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This is a soldier's story about South African soldiers in southern Angola and Namibia and the enemies they fought. It tells of insurgency and counter-insurgency, guerrilla warfare and counter-guerrilla warfare, almost conventional warfare and conventional warfare. It tells of a conflict which the world saw as unpopular and unjust, in which South Africa was perceived as the aggressor.

The South African soldiers who fought in it, however, saw it as a conflict fought to stop what is now Namibia falling into the hands of the Soviet and Cuban-backed SWAPO black nationalist political organisation. After Namibia South Africa would be next. They saw the whole conflict as an extension of the Cold War, but while it was on the frontiers in Europe, in Angola they were fighting a very hot war in Angola.

Eventually, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the war was resolved by the democratic solution of UN supervised free and fair elections in Namibia. Since then, regrettably, there has been interference by the ruling party with the democratic constitution put in place in Namibia which has eroded much of that hard won democracy.

32 Battalion, of which Colonel Jan Breytenbach was the founding commander, became the most controversial unit in the South African Army because of the secrecy surrounding it. Its story is virtually the story of the Angolan/Namibian war, because its involvement in it was greater than any other South African unit.

The regiment primarily consisted of black troops and NCOs originating from virtually every tribe in Angola. They were led by white South African officers and NCOs.

Neither apartheid nor any form of racial discrimination was ever practiced in the unit.

There was always a sprinkling of whites originating from countries like Great Britain, the old Rhodesia, Portugal and the USA amongst its leadership cadre, although in the latter stages of its existence this shrank to only a few. Such a presence undoubtedly led to stories circulating that the unit was a led by foreign white mercenaries. While it was true that the black Angolan element could have fallen with the mercenary definition, the whites involved were attested soldiers in the South African Army. In any case, they formed a minority and the vast majority of white officers and NCOs were born South Africans.

The unit's aggressiveness and the successes it achieved in the field of battle, often against incredible odds, lay in its spirit and its espirit de corps. In this respect and in many other ways it compared favourably with the French Foreign Legion.

Its story parallels with and reminds one of the British and British Commonwealth Chindits of World War-2, operating behind the Japanese lines in Burma in large formations, out-guerrillaing those who only three years earlier had been regarded in awe as the unbeatable jungle warfare experts. Likewise, 32-Battalion consistently outfought both FAPLA, SWAPO and the Cubans in the Angola bush throughout the war years. It created a problem to which neither they nor their Soviet and East German mentors ever found a solution to.

After the 1989 Namibian settlement the unit was with withdrawn to South Africa where they were deployed to effectively deal with MK infiltrations into the north of South Africa. From there, after the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, they were redeployed to deal with political troubles, principally between armed ANC self defense units and armed units of the IFP. The intrusion of black foreigners into the townships who were prepared to deal with troubles robustly and without fear or favour, did not suit either the ANC or the IFP, as they could not be subverted to support local causes because they held no local tribal allegiances.

In the end it seems they became something of a bargaining chip at the CODESA negotiations, designed to find a new political dispensation for South Africa.

Despite it having borne the brunt of South Africa' war in Angola with the blood of its troops, the National Party Government disgracefully ordered its arbitrary disbandment in March 1993 and the unit ceased to exist.

Paperback, 360 pages with photos & maps

 

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