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South Africa - Bush War

From 1966 to 1989, South Africa engaged in the so-called Bush War. The South Africans fought against multiple insurgent groups in its protectorate of Southwest Africa (present day Namibia) and neighboring Angola. From 1965 to 1980, Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe) conducted a counterinsurgency, also referred to as a “bush war,” against two separate insurgent groups operating from sanctuaries in neighboring countries. Both South Africa and Rhodesia chose to use surrogate forces as a means to achieve their objectives.

Due to the socio-political policies of the South African and Rhodesian regimes, a limited body of literature exists concerning their internal and external conflicts. In the South African case, Willem Steenkamp"s South Africa’s Border War 1966-1989 provides a comprehensive examination of South Africa"s strategic challenges and why successive governments chose to intervene in Angola. Another work, Days of the Generals by Hilton Hamann provides insight into top level government and military decision making. In the case of Rhodesia, Counter-Insurgency in Rhodesia by J. K. Cilliers is the seminal examination of Rhodesia"s civil war. Cilliers" work provides excellent insight into why Rhodesia"s lack of a competent strategy resulted in failure. At the beginning of the Bush War in 1966, the Republic of South Africa faced domestic unrest and international condemnation. Its position as a rogue state was a reflection of the historical dynamics of greed, racism, tribal competition, nationalism, and European religious zealotry. Prior to the first European incursions into Southern Africa, numerous African tribes inhabited the region. Their way of life was radically changed as a result of the establishment of the Cape Colony.

At the beginning of the Bush War, Southwest Africa (SWA), present day Namibia, was considered the “fifth province” of South Africa. In the late 1800s, southwestern Africa became the victim of imperial competition between Britain and Germany, primarily for control of Walvis Bay, an important deep water port on Africa's western coast. At the end of World War I, South Africa was provided a mandate to rule SWA by the League of Nations. However, at the end of World War II, the nascent United Nations called for SWA to obtain self-rule and become an independent state, a move that South Africa refused to recognize.

Since the Sixteenth Century, Angola had been a Portuguese colony. But by 1975, Portugal, facing domestic problems at home, precipitated by a military coup, and a growing insurgency inside Angola, agreed to grant its colony independence. The Alvor Agreement, signed by the Angolan insurgents and the Portuguese government, set November 11, 1975 as the transition date to indigenous rule. The insurgency consisted of three different opposition groups that fought not only against Portuguese colonialism, but also against each other. MPLA was a Luanda-Mbundu movement, while FNLA represented the Bakango. The Ovimbundu had no political representative in the anti-colonial war until the birth of UNITA.

South African strategy in Angola entailed more than hot pursuit against SWAPO guerillas. South Africa was trying to establish a neutral buffer zone along the Namibia/Angola border. A border area controlled by UNITA would ease SWAPO pressure in Namibia. For a low cost (continued supplies to UNITA) South Africa could realize the benefit (continued disruption of SWAPO) of a stalemate on the independence of Namibia. There was definitely a strong ideological component, as the two superpowers used proxies to wage a hot “Cold War” in Southern Africa. The USSR was using the MPLA and Cubans, and the U.S. was using UNITA and South Africa.

South Africa"s Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that many of the conflicts in which the SADF was involved “transgressed the „laws of war" as laid down in international protocols.” In one example, the commission stated that “While few statements were been [sic] received from deponents [sic] and victims outside South Africa, it has been argued that the majority of victims of gross violations of human rights were in fact residing outside the country"s borders at the time the violations were committed. One of the biggest single incidents of gross violation which occurred during the mandate period was the assault by the SADF on a base of the South West African People"s Organisation (SWAPO) located at Kassinga [also Cassinga], Angola in 1978. More than 600 people were killed at Kassinga in one day. According to SWAPO, these were unarmed refugees. According to the South African government, Kassinga was a guerilla base and thus a legitimate military target.” As is the case with conflicts like the Bush War, both sides used significant propaganda strategies to convey the “truth.”

  • 1966 - The Bush War started officially with Operation Blouwildebees on 25th August, where members of 1 Parachute Battalion joined the SAP in a heliborne assault on a base at Ongulumbashe killing 2 insurgents and capturing 9 others.
  • 1968 - Parabats are deployed in the Caprivi Strip for counter insurgency operations from October 1968 through to August the following year nicknamed, Operation Crackerbox.
  • 1969 - Parabats are again deployed along the Capivi Strip for counter insurgency operations from August to June of 1970 under Operation Bombay.
  • 1970 - Various parabat companies are deployed along the South West African border from July of this year to June 1973, nicknamed Operation Baruta
  • 1973 - Various parabat companies are deployed along the South West African border and inside Angola for counter insurgency operations from July of this year to September of ‘75, nicknamed Operation Focus
  • 1974 - Lt F.J. Zeelie, said to be part of the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment, was killed in June and recorded as the first South African soldier to die in the Bush War.
  • 1974 - The first operational parachute drop is undertaken in June.
  • 1975 - Operation Savannah starts spanning 6 months capturing over 10 strong points, 700km inside Angola which included a sea rescue.
  • 1976 - The first South African paratrooper is killed on the 13th April. Cpl. A.L. Broderyk of 1 Parachute Battalion and Operation Savannah comes to a close.
  • 1976-1989 - The parabats were depolyed for fireforce duties and operational counter insurgency operations along the South West African border.
  • 1978 - The most famous parabat operation to date, Operation Reindeer, was undertaken on the 4th May 1978 when aproximately 350 members of the various Parachute Battalions annihilated a major SWAPO base in the town of Cassinda, codenamed “Moscow”. 4 parabats lost their lives that day, but the enemy suffered over 500 dead.
  • 1979 - There were various smaller operations utilising the parabats in a sweeper and stopper rolls during the year.
  • 1980 - The attack on Chifufua, the central control HQ, known as Operation Sceptic, 180km inside Angola , started at the end of May and lasted more than a month.
  • 1980 - The heliborne assault called Operation Klipkop, on the south western HQ of SWAPO at Chitado on the 30th July.
  • 1981 - The attack on the SWAPO HQ at Xangongo(formally known as Vila Kocales) and Ongiva(formally known as Pereirad ‘Es) late August through September was dubbed Operation Protea.
  • 1981 - The HQ bases at Bambi and Cheraquera in the month of November named Operation Daisy.
  • 1981-1985 - The parabats were deployed in the operational area performing various task from counter insurgency to conventional attacks on various SWAPO bases in southern Angola.
  • 1982 - 9th August 1982 will be known as a dark day for the South African Parabat when a Puma carring a full load was shot down killing pilots and passangers alike.
  • 1985 - During the next 2 years there were counter insurgency operations, known as Operation Poncho 1985 and Operation Xenon 1986 , inside the townships in PE, EL, Cape Town and Soweto to curb the unrest that was building inside the South african Borders.
  • 1986 - Operation Pebble was a rural counter insurgency operation along the South African borders with Zimbabwe and Botswana
  • 1987 - Operation Firewood was a motorized attack on a base in the south of Angola during November.
  • 1988 - Operation Pineapple was the last operational parachute drop of the Bush War in May.
  • 1989 - The Bush war ends!

Chronic warfare, as a lived experience, creates significant social and psychological distress in and about the African continent. Trauma, as seen in conflict/post-conflict settings in Africa, causes not only significant psycho-social problems but also medically well-defined psychiatric syndromes such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression which cause much morbidity and retard development in many African communities. This has included the common trauma syndromes of post-traumatic stress disorder, the anxieties, depression, psychosis, traumatic brain injury, epilepsies, and other physical injuries, all with their attendant complications/associations including substance abuse, epidemics e.g., HIV, cholera, Ebola etc. There have also been reports of unusual or atypical/uncommon presentations of trauma sequels in Africa such as dissociative disorders, spirit possessions, somatization syndromes, rape trauma syndrome, mass hysteria, or “demon attack disease”.

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Page last modified: 16-11-2021 11:44:49 ZULU