“In any military situation the Brass knows that letters from home are important for morale, so Executive Outcomes set up a similar system to what most of us had known in the SADF. Obviously without all the bullshit, like having to do push-ups if your letter smelt of perfume.
Every plane that came in had some mail for us. We could get stamps at the canteen and our letters would be posted from “The House” in Pretoria. My mail was mainly from Charmaine; she even sent some drawings based on what I wrote about camp life.
We had been in Angola for a few months when I noticed that Bimbi never received any mail. So I watched to see if he ever sent any out; he did not. I knew he had a wife and kids living in Phalaborwa, although he was Congolese. At this stage the South African news was full of stories, some actually true, of a bunch of South African mercenaries in Angola. A few guys had been killed already and the newspapers were having a field day.
Charmaine kept a photo of three bodies; dead and half-naked, that Savimbi had sent to the South African news services as a warning to keep South African soldiers out of his country. I’m sure all the wives and girlfriends were eagerly waiting for mail.
One day I asked Bimbi why he did not write, would his wife not be worrying about him? The story was, he and his wife had no common written language. Although he could speak five or six languages, he could only write in French. His wife, being from Venda, probably had never even heard French before she met Bimbi.
I offered to write on his behalf, and, after much cajoling, Bimbi arrived in my tent late one night. It was touching to see how embarrassed this hard-assed ex-5 Recce soldier was; so shy about his personal life. He told me to write that he was well and to ask how are the kids. That was it! When I asked if I should write that he missed his wife, he nearly crawled under the bed. I then teased him further. I asked if I should tell her how much he loved her, too. We eventually sent a letter off.
His next embarrassment came when Goodness, his wife, replied. The poor bugger couldn’t read English either. So he snuck into my tent late one night again and very shamefacedly asked me if I would mind reading his letter. The cost to him must have been enormous. He was pleased that his family were all well. Bimbi was a truly brave man, in every respect, and I liked him all the more for it.”
– Wayne Bisset. Mortarist in the South African Defence Force. 7 South African Infantry. Executive Outcomes.
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