Book review: Border-line Insanity


Tim Ramsden had a busy two years in service of the South African nation, spending nine months mastering mechanised infantry tactics and techniques before becoming part of one of the first national servicemen (NSM) intakes to be deployed into the townships in addition to serving along the Angolan and Mozambican borders.

Border-line Insanity – A National Serviceman`s Story is Ramsden`s very-readable account of his two-year stint (January 1984 to December 1985) in browns, as well as his mobilisation in mid-1988 as part of 81 Armoured Brigade, dispatched to Ruacana in northern Namibia to counter the Cuban 50th Motor Rifle Division that was bearing down on the SA occupation force there.

Ramsden broke regulations at the time by presciently keeping a diary of his activities and that of his platoon in addition to having a camera to hand. As a result the book is well supplied with original and previously-unpublished photographs. One perennial weakness of this style of book remains maps. Unfortunately just one general map of Namibia is included in this book. The reviewer lives in hope that this issue will be addressed.

Border-line Insanity is how it was for generations of white youngsters conscripted into the South African Defence Force and sent to distant borders. An excellent account of training at De Brug, township duty in Thokoza and plodding through the Ovambo bush in the worst possible conditions – in the midst of the rainy season when the country becomes one large swamp. Also well-described is basic training, and a deployment into the Kruger National Park – “Army life at its best” to patrol the Mozambique border. The deployment had unfortunate consequences for three of Ramsden`s section mates who entered Mozambique for a swim and found themselves taken prisoner…   

Tim Ramsden

Border-line Insanity – A National Serviceman`s Story