Home » South Africa Diaries: Part 2 – Unexpected Welcome In Transkei [Nov 1990]

South Africa Diaries: Part 2 – Unexpected Welcome In Transkei [Nov 1990]

The real worth of Castle lager

I didn’t realise the significance of the case of lager we were carrying nor did I know its real worth until we hit a ‘road block’ after crossing the Natal border with Transkei. The border post was manned by a handful of soldiers, each of whom was brandishing an AK47 with all the care that a child would handle a water pistol. This was no regular road block and the soldiers (I use the term loosely) were clearly not highly trained or disciplined military.

Despite the heat of the night my skin quickly began to feel decidedly chilly and a prickly sensation settled on the back of my neck.Driver David was quite calm as he conversed in Xhosa with the halitosis ridden corporal who had stuck his head through the open window accompanied by his gun. Although sweating profusely my arse was solidly frozen to the seat and my lips were paralysed. Six Castles lighter we were allowed to pass.

Overcome with a relief I had never experienced before I enquired as to the reason for the road block, ignoring the demeanour of the soldiers at that point.
‘Apparently there has been an attempted coup in Umtata and the President, Major-General Bantu Holomisa, has been ousted.’
‘Isn’t that where we are going David?’

Attempted coups are usually unsuccessful

Taking a little comfort from David’s very laid back attitude I settled down until we reached our destination on the outskirts of Umtata. We showered and hit the sack pretty quickly. I could see we were in for a very hot day as we set off to the office in the centre of town. A couple of soldiers who had clearly got their hands on a fair number of Castles were staggering around the centre trying to shoot the sun out of the sky. It was clearly too hot for them also.
‘Is this normal David?’
‘Fortunately not an everyday occurrence and attempted coups are usually unsuccessful.’
‘That’s very reassuring!’
We were to learn later that a group of rebel army troops had mounted a coup attempt [21 November 1990]. They had attacked the main army camp in Umtata the capital and eighteen people were reported killed in the fighting. Major-General Bantu Holomisa’s former second in command Colonel Craig Duli was the leader of the coup and had been reported killed in the fighting. Duli had helped Holomisa to seize power in a bloodless coup in 1987. The Transkei was from that point onwards in alliance with the ANC providing a relatively safe haven for the ANC’s activities.

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The eventual outcome

Holomisa later accused the South African government of having had knowledge of Duli’s intended coup and of failing to warn him. He also alleged that members of the right-wing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) were involved in guerrilla training near the Transkei border. Since Holomisa openly supported the African National Congress (ANC) relations between the Transkei and South Africa were strained. He was opposed to the homeland system and held a referendum to decide on the possible reintegration of the homelands into South Africa which enraged the SA government. When he was asked about the fate of his opponents in the attempted coup, he claimed that they had died in the ensuing battles with Transkei Defence Force soldiers. The South African Foreign Minister, Pik Botha accused Holomisa of lying and threatened to withdraw all financial support and diplomatic recognition if Holomisa continued to link South Africa with the failed coup. It was later found that those deemed responsible for the failed coup had only suffered minor injuries, but were subsequently executed without trial.

Later six people approached the Amnesty Commission of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to apply for amnesty in respect of conspiracy to commit treason. Four were granted amnesty and two were denied. In 1996 Holomisa was expelled from the ANC.

Wake up call

This interlude was to be the forerunner to many close to the edge situations I would experience in the next twenty years at the bottom of Africa. Although I may not have realised it at the time it opened my eyes to a vastly different world that I had inhabited in relative tranquillity for the previous 47 years. It was in many ways a rude awakening or a wakeup call which probably changed many preconceptions I may have held and, subsequently, my life dramatically.

James King is a writer, blogger and photo-artist. Born in England, he travelled to over 20 countries and in 1995 emigrated to South Africa. In 2011 James moved to Thailand, in semi-retirement, where he built and sold one house, renovated another, wrote various e-books and started a blog (jamoroki.com).

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