Bush Brothers: Life and Death Across the Border

Bush Brothers. Picture: Supplied

Bush Brothers. Picture: Supplied

Published Dec 15, 2023


Bush Brothers is not about special forces or heroic, secret missions. Instead, it is an intimate look at the daily life of ordinary soldiers – and the unbreakable bonds they formed under fire. From enduring basic training to witnessing atrocities, this is the story of thousands of infantry men who were deployed in the SADF, on or across the Border. Colourful characters and wild partying are interspersed with reflections on the warrior spirit awakened by adrenaline and danger, and the life-and-death choices troops were forced to make as they sacrificed life and limb, not so much for their country, but for each other.

"Bush Brothers is an authentic, readable account of the events of that time, and the camaraderie that bonded the men of our infantry company. Filled with drama and humour, this book will resonate with many conscripts who served in the Border War." - Stan Bezuidenhout, Major, South African Infantry (Retired)

About the author

Steve de Witt qualified for the 1992 Olympics as a high diver; he has also worked as a stuntman, tutored at exclusive British public schools, picked bananas, busked, and surfed the coastlines of California and Mexico. After co-founding a successful IT firm in Los Angeles, he recently returned to his first love, writing.


Our first full contact’s been a roller-coaster, deranging to the senses, part controlled and part helter-skelter, moving unpredictably in phases, disciplined and chaotic: everything they said it would be. It’ll take some time to digest and analyse and debate what went right and what went wrong. Thankfully our battle drills worked and no one was killed. Tomorrow morning we’ll return in search of enemy casualties. Finding a TB some three klicks away, we go down in silence.

Next to me, Spike’s eyes are still round with adrenaline, pupils huge and eyebrows twitching uncontrollably. Lying in my sleeping bag, my nerve endings tingle and my feet jerk in spasms. I force myself to take deep breaths and eventually feel my heartbeat slowing.

Coming down, I reflect over and over on the contact. The hammering guns, deafening noise, streaming tracers, banging mortars, bright lights in the sky; the panicked looks on everyone’s faces; the urgency and vitality and adrenaline. How time slows down and you remember small, insignificant details. The paralysing terror when bullets first crack overhead, the frightening uncertainty of feeling that anything could happen. The sheer relief of your mates coming to your rescue.

You did okay, I tell myself: forced yourself through the initial fear and kept your wits about you. Were calmer after a while, selecting targets. Thank God, you didn’t let anyone down.

The others did well, too – the lootenint, directing the Lambush, the section leaders marshalling their men, even the captain, dropping light on target from Alpha Tower far away.

But, my God, Brent was magnificent, running across incoming fire for more ammo at a time when I was paralysed with dread. Then returning under the same conditions. If ever I misjudged someone, it was him. Our eyes lit up the TB that night, our adrenaline warping the bush. We couldn’t sleep. I’d tapped into the warrior gene running through my bloodline, I realised, building on earlier thoughts. Combat had come naturally. A ghostly line of men queued behind me, each one a fighter in the conflicts of his time. Beyond Jesus and Genesis into the past they ranged, the fathers of my father, extending to my forebears among the primates. Fighting in tribes, fighting for territory, fighting to survive. They were around tonight, lurking in the shadows – I’d sensed them. Watching from the mists of unwritten history, observing without judgement the pain we inflict, for this is the way of our species, the way we persist. At the end of their genealogical line, I was their latest edition, an accumulation of their warring experience and more. With their blood I was strong inside and always would be.

Lying back in my sleeping bag, I stared at the moon. Spliced by branches in the tree above, veined with roads to walk and plains to cross, it seemed a vision of my future. An easy prospect, well illuminated and inviting compared to the battle we’d just fought in the dark. After the war I’d approach life with my warrior’s gene, I told myself – I’d fear nothing and chase my dreams, shaping the life I wanted.

Bush Brothers: Life and Death Across the Border retails for R320

Saturday Star