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Stark re­al­ity of Natal Com­mand

The Dur­ban site of the for­mer mil­i­tary base stands va­cant and its hu­man sto­ries are al­most for­got­ten


THE mil­i­tary his­tory of KwaZulu-Natal in­cluded the par­tic­i­pa­tion of its army units in dif­fer­ent wars, bat­tles, skir­mishes and peace­keep­ing ef­forts. KwaZulu-Natal­ians have there­fore been mem­bers of many hon­oured army units which were in­volved in and played a role in South Africa’s che­quered mil­i­tary his­tory of sol­dier­ing.

As a for­mer of­fi­cer com­mand­ing (OC) of Natal Com­mand, Bri­gadier J H Pre­to­rius SD, noted, “sol­dier­ing has come nat­u­rally to the men of Natal”.

As the his­tory of KZN evolved, so too did sol­dier­ing in the prov­ince. Septem­ber 11, 1969, saw the es­tab­lish­ment of Group 9, 10 and 11 head­quar­ters. These “groups” re­sorted un­der the author­ity of Natal Com­mand which then ex­er­cised op­er­a­tional con­trol over a num­ber of SA Army Units.

For ex­am­ple, in later years Group 10 Head­quar­ters had two SA Army Ci­ti­zen Force units (Con­gella Reg­i­ment and Dur­ban Reg­i­ment) and six com­mando units (Dur­ban South, Dur­ban North, High­way, Oribi, South Coast and Um­geni) un­der its com­mand.

Sol­dier­ing in KZN was thus wide­spread and Natal Com­mand served at the apex of the SA Army or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­ture. The head­quar­ters of Natal Com­mand re­mained at Dur­ban’s Snell Pa­rade.

The mil­i­tary his­tory of Natal com­prised of soldiers from dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tion groups who were en­gaged in var­ied facets, to pro­tect the ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity and also to main­tain the se­cu­rity and safety “for the peace­ful de­vel­op­ment of all the peo­ples of South Africa”.

Many of the SA Army units in Natal ex­isted un­til after the turn of the 21st cen­tury. The new po­lit­i­cal dis­pen­sa­tion re­sulted in their dis­es­tab­lish­ment.

These units were not the only ca­su­al­ties dur­ing this at­tri­tion-process – Natal Com­mand was also closed down.

To­day, only the white-peel­ing- and yel­low-tinged façade of the for­mer en­trance build­ing still stands. The build­ings (ex­cept the chapel) on the mil­i­tary base no longer ex­ist.

The Natal Com­mand site (which was granted by the City Coun­cil of Dur­ban on be­half of its cit­i­zens, to the Depart­ment of De­fence on Fe­bru­ary 12, 1937) stands va­cant. The area is al­most for­lorn and life­less-look­ing ex­cept for the few hadeda ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) for­ag­ing in this his­tor­i­cal soil.

But this land, its for­mer mil­i­tary build­ings and bar­racks con­tain much for­got­ten his­tory. And they also con­tain an ar­moury of hu­man sto­ries.

Natal Com­mand of­fi­cially closed on Novem­ber 23, 2000. On this day, a com­bined medal and clos­ing pa­rade was held in front of the build­ing. The Natal Com­mand Head­quar­ters’ flag was then low­ered for the last time.

The two most se­nior rank­ing mil­i­tary per­son­nel (com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer and non-com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer) dur­ing this pe­riod were: the gen­eral of­fi­cer com­mand­ing (GOC) (Ma­jor-Gen­eral CE Le Roux SD SM MMM); and the com­mand sergeant ma­jor (WO1 JM Goodrich PMM MMM).

1: GOC: Ma­jor-Gen­eral CE le Roux SD SM MMM

Christof­fel (Chris) Eras­mus le Roux was born on April 20, 1946, in Dundee, north­ern Natal. He and his par­ents re­lo­cated to Pine­town. He at­tended Pine­town Boys’ High School and ma­tric­u­lated in De­cem­ber 1963.

Le Roux ex­celled at sport and par­tic­i­pated in the school’s cadet pro­gramme. One of his ear­li­est school cadet out­ings (in 1959) took place at Natal Com­mand Head­quar­ters.

After school, the 17-year-old teenager joined the SA De­fence Force (SADF) – as it was then known.

After com­plet­ing in­fantry train­ing, Le Roux at­tended the Mil­i­tary Academy in Sal­danha.

In 1967, he grad­u­ated with a BMil de­gree from Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity.

On Novem­ber 21, 1967, Le Roux was com­mis­sioned as an of­fi­cer in the SADF with the rank of lieu­tenant.

He qual­i­fied as a para­trooper on Oc­to­ber 9, 1970. He held var­i­ous mil­i­tary ap­point­ments and post­ings. One was as of­fi­cer com­mand­ing, 1 Parachute Bat­tal­ion, Bloem­fontein, dur­ing 1984-1988.

On Fe­bru­ary 18, 1995, Le Roux was ap­pointed OC Natal Com­mand.

On Jan­uary 1, 1996, he was ap­pointed as GOC Natal Com­mand with the rank of ma­jor-gen­eral.

He served as GOC un­til Natal Com­mand closed down. Le Roux left the ser­vice of the SA Na­tional De­fence Force (SANDF) on De­cem­ber 31, 2000.

Le Roux re­called three sig­nif­i­cant highlights dur­ing his ten­ure (1995 to 2000) as OC/GOC Natal Com­mand:

● Con­duct­ing con­tin­u­ous peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions dur­ing po­lit­i­cal con­flict be­tween the ANC and IFP sup­port­ers in KZN.

● Plan­ning and ex­e­cut­ing the SANDF Day pa­rade through the streets of Dur­ban on April 29,1995.

● Ac­tively par­tic­i­pat­ing in the re­struc­tur­ing of the SANDF (this process was an amal­ga­ma­tion of eight dif­fer­ent de­fence forces). The SANDF was re­or­gan­ised ac­cord­ing to mod­ern-day or­gan­i­sa­tional prin­ci­ples and this re­struc­tur­ing process even­tu­ally led to the closure of Natal Com­mand.

Dur­ing his 36-year ca­reer with the SADF/SANDF, Le Roux com­pleted more than 300 parachute jumps and was dec­o­rated with 10 medals.

He and his wife Mar­lyna live in Dur­ban. Their two mar­ried sons live abroad.

2: Com­mand sergeant ma­jor: WO1 JM Goodrich PMM MMM

John Methven Goodrich was born on Septem­ber 12, 1945, in Pre­to­ria. He com­pleted his school­ing at Hoërskool Hen­tie Cil­liers in Vir­ginia, Free State, in 1963.

He joined the SADF in 1964. In 1965, he at­tended an in­struc­tor’s course in Oudt­shoorn.

Goodrich held var­i­ous mil­i­tary ap­point­ments and post­ings. One was as for­ma­tion sergeant ma­jor, SA Army Bat­tle School, Lo­hatla, dur­ing 1988-1993.

On Novem­ber 1, 1993, Goodrich was ap­pointed as com­mand sergeant ma­jor, Natal Com­mand. He served in this ap­point­ment un­til Natal Com­mand closed down.

He left the ser­vice of the SANDF on De­cem­ber 31, 2000.

Goodrich re­called three sig­nif­i­cant highlights of his ten­ure (1993-2000) as com­mand sergeant ma­jor:

● Train­ing and over­see­ing 114 mil­i­tary pa­rades (at the old Dur­ban In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Re­union) to wel­come heads of state to the 12th Sum­mit of the Non-Aligned Move­ment held from Au­gust 29 to Septem­ber 3, 1998.

● Or­gan­is­ing the pa­rade on Novem­ber 11, 1999, at Stella Ceme­tery for the-then Cana­dian prime min­is­ter, Jean Chre­tien, who laid a wreath at the graves of Cana­dian air­men who died dur­ing train­ing in World War II.

● In­volved with the wel­com­ing pa­rade for Queen El­iz­a­beth 11 dur­ing her visit to Dur­ban in Novem­ber 1999.

Dur­ing his 36-year ca­reer with the SADF/SANDF, Goodrich was dec­o­rated with nine medals. He was also awarded the Ger­man CSM Muster Badge Bronze.

Both these mil­i­tary per­son­nel are cur­rently in their early sev­en­ties.

When one re­flects on this doc­u­mented oral his­tory, the mil­i­tary era of Natal Com­mand and its as­so­ci­ated hu­man sto­ries are al­most for­got­ten.

The stark re­al­ity is that Natal Com­mand for­mally closed down more than 18 years ago and its his­tory is now shrouded in a by­gone era dur­ing a for­mer po­lit­i­cal dis­pen­sa­tion.

Nev­er­the­less, Natal Com­mand as part of the SA Army had in many ways ac­cepted its role to guar­an­tee the ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity by up­hold­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion.

It was com­mit­ted, via its var­ied facets of sol­dier­ing, in en­sur­ing that the in­ter­nal sta­bil­ity, safety and wel­fare of KZN and all its peo­ple were safe­guarded.

This is note­wor­thy and one has a sense that sol­dier­ing did come nat­u­rally to the men (and women) of KZN.

From these mil­i­tary com­mit­ments of yes­ter­year, present day oral his­tory ac­counts serve to safe­guard the pre­sen­ta­tion and in­ter­pre­ta­tion of past events ex­e­cuted by Natal Com­mand.

Hu­man sto­ries, par­tic­u­larly in the con­text of mil­i­tary his­tory, still res­onate with some cit­i­zens of Dur­ban.

The façade of the for­mer Natal Com­mand en­trance build­ing also serves as a gen­tle re­minder.

● Averweg served as a com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer with SA Army Ci­ti­zen Force unit, Con­gella Reg­i­ment, based in Dur­ban. He often vis­ited Natal Com­mand on of­fi­cial du­ties. He is a mem­ber of the South African Mil­i­tary His­tory So­ci­ety (KwaZulu-Natal branch). This ar­ti­cle was penned in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

 ??  ?? THE white-peel­ing- and yel­low-tinged façade of the for­mer en­trance to Natal Com­mand build­ing.
THE white-peel­ing- and yel­low-tinged façade of the for­mer en­trance to Natal Com­mand build­ing.
 ??  ?? CHRIS le Roux, left, John Goodrich and Udo Averweg.
CHRIS le Roux, left, John Goodrich and Udo Averweg.

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