The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday 26 March 2004

SOUTH AFRICA: Guns still for hire for troubled continent

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

JOHANNESBURG, 26 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - Of 67 alleged mercenaries arrested in Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe earlier this month, at least 27 were former members of the South African Defence Force (SADF). The case has demonstrated the leading role South Africa continues to play in providing trained personnel for hire in the troubled continent.

The transformation of the old SADF into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in 1994, under the new democratic government, led to the "mass exit of highly skilled military personnel. Left with no real future in the SANDF, many of these individuals capitalised on a market for their expertise and knowledge beyond the South African borders," University of Witswatersrand researcher, Natashia Chhiba, told IRIN.

Jackie Cilliers, head of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, commented that mercenary activity was a "cyclical phenomenon".

"After the First World war, the Germans were the mercenaries of the world; the Second World War led to the rise of the American mercenaries; so, after apartheid and transformation, many former white South African soldiers were looking for work," he explained.

In the post-Cold War era, there was a rise in conflicts in Africa, but dwindling apetitite for Western governments to get involved in peacekeeping operations and a limited capacity among African armies. The period also saw the mushrooming of security firms, such as Executive Outcomes (EO).

Eeben Barlow, one of the founders of EO, in 1998 told WorldNet, a news website, that his company could fill the "void" and was "able to provide private counterinsurgency operations, peacekeeping forces, and the muscle for corporations to control gold and diamond mines, oil and other natural resources, in a variety of failed states which stretch to the four corners of the world".

EO shot to fame during the 1990s when it assisted the Angolan government against the rebel movement, UNITA, and helped the Sierra Leone authorities beat back the brutal Revolutionary United Front. The organisation drew heavily on members of the notorious 32 Buffalo Battalion of the South African special forces (made up largely of dissident Angolan recruits) and included operatives of the Civil Cooperation Bureau, which was allegedly responsible for the deaths of several anti-apartheid activists.

EO closed shop when South Africa's Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act came into effect in 1999. Many of the alleged mercenaries arrested earlier this month in Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe have been linked to EO.

"We offer a variety of services to legitimate governments, including infantry training, clandestine warfare, counterintelligence programmes, reconnaissance, escape and evasion, special forces selection and training, and even parachuting," Barlow told WorldNet.

Besides reportedly being able to field 500 military advisors and 3,000 highly trained multinational special forces soldiers, EO also owned helicopters, tanks and Soviet-era combat aircraft.

According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Intelligence Resource Programme, even though the firm's expertise lay in fighting bush wars, "it diversified and reportedly operated as many as 32 companies, whose interests ranged from computer software to adult education.

"The firm's tactic of quickly regaining control of a client country's mineral-rich regions is well-documented. Within a month of Sierra Leone's hiring of Executive Outcomes in May 1995, government forces had regained control of the diamond-rich Kono district, which produces two-thirds of Sierra Leone's diamonds," FAS said.

"In Angola, oil- and diamond-producing regions were the first areas secured by government forces trained by Executive Outcomes. The firm also reportedly mined gold in Uganda, drilled boreholes in Ethiopia and had a variety of interests in the other countries noted above," the FAS report added.

"Executive Outcomes claimed that its sole purpose was to bring stability to the region by supporting legitimate governments in their defence against armed rebels. Nevertheless, rumours persisted that the firm was connected to either the South African DeBeers Diamond Corporation or the South African government. These claims were denied by all parties, and the South African government tried to restrict Executive Outcomes' business ventures," it noted.

Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) said EO was the last operating private military company that he knew of at the time.

Brooks takes great exception to the use of the term "mercenary" for members of the growing industry of private military companies (PMCs). "The so-called mercenaries provide legitimate services to governments," he said.

IPOA, the organisation he heads, is an association of military service provider companies, including those involved in demining operations, armed logistics, emergency humanitarian services and providing armed peacekeepers.

"The classic definition of the term 'mercenary' is one that makes reference to an individual recruited to fight in a foreign war. The motive is primarily driven by profit," Chhiba said.
However, with the "changing international climate, this definition seems inadequate to fully appreciate the evolution of the private military industry in general."

But South Africans found to be involved in mercenary operations are in breach of the Foreign Military Assistance Act, which prohibits the involvement of citizens in military activities outside South Africa, without due authorisation of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee.

"South Africa has been extremely embarrassed by the Equatorial Guinea-Zimbabwe arrests, as it had committed itself to put an end to its reputation has a major supplier of mercenaries," Cilliers said.

South African anti-mercenary legislation, which was "one of the best in the world" has made it "extremely difficult to anyone to run a mercenary operation from South Africa," he added.

Alleged mercenary operations, like the Equatorial Guinea-Zimbabwe saga, have managed to sneak past the authorities because the state had only recently started implementing the legislation rigidly, Cilliers said. He noted the recent prosecution of South Africans involved in military operations in Cote d'Ivoire.

Brooks observed that "very few former trained military soldiers opt for a life in a private military company". It is not as "financially rewarding as people think it is - an average salary of a private military soldier could be US $5,000 a month. The amount varies according to the work he is assigned," he said.

But the ongoing recruitment of former SADF personnel for security-related activities in Africa was also a reflection of the failure by the South African authorities to rehabilitate these former soldiers, Cilliers pointed out.

Brooks complained that the South African anti-mercenary legislation had made it difficult for legitimate PMCs, who can provide key security-related services in unstable corners of the world, to function.

He pointed out that South Africa, which has some of the best-trained soldiers in Africa, was keen on building African peacekeeping operations, "so why not use the private military companies which recruit these former soldiers? The private companies deploy faster, operate more professionally, act more decisively, enter riskier environments - where Western countries are reluctant to go - and they cost substantially less than a UN-run operation," said Brooks.

Cilliers, however, rejected the idea of a role for PMCs in internationally-sanctioned peacekeeping operations. But he noted that the South African government could usefully employ some former soldiers in more limited military observer missions.


This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

Join the mailing list