'It's not our war and it is not our country." These were the stark words of former Pretoria policeman Deon Gouws, who was maimed in a suicide bomb blast in Iraq last year.
Gouws and his best friend and colleague, Francois "Strys" Strydom, who was killed in the January 28 blast, were recruited by Erinys International to provide close protection to a US Army general during the US-led war in Iraq.
The two, who were in Iraq for less than a month before the blast, were among more than 4 000 former South African soldiers and policemen recruited to provide security services to the coalition forces.
Yesterday national police spokesman Director Sally de Beer confirmed that several South African companies and businessmen were being investigated by SAPS Crimes Against the State Unit (CASU) detectives for recruiting former specialised policemen and soldiers to work in Iraq.
The investigations started after former Pretoria policeman Francois Strydom was killed in January when a suicide bomber blew up the hotel he was staying in Baghdad. Since Strydom's death, 12 other South Africans have been killed in the conflict.
Government frustration about the recruitment of South Africans for Iraq was expressed by Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota in a briefing to reporters and journalists this week. The South African National Defence Force still had a layer of disloyal soldiers who were a hang-over from the old apartheid order, who were mostly white and male. These had contrived to take leave to work in Iraq, he said.
"You can see where their loyalties lie. It doesn't lie here."
In an interview this week Gouws said that the driving force behind South Africans going to Iraq was the money "and recruiters know this".
"We simply cannot survive on our pensions, but no amount of money will ever bring back a limb or your life.
"Look at me. What I did by going there was madness. I will never be the person I used to be," he said.
The one-ton high explosive blast tore off Gouws's right arm and several toes and left him with gaping holes in his skull and chest where shrapnel had torn into his body.
The only reason Gouws survived was the fact that he was in his bed at the time of the explosion.
Recalling the blast Gouws said that he could remember the very second of the explosion.
"One minute Strys was telling me I could go to the bathroom and the next there was this huge bang with walls collapsing and people screaming for help.
"It was madness. I only realised what was happening when I felt blood pouring from my face and found most of my right arm missing," he said.
Gouws said he knew Strydom was dead when he did not answer his calls for help.
Stumbling through rubble and broken bodies Gouws made his way out of the hotel to paramedics who were rushing the wounded to hospitals. Gouws was taken to a Baghdad hospital before being transferred to a US hospital and then flown to a medical facility in Germany where he spent four months recovering before returning home.
Describing working in Iraq, Gouws said that it was hell.
"Every minute and second of the day you are a target in a war that is not yours and is not fought with conventional weapons.
"There people and trucks are disguised as bombs and you do not even know it until the explosion," he said.
Gouws, who is discouraging people from going to Iraq, said the country was a true horror.
"You cannot begin to describe the fear that is in the air. Everyone is suspicious of you and are always waiting for something to happen.
"The tension is unbearable. It is like walking through a minefield," he said.
Gouws, who is to undergo medical treatment for the next year, said that although he had gone to Iraq for the $8 000 (R47 200) a
month salary no amount of money in the world was worth what could happen.
"The people who recruit promise you the world, but end up delivering on very little, if anything.
"The money is good but if something happens to you you are ruined," he said.
Gouws's life has changed dramatically over the past year with him now being able to do little of what he could do before he left for Iraq.
"Although I am alive I wish that I had never gone. Not for this," he said indicating his stump.
"People do not want us there and will kill you just because they can. I had my chance and although I have no regrets I would never go if I knew what could happen," he said.
Gouws's fiancee Bets Bouwer said that their life had changed dramatically although it still felt like old times in a "different way".
"We are coping and even though Deon has problems it is nothing like it used to be," she said.
- 174 War & Disaster Profiteers Campaign