After the bridge at Xangongo collapsed, no one from the 1-Recces saw “die Mot” again.

The exact occasion of the first sighting is uncertain. Three months earlier Sergeant Marais was overheard telling Sergeant Du Toit that he had seen glowing red eyes in the undergrowth before his Puma lifted off the ground. It was on this trip that the operational map got sucked out the window, forcing the first operation to be cancelled, for fear that the paper had drifted into enemy hands. Hindsight gave this incident particular import. However, Sergeant Kloosterziel also reported being followed by piercing red eyes. After being the sole survivor when his deep reconnaissance group was deployed near a chana observed by a SWAPO unit, this was assumed to be post-traumatic stress. Either way, Kloosterziel never spoke of it again, or returned to active duty for that matter.

The first corroborated sighting occurred during the final preparations for Operation Rooihoek. Captain Venter, under political pressure from General Loots whose connections to the cabinet made him a forcible opponent, relented and planned a second mission to the bridge, although military intelligence could neither confirm nor deny any major placement changes along the river after the fateful loss of the map. Venter insisted on a photographic flyover. The SAAF sent an Impala Mk II and determined that no changes in defensive patterns were evident. Venter moved the 1-Recces to the staging base at Mpupa Falls, for final strategy and training. Sergeants Sachse and Van Wyk were securing the perimeter above the waterfall, when according to the report submitted to Captain Venter, they saw a large man-like creature raise itself from the ground. As it moved from the horizontal to the vertical it did not bend its knees or seem to move a muscle. Then it spread its wings. They described it as being at least 8 feet high, with an equal wingspan. The wings were grey and smooth like a moth’s. Both Sachse and Van Wyk claimed to be mesmerized by large glowing red eyes. When they tore themselves away and ran it launched into the air and kept pace with them without flapping its massive wings. It just wheeled along, casting a long dark shadow from the evening sun. “I’ve never seen anything like those eyes,” reported Sachse. “They were like coals in a wind.”

When the rumor spread, with much hilarity, around the camp Sergeant Du Plessis, known as “Dup”, quoted a school boy poem in his clearest Afrikaans:

Maar ek hoef nie van een kant af net te kyk,
ek vlieg ‘n wye sirkel om,
dan weet ek van alkant af hoe hy lyk,
om beter te sorg om nie nader te kom.

My sirkel was skeef en ingebuig,
maar daar ook waar ek die naaste was,
het niks gebeur, ek maak verniet
my sirkel so groot en so ver van die as.

Die wieletjie draai al vinniger om,
die lig en die gloed word al groter genot.
Die velling word nouer al rondom die as
en die end van die wiel, is die as van ‘n mot.

After which the name “die Mot” seemed to stick, though the sense of good-natured teasing dissipated quickly. In the following days Sergeant Schulz saw the same creature rising like the ascension above the escarpment. Dup thought he saw it silhouetted by the sun and felt terrified. Sergeant Kleinholz spotted it gliding behind the tips of the trees. The cracks of his rifle brought the other men. “I clean jumped out of my skin,” he told them. “But it didn’t seem to notice. It just hovered there. Watching.” They all shivered. Night was falling and a cold air drifted off the falls.

It was a relief to all to get the operation on the go. Venter felt especially grateful. Being a rational man he was still skeptical about the verity of the sightings, in interpretation at least. No one, however, wants jittery frightened troops. Especially not when one’s career was riding on it; General Loots would not take blame for a second failure. The plan of action was simple. The two Puma helicopters would fly north to Cassinga and stage a dummy drop to the southwest of the SWAPO encampment to act as a diversion. Meanwhile, a C130 transporter would fly at a high altitude northwest to the river. The men trained in high-altitude low-opening drops, would inflate two Krokodil boats and paddle the 10km downstream to the bridge, place the charges and then rendezvous with the returning Puma choppers on the south bank.

The first bad sign was when a vast storm moved in that afternoon, forcing the buffeted plane to fly far lower than planned. Once inflated one of the boats broke free, pummeled by the swollen current, and it took twenty minutes to finally snatch it off a submerged rock. The sun was beginning to sink when Sachse and Van Wyk, who had dropped first and moved ahead by foot to recon the banks radioed movement two clicks from the bridge, nearly forty men, apparently at full alert on the north bank. Whether it was the loud plane or the lost map that was responsible for this unexpected development one thing was for sure: moving down the river would mean getting stuck in a deadly bottle neck ambush. The forewarning was all the well-drilled 1-Recces needed to gain the advantage. The first team of six disembarked on the north shore and circled round to get the higher ground, while the second team moved further down to pick up Van Wyk and Sachse. They crossed over to target the enemy’s west flank, set timed charges in the boat, filled it with excess ammunition and aimed it down the last stretch of the river.

As the Krokodil exploded, sending shrapnel in from the south, Schulz’ team crept up behind, their noises masked by the rain, and laid cover through the brush. The second team meanwhile charged in from the west. Kleinholz rolled two grenades into the artillery dugout, while Van Wyk blew covering fire. The screams of trapped burning men echoed through the bush. Dup and Sachse moved in too fast. Sachse had to draw his knife when he practically stumbled over two panicked enemies, precluding swinging his rifle. He aimed a graceful thrust through the throat of the first, before rolling and snicking the Achilles of the second. Then kneeing on the gasping man’s chest he pushed the blade up through the chin. He looked into his eyes as the blood gushed. Dup knocked down a third with a slash of his rifle, before standing on his throat and putting two bullets into his stomach. He then tucked a grenade into the corpse’s mouth and rolled him down the incline to where three SWAPO insurgents had taken aim at Sachse. An immense roll of thunder met Van Wyk pumping lead into the flaming dugout. He was rewarded with fresh screams, before being spotted. The slight graze across his ear caused him to dive into a low ditch from where he sniped five men with well-placed bursts. Du Toit coming from the north put a bullet in to the temple of a fleeing soldier from thirty feet, flipping a proud grin at Kleinholz who was converging on his position. Kleinholz, feeling exposed, grabbed a corpse off the ground in time to feel two rounds thump into it. Using it as cover he pushed forward, shooting from the hip. Meeting with Du Toit, they leopard crawled behind the machine gun position, still putting misguided lead into the burning boat. Du Toit cut a perfect straight line of holes in the back of the gunner, while the chin of the ammo feeder caught Kleinholz’ shot. The momentum carried him up and over on to the smoking barrel. The smell of roasting flesh wafted through the rain. Schulz wandered around putting pistol bullets into anyone still moving.

As they waded the river, slapping shaped charges onto the bridge’s pillars, all twelve men saw “die Mot” rising out of the water. Water poured off its outstretched wings, and it impassively gazed at them with glowing burning red eyes. The standoff lasted a full two minutes. The twelve recces on one side, Dup frozen in mid-slap. The water rushed and pulled at their legs. Die Mot on the other, floating two inches above the water, inhuman, staring. Then it lifted off. They watched it until it disappeared into the watery distance.

While they waited for the Pumas the dust and smoke from the bridge was battered down by the pouring rain.

The Other Side | 2009 | Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments (0)

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