Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Three for the Army

Something you don’t see every day: a set of triplets from Pretoria recently completed basic training as part of their enlistment in the South African Army. Dirk van Zyl, Tjaard van Zyl, and Hendrik van Zyl (above, left-to-right) are 20 years old and got their mechanical engineering qualifications before enlisting in the Defence Force.

The three brothers are all part of Foxtrot Company, 3 South African Infantry Battalion based at Kimberley in the Northern Cape; Hendrik in Platoon 1, Tjaard in Platoon 2, and Dirk in Platoon 3.

Large-scale operational deployments of the South African military have been few and far between since the country withdrew from the Angolan conflict and granted Namibia independence. Since then they have mostly consisted of United Nations and African Union peacekeeping operations, as well as other endeavours such as South Africa’s 1998 military intervention in a dynastic dispute in the neighbouring Catholic monarchy of Lesotho. Current defence regulations prevent siblings like the van Zyl brothers from being operationally deployed simultaneously.

This post was published on Wednesday, June 30th, 2010 11:09 am. It has been categorised under Military South Africa and been tagged under , .
1 Jul 2010 4:59 pm

The slow fall in capability with respect to the South African military is quite tragic.

K. Dontoh
2 Jul 2010 2:45 pm

Well you have to realize when your purpose is to no longer limit the amount of majority-rule states in your vicinity, occupy a neighboring country, and to generally keep your own people oppressed, the need for an extremely powerful military is greatly diminished. The SADF was an extremely capable force, no doubt, but there really isn’t a need for its successor to be as such. From all I’ve read, it still is.
And since when was Lesotho Catholic? This is news to me. I would have imagined it Anglican.

Xander Fraser
9 Jul 2010 8:22 am

I find K. Dontoh’s post laughable in the extreme, and indicative of the sort of ill-informed liberal guff I had my ears assaulted with by ANC and pro-Communist apologists when I was younger. Before I proceed, I should declare an interest in that I completed my National Service, and later served as a Regular, in what were known as the Parabats of the old SADF from the early 1980s. I saw active service in what is now Namibia, and Angola, and on internal security duties within SA itself.

The limiting of ‘majority-rule’ in what we knew as the Frontline or Border States was based on one simple principle – majority rule = Communism. Not imagined or implied, but rule by actual Communist ‘liberation movements’ funded, armed, trained, and backed by Moscow, Beijing or Havana. I imagine that in the safe and rarified environs of Western Europe and America such brutal un-PC realities were and are both upsetting and incomprehensible, but I can assure you that they were very real for those of us in South Africa who came of age during the Border Wars and had to face the ugly reality at the sharp end in engagements which now barely warrant a mention and of which I suspect people like K. Dontoh are entirely ignorant.

I assume that K. Dontoh means Namibia/South-West Africa when he makes reference to the SADF ‘occupying’ its neighbour – an ‘occupation’ originally sanctioned by the League of Nations after the Great War. Granted, SA was ordered out of South West by the UN in the 1960s, but by that stage Pretoria saw what decolonisation resulted in and equally saw the UN as a platform for anti-Western thug states and pro-Communist proxies.

Sorry to be a bore about this, but K. Dontoh’s words deserved a response; they are ill-informed and also give insult to the memory of those men – black and white – who served with integrity, honour and courage in the SADF. I was privileged to have stood with them and regard the current SANDF with contempt.

I wish the Brothers van Zyl well, though why they chose to join the SANDF is beyond me, when so many of their countrymen have chosen instead to join the British Army or go the military contractor route, a profession dominated by South Africans.

Yours etc.,

K. Dontoh
10 Jul 2010 9:25 pm

Let me first state that I do not find Mr. Fraser’s comments laughable, and that I am actually skeptical that he finds mine to be as such, because I would think that such comments would not require such a lengthy response. On the contrary, I find his comments to be nothing short of fallacious and as he himself said – “ill-informed and also give insult to the memory of those men [and women] – black and white” who dedicated their lives to ending the unjust system of apartheid.

But anyways, there is a reason that I find Mr. Fraser’s comments to be as such. Let us look at modern South Africa.; it is not bordered by any communist state. It is bordered, to the northwest by democratic, prosperous, and majority-ruled Namibia and Botswana. Perhaps Namibia can credit its well-being to South African rule. Even if that was the case (which I do not feel is, but that’s another topic entirely) there still is Botswana, which has been majority-ruled since its independence, and whose people can boast of a higher standard of living of many Eastern European nations. Neither Botswana nor Namibia is communist or “anti-western.”

Then there is Mozambique, which indeed was a single-party state, but soon realized the benefits of democratic rule (however imperfectly it manifests itself). Mozambique poses no harm to South Africa today. Then you have Zimbabwe, which people like Mr. Frasier probably capitalize on, claiming this is all “majority rule” states are like. Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia, whatever you’d like, I personally find Rhodesia to be a wonderful name) is not a majority-rule state, it is no more democratic than the apartheid regime to the south that sought to stop from existing.
And you are wrong once again, Mr. Fraser, in presuming I am unaware of the history of the [South African] Border War. But this war, for those who are, was not fought on South Africa’s border, but instead that of Namibia and Angola. I find it interesting how Mr. Fraser brushes aside the United Nations’ – and by extent, the world’s- opposition to South Africa’s occupation of Namibia to be the work of “anti-Western thug states and pro-Communist proxies,” funny considering the fact that any such resolution of the sort would have to be approved by France, Nationalist China, the United Kingdom and the United States- those anti-Western thug states and pro-Communist proxies!
But back to the main topic. This war was fought on wholly foreign soil, and was not only an intrusion (indeed, a complete suppression) on Namibia’s rightful sovereignty, but a prolonging of Angola’s civil war. Perhaps UNITA and the FLNA could have triumphed had they not been marred with the support of the overtly racist apartheid government. This was not a war in defense of South Africa, but instead to subvert the well-being of other nations. On an unrelated note, Angola happens to be Africa’s second-fastest growing economy.
But I think I have made my point, and I too wish the van Zyl brothers all the best, but, Mr. Fraser, I think that they chose the SANDF because they are South African– not British, not Dutch, not anything else. They chose to serve their country, and for that they merit our applause, not your derision.
And we ought to leave it at this, before we get too off-topic.

Xander Fraser
23 Jul 2010 11:42 am

An interesting response Mr. Dontoh (not one I agree with mind you), and I will adhere to your suggestion not to drag this issue further still off topic. However, allow me a final response if you will.

I do not hold the three brothers featured in Andrew Cusack’s original posting in contempt, but I certainly hold the SANDF in contempt, because aside from being a dangerously unprofessional and PC-dominated institution, it includes the former guerrilla arms of the ‘liberation movements’ such as Umkhonto we Sizwe and the APLA, both organisations responsible for terrorist attacks inside SA. I fought against these scum Mr. Dontoh, so how would you have me regard them?

I will finish by speculating that you strike me as someone whose actual first hand knowledge of South Africa and environs pre-1994 is limited if not non-existent. You see fit to judge a country, people and military about which you clearly know little, and have no direct experience. Have you, Mr. Dontoh, actually ever served in an army? (and I do not here refer to the distinctly non-operational armies of Western Europe, which to my eyes more closely resemble armed youth organisations – with some honourable exceptions); I suspect that you have not and I am certain that you have never been on a two-way firing range.

I do not know you or Andrew Cusack, but the tone of this entire blog, in which tradition and a conservative outlook are lauded is somewhat contradicted by both your own views, and what strikes me as a rather superficial adherence to the aforementioned values. The very fact that Andrew Cusack is able to travel about the distinctly Afrikaner parts of SA (notably avoiding the less salubrious parts of the country), and not ask himself just how there is still an Afrikaner society, culture, and people around to visit, is indicative of the attitude I refer to. Perhaps a greater familiarity with farm attacks since 1994 and the lot of impoverished Afrikaners might give you pause for thought.

My own position on this is if one is going to espouse and defend these views, then a more robust and active approach is necessary and not that of the highbrow dilettante. Less of the starry-eyed admiration for and discussion of military uniforms (such as the Ruritanian pre-Castro Cuban Army) and more of the active service in same perhaps? Not quite up to the upper class standards so many on here seem to ape, but certainly a damn sight more real.

Andrew Cusack
23 Jul 2010 11:42 pm

“The very fact that Andrew Cusack is able to travel about the distinctly Afrikaner parts of SA (notably avoiding the less salubrious parts of the country), and not ask himself just how there is still an Afrikaner society, culture, and people around to visit, is indicative of the attitude I refer to.”

Ah, but of course you do not know what questions I have asked myself.

What I put on this blog is a very miniscule portion of my life and mindset. Very miniscule.

Tjaart van zyl
4 Nov 2010 5:15 am

Hey thanks to you all… I just want to say I chose the sandf because I am a south african. I don’t care about race culture or believe’s or by what my fellow soldiers call god. For me its about serving my country and nothing else. If all the people that joined the Britain army joined the sandf. It would be better for the whole country but they didn’t so we must live with it. I am proud to where the uniform of the sandf

George Wilson
20 Mar 2015 1:24 pm

Hi everyone, I read all your comments with interest, and will at this time not take a side. Yes growing up in SA in those days was different, but looking back, I remember a lot of good things between all of us youngsters, irrespective of colour or religion.

The government of the time, called on all white males to join the SADF (compulsory)at the time.

I was fortunate to be selected to arrive at 4SAI, Middelburg, Transvaal (in those days) Finished my two years, and was called up for camps for the next 8 years. This did have an impact in my early job career.

I will the leave the history part for now, and focus on discipline. I believe the youngsters of today, lack that, but don’t need to go to army to learn that, it should be learnt at home.

As far as the new SANDF is concerned, I find it hard to understand how the enlisted could possibly strike, because they had no transport home. (Recent incident in my lifetime) Are they not volunteers?

There are many things I’ve learnt from my time I spent with the SADF, and there are many arguments, I’ve had since then. There are many culture lessons I’ve also learnt since those days, and have done my bit to bring my daughters up in the new South Africa, without my past being a stumbling block.

Had my say for now.


RFN GS Wilson
78439510 BG

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