Trophies and Treasured Times

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By Eve Fairbanks, The Mail & Guardian, November 25, 2011

When Cameron Blake helped to open the Africa Star, a tiny shop for war memorabilia one enters through the back of a sushi bar off Long Street, in 2002, his initial clientele comprised mostly hard-core collectors and gay Capetonians scouting for cute naval outfits for costume parties.

But soon, in the mid-2000s, a new and intriguing kind of customer began to arrive. He would be in his 40s or 50s, white and clearly not a collector. He would approach Blake standing behind the display counter and ask for one thing: a Pro Patria, the blue-and-gold medal every South African soldier received in exchange for doing his mandatory national service during the border war in Namibia and Angola that the government pursued to bulwark apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s.

He was a veteran, such a customer would explain. But he had thrown away his own Pro Patria during the time of South Africa’s democratic transition in 1994. It had not seemed appropriate to hold on to a token reminding him of the years he had devoted to a cause that had then so ignominiously collapsed. He supported the new South Africa; he wanted to move on. But now, suddenly, 20 years later, he was starting to feel that he wanted his Pro Patria back. Read more ...