Camouflaged Ford F 100 vans
South africa was at war in the 1980’s and I was conscripted. We were rushed through a short Guerrilla warfare course, which to the uninformed, is a form of irregular warfare in which a small group of combatants such as paramilitary personnel, armed civilians, or irregulars are used in a military capacity, somewhat like a preemptive strike or first-attack with deadly weapons carried out to disrupt an enemy’s capacity to respond. A preemptive strike is usually based on an informed assumption that an enemy is planning an imminent full scale attack on your country.
So what it means in lay terms, is:”we do it unto you before you do it unto us.”
As the American built C 160 or “Hercules” troop transporter was preparing for landing, on the makeshift “bush” runway in Katima Mulilo, a frontier town in a region called “The Caprivi Strip” a semi-desert area, lying between South Africa and Angola.
We sat motionless, bracing ourselves for the rough touch down. I glanced through the plexiglass window at the ground below, which is what I would be calling home for the following 3 months, one way or another. It was 1973 and back then Bravo company was among the spearheading group of combattants to occupy and patrol the Zambia/Angola/South africa border cutline, an Agent Orange, chemically cleared dirt trail stretching from East to West over 1000’s of kilometers.
The huge plane, fondly nicknamed:”Flossie” (Floozy) taxied towards a few tents and came to a standstill with a gentle, rocking motion. The four jet-propellers slowing down from an annoying high-pitched scream to an almost bearable low hum.
As the gigantic tailgate slowly swung open, I was instantly struck by a sudden gust of scorching desert air blowing into the air conditioned interior of the aircraft. It was 60 degrees C outside.
The disembarkation was efficiently done and painless and within an hour we were seated in 4 camouflaged Ford F 100 vans, heading down a dusty track towards a clearing in the bush, some 250 kilometers away.
Arriving there, we were greeted by the 30 members of Delta company who had just completed a 3 month stint and were ecstatic about the prospects of returning to their loved ones.
The stark reality of what we were doing there was instantly brought home, when Delta company’s commanding officer mentioned the name of one of his platoon members who had died in a landmine explosion, seven days earlier, a mere 5 kilometers from our camp.
Traditionally, the relieving platoon did the first night watch and perimeter patrols. I was lucky to have an early patrol the and managed to grab a few hours of sleep in the “hotbed”, (A system used by submariners around the world) you sleep in the bed, of the guy who was relieving you. After saying our goodbyes to Delta company, I headed back to my tent. On a nearby steel cupboard was a ceramic “Cookie Jar” left behind by Delta company, being curious by nature, I took it down and had a look inside…
Inside the jar, tightly coiled was a very alive fat, brown snake!
In one fluid motion, I threw the jar towards the back of the tent, while reaching for my Israeli manufactured, 9 millimeter Uzi submachine gun. I managed to fire a single shot and hitting the reptile in the head, just as it was heading back to where I stood, its mouth gaping! It stopped just inches from my barefeet.
The snake although a juvenile of about 40 centimeters long was as venomous as an adult. It clearly was quite unable to have gotten there by itself and was obviously intended as a sick, lethal prank by the previous cupboard occupant from Delta company.
The snake was a Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) considered to be Africa’s deadliest snake, as it is responsible for the most human fatalities. Puff Adders reach a maximum length of around 1 meter, and they’re solidly built with a wide girth.
Africa’s deadliest snake
Their color patterns differ depending on where they live, their habitats extend throughout Africa except for dense rain forests. The Puff Adder has large fangs and its venom is powerful enough to kill a grown man with a single bite.
Puff Adders rely on camouflage for protection and lie still if approached. Because of this, people tend to step on them and get bitten. Many fatalities occur because their bites lead to infection and gangrene.
The “Bite” in the Cookie Jar as you probably caught on is for”Bitis Arietans”, a Latin reference to the Puff-Adder, the deadliest snake in Africa.
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Content by Andre’ George Hartslief ©2016 all rights reserved
photo from pixabay.com