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Penguin SA

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“There is only fear and the possibility of dying” – Read two excerpts from Back to Angola by Paul Morris

Back to AngolaBack to Angola is Paul Morris’ personal account of the filth of war.

Morris, now a counsellor and life coach, shares the story of the misadventure that took place when he was reluctantly conscripted as a soldier into the South African Defence Force in 1987 and sent to Angola where he had to face the terrors of the South African Border War at the tender age of 19.

25 years later, Morris returned to Angola to see the country from a different perspective. This trip is documented in Back to Angola, along with his fascinating and thoughtful reflections on childhood, masculinity, violence, memory, innocence and guilt.

For a taste of what you can expect from this brilliant memoir, read a short excerpt, originally shared on the book’s Facebook page:

 

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Suddenly there’s a light whip-crack overhead. Then another. Then: snap. Snap, snap. Like heavy raindrops on a plastic shelter, rifle fire from the AK-47s of the FAPLA forward observation posts starts to seek us out, the bullets crackling ever more fiercely as they break the sound barrier over our heads. It has started. My stomach is tight; blood pounds in my ears. There is a steady crackling of rifle fire overhead, accompanied by regular machinegun bursts that sound like so many strings of Chinese fireworks. The crack-bang of high explosives has started as FAPLA begins lobbing mortar and artillery shells at us, and now we hear the loud muzzle-bangs from cannons. It’s impossible to tell whether they’re from our Ratel 90s or from FAPLA tanks, but they indicate that we have now fully engaged in battle with the main body of the defending force. Our fire orders come through and I prime bombs, ripping charges from the tail fins and turning the nosepiece to ‘fire’ and passing them to John, our Number 2, who is chucking them down the barrel as fast as I can pass them to him. We’re firing more bombs than ever before. Ten bombs for effect. Twenty. We are on target and the enemy is taking a pounding. They’re well dug in and we keep hammering away, but they don’t budge. Shooting back gives me something to do. When I’m not priming bombs my mind has time to scream at me that this is fucking madness – get the hell out. Somewhere through the thick bush our lieutenant is racing to and fro along the front. He’s picking out targets and radioing them back to our fire group. High explosives are churning the sand and splintering trees and I can feel their percussion in my chest as if I’m a drum. The bush is thick. It’s hard to stay in formation. We’re attacking from two directions and our other force has wheeled around, disorientated. For a while we fire at each other without realising it. We pause in our advance, pull back, reorganise and have another go. It’s a long, intense day and time warps and bends in a fog of adrenaline and terror. Some moments feel like the minutes are hours while hours seem to have flashed by in seconds. We speak to one another in lulls and pauses in our firing as the battle ebbs and flows and crashes like angry surf on a jagged coast. In conversation we seek comfort, but there is no such thing in this place. There is only fear and the possibility of dying.

 

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For a longer read, here’s the thirteenth chapter from Back to Angola:

Excerpt from Back to Angola by Paul Morris

 

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