ARRSE BOOK REVIEW: WEEP FOR AFRICA by Jeremy Hall


(This review originally appeared on http://www.arrse.co.uk and is reposted here with their find consent)

This is a straightforward memoir of the author’s life in apartheid South Africa and three years of fighting the Rhodesian war against FRELIMO, ZANU and ZIPLA.

The first third of the book describes growing up in the 60s and 70s in apartheid South Africa. Although Jeremy’s lifestyle was privileged, with plenty of servants and an expensive education, his family were not wealthy by white South African standards. There was instability as his father moved from farm to farm seeking elusive profits. There are some interesting vignettes of life in an indefensible political structure and the author is clearly uncomfortable with it. The white fear of black pervades every aspect of life.

It then describes his introduction to the brutal and, to his view, ineffective conscript training in the South Africa Defence Forces. The tensions between Afrikaner and English speakers is palpable and revealing, as in the Afrikaner’s isolationism. Following a family move and dropping out of University the author enlists in the Rhodesian Light Infantry, either parachuting or helicoptering into combat. The remainder of the book is a description of a repeating sequence of booze, march, fight, R&R. There is no description of the higher picture; the RLI’s purpose is just to kill terrorists. But to a young white soldier fighting the threat of black power that is enough.

This book does little to answer the questions of how and why the white regimes fell, nor does it shed much light on the techniques of bush warfare at anything above platoon level. Do we need to know that his mother was a bad driver? Probably not. Is Jeremy’s poetry compelling? Not to me. The book could probably benefited from some tighter editing, more complete maps and a stricter chronology.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, being written forty years after the event it does faithfully portray the life of a young man in difficult and dangerous times. It does convey the experience of living and working in a four-man “stick” well, although the many tribal and Afrikaans words to obscure meaning. Pay close attention to the glossary.

It is neither an apology nor an exoneration; it’s simply a private memoire, an all the better for that. As there are no simple answers to the rise and fall of white power in Africa it is perhaps books like this which are more likely to impart wisdom. I hope the author finds some peace from it.

It was not the book that I thought I had picked up, but I could not put in down.  Four out of five.