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Ian's Rumble in the Jungle Print E-mail
Written by James Hunt   
Friday, 13 March 2009 17:16

In the 1960s the sudden & violent mutiny by the black members of the Belgian Congo Force Publique created panic among the large white Belgian expatriate community in the province of Katanga.

Stories of whites being murdered, rapes & widespread looting, caused a mass exodus of refugees towards the nearby border posts with Northern Rhodesia.

At every border post there were long queues of cars filled with families & whatever possessions they were able to carry.

Sir Roy Welensky called up the army to afford protection to these folk & prepare if necessary to cross the Congo border & confront the mutineers. This is how my Battalion, 3rd RRR, came to establish a base in the bush near Solwezi/Kansanshi about 5miles from the Congo Border.

The guys were as keen as mustard to engage the enemy albeit we were armed with WW2 vintage 303 rifles while the Force Publique were equipped with state-of - the art FN automatic weapons! To our great disappointment, orders arrived from London that under no circumstance were Northern Rhodesian troops to cross the border into the Congo, since this would be an act of war! Second prize for us testosterone charged & pumped up youths was the mandate to patrol the border bush, locate any native villages, record the number of inhabitants & search for weapons that may have come into their possession.

There had been reports of Belgian refugee whites that had avoided crossing at official checkpoints by travelling along the many unofficial bush tracks that criss-crossed the un-marked border. Many of these people carried Congo Army issued weapons such as handguns, FN rifles, submachine guns & in one recorded instance a box of hand grenades! Many of these items were dumped in the bush after crossing into NR & authorities were concerned that they might fall into the hands of subversive or criminal elements.

I was a member of a platoon that went on one of these missions. Included in our contingent was one Hendry van Vuuren. The adopted son of Shitter- of- Fire van Vuuren, a farmer from Murundu. Hendry was fluent in the local dialect & he was appointed official interpreter for indabas between the military & the native villagers.

Leader of our platoon was Sergeant Ian Sutherland. Ian was a dedicated army man, master of arms & unarmed combat expert, very serious nature, always correct & fair in all his dealings with his fellow man.

We arrived at quite a large village that was inhabited by old men & women, children & many nubile bare breasted maidens. Most of the village men were employed by the copper mines in the area & spent most of their time away from home. Our arrival caused great excitement among the villagers & the tribal chief's wife was summoned to attend an indaba. Unbeknown to Ian I called Hendry aside & quietly told him to explain to the Chief's wife that our leader Ian was looking for a wife. We were all seated in a circle on grass mats opposite the chief's wife & her advisors. Ian proceeded with a solemn explanation as to why the army was there & Hendry interpreted to the old girl, adding the bit at the end about Ian's urgent need for a young spouse. Ian did not understand the lingo & was nodding & smiling as Hendry translated.

Well, the last request was greeted with excited gasps & much twittering. The old girl immediately began shouting instructions to the villagers. Very soon Ian was surrounded by young girls all vying for his attention while he was presented with gourds of the local brew, miellies, chickens, paw paws & all sorts of culinary delights. Ian was dumbstruck & greatly embarrassed by all the feminine attention he was getting but when he saw the grins on our faces the penny dropped & he wanted to murder Hendry. Hendry had to negotiate a way out of the situation very smartly by presenting the old girl with a major portion of the platoon's dry ration packs!

Ian visited me many years later & he told my children about the day that their dad almost got him married off to a bevy of young black maidens!