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Remembrance Day: Mourning for What Used to Be

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Ever since Remembrance Day this year, I have had what my mother used to call “the blues” — much of it on account of what has become of the country of my birth. A country for which so many of my ancestors made the most incredible sacrifices. A country now 'ruled' by a man described as a “degenerate with five wives!” A country where, in many places, witchcraft is rampant. A country of unsurpassed violence.

What Few Remember

Before men like Hendrik Verwoerd came on the scene, South Africa was one of the most respected countries in the world. Now I’m reduced to tears by the contemplation of how the rest of the world has forgotten its contribution to the field of medicine, etc., and the prominent role it played in two world wars. (How quick Britain and the West were to isolate one of their greatest former allies! ) I cannot help blaming outside interference for actually providing a Dutch-born Prime Minster, Verwoerd, with an opportunity to leave the British Commonwealth.

Then came a nightmarish time when, while having to deal with the shock of imposed sanctions, and suddenly impoverished by the unexpected overnight withdrawal of all funds by the Chase Manhattan Bank—a procedure very quickly follower by all other leading banks—when South Africa was certainly not in a position to acquire the weaponry etc. required to fight the Cubans and other forces against which it did not have a grudge, South Africa was drawn into the Angolan War by President Ford. I shed tears whenever I think of how, as the principal of the school, I had to call a boy to my office the moment he turned 16 to sign the document for conscription — that in a country where, in every previous conflict, its people had been volunteers.

A Conundrum

During the thirty-plus years since I have happily and gratefully lived in Canada, I have often pondered a conundrum: How often is a country ruined by a leader who was not born in it? Napoleon, born in Corsica, was not French, Hitler was Austrian-born, not German, and the notorious Hendrik Verwoerd was born in Holland and not in South Africa.

Most people in the rest of the world seem to know that the world’s first heart transplant was performed in South Africa, but very few are aware of the fact that in the years before Mandela and the imposition of sanctions, South Africa provided some of the best Battle of Britain pilots. It was a country, one of whose prime ministers, Jan Christiaan Smuts, was among the architects of the League Of Nations, an association of countries established in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles to promote international cooperation and achieve international peace and security.

When it was replaced by the United Nations in 1945, it was again Smuts who drafted the Covenant of the United Nations, which is considered to have been his major achievement; but it should also not be forgotten that as a Field Marshal of the Allied Forces during WW2, he enjoyed the respect and friendship of both General Eisenhower and the King of England.

Let It Never Be Forgotten

As we observed Remembrance Day, 2009, I could only hope that it would never be forgotten that the only person to sign the peace treaties ending both the first and second World Wars was South Africa's Field Marshall Jan Christiaan Smuts. He was also one of five members of the British War Cabinet, helped to create the Royal Air Force and, as mentioned previously, was instrumental in creating both the League of Nations and the United Nations — writing the preamble to its charter. He was also the only person to sign the charters of both the League of Nations and the United Nations. Let it also not be forgotten that South Africans were among the allied forces in WWI – at Vimy Ridge, Delville Wood, Arras, and Ypres.

It should also be remembered that, since WWII, South Africa's pilots have served in the Korean War, and more recently, as I have already mentioned, SA troops — some of them mere teenagers conscripted from school — were involved in the dreadful Angolan War and are still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of those boys, now in their 50s, have chalked up a string of broken marriages, are unable to keep jobs – and even emigration to other countries has not provided a panacea. I have written about that in two of my books, and it's not only what they suffered physically that haunts them — it was what they saw! Even dead bodies being devoured by dogs!

Was Angola Worth the Enduring Misery?

In a 1997 interview, former President Ford certainly didn’t seem to think so. When the interviewer asked him whether he thought that, if aid had been able to flow unimpeded to Angola, it would have made a great deal of difference in the long run, he replied: "Probably not, because they're still fighting there!" He considered the net result to be that Angola was destined to have continued turbulence between the government on the one hand and rebel forces on the other. Didn’t someone actually go as far as to say that President Ford had permitted Kissinger to "design a disaster in Angola"?

There are so many controversies. One explanation was that the United States could not ignore Soviet and Cuban attempts to gain an African foothold when Angola was about to receive independence. And then, when Congress decided that no more money was going to be poured into this enterprise, the field was left clear for the introduction of far more Cuban troops and Soviet arms. It was John Stockwell, the chief of the CIA Angola task force, who said, “Most serious of all, the United States was exposed, dishonored, and discredited in the eyes of the world.” They had lost, and 15,000 Cubans were installed in Angola “with all the adulation accruing to a young David who has slain the American Goliath.”

So, To Get Back To That Conundrum

What, I wonder, gives the leader of any country the right to interfere in the affairs of another? And what makes that leader so sure that he or she has all the answers? Take the current situation with Iran.

"Jimmy Carter conveniently hides the fact that he is directly responsible for much of the turmoil we see in the world today," Paul Miller wrote in the May 25, 2007 edition of American Thinker, in an article titled "Jimmy Carter Can Only Blame Himself." And he goes on to remind the reader that "Carter began directly meddling in Iranian affairs after he took office in 1977."

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About Marie Warder

Born in South Africa, became a journalist and later trained as a teacher before establishing my own school - "Windsor House Academy, of which I remained the principal until I emigrated to Canada. Love to write, and have published 27 books. Played the piano in my husband's dance band for 33years. Founder and President Emerita of the the Canadian, South African and in International Association of Hemochromatosis Societies, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Warder
  • Maisie Blaine

    I am indebted to a friend who pointed me in the direction of this article, Bravo! it’s time the tragic cost of the Angolan debacle was made known to the rest of the world. I have first-hand experience of a young life totally ruined – my son’s!

  • A very sad father

    My son was not as young as some of those about whom you write, but he,too, has never been the same. Sometimes I almost dread it when he has to stay with us for any length of time – and the tragedy of it is that, after all these years since he came back from Angola, he still can’t help being so unpleasant. He came home to find all the good jobs gone (probably wouldn’t be able to hold one down for long, anyway) – and also gone was his wife!

  • Marie Warder

    I thank both you and Maisie (above) for your comments. I keep in touch with many of my former students, and I truly feel for their parents!

  • Doyg Bissett

    Angola was indeed South Africa’s Vietnam, but – if I might be permitted to say so – with one major difference. … Whenever the troops came back to their own country, they were very well treated. Almost cosseted.
    I, too, am a South African expatriate, living in North America like you, and I recall that during periodic visits to my parents who had remained behind, I was struck by way people would set up tables laden with refreshments for soldiers, on street corners, there were pancake stands in shopping malls, and along even along the loneliest of highways and byways, there were clearly marked stops (like bus stops) where soldiers could wait, and few motorists ever failed to stop and give them a ride.
    Sadly, however, this adulation could do little to alleviate PTSD for those who were afflicted!Nor could it restore marriages and missing limbs or heal obstinate physical wounds.

  • Vic

    Thank you for this. I was born in SA but have grown up in North America, where I have always been reluctant to make mention of that fact. I wish I had known these facts long ago, but at least I have them now, and plan to use them next time I have to write an essay.

  • Zedd

    Ms. Warder,

    A country where, in many places, witchcraft is rampant. A country of unsurpassed violence.

    I’m curious, could you please expound on this. When did this happen?

  • Marie Warder

    Check out the website: One of the links on the site,unfortunately already replaced by more recent news, provided information about where, on the border, one could buy frozen heads for the purpose of spell-casting. The worst link of all dealt with the woman who was having a difficult pregnancy and was advised to wear a necklace made up of little boys’penises!

  • Zedd

    Ms. Warder,

    It’s unfortunate that at your age you haven’t evolved to the point of acknowledging the evil that you participated in. You dare point to ridiculous side show/ freak show, con man activity that can be found on any corner of the globe practiced by weirdos, as justification for the fact that you took part in evil while mothering and raising your children, pretending to be teaching them to be principled. You dare parse, concerning yourself with how many wives a man has, in a land where that is not as much of a disgrace. It a shame really. Either you are abysmally slow witted or among the most frightening people that live on our planet for it is that same type of justification that permits all perpetrators of evil on our planet to proceed with their unimaginable deeds. You should be honored for you find yourself among a list of notables.

    You dare interject “The West” in your article as if by simply naming this region it is assumed by all mankind that whatever will be uttered after that will be perfect and just. Your thinking is limited. You were born in an amazing land as a guest of incredible people and you never understood its true beauty, depth and insight. You missed it.

    Hopefully, you are a dying breed. Hopefully your world view dies with your generation and you cease to encroach your smallness on the rest of us of God’s beloved. Soon we will not have to be annoyed by your ignorant yet highly vocal opinions and simply enjoy our place on this planet freely without your pestering school yard bullying and strange obsession with us and how we choose to experience our stay on this planet; approving and disapproving as if you’ve been granted some foresight that the rest of us don’t possess, yet missing it the entire way.

    What you did in my country is worse than some gimmicky witch craft. You dare refer to it as a time of glory. Your small mindedness would render such frivolities as mere possessions as glorious while purposely engaged in a life of breaking the spirit of millions, laboriously. You madam have much to repent for. Live out the rest of your days reflecting on that. If you still find glory in that, then so it shall be.

    What you don’t understand is while you believed yourself to be living gloriously, we pitied you.

  • Sandra Bellis

    I’ve just read your vicious attack on someone who has been described as the “unofficial public relations officer” for South Africa. A reviewer of one her books has written that her love for the country of her birth shines through in every word she writes.
    By the way, I didn’t notice her actually criticising the president’s polygamy. As I read it, she was quoting someone else, and if I can find the magazine featuring that quote, I’ll post it here.

  • Norah H.

    I support your views, Sandra, so please forgive me for correcting one small detail in your comment. Having just checked out my favourite author on Google, I note that she has been called the “unsung” PR and the “unofficial ambassador” for SA.
    Even the disputed article came across, to me, as sorrow for the fact that the country’s contributions to the world in the past have been sadly overlooked, and I think that she is waging a campaign to remedy that.

  • Zedd

    Sandra,

    It’s because you don’t get it. You don’t know what is inappropriate. Your world view is so skewed that you don’t see a blatant faux pas (at the very least) even if its clearly pronounced. It’s just that simple. You can either become a student or you can continue to spout your opinions. As with everything, its a choice. Just as the glory days that this author writes about which tortured my people and stole their dignity, making grown man into boys who crouch down hat in hand pretending to be lessor just to be able to afford mere sustenance for their children were nothing more than a choice for Ms Warder.

    Nothing vicious about the truth. Especially when its not stated with venom. I find it interesting that you would think that by bringing up the truth of my real pain, it is somehow at attack. Evaluate yourself and how you see the world.

  • Sandra

    I have given your comments a great deal of consideration, and I have come to three – no four, conclusions.1) You seem to be forgetting that the “glory” days to which you take such violent exception, referred to a period more than a century ago. 2) I don’t know what your nationality, race, colour or creed might be, but you may be interested to know that the lady at whom your critcism is directed, was once one of only two white students in a farm school and that her preferred first language was Sesuto (as it was known then). 3) I don’t know of any of her books in which she does not refer lovingly to Zulu, Basotho or Bapedi characters, and those of different faiths.

    4)Lastly, in refering to the Post Traumatic Stress disorder suffered by South Africans after Angola,she clearly wants the world to know about them, and I believe that she would be the first to empathize with anyone suffering pain – wjhether it be racial, spiritual, of physical.IN talking to her, I know the pain she feels when readind about the voloience in her homeland.
    I suggest that you read the title of the article once more.

  • Openmouthed Len

    Sorry if I don’t know enough about the background to be able contribute to this entertaining storm in a teacup which has been raging all day, and which I am following with great interest.
    Can someone please just help me out with one detail. What has gotten Zedd so steamed up about the inclusion of the words “The West?”