Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Monday, March 15, 2004

32 Battalion, Umkhonto We Sizwe and former soldiers

The majority of the alleged mercenaries being held in Harare have South African citizenship but were not born in SA. Most of them worked for the notorious 32 battalion and Koevoet, a special force which operated under the old South African Defence Force. In 1994, most of the men, originally from Namibia and Angola, were integrated into the South African National Defence Force and given South African citizenship.

The 32 Battalion, also referred to as the buffalo battalion was disbanded sometime during the 1990's. The battalion has a website which is interesting not only for the information it contains but for what it indirectly tells us about the men in the battalion, it is exceptionally nostalic and celebrates (in the eyes of it's former members) the heroism of a bygone era. I remember once meeting a guy who had been in the parabats and who had gone totally "bossies" - bush mad - after his war experiences, he ended up an alcoholic and a drug addict living on the fringes of society. I've read and heard about many other similar stories. When these soldiers finished their army time and left Angola or Namibia, wherever they served in the bush war, they were apparently made to sign documents stating that they could not reveal that they had fought outside South Africa - according to the apartheid government there was no such thing as the bush war, it was a secret war and kept from the public domain as much as was possible. The army didn't provide anything significant in the way of debriefing or psychological councilling, so often former soldiers who had been highly traumatised by their war experiences in the old army were never able to readjust to civilian life. Many became substance abusers and addicts, and suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

I have also read accounts of foot soldiers who fought for Umkhonto We Sizwe who basically went through the same thing. Due to the nature of the armed struggle, after they stopped fighting there was no councilling or help provided, and many former fighters feel bitter and abandoned by those whose cause they fought for. The Institute of Security Studies has written an indepth report on this - "South Africa’s demobilisation process, which was aimed solely at soldiers from the liberation armies, has not effectively provided for the reintegration of former combatants into society. In view of the relatively small numbers of people demobilised, it is unlikely that there will be any major social, or political ramifications, but if the problems with demobilisation are repeated in the rationalisation process, which may involve ten times the number of people, the consequences may be dire. Demobilisation has been poorly planned, badly executed and wholly inadequate in meeting the needs of ex- combatants."