Final Word

South Africa’s infantry comes to the rescue


True to tradition, South Africa’s modern infantry became the ‘last line of defence’ of the country’s democracy, on foot and making their voice heard.

In the ‘making their voices heard’ part, the is a good measure of irony involved. The root word, infant, comes from the Latin components in, meaning “not,” and fan(t)s, meaning "speaking", (the present participle of fari – “to speak").

To this day, under most legal systems, those who are too young (and therefore too inexperienced) to speak for themselves, are regarded as legally speaking being infants until they are legally speaking old enough to enter into certain forms of contract.

It is from a similar notion that in ancient times the military term of infantry units for foot soldiers, too young and inexperienced to do battle from horseback as part of the cavalry, was formed.

By the way, the term cavalry (the heavier armed professional soldiers) was taken over in the mid-16th from French’s cavalerie, in Old English was known as the horshere.

The first infantry

Not surprising, the term infantry also originated from Latin, and specifically infantem for youth. Marching through history, and making its way through Italian (infanteria), Spanish (infantería), and French (infanterie) it arrived as infantry in modern English by the second half of the 16th century.

In military history, going back to Ancient times and the Middle Ages, these foot soldiers were also further divided into units, depending on the weapons, known as heavy-, medium-, and light infantry.

These categories can probably also be made applicable to the present battle for the survival of the South African state as a true democracy. But, we will get back to that later.

For most of history, going back to ancient empires, the largest component of most fighting forces were these men on foot, organised under vocal command, confronting the enemy – be it conquers or defenders – in close-up, face-to-face battle.

Throughout history technological development, be it more lethal bows, gunpowder, modes of transport, or modern computer driven technology, the infantry (the mass of feet on the ground) remained ‘the last line of defence,’ as implied by the expression: "If all else fails, call in the infantry."

Back to the present

In the battle for the soul of the democratic South African some members of the heavy cavalry, including, and especially from, the ruling class, has fallen by the wayside. Some of them have even called in modern-day foreign ‘soldiers of fortune,’ traditionally called freelancers, to assist them, as we reported last week.

Other units of the cavalry, like the judiciary and so-called ‘chapter 9’ institutions have been putting up a brave fight, but in many instances, are under siege, and on the backfoot.

In stepped the heavy infantry in the form of organised civil society, including religious formations, and the media (which one can maybe also call the ‘signal corps’) to take up the fight.

Then came the news of #UniteBehind which is preparing for mass mobilisation in support of the recall of President Jacob Zuma and protest marches on the day before a motion of no confidence in the president will be put to the vote in parliament.

Final word   

According to a report circulated on WhatsApp, there are many efforts under way by at least 16 organisations to mobilise for what is called a ‘People's March’.

And, some elements of the cavalry might also be finding some new courage from these developments, with news that the National Prosecuting Authority is now finally in public announcing their support for bringing the perpetrators of state capture to book.

With the South African broad public infantry now properly on the march and loudly making their voices heard, the battle is far from lost by a long shot.

by Piet Coetzer

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