Last night CAT and I were chatting and we realised that we had a number of interesting experiences with regard to our various dealings in Africa. A couple of people mentioned that we should share these stories with you all and CAT suggested I get the ball rolling. CAT will then post his stories in a new thread under the same heading but obviously change the Part # and insert his own title. If you guys enjoy the stories, we can carry on until we are tapped out.
In my case, the stories will always be directly related to a personal experience or a situation with which I was involved. These experiences relate to my life in Africa as a professional soldier and as an intelligence officer / diplomat. All the stories will therefore be true accounts. In some instances I will refrain from using real names if there is any sensitivity surrounding the issue. As an ex-intelligence officer I still have to be discreet at times. Not all the experiences will be directly related to aviation but these will be in the minority. I have asked my wife to sift through my old photographs and where possible, I would like to insert one or two. This might take some time as we need to get a scanner and then figure out how to post them. Please bear with me (or help me).
Lastly, the stories are about life in Africa which is so different to any other place I have ever been. The phrase "It can only happen in Africa" will ring very true most of the time.
PART1: MADIBA`S APRIL FOOL
1994 was an incredibly interesting year in South African politics. It was a year in which the country changed into a fully democratic entity and took its rightful place on the world stage. National elections were held and the outcome was as expected. The African National Congress (ANC) with Nelson Mandela at the helm would lead South Africa.
As intelligence officers, we were expected to be non-partisan and apolitical. We only supported the government of the day and in the nature of our covert function, reported directly to the Head of State. Many of the old die hards who refused to accept the changes from white minority rule to black majority rule were given the opportunity to leave. This they did graciously with good financial reward. I was hesitantly optimistic and decided that I would let things run for a while and see what the immediate future held for the new white minority in the civil service. I decided to wait for three months which was the cut-off time for those wishing to leave.
Now, when a new President takes over in South Africa, he is entitled to visit the intelligence community and to discuss operations, make decisions and generally receive a full briefng on all functions pertaining to State security. This visit usually takes place after all the media hype has settled after the swearing in ceremony. Now, I had first hand experience with such a visit when FW De Klerk became President. Remember FW, he was the baldy man who received the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela. FW was the man who ordered Mandela`s release from prison. FW was the man who kick started the South African democratic changes. Anyway, these Presidential visits are usuall run low key for obvious reasons.
During these visits, the new President has to leave his conventional bodyguard contingent at home. They are not allowed to be privvy to any of the places and people that the President was going to see. This really burns their asses due to the fact that we take over this detail. Anyway, I headed up the security detail for our new President for a week. We were to look after him from 08h00 to 18h00 when he would be with South African Secret Service (SASS) personnel at different sensitive installations.
The bodyguarding contingent consisited of myself, three colleagues and three motor vehicles. We chose our own vehicles which were everyday cars that blended in nicely. Cetainly no cavalcade. We were armed with auto pistols (CZ 75`s) and three Uzi 9mm sub-machine guns. The idea was that we would pick up the President from his offices at the Union buildings in Pretoria and then drive to our first destination using proper counter surveillance techniques. The other two vehicle would form a consistently changing shield around my vehicle which carried the President.. There would be no speeding, we would just mingle with all the other traffic heading off to work......simple right! Well it certainly was during our training runs but were yet to meet the man of the moment....Mandela!
He walked out of the side entrance of his offices in the Union buildings to meet us at the start of the week. He was alone. He was dressed in loose casual trousers with a baggy African print Hawaian type shirt. At first I thought he was the office boy or cleaner. We were all kitted out in suit and tie....you know, our Sunday best! This was always expected when dealing with top government officials, especially Presidents. Mandela ambled up to me and put out his hand. Before I could say "Good morning Mr. President", he called me by my name and said that it was good to meet me. Another shocker! Our former President snever gave a continental damn who you were...you were just a pleeb to them. I introduced Mandela to the rest of the team and he hopped into the back seat and Dan and I whisked him off to our first stop. The rest of the day was relatively uneventful.
The next morning Mandela came prancing out of his office carrying a tray with 5 cups of coffee which we drank before we were due to leave. I had never experienced such informality and casual open sincerity from a politician before in my life. One of my mates was a smoker and Mandela told him not to stand on ceremony but to smoke if he wished. President Mandela then asked us to please stop calling him "Mr. President". He asked us to call him "Madiba" which means father. It is the name used by those closest to him as a personal greeting and as one of mutual respect. I wish I could of taken a photograph of the look of surprise on the faces of my colleagues. Here were four white post apartheid intelligence operatives looking totally humbled and in awe of the man! When Dan opened the rear door for Madiba to enter, he ignored him and jumped in the front with me. Whoa......serious break in the normal protocol here. When I asked Madiba why he did not sit where we wanted him to sit, he replied that he wanted to talk to me while we drove without having to look at the back of my head all the time....fair enough Mr. Pres.....sorry Madiba!
Madiba discussed his new vision for South Africa, asked us plenty of questions and wanted to know what our future plans were. Some serious bonding took place and day 2 came to an end.
On day 3, I got a call to advise that we needed to fetch the President at his state house instead of the office at the Union Buildings. We were told to only bring one vehicle into his compound and to wait outside a back service entrance. Damn, there goes our normal protocol again. Dan and I did as requested and when we got to the side entrance, a maid let us in and led us down a long hallway and into an antechamber. She offered us tea, we declined and she asked us to wait. 10 minutes later, Madiba pops his head out from around a door and asked us to step in. We did and were presented with the vision of our new State President standing there in his pygamas. Madiba then explained what was happening and he asked us to play along. He asked us to tune into a local radio station called "Highveld Radio". We were to keep quiet and not to answer the door which would be locked. The access to his bedroom would be secured and his normal bodyguards were unaware of our presence and they were waiting for him in another room adjacent to his bedroom.
A radio DJ by the name of Jeremy Mansfield had the uncanny ability to speak exactly like Madiba and he phoned in to the radio station pretending to be the President. Mansfield told the local radio news anchor that he was Madiba and he was lost somewhere in the city (Pretoria) suburbs. When asked why he phoned the rdion station, the false Madiba replied tht he saw the telephone number on a passing bus and needed help. False Madiba explained that he wanted some quiet and solitude and had decided to slip out for a walk without alerting his security staff. False Madiba was asked to describe his location and that help would be on the way. False Madiba explained that he was scared due to the fact that he had wandered into a right wing white suburb and that there a lot of aggessive dogs about.
Real Madiba was, by this time, in near hysterics listening to the false Madiba and his security staff outside the bedroom were going apeshit! People from the suburb where false Madiba was supposed to be were starting to offer assistance so things were getting fired up! False Madiba then changed his voice and pronounced "April fool" We checked our watches...yeah, 1st April it was. The telephone rang and the real Madiba and false Madiba had a quick "over the air" chat to calm down the masses.
Dan and I were initially shocked over this well orchestrated joke planned by the "two Madibas" I was amazed that the man had such a sense of humour and seeing him laugh like that really made our day.
After the week was out, Madiba went his way and we went ours. I ended up staying in service for another 3 years as per a request by Madiba himself. I assisted with the transition of the old and new intelligence communities and was involved with some of the training that needed to be done.
God bless the old man!
Until next time, happy landings
Not to be confused with Springjob, Handjob, Blowjob or any other job......except a flyingjob!