31 Battalion

 

I was never one to pay attention in school history classes. I sat at the back and threw paper aeroplanes around the class. I was never interested in geography, and never did the assignments. It’s weird how, now as I get older, I talk to people about the border war but I actually know nothing about it. What the hell was it about, where the hell was it? It was on some border, and apparently not ours? The only things I ever knew were small things that my dad would tell me. I remember playing with fireworks, and my dad would warn me about what they could do. He told me how a guy’s stomach blew out from a hand grenade that he had in his pocket. It seemed like something took him straight back to that moment. I remember his army clothes, how I use to play in them. I would sleep in his sleeping bag, and eventually he threw it all out. I remember diving into the dustbin and pulling out his medals, and I’ve kept them. Those discarded medals at the bottom of a trashcan, now sit in some box in my room.

 

This is a war that had nothing to do with me. I can’t relate to it. But how could I not know about it? I learnt about the Great Trek a million times, but never this war. What the hell happened? I sure as hell will never understand it, but I can see whatever happened will never leave some people.

 

I landed in Platfontein by chance. It’s 15 minutes outside of Kimberly. I went to see a parade and the unveiling of a monument there. There were men in their uniforms; they seemed to have sprung out of the ground, with their polished shoes and pressed jackets. This odd combination of black and white men together, it’s not something you would see in many places in this country. But at the same time there was a feeling of respect, camaraderie even, than ran through the air. That struck me.

 

After watching for a while, I decided to shoot their portraits, if they would let me. Some of them did, and some of them did not. Without reason some denied me; it felt like another form of denying me access to what happened, as if they thought a photograph would expose them, reveal their entire story.

© Paul Samuels Photography / paul@paulsamuels.co.za

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