The words of former Angolan prisoner of war and recce commander, currently an author and motivational speaker, Wynand du Toit, were well received by attendees of his appearance at the Memorable Order of Tin Hats (Moth) Botha Shellhole in Polokwane last Wednesday.
Du Toit was the leader of a special task team sent to Angola on a military mission in May 1985. Due to unforeseen circumstances the mission failed, and at daybreak the South African soldiers found themselves surrounded by 120 People’s Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (Fapla) members, whom they came head to head with, a skirmish which lasted 45 minutes. Two of Du Toit’s men were killed and a critically wounded Du Toit was taken to Cabinda and then on to a hospital in Luanda for medical treatment. The remaining six recces, two of whom were wounded, regrouped and returned safely to South Africa but Du Toit was held captive as an Angolan prisoner of war for two and a half years, with Cuban troops guarding the entrance to his cell.
He was released in September 1987, in accordance with Brazzaville Protocol, in an arranged complex prisoner exchange. He was kept in solitary confinement in a Cuban military prison for the entire 837 days of his detention.
Du Toit, who is also a Moth, spoke from the heart as he welcomed everyone, especially two fellow former recces from Polokwane.
Reflecting on a recent visit to Australia, Du Toit compared the manner in which Australia honours their former soldiers to the fact that South Africa does no such thing. He said this was heartbreaking. “Many former fellow soldiers in South Africa barely manage to survive financially,” he added.
Du Toit went on to describe how his days as a prisoner of war in Kabinda changed his life. “When I was captured, for me it was the end of the world, the greatest, biggest failure that could happen to any man. To be caught was a disgrace. I’m a recce and recces don’t get caught. But I did. The fact that I was a captive in Kabinda changed my whole life.
“Following my release, I couldn’t be an operative any more. There was no operational function left for me to do, really, because I was compromised – the enemy had my fingerprints and my photo. My life came to a standstill. It was extremely difficult to accept my fate,” Du Toit related.
He said his time as a prisoner in solitary confinement taught him two very important things, one being acceptance of one’s fate, and the other being to look out for opportunities no matter how small, and grasp them with both hands. “The smallest opportunities can uplift you and change the course of your life,” he said.
Du Toit also spoke about his published books, namely ‘Judasbok’ followed by ‘Josefskleed’ which are his version of events and how things turned awry after his group was betrayed. These books were followed by ‘S-98’, a fictitious spy thriller which takes the reader from icy Eastern Siberia to the sub-tropical areas of Angola. It is filled with intrigues as well as covert operations, something that Du Toit knows about intimately. ‘The Long Lost Grave’ and ‘Destiny’ followed, and are both works of fiction in military settings.
Following Du Toit’s presentation, Moth Botha Shellhole Old Bill Ben Smit thanked Du Toit for his words of wisdom and thanked fellow Moth Basil Duke-Norris for making all the arrangements.
According to Smit, the evening was an enormous success.
Story and photos: KAREN VENTER