Here at Groep 7 we are excited to announce that we are planning a series of articles featuring our authors. We would like to kick this off with Paul Els who relates to us his struggle with languages. But far from being a downtrodden person, Paul has proved more than his worth: he has published several books of historical value.
Paul, give us a bit of your history:
“I am a descendant of Boer General Louis Botha, Voortrekker Andries Potgieter and Hans Dons De Lange. I was born in Emgangeni and grew up on a farm in Zululand. I went to school in Durban. I married Annalie in 1972 and we have a son and a daughter, four granddaughters and one grandson. When I was growing up in Zululand, I spent most of my time with Zulu kids. At one time my own language was poor, as I was speaking only Zulu. When I was at school I really had problems with my language. I just made Standard 8, with my languages being the poorest of my subjects. In 1964 I joined the SADF, and even there I struggled with languages. But I worked hard and became a signal instructor and got the rank of Sergeant Major, and in 1984 I became a Regimental Sergeant Major. I trained in communications which included Morse code, radio, telex (where I had to type 45 word per minute!), cryptography etc. I soon became an instructor in all of these. Because of my ability in communication (language notwithstanding!), I was selected as the radio operator on Gough Island from 1968 to 1969. At the end of 1969 I was deployed somewhere in Africa, and during 1975/1976 I took part in Operation Savannah. At the end of 1978, I was transferred to Special Forces as the first long-distance non-commissioned signal officer and cryptographer for 5 Reconnaissance Regiment. While I was stationed with them I completed my Paratroopers jump course in Dukuduku in Zululand at the age of 35. My last few years in uniform I was in the Intelligence Corps. In 1996, during my last year of service, I started collecting photos of the Recces.”
Why and how did you start with your writing career?
“Well, first of all, the why: I wanted to keep my mind occupied, but also to preserve our history – the truth about our history. I want to preserve it for our grandchildren, because it is our history that is not taught in school any more, and I see it as a calling from God, even though I am not educated or have the funds available.”
“I started when, after a few months of collecting photos and information, I found that I had so much information and so many photos, that I decided to publish a book about the Recces .”
When was your first book published, and how many books have you published so far?
“My first book was ‘We Fear Naught but God’ and was published in 1999. It was a success, and in three years the publishers sold 11,000. With the grace of God and the passion He gave me, I have published 14 books on my own up to date. My other books are: ‘Ongulumbashe – Where the Bush War Began’, ‘We Conquer from Above – The History of 1 Parachute Battalion, 1961–1991’, ‘Saturday Soldiers – The Hunter Group’, ‘Four SADF Operations’, ‘Paratus’, ‘Chronicles of the Heights’, ‘South African Mobile Watch’, ‘Valhalla’, ‘Die Wit Kerk’, ‘The Heights Cemeteries’, ‘Casualties 1946-1994’ and ‘Diary of Operation Savannah’.
Do you have any other books in the pipeline?
“Yes, I am working on two books at the moment. They are ‘S.A. Army Sappers – History of the SA Army’ and ‘S.A. Army Sappers – First in – Last out’.”
Where and how do you do your research?
“My research is mostly on files and articles I found at the SANDF archive. But the biggest contribution of information and photos is by members of the Special Forces. During my research, I came upon the first contact with SWAPO at Ongulumbashe and started to collect information on the operation, which I then published in English and Afrikaans. When I retired I decided that I will carry on doing books – although I have the ‘languages problem’ and lack in financial support. Today I do most of my research on the Internet and make contact with people to get their stories for my books. But without the help of a few friends who willingly helped with the editing, and helped with the research, I would never have done it. Through my willingness to help other people to publish books, I have made many friends. Some of the books that I assisted in getting published is: ‘Judasbok’, ‘Die Verste Sektor’, ‘Tekkie Pilots’, ‘A sappers journey in pictures’, ‘Leon Martins Biografie’, ‘Soldate wat wou masjeer’, ‘Searching for the crow’, ‘Weeping in the desert’, ‘Everywhere but at home’, ‘My Cryptic Life’, etc.”