My life as a killer

I was born on the 18th of October, 1962, in Bloemfontein. When I was two, years old I was adopted by the family Malan in Petrusburg, Orange Free State. They are very strict, very conservative people.
When my brother was called up for service in the South African Defence Force, he had to go to Pietersburg. The old folks wrote to Magnus Malan, the general. He is a cousin. He arranged for my brother to be placed on a base near home. The general never had to interfere for me. 

I just wanted to leave. Once he came to visit us on the farm. It was just for Sunday, to have tea and cake. It was heavy. He came with a hell of a big chopper while he was doing a visit to Bloemspruit-base near Petrusburg. They landed the chopper on the farm … man, it was like ... he was a hero ... you know? People there look up to the army, like it’s a big thing. I was about 10. They took: me for a flight in the chopper.

I went into service in July 1982. After three days on Ladysmith Infantry base, 1 Reconnaissance Commando from Durban came round; they were looking for volunteers to; go into Special Forces. They were established or extended, at that stage. We all gathered at the rugby stadium, all of 5 Infantry Ladysmith, and; Major Dou Steyn spoke to us. He said: ‘Listen, we are from Reece regiment, we work behind enemy lines; ... it’s heavy.’ He glorified that. And l he said: ‘If you want to volunteer to join us, then go to that northern rugby post’ ... and so I went. 

The first three months were basics. During that period, a lot of peo¬ple fell off. They weren’t able physically to go on. You have to work together, that’s what they try to achieve. If you couldn’t go on, the rest would turn against you. For instance, when you were ill, you had to carry a white helmet - that meant you were a weakling and you were put on light duty. For example, during water training, you had to drink a litre of water, run, drink another litre, run again ... so you were vomiting all the time. The commanders would say: ‘See the light duties? They are sitting on the ground, they don’t have to work.’ It is brainwashing ... they want you to develop a hatred against the guys that can’t do it. It’s logical, in a sense, that they get beaten. You were trained to resist for 12 hours at least, so your team can es¬cape before you start talking. It’s very heavy. Most of the people that fall off, fall off during the training. 

On Letaba Ranch MNR was trained. They had about 200 MNR when I was there. It was the end of 1983, beginning of 1984 ... the time wasn’t right then, politically, for actions into Mozambique. I remember MNR had to be back in Mozambique before 12 o’clock on a certain day. The Nkomati-agreement ... yes, l think it was then. They were parachuted back into Mozambique. They didn’t know how to parachute. By then I was already part of Reece 5.3, it was a new unit at that stage. We were based at Phalaborwa Letaba Ranch is near there. We worked with Unita in Namibia and Angola. I chose that unit - you had the right to choose after finishing the course - because I heard people talk about it, that it was going to be real heavy, real heavy anti-ANC operations, anti-Swapo, anti-Angola.

Reece 1 is known as relatively easy ... they are on the beach in Durban, do sea-borne operations, blow up a refinery in Mozambique from the sea ... most of the other operations that they did weren’t successful. Because we worked with Unita in 5 Reece, they would talk about it as the ‘kaffir unit’. They’d look down on it. We lead Unita operations. Unita was used for sh….. let them carry the bombs, the ammunition. The idea was ... if they get blown up, we won’t lose any people. The first big operation was in the beginning of 1984. There would be a major offensive - Askari - into Angola. SADF with tanks and airforce would do it. So we did the softening. 

We would go behind Fapla-bases and cut them off. Make them paranoid with quick attacks. Ambush the roads, put mines all over the place ... whatever passed by we could destroy. It was near Quiteve. Quiteve was destroyed in Askari. We cut off all the escape routes, gunned down people on the run, shot everything that moved. Mulondo was also attacked, but it’ was too strong. They couldn’t take Cahama either. They started bombing Cahama from first light in the morning, with Mirages and Impalas. They had tanks, infantry, but they couldn’t. They withdrew and ran way, leaving vehicles behind. They were national servicemen, they don’t have the mind to fight a war. The vehicles they left behind, we picked them up. South Africa doesn’t like leaving things behind ... Special Forces are of a mercenary type. Completely. You don’t ask questions, you just do as you’re told. lf it’s Angola it doesn’t matter. 

All the guys who went to the Seychelles for the coup attempt in 1981 were in 5.3 Command with me. Three of them were team leaders, just like me. They came from 32 Battalion. Most of the team worked with - I was made team leader immediately were foreign. The blacks come from Zimbabwe or Mozambique ... there are Brits, Australians, New Zealanders. They have higher positions than the blacks most of the time. They had been Selous Scouts in Zimbabwe, or with 32 Battalion. 

In Namibia we worked with 32 Battalion and with Koevoet. We did pseudo-operations. We would wear Swapo uniforms, my team would do it - they were all blacks, nine of them - and I would stand to the back, my face blackened. . We would go into the kraals and try to identify Swapo informers. So if they would give us info ... thinking that we were Swapo ... those informers would be killed in the process. Once we prepared an operation against a Swapo base near Mulondo. We cut off roads, got information about the base from one guy we kid¬ napped ... and then the operation was cancelled. I don’t know why, politicians had decided the time wasn’t right, it was just before the tricameral elections or something. Our commander, he got p…ed off. He said bomb the f…ing base, take as many bombs as you can. We used phosphor. A lot of villagers were idled then ... the base was among villages, we just fired in the general direction. That happened just because the commander was angry. There is a farm - Crece - about 20km from Naboomspruit. It is a top¬ secret base for anti-ANC operations. 

We once prepared an operation against ANC headquarters in Lusaka from there. At that farm the whole scenery of ANC-HQ was built o cardboard. The plan was to get to Lusaka b truck, we would use civilian truck: and we would be inside with cars an’ weapons, just like a Trojan horse Then we would jump out, do the tar gets, and exfiltrate the same way. We would have air support as well. The instruction was ... to kill. Destruction of the whole place. Kill everybody. One operation 5.2 Command die into Mozambique went down in South African newspapers as the killing by Frelimo of a businessman Dave Tippets. They said he was just 2 just a businessman in import-export business, and that he had a meeting at the border near Nkomati, and that Frelimo killed him. But he was a sergeant major with 5.3 Command, running an illegal operation into Mozambique, together with a sergeant major of our base, Jock Hutton, a Zimbabwean. 

The anti-ANC operations inside South Africa were prepared by blacks. They would infiltrate in the townships, try to make friends with the local population and identify ANC targets. Later the operational group would get the targets. I didn’t want to do it anymore. There was an incident ... end of 1984. We had ambushed a truck. The drivers were Swapo. We hit the truck in the front with phosphor. It went off the road. Then we hit it from the sides. It burst open and we saw ... 1 there were only women and children in the truck. Just women and children. They fell off, burning, still alive, screaming. They had been giv¬en a lift by that truck. About 40, 50 ... the driver was the only military. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I kept seeing it. I felt very f ...ing strange afterwards. I don’t know why it was that incident. Because I had taken part in interrogations ... I had been present when they drowned a Swapo guy until he would give the information ... they got the information from then drowned him. , The body was buried there, in the sand. There was a doctor present, he revived him every time, until he gave the information. Doctor Wassenaar, I remember him …

I used to be able to handle it. But after that thing with the truck ...  something snapped that very mo¬ment. Maybe it was ... I started to think, these people have f ... all to do with the war. They were ... just like the blacks on the farm, before ... they grow their crops, they f ...ing don’t want to do anything else, just live, be left alone ... When my contract finished in April 1985, I had already decided to pull off. Not to renew it. A year after that, I got called up again. You sign a contract with Special Forces when you enter. You promise to serve eternally. H you don’t come when they call you, it’s treason. For that you get the death penalty or 25 years in prison. So I left for Swaziland. And I didn’t think, when I saw Da I Costa standing at the front door of the house where I lived in Swaziland, l hey, he’s coming to have a beer ... I ran through the back door, down the mountain, through the bush. I saw a car parked outside the house with another guy jumping out of it, coming after me. But I escaped. Deserters from Special Forces were killed. Or if you don’t function ... they send you away with a bomb, or cut your parachute lines. I was there when plans were made to kill people. I know they are after me. My cousin can’t offer protection. They interrogated friends of mine in Pretoria, to find out where I am. I just want to do something constructive, go on with my f…ing life ... I have done terrible things, seen terrible things ... I thank God, changed my mind about life, and resigned ... because I cannot see myself ever doing anything like this again. -  Mervyn Malan

Magnus denies it  

Defence minister Magnus Malan appeared stunned this week after Mervyn Malan’s claims and denied Malan was related to him. The minister instructed the head of the South African Defence Force, General Jannie Geldenhuys, to investigate the claim. This Mervyn Malan is unknown to me. I do not know of such a family member. Whoever he may be, I will not take part. In his search for publicity,” the mini¬ster said in a statement. The minister also said even If Malan could prove to be a mem¬ber of his family, Mervyn Malan was responsible for his activities. However, the minister did say: “In any case I cannot choose my family.”

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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