on my bike.
But the RSM was an exceptional character, we called him Asterix cause he looked just like him. Asterix had been my CompanySM at Oudtshoorn in 1980, he remembered me, from day one he assigned us "maintenance" at every morning's parade while the other okes got to pick up stompies and scrub toilets Asterix was hilarious to watch and listen to, I can still hear him yelling at an MP we had in the platoon in 1980: ....kopperaal Raubenheiiiimeeeeeer!!!! .......maak die plante nat, dis so droog soos 'n non se kont!!!! Pardon my french. A really good oke, not all PF's were bad.
We started doing patrols, first time out we didn't wear helmets, and had a few fuckups, but we learned quickly. We had most of the relatively few flats we ever got during the first week or two, never quite figured out why.
The locals were almost always friendly, they lent us a pump this time:
One of my favourite shots, shows the formation we rode when crossing open shonas
Within the first two or three weeks we had our first serious casualty, the locals cut trees down to just over a metre and used them as preinstalled fenceposts. Just after sunset one day we hit one such steel wire fence, everybody managed to stop except for one poor oke who went right through, the top wire caught him by the throat and he did a double summy off the back of the bike, I was about 30m away on his right and saw it happen in slow motion. The wire tore his windpipe, so that his neck started to swell up from air escaping under the skin. He was casevaced, as I recall vehicles came and fetched him to the nearest base from where a chopper flew him to Oshakati. It was a shame, he was a real character and a good oke, always smiling, he joined the platoon again when we left Ovambo on the way home in December.
Right after the incident, our wounded oke is standing 4th from the right by the bike's front wheel.
On one of our early outings before we wised up and started wearing helmets
Initially we spent some time in the area south of Ogongo, absolutely the best riding terrain I have EVER been on. Supposedly there are no rocks in Ovamboland, from what saw I'd have to agree. Wide open spaces, where we could ride in posed formations:
When on the move, the formation was much more spread out, and these guys were good - they always did it without having to be told:
One of the main reasons we loved these wide open spaces was, of course:
We actually had 14 guys on the back wheel spread out in a line, this was part of it. And yes china, these were balance point wheelies, in 5th gear
Wheelying led, of course, to backflips. I was at the back of the line one Sunday morning, on the back wheel in 5th gear doing at least 80, and flipped it. I could never figure out why, but I now suspect that the front wheel had stopped spinning and the lack of gyroscopic effect changed the balance point. Regardless of exactly which law of physics bit me in the arse that day, I went skidding down a concrete-hard dirt road on my back, my shirt bunched up around my neck - I never tucked it in, for ventilation purposes. I still piss myself laughing every time I replay this in my head, which I can do in excruciating detail, including the glass shards from the flattened speedo tumbling towards me in slow motion. I will never forget that one. When I finally stopped sliding, I sat up, looked around in a daze, took my helmet off, said "fuuuuuuck me..." and next thing I knew I woke up on my back, helmet next to me and not a fucking soul in sight. Those bastards had ridden off without even seeing me go down. I slowly and painfully got up, started the bike and rode off in search of "friendly forces". Just how friendly I found out when, about 5 k's down the road, I found the platoon spread in a circle around a huge tree, bakking ballas and making coffee. I came riding into this circle with seriously bent handlebars, a flattened speedo and the biggest fucking roastie I've ever had - basically my whole back. The whole platoon started rolling on the ground they were laughing so hard, not a fucking ONE asked if I was OK, or what happened - they could tell. After the hilarity had died down all I wanted to do was sleep - I realize with hindsight I probably had a bloody concussion, but I wasn't going to whinge at any cost
Sleeping on the softest thing around after flipping at 80, I was not a happy chappy in this shot, my back was bloody but I fell asleep anyways. We actually rode in this position whenever we had to cover distance on the tar road, if we'd had throttle locks it would have been like sitting on a sofa.
Every night, before sunset, we'd go through the TB (temporary base - tydelike basis) drill. Stop, spread out, make food and coffee, then, when it was almost completely dark, ride 2 or 3 k's and pick a spot with some cover for the night. The idea was that if swapo was watching you, they wouldn't know where to throw the mortars later that night This drill saved many many lives. We often slept in these hollows, in the dry season they provided perfect cover but once it started raining they all became 2 and 3 metre deep mini-lakes. My bed in left foreground and someone just crawling out of his fart sack in the middle rear:
Because we never had a full platoon of 3 sections X 10 men plus HQ section, we modified the guard system. Instead of 2 okes from each section on guard at any time, ie 6 in a standard platoon, two guys at a time would position themselves inside the TB in a spot where they had a good field of vision, and sit or stand there with little movement and zero noise. Shifts rotated every two hours, it typically took 2 or so nights for everybody to get his turn in the rotation. In Angola this was taken very seriously indeed.
Dinner routine before moving a few k's away for the night. Wood was never a problem, in 2 minutes you could gather enough sticks to cook a can of bully beef or sweetcorn and make some coffee. You simply put the opened can in the fire, just had to be careful not to eat the liner inside the can when it separated from the heat - it would made you shit like a racing chicken.
We came across Kawasaki's MX track bulding crew one day:
Strict anti-mine discipline saved us several times, including one occasion when we beat 50% odds - we had to ride through a bottleneck one afternoon going into a base, where the fences came right up to the tweespoor and forced us to ride on the road. We hated doing that, but this time we had no choice, so we flipped a coin and rode in on the soft and sandy middelmannetjie. Very early the next morning we rode out in the tracks, simply out of habit never to do the same thing twice. A few days later in some base someone walked up and told the loot that after we had left, the sappers swept the road and found a cheesemine in the middelmannetjie. Turns out a swap was on top of a cuca shop close by and watched us ride in - after that we were even more fanatical about varying our routine.
We especially stayed off the main road where it was unpaved. If we had to go that way, we'd ride alongside the road, weaving between telephone poles, anthills and tree stumps. It was usually a quick way of getting somewhere, but not always:
The loot and one of the section leaders, fearless pathfinders that they were. As can be expected, much rolling around resulted from this one. They went from 60 to zero in 5 seconds or so.
Except in the 3 serious injury cases, we were always merciless about someone's misfortune, or more accurately put, show-off or stupid move that resulted in some measure of pain and/or humiliation. Like the oke who tried to pop a wheelie from a standing start, leaving a base called Okalongo one day. In front of at least 200 troops from other units sitting on vehicles ready to move out on some big sweep, he flipped that XR right on its back without moving one inch. It was one of those powder-white surfaces you found in some places, he practically bounced from flat on his back with the bike on top of him right forward onto the wheels again, and jaaged out of the gap in the wall with his tail between his legs. I was sitting there watching him and actually fell off my bike I was laughing so hard.
Aother hilarious day, this 101Bn interpreter was assigned to us for a reason I forget, one of the funniest characters in the platoon by the name of "Brommer" carried him initially but bliksemed down twice in the space of 100m in a sandy tweespoor, so his buddy from the same hometown had to carry the poor oke. We were all laughing our arses off when this was taken, even the 101 oke could see the joke. The next day he never showed up
In Angola one day, a section leader clipped a sawn-off treestump with his foot peg in the dust at 80+. I was last in line as usual and just saw one moer of a dust cloud, bikes bombshelling left and right, and XR 500, section leader, waterbottles, sleeping bag and radio blowing outwards as if from an explosion. After the initial skrik and realising it wasn't a mine, I started laughing at him. Ooooh boy did that piss him off. He was not amused in the least. He had actually taken one hell of a tumble, so I ended up sympathising with him. He stayed the moer in with me for a long time after that, but hey - it was fucking hilarious, what was I supposed to do? Here is the immediate aftermath, he is still gathering his wits with arms folded:
We got along very well with the locals for the most part, of course they were caught between a rock and a hard place in many cases, we would only confront young men of obvious military age and exaimne them for webbing marks on their shoulders and soft feet, which meant they wore boots regularly. We gave many young boys rides on the bikes, two okes especially would wheelie up and down with them on the back - always good for a thrill, both for the boy and his watching mates. This was one of the wheeliers, Dave, getting a reciprocal ride from a local boy:
The big and heavy B25 radio was hated by all, whomever caused shit of some kind usually got to carry it. I never did, but it must have been like riding with panniers. The loot making the daily sitrep, from somewhere in Angola:
Ovamboland was full of donkeys, pigs, and goats wandering around, they obviously belonged to somebody but were apparently allowed to roam around looking for grazing. After a while I got bored when we'd sit and wait for whatever reason, so I started chasing pigs and donkeys on my bike. Pigs were lots of fun, they could change direction incredibly quickly while squealing as if they were getting their throats cut, which is probably what they thought I was planning to do It took quick reflexes and, once I figured out how they usually reacted, some anticipation to catch them. Donkeys were very nafi, it took a lot to get them going, and even then they'd only gallop at a fast idle, lazy bastards.
It's true, one tends to remember only the good parts, even so, I can honestly say that at least 90% of the good days I had in the army were during the year in the bush. The only shit days I remember there were the ones spent in Ogongo, with the idiot captain making life difficult for us. The rest was a jol, even though we probably came close to disaster many more times than we knew.
And we also swapped bikes for horses, I went on a "dawn patrol" around Ogongo one day with our donkey-driving friends. They did that every day, forget what the exact term was. Last time I EVER set foot on a horse. Let's just say I figured out that horses and I don't get along.
We were in and out of Angola all the time, sometimes spent longer periods across the cutline. It got to the point where we'd be racing through the mopani trees and just see a flash of sand stretching off to the sides as we left "friendly" territory behind. Angola didn't look any different, but I saw for the first time local kraals that were destroyed. It always amazed me that a landscape as simple as some farm fields with a little kraal could be destroyed, but it was. We saw very few people until we'd get further in, the ones we did usually came up and asked for medicine and water, it was pathetic but we couldn't do much for them.
On one long patrol we were hungry and tired of our kak canned food, so we bought a goat and some salt from a local. Several of the guys were farm boys, so it was butchered and on the fire in short order.
It was almost like being in the Kruger Park with your mates for a while, but when we packed up to comtinue on, the tension returned. We were always on edge in Angola, the deeper we went the more tense it was. But - like any self-respecting bunch of bikers, we still found time for screwing around. After the rains began the sand was the stuff any dirtbiker dreams of - semi-packed and moist. we laid out MX tracks a few times and raced around till we had just enough petrol to make it back into Ovamboland. I once laid out a figure 8 around twol bushes and just went round and round dragging the footpegs and handlebars in the sand. That's the god's honest truth - you didn't need much speed, you'd just not slow down and lay it over. Unfortunately I had run out of film by then, it was a once in a lifetime experience.
On another trip in Angola, other units were involved too, this time we stayed out for a month. It was far to the west, towards Ruacana. We got so filthy that I used to write orders on my pants legs with twigs.
The same two who got stuck in the mud along the main road one time.
Angola got green very quickly after the rains started.
When we came across dams in both Ovambo and Angola, we usually went for a dip to clean up and cool down. In Angola fishing with hand grenades supplemented our miserable rations.
Surf's up ovambo style
A local woman came to fetch water while half the platoon was in the dam, nobody got out until she left
One of the last photos I took, ran out of film soon after. This dam in Angola had been breached on one side, it made a perfect "daytona". I wasn't able to ride it - I had flipped pulling a wheelie and stuck out my left hand to break the fall, my wrist instantly swelled up to the point where my hand was a claw, couldn't even bend my fingers. I rode around in Angola for 2 or 3 days with my left arm in a sling - after a while it was easy, and became one of the most thrilling rides I've ever had. Of course the loot out front never slowed down one bit - still rode as hard as he could, and we kept up.
We'd had another casualty in Ovambo, racing between Ogongo and Okalongo one day going for the time record. One oke crashed and broke his leg, 2/3 of the platoon went by him less than 30m away and never even saw him despite him firing his R4 into the air. We found he was missing when we reached Okalongo and raced back, found him under a tree where some locals had carried him. He was another good guy, quiet and dependable and highly regarded by everyone.
We improved the record between the two bases from around an hour and 15 minutes to 26 minutes though. That shut up the loudmouth Buffel drivers who had challenged us. We did 120+ on the shona and 90 through the trees
On the tar road right outside Mahanene gate, the base was far to the west towards Ruacana and 4 k's from the border. Swapo shot the shit out of it many times with mortars, we lucked out when we were there. The wildest pissup I have EVER been in happened in the officer/NCO pub here. Long story.
Somewhere near Mahanene we stopped for the midday siesta by this old bakkie and found ways to amuse ourselves with the help of some smoke grenades. When this got old we hunted boomslangs, and I found two anthills which became the first double jump I ever did.
We planned on sending this to Bike SA as the "Official bike squad Roof of Africa entry", but never got around to it.
As so often happened, things got out of hand, the smoke flooded the bakkie, the two clowns started to choke and had to get out, the windows were the fastest way out.
As usual the rest of us were laughing hard by this time.
After the rains started the mopani flies came out - an absolute plague that drove us mad, they crawled into eyes, nose and mouth, any moist spot as soon as we stopped. We tried various methods to keep them away, smoke was the only effective deterrent.
I am highly amused by the fact that I have a photo of one of tbe three occasions I've ever had a cigarette in my mouth.
From left, the loot, me, the section leader who got the moer in with me for laughing at him when he crashed (seems he was over it by this time) and a guy called HAPS try different anti-mopani fly techniques. We kept moving as much as possible, those fucking miggies would drive you insane.
Last one, of a chance meeting between us and one of the horse platoons on a shona one day.
In a week or so it will be 24 years since I left Ovambo with my platoon, we flew back to Waterkloof in a flossie, all I remember from that is the throng of people inside the terminal after we landed. A huge anticlimax.
I still see and hear with crystal clarity incredible amounts of images, thinking about one thing will invariably trigger some other memory that makes me laugh out loud or shake my head in disbelief that we sustained so little damage. Just 2 weeks ago I had a dream of us screwing around somewhere, pushing the odds but coming out unscathed We were lucky, and we had a jol - not your average stint in the military, I would say.
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