Anthony Turton | Shaking Hands With Billy
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Anthony Turton | Shaking Hands With Billy

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I have found Shaking Hands with Billy extremely interesting, well written, meticulously proofed and referenced (all those detailed footnotes!) and if I may say so, very moving. I found myself in Oshikango in December 1972 just after Swapo had attacked the police station there and it had sandbags piled all around. It was also a drought year, unbelievably hot and dry, and the oshanas were just sandy indentations in the landscape. I was then a young medical researcher following up on the first case of leishmaniasis ever recorded in southern Africa. 
   We crossed over to Santa Clara in the evenings to drink Cuca beer and eat seafood snacks with the Portuguese border police and the locals. One Sunday I was invited by the English missionaries at Odibo to join them for lunch. In a surreal experience, we dined on roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, followed by jelly and custard! The subsequent war in Angola remained an abstract phenomenon for me and countless others of my generation, pursuing our careers and academic studies, blindly believing the propaganda of the SABC and the sanitized government media that all was well, and that ‘the boys on the border’ would keep us safe. 

Your book is a revelation, a profound and frightening (words fail me here) narrative – reminding me of the lyrics of the song – “There, but for fortune, go you and I….”. 

Dr John Ledger 

Editor - Environment magazine
Associate Professor - University of Johannesburg
Professional member - SA Institute of Ecologists & Environmental Scientists


If you want to know what really went on behind the scenes building up to the transition to democracy in South Africa from a military and political point of view, you have to read “Shaking Hands with Billy, the Private Memoirs of Anthony Turton”. It’s a tough technical read of over 500 pages of facts and revelations covering Anthony’s involvement with the Angolan war, leading to his recruitment from the military into the National Intelligence Service (NIS). What many don’t know is the role that the NIS played such as setting secret meetings with Nelson Mandela and keeping the negotiations on course leading up to the CODESA talks.
A theme throughout the memoirs is Anthony’s growing interest in the rivers and water systems throughout Southern Africa, furthering studies in the UK, eventually obtaining his doctorate in transboundary river basin management and leading to his position as a Unit Fellow at the CSIR and more recently the SAB Environmentalist of the Year for 2010. In the final chapter, using his experience and tactical thinking gained from his strategic intelligence career, Anthony paints two possible scenarios for the future of South Africa, based on the water crisis that we are facing today. If you cannot manage the scale and scope of the entire book, try and at least get to read Chapter 18, “Reflections on an Uncertain Future”. It will give you an insight into the choices that we collectively have to make if we are to secure our water, economic and social security.

Charles Moore

50/50 Series Producer 



'Shaking Hands With Billy' is a unique book.  The private memoirs of a man who has experienced many sides of our complex history.  Ours is a country of journeys into a fragile future and of voyages into both despair and hope.  Turton takes us on many of these, from his days as a young soldier on 'The Border' and his entry into the murky world of National Intelligence at the apogee of apartheid power.  His is an enlightened journey that takes us deep into the negotiations that created a new South Africa that few believed would ever be possible, and then into the complex politics of power, water scarcity and ecology that challenge this very same new country. It is a stirring tale of manhood and the ever-present need of one individual to square his conscience with the often dark choices that our country forced on all of us. Above all it is a journey of personal courage and unshakeable integrity.  I highly recommend this unusual and fascinating book to anyone who cares about where we are today and how we got there.

Hamilton Wende

Author of 'House of War'



I enjoyed the book, very interesting and well written. What added to my interest was that I was also in the armoured corps (tank squadron C) 74/75, so I just missed you… I joined up for the 2 year no camps + bonus option and that worked out well for me at the time. I did basics at SSB, then officer’s course at School of Armour and then trained the next tank squadron intake at SSB… All in all I had a good time, being sporty and a boarder most of my school days, basics and all the physical stuff was not a problem. I learnt a lot and did some things one could never do as a civvie, made great buddies and got enough money to buy a car and tour overseas for a year in ‘76. Best of camps...or else I might have been sucked into the war like you. However, I also had one of those mind blowing moments during one of the very first lectures during basics that went something like this...."you are here to learn how to kill the enemy and not be killed yourself...". That woke me up! Being raised on a Bushveld farm, hunting the odd Impala or Kudu started while I was a kid, but killing people took some dedicated pondering. Being in the tanks I did not go on Operation Savannah (only the armoured cars went then), much to my disappointment then and very great relief now. The first indication of Savannah was when the workshops stayed open all night servicing armoured cars and their guns. I was still at SSB (then Transport Officer buzzing about on my Triumph Tiger 500) when the first guys came home for R&R ... some of the stories were scary ... Lots of rain so the armoured cars had to stay on roads and cross at bridges and were ambushed regularly. One Lieutenant spent the night in an overturned armoured car with Cubans trying to open the hatches with crowbars. They considered taking their own lives, rather than being caught, but slipped out before dawn. Another Lieutenant (name removed) (in my bungalow during basics), snapped, jumped out of his armoured car and fled the field in mid-battle. I occasionally wonder how I would have fared and how these guys coped with this later. The closest I got to combat was when I and 3 other CO's (one was Maj Gen Jack Dutton's (Chief of Staff Ops) son Mark) were instructed to take a tank (new auto version prototype Olifant) by low-bed to Kroonstad Engineering School to demonstrate it for their passing out parade. The Engineer CO's assembled in 3 days (should've taken 3 hours) a pontoon to transport us across the Vals River; and then to go through various obstacles they had made; and pontoon us back as part of the day’s entertainment. We were supposed to have had 2 days practice but waited for 3 days for the pontoon to be ready. At about five o'clock on Friday before the Saturday parade, and in fading light, we were told the pontoon was ready so we must do a practice run. They had roped the pontoon to the bank at the designated spot, I was Crew Commander and Dutton was driving. There were about 30 people, mostly reporters and top brass in boats around the pontoon as we cautiously edged closer to the water. An Engineer Colonel positioned at the far end of the pontoon took charge of directing the tank and confidently signaled Dutton to board. By passing on responsibility I immediately started enjoying the event a lot more. As we edged forward and passed our centre of gravity, the nose of the tank dipped, pushing the pontoons rear end down, lifting the front end up. Unphased, the Colonel, now silhouetted against the sunset, waved us on and Dutton proceeded. We were about 1/3 onto the pontoon when there was a load crack as the stay ropes holding the pontoon to the bank snapped and we rapidly drifted away from the bank, 1/3 on the pontoon with our butt in the water and the nose of the pontoon about 3m above the water. The pontoon is made of steel and consists of sealed cubes that link together, and was now akin to a ball being held under water. We were about 10m offshore when the Colonel unfroze and frantically waved Dutton to come on more. Dutton gunned the motor and at that point the pontoon and the tanks tracks, both being steel, parted company. We went down faster than a nuclear sub as only a 54 ton tank can, and the pontoon took off across the river like a monster jet ski scattering journalists and Generals in all directions, leaving them to doggy paddle to shore while it beached on the far bank. As we went down (luckily open hatches) I saw cameras and people flying, boats being rammed and then the gun barrel (in forward position) wacked the back end on the pontoon with a load crack as it sped off and the gun promptly took on an upward bent banana shape. When the tank came to rest, all that could be seen were 2 antenna tips and the buggered gun end about 50cm out the water. Needless to say the phone lines to Pretoria and Bloemfontein almost melted that evening. We were exonerated and I sometimes wonder what the outcome would have been if the driver hadn't been a Generals son. It took the Engineers another 4 days to remove the tank and we arrived back at camp kind of hero's having defeated the Engineers.


Ian Mcdonald


Shaking Hands with Billy was presented to me this last Friday night, and once I had started to read I did not put it down, much to the disgust of a friend vying attention. There are few South African books that have sufficiently sparked my interest to read cover to cover is a single sitting. Among these are "Long Walk to Freedom", "Soul of a White Ant (Eugene Marias)", "The Fire Bird (Lyell Watson)" & "Holism and Evolution (Jan C. Smuts)".  ... It pains me greatly that the criminalization of the forces was allowed to hamper this great countries growth for so long. As my brother and I entered service in the chaos of the early nineties, we looked back on our experiences and tried to do our best for our country. Trying to see past the racist instructors and recruits, I held my head high in the first racially integrated basic training conducted by the SAAF in 1991; and my brother with the Navy in 1992. ... Deployment was both deadly boring and totally haunting. To witness your first necklacing as an 18year old, to see the total disrespect for human life of the perpetrators and to see the utter terror in the victims eye's, this image will live with me forever, as will the suicides within our units of servicemen who could not take the stress. We have many generations of scarred veterans without much support, many of whom can never discuss these horrors with average citizens. ... You said it best when writing of an operator who could not find work after leaving the Service as people mistrusted a man of secrets. Society today treats the statutory members as villains and non-statutory as liberators, yet while we as veterans have become good friends, the public remains ignorant of the sacrifices and loss of both sides, because that is where their comfort zone lies. ... So to say you broke a code and turned your back on your craft, what do old operators do? Well it reads as if the new dispensation turned its back on you and that you have set the record straight on numerous levels. ... I am sure that many veterans will find great silence in your story and regain dignity again. ... I would like to thank the silent many and their families for all the sacrifices made in ensuring the peaceful nation we have today, for without this book their stories would not be known. ... Thank you for sharing your story and illuminating the valued services so many unnamed individuals have committed themselves to ensuring a peaceful transition. I hope to read more from your pen in the future.



Paul Barker



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