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Archive for the ‘Angola’ Category

“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:


* * * * * *


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.


* * * * * *


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

Excerpt from Back to Angola by Paul Morris


Related links:


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Podcast: Paul Morris Speaks About His Time as a Soldier and his Book Back to Angola

Back to AngolaPaul Morris spoke to Michele Magwood on the TM Live Book Show about his book, Back to Angola.

Magwood points out that the war in Angola happened more than 20 years ago now, and while some men who were conscripted can forget their experiences, many are haunted by memories of the war.

Morris took an epic bicycle journey across Angola recently; it was a journey of healing for him. He took detailed notes in his journals while he was riding across the country, because he wanted to remember it. This became his book.

In this interview, he speaks about how he ended up fighting in Angola. He was sent to the border after he became superfluous as a driver.

Magwood’s TM LIVE Book Show streams online every Thursday at 2 PM.

Listen to the podcast:

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Paul Morris Sets Out to Excorcise the Ghosts of War in this Excerpt from Back to Angola

Back to AngolaBack to Angola is Paul Morris’ story of how he dislodged the gloomy picture of Angola he had from the war. He was conscripted in 1987.

Morris set out to cycle across the country on his own. It was a journey he took to free himself from the shadows of the war.

Namibiana Buchdepot has shared an extract from this book. In this excerpt, Morris describes the start of his journey in Angola. The experience of war shapes, to a large extent, how he perceives Angola.

Read the excerpt:

Setting out from Cuito
Cuito Cuanavale, Angola, 24 June 2012

I’m so full of war and feelings I can’t explain. Feelings that swirl and suck like the sea in a rock pool on an incoming tide. Tears narrow my throat and I swallow hard because I’m with people I don’t know. I’d swallow harder still if I did know them. This place is thick with the past, layers of it piled atop the sand on the ridge. It rusts away slowly in its armoured wrecks and in my soul. I am deep in my own history; it stares boldly at me and I can’t look away.

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Video: Paul Morris Discusses Back to Angola and Shares Footage of His Return Trip

Back to AngolaPaul Morris went to Angola in 1987 as a reluctantly conscripted soldier, and two years ago he returned to the country to replace the war map of the country in his head with one of peace, writing about these two experiences in Back to Angola.

In this video, shared by Random House Struik, Morris speaks about the intense emotions that rose to the surface while cycling through Angola: “It was like some energy was trapped, which I needed to do something with and this very physical journey, which had this very strong parallel inner journey running alongside it, that really seems to have finished it for me.”

Watch the video:

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Podcast: Paul Morris Discusses Back to Angola: A Journey From War to Peace

Back to AngolaPaul Morris recently joined Michele Magwood on her TM LIVE Books Show, which streams online every Friday at 2 PM.

In the podcast, Morris opens up about the journey he had to undertake in order to write Back to Angola, after completing a 1500 km bicycle trip across the country where he saw so much suffering during the South African Border War.

Morris explains how South Africa got involved in the war in the first place, how his time there affected him and why he decided to write about his experiences. He also shares the story of how he came to join the SADF as an immigrant and how he came to be trained as a member of the mortar platoon.

Listen to the podcast:

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Cycling Through Illness: Paul Morris Describes Part of His Solo Trip in Back to Angola Excerpt

Back to AngolaIn 1987 Paul Morris was sent to Angola as a reluctant conscript, in 2012 he returned for a 1500km solo cycle trip with the intention of replacing the Angola he experienced before with a more peaceful one in his mind.

Morris has written about the trip and his army experiences in Back to Angola and Voices of Africa has shared an excerpt from the book in which Morris describes a particularly challenging section of his cycle journey. Riding along an isolated dirt road on the way to Cuchi he has to push through an illness, which has left him feeling weak: “There’s a man walking next to the road as I put on my shoes after a third crossing. As we talk I realise how weak I am. I struggle to form words and can’t seem to think straight.”

I wonder how fucked I’d be if something bad happened. My self rescue plan has always been to hitch a lift to a place where I can find help. There’s no traffic on this road, this bush track; no prospect of rescue. It will be better once I reach Cuchi and the tar road starts again. I hope the advice I’ve received about the tar starting again is accurate, not because I’m not enjoying this quiet track, but because the isolation of it could put me in a difficult situation if I am unable to keep cycling through illness. I contemplate phoning Martin, my doctor friend, for advice. It seems alarmist so I don’t. I battle on alone.

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Paul Morris gesels oor vrede, sy aandeel aan wat vir hom ’n onetiese oorlog was, en manlikheid

Back to AngolaIn Back to Angola vertel Paul Morris van sy reis deur die land waar hy as jong, onwillige SAW-soldaat vir “vier maande in die hitte van die stryd in Angola vasgevang” was. Rachelle Greeff het met hom gesels oor sy soektog na innerlike vrede, ‘n soeke wat hom na 25 jaar teruggestuur het na die land waar “sy aandeel aan wat vir hom ’n onetiese oorlog was” afgespeel het.

Greeff vra ook vir Morris meer oor die konsep van manlikheid, die moontlikheid dat die Suid-Afrikaanse boekbedryf oorversadig is aan oorlogboeke en die belangrikheid van vrede maak met jou verlede. “Elkeen het sy eie reis, maar ek dink almal kan uitkom by ’n plek waar die verlede nie heeltyd pynlik indring in die teenswoordige nie,” sê Morris.

Twee jaar gelede het Paul Morris, sielkundige en lewensafrigter, drie weke lank elke dag vir agt tot tien uur deur die suidooste van Angola op ’n tweedehandse fiets getrap. Die doel van dié 1 500 km lange trek, met ’n lading van 35 kg, was om vrede te maak met ’n kort maar ingrypende deel van sy verlede. Hy het mense, “met wie ek geen probleem gehad het nie”, doodgemaak.

Morris was, soos duisende ander Suid-Afrikaners, nog kwartpad kind toe hy opgeroep is. Dit was in 1986. Ná basies is hy as voertuigbestuurder opgelei om die werklike wapenstryd vry te spring. Maar die weermag se somme was verkeerd (daar was te veel bestuurders) en hy’s vir mortieropleiding gestuur.


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Paul Morris Discusses Writing Back to Angola and Discovering the Meaning of Pilgrimages

Back to AngolaPaul Morris spoke to Nadine Maritz about his recently published book, Back to Angola, in which he recounts his experiences fighting in Angola in 1987 and his return to the country in 2012 when he embarked on a 1500-kilometre cycle trip.

Morris explains that he had been resistant to the idea of the trip being a pilgrimage but that by the end of it he understood what it meant to go on one.

I loved the past and present comparisons in the novel. It somehow portrays your past- you and present- you. It’s definitely a reflection of growth. Not many people exposed to war are open about their experiences. What made you decided to actually put it on paper?

I suppose there are several reasons. I like to express myself in writing. I always wanted to write something about my war experiences but I never thought they were particularly remarkable. In combination with a trip back to Angola by bicycle, I thought I had something to say. A combination of personal growth, the peace in Angola, a window of opportunity in my personal circumstances all made the journey and the writing up of it possible. I think it is very important to acknowledge that everyone is different and will deal with their past in the best way they can. Sometimes, because there may be no safe outlet, the best way is not to talk about it outside of the closed ranks of former comrades.

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Excerpt: Back to Angola by Paul Morris

Back to AngolaIn Back to Angola Paul Morris recounts his return to Angola in 2012 after going there in 1987 as a soldier. Morris, who was reluctantly conscripted just before he turned 19, goes back to the country to try and put his memories of war to rest and replace them with images of a peaceful Angola.

The narrative switches between his solo cycle trip and his memories of the war. Random House Struik has shared an excerpt from Chapter 13 in which Morris writes about being stationed on one side of the Lomba River floodplain and being fired at by the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA), while trying to eat his breakfast of ProNutro.

Writing about his recent cycle trip, he describes meeting an English-speaking Namibian truck driver and finding it “as good as meeting someone from home”.

The man walks out of the darkness. He’s wearing a trench coat and a cap and his features are difficult to make out in the shade of his headgear. ‘You must put the light out,’ he says. His voice has the calm authority of a man used to command. He’s referring to the red tactical light that is on in the doorway of the Ratel. The section leader corporal, Dave, is writing a letter. ‘I thought the red light would be fine,’ says Dave. He’s not arguing; he seems to sense that even if he has the rank in our vehicle, this man’s authority comes from his experience rather than from anything displayed on an epaulette. We’re fresh and frightened. ‘They will see it,’ says the man. Dave switches off the light. ‘Do not be afraid,’ the man says before he turns and disappears into the night.

John gives a nervous little laugh. ‘Those UNITA okes have fuckin’ seen it all. I feel better knowing they’re just over there, hey?’ He jerks his thumb in the direction of the UNITA platoon.

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Extract from The Terrible Ones, Piet Nortje's Revealing Book on the South African Border War

The Terrible OnesNamibiana Buchdepot have shared an excerpt from The Terrible Ones: A Complete History of 32 Battalion, by Piet Nortje.

The Terrible Ones reveals the inner workings of South Africa’s most controversial fighting unit, 32 Battalion, which was formed during the South African Border War in the 1970s.

Nortje’s latest work is a follow-up to his first book, 32 Battalion: The Inside Story of South Africa’s Elite Fighting Unit, which was published in 2003. In the extract he explains why his work on the first book was impeded, both by information still being classified and by the unreliability of sources.

By the time I started the research in 1996, I was serving in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and after much help from Commandant (Lieutenant Colonel) Wally Vrey, a former 32 Battalion officer, and only because I had secret military clearance, I was granted authority by the chief of the SA Army to consult the classified 32 Battalion files. This was allowed only after the files that I’d requested had been scrutinised by Defence Intelligence. I was not allowed access to some of the requested files. However, even though I had all the information from the files, I could not publish, at a rough guess, 60 per cent of the information in those documents because they had not been declassified. Hence my first publication was incomplete. Since then I have managed to obtain all the files, and much more, which are now declassified.

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