Somewhere on the Border - The effects of a paranoid State by Murray Walker
My dad was in the army during Apartheid but he has barely spoken about it and I've been scared of asking him to many questions. All he's really told me is that he hated it. A feeling I imagine many people have towards their compulsory time in the South African Defense Force.
Somewhere on the Border is a snapshot of a small infantry's time in the SADF during the war with Angolan communists. It was written in 1983 by Anthony Akerman, and was subsequently banned by the Apartheid government. Intense and quite stunning acting by the entire cast sucked me straight into their world while the dialogue smacked me about the head so I would wince and clench my teeth. The play follows the group as they prepare for a tour of the Border which invariably they are not ready for and the emotional stresses of war take their toll.
Doug Campbell, played by Dylan Horley, arrives at base and it's immediately apparent that he doesn't want to be there, that he doesn't believe we have anything to fear from the Communists in Angola or from the Blacks in South Africa, an indoctrination that new recruits are force-fed by their superiors at every opportunity. He has trouble fitting into his platoon where many of the other soldiers blindly buy into the paranoia and racism.
Campbell does befriend Paul Marais (Luan Jacobs) and tells him about what the army did to him after he refused to enlist. While in a Pretoria Psyciatric institute he decided it was better to play their game than get electro shock therapy to 'fix' him.
So begins a massive personal battle for Doug where everything he believes is undermined for reasons that seem so utterly ridiculous now but were considered pure fact during Apartheid.
Seeing this play as someone who grew up in a free South Africa, the racism, paranoia and disrespect was painful and embarrassing to watch. Somewhere on the Border aims to show up the ridiculous state of mind that gripped the average white South Afican but also expose the trauma that these young men were forced into in the name of fighting an essentially invisible enemy. Without fully understanding what they were doing these soldiers were sent to their deaths fighting against an enemy that had no tangible negative influence on their lives and posed no immediate threat to them in South Africa. A situation that even Doug Campbell could not overcome as survival became the only objective, over-riding even his strong personal beliefs about his fellow man.
I understand now why my father hated the army.
Somewhere on the Border is on at the Baxter Theatre Flipside
until 17 March.