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Pro Nazi movements in wartime South Africa – The Ossewabrandwag

History is always a three way prism. As with South African statute forces fighting “communism” on two fronts – the Angolan Border “Bush” War and the internal “struggle” movements in the 70’s and 80’s – so too during the Second World War, this time the “struggle” movement was a little different and South African statute forces were fighting Fascism, Nazism and “National Socialism” on two fronts, both on the international stage and on the domestic front at home.

Little is known of the domestic conflict during World War 2 as it was effectively shielded and even erased from the state’s educational history curriculum – to the point that little is known about it by subsequent generations of South Africans even to this day. By far the biggest of all the domestic fascist organizations in South Africa at this time was a movement called the “Ossewabrandwag”.

The feature image shows a Ossewabrandwag rally and its leadership along with an inserted emblem of the organization. Read on for a fascinating and relatively unknown part of South African military history.

The Ossewabrandwag (OB), meaning in English “Ox-wagon Sentinel” was an anti-British and pro-Nazi German organization in South Africa during World War II. It was officially formed in Bloemfontein on 4 February 1939.

As a background to it, in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), Britain conquered the Boer Republics. Germany supported the Boer cause. After the war, there was a general reconciliation between Afrikaners and Britain, culminating in the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, under the leadership of former Boer fighters such as Louis Botha and Jan Smuts (who was of Cape Dutch origin fighting on the side of the Boers). South African troops, including thousands of Afrikaners, served in the British and South African Union forces during World War I and again in World War 2.

Nonetheless, many Boers from the ex Transvaal and Orange Free State Republics remembered the extremely brutal tactics used by Britain in the Boer War and remained resentful of British rule. They were especially resentful of the concentration camp and scorched earth policies engaged by the British to bring to bring an end to the guerilla tactics used by “Bitter einders” at the close of the war.

In the 1930’s the chief vehicle of Afrikaner nationalism was the “Purified National Party” of D. F. Malan, which later became “National Party”. As in 1914, the Second World War appeared to a relatively small group of far right wing Afrikaner nationalists as a golden opportunity to establish Afrikaaner nationalist rule and move to make South Africa a republic independent of Britain.
‘We are now ceaselessly on the road to our goal: the Republic of South Africa – the only status under which we can truly exercise the right to self-determination as a country,’ said D.F. Malan on 6 September 1939 at the on-set of the Second World War.

Prior to this, 1938 was also the centennial anniversary of the Great Trek (the migration of Boers to the interior). The Ossewabrandwag was established in commemoration of the Trek. Most of the migrants traveled in ox-drawn wagons, hence the group’s name. The group’s leader was Johannes Van Rensburg, a lawyer who had served previously as Secretary of Justice under Smuts (as Minister) and was an admirer of Nazi Germany. The OB at the on-set of the centennial was loosely associated to Malan’s National Party.

There were however sharp differences between van Rensburg and D.F Malan over the right course of action to be followed when South Africa declared war on Germany in 1939. Both believed that everything depended on the outcome of the war, both believed that Germany would win it, however Malan relied on negotiation with Germany to achieve his objectives, van Rensburg on the other hand believed that at some stage freedom would have to be fought for and began to formulate a militant opposition to the South African government to undermine South Africa’s war effort.

At first, relations between the National Party and the Ossewabrandwag were cordial, with most members of the Ossewabrandwag belonging to the party as well. At the higher levels, National Party leaders like P.O. Sauer and F. Erasmus (later to be made Cabinet Ministers when Malan came to power) were members of the OB as were Ossewabrandwag Generals like C.R. Swart (later South Africa’s first State President) who was a member of the Groot Raad (Chief Council) of the Ossewabrandwag, whilst Eric Louw (later to become the National Party’s Foreign Minister) was also prominent in the organisation. Even PW Botha (future South African State President) joined the Ossewabrangwag but became disillusioned with the movement and denounced them at the end of the war returning to the more mainstream National Party.

Photo of the Cape Leadership of the Ossewabrandwag, note the young later Prime Minister and President – John Vorster and PW Botha.  The second photo is van Rensberg being sworn in during a Ossewabrandwag ceremony.

Combining the impact of the war and the very dynamic personality of van Rensburg, the Ossewabrandwag soon grew into a significant force, a mass movement whose membership at its peak was estimated to be between 200,000 and 400,000 members.

The relationship between the Ossewabrandwag and National Party at first was very well defined and D.F. Malan even met with OB leaders in Bloemfontein which resulted in declaration known as the ‘Cradock Agreement’. It specified the two operating spheres of the two respective organizations. They undertook not to meddle in each others affairs and the National Party endevoured to focus on Afrikanerdom in the party political sphere, while the Ossewabrandwag was to operate on the other fronts of the volk (Afrikaans peoples).

In 1940 the Ossewabrandwag created within in structures an elite organization known as the Stormjaers – the storm troopers of Afrikanerdom. The formation of the Stormjaers (English meaning: Assault troops) was in essence a paramilitary wing of the OB. The nature of the Stormjaers was drawn upon the lines of Nazi Germany’s army “Storm troopers”, as were the fascist rituals and salutes, this is evidenced by the oath sworn in a by new recruits (in some instances a firearm was levelled at them whilst they read the oath): “If I retreat, kill me. If I die, avenge me. If I advance, follow me” (Afrikaans: As ek omdraai, skiet my. As ek val, wreek my. As ek storm, volg my).

The Stormjaers were deployed in variety of military operations ranging from the defence of Nationalist political platforms to pure sabotage, they dynamited post offices and railway lines and cut telephone wires. Van Rensburg even wrote “The Ossewabrandwag regards itself as the soldiery of the (South African) Republic . . . the Ossewabrandwag is the political action front of Afrikanerdom.”

The ideologies of the Nazis were penetrating deep into right wing Afrikaner political identity. In 1940, directly after Nazi German decisive victories in Europe, Otto du Plessis (later to become Administrator of the Cape under the National Party) published a pamphlet – The Revolution of the Twentieth Century – in which he openly espoused the Ossewabranwag’s policy of totalitarianism.

Oswald Pirow also publicly identified himself with National-Socialist doctrines and Nazi Germany and established the Nazi expansionist “New Order” movement inside the ranks of the former Hertzogites.

There even existed South Africa’s own Nazi party called the SANP and it’s militant wing the “Greyshirts” led by Louis Theodor Weichardt (who later became the National Party Senator for Natal). This pure Nazi movement had 5000 odd loyal followers.

Van Rensburg from the OB had always professed National Socialist, as an open admirer of Nazi Germany and Adolph Hitler, the ideas and rituals of membership put forward by his organization had a distinctive Nazi leaning.

According to OB political thinking, Afrikaans would be the only official language in a free, independent, Christian-National Republic. The English speaking South Africans, regarded as an “un-national” element, would be condemned to an inferior status. Anti-Communism was an important backbone of OB policy in line with Nazi hatred of communism.

The emphasis of the OB was also on race and racial purity. Members were exhorted to ‘think with your blood’, and the creed of Blut und Boden was promoted as an OB value. ‘Family, blood, and native soil – that is, next to our religion and our love of freedom, our greatest and our most sacred national heritage’ (Die O.B. 28 October 1942).

The O.B. always displayed an exaggerated interest in physical culture and the need for discipline. “Give us a master ! Give us bonds which tie us to a stable way of life” ‘ wrote van Rensburg.

On issues of family value, the leaders of the OB proclaimed that the duty of the man was to work and fight and the duty of the woman to create and tend the home and family.

In essence the Ossawabrandwag was based on the Führer-principle, fighting against the British Empire, anti capitalist – they called for the expropriation of “British-Jewish” controlled capital, the communists, the Jews and the system of parliamentarism. All based on the principles national socialism.

From the outset of the war a series of violent incidents took place between statutory force South African soldiers and the Ossewabrandwag. This all cumulated on Friday 31 January 1941, when van Rensburg was due to hold a meeting at the Johannesburg City Hall when a riot broke out between OB Stormjaers and South African Union Defence Force soldiers who were determined not to allow van Rensburg to have a platform for his support of Nazi Germany – with whom they were now at war with.

The Stormjaers were armed with sticks,pipes, batons, knives, sjamboks and even bicycle chains, while the soldiers were for the most part unarmed and the battle raged in downtown Johannesburg for two days. Armoured cars were brought in while enraged UDF soldiers set fire to Nationalist newspaper offices and set police vans alight. Tear-gas canisters were hurled in every direction between the two antagonists and the Police.

Before a commission of inquiry on the Johannesburg riot, van Rensburg declared that it was only OB discipline and restraint which had prevented reinforcements in outlying areas from being brought into town and broadening the scope of the battle.

A number of arms cache’ and hiding places for OB Stormjaers can still be found, this is  graffiti is in a cave in the Excelsior area, of the Ossewabrandwag emblem, drawn and dated by member in hiding.

In support of OB activities the National Party even came out in direct support of the OB against Smuts’ government resolution to detain and ban members of the OB. Dr D.F. Malan defended the OB in a speech on 5 March 1941, saying:

“The Ossewabrandwag has been accused of lending itself to subversive activities and also of encouraging them. Now I say: Carry out your threat. Ban it. Prevent it and prevent its meetings. If the Ossewabrandwag decides to be passively disobedient and refuses to be dissolved . . . I shall share the consequences with the Ossewabrandwag. At this stage I am prepared to say to you that if the government decides upon that act and the Ossewabrandwag decides not to submit, I shall keep my pledge”.

It was a clear sign to Smuts’ government that unity in the ranks of the Afrikanerdom movements was as unified as ever since the outbreak of the Second World War.

One very predominant member of the Ossewabrandwag was Balthazar Johannes (B.J.) Vorster, South Africa’s future Prime Minister and President. Along with likeminded OB colleagues he regarded the war as an opportunity to get rid of the hated domination of the United Kingdom of South Africa and welcomed the Nazis as allies in their fight.

The firebrand nature of the Ossewabrandwag appealed to Vorster more than the National Party, so while South African troops were helping to make the world safe from Hitler’s National Socialism, Vorster was appointed as a General in the Ossewabrandwag for the Port Elizabeth district to promote the National Socialism doctrine back home. On his politics he famously announced the Ossewabrandwag’s position on Nazism and said in 1942:

‘We stand for Christian Nationalism which is an ally of National Socialism. You can call this antidemocratic principle dictatorship if you wish. In Italy it is called Fascism, in Germany German National Socialism and in South Africa, Christian Nationalism.’

Vorster was eventually arrested under the emergency regulations in September 1942, he immediately went on hunger strike and after two months was transferred to Koffiefontein internment camp as prisoner No. 2229/42 in Hut 48, Camp 1. B.J. Vorster was eventually released on parole in January 1944 and placed under house arrest.

Interned alongside BJ Vorster was another Ossewabrandwag member Hendrik Johan van den Bergh who eventually went on to found the Bureau of State Security (B.O.S.S.), an intelligence agency created under the National Party on 16 May 1969 to coordinate military and domestic intelligence. Van den Bergh was to become known as the “tall assassin” given his height.

To give an idea of sabotage and violent attacks, at the height of the Second World War – 1942, Ossewabrandwag Stormjaer activities included:

Explosions over a large area of mines at Klerksdorp, Vereeniging, Delmas and in Potchefstroom the OB blew up power lines – 29 January 1942. All telegraph and telephone communication between Bloemfontein and the rest of South Africa were dislocated in one attack in February 1942.

Railway, telegraph and telephone lines in various parts of the Free State where destroyed in February 1942. Fifty-eight Stormjaers were eventually charged with high treason, and a quantity of hand grenades were found. Stormjaers also blew up two telephone poles behind the Pretoria Central Jail, but were never captured.

Two other Stormjaers, Visser and van Blerk were convicted of a bombing at the Benoni Post Office, as a result of which an innocent bystander was killed, they were both sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

A few members of the OB were shot while trying to escape from internment camps or jails, the most known was the dramatic pursuit OB General, Johannes van der Walt, who was shot while on the run near Krugersdorp.

The German Nazis themselves saw the activities of the Ossewabrandwag as very positive to their fight. Van Rensburg was even played up over Zeesen radio as the real leader of the Afrikaner people.

In June 1941 Robey Leibbrandt was landed from a German yacht on the Namaqualand coast with 10,000 dollars, a radio transmitter, and instructions to make contact with van Rensburg and investigate the possibilities of joint action with the Ossewabrandwg. His mission, overseen by German Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was Operation Weissdorn, a plan for a coup d’état to overthrow the government of General Jan Smuts,

Leibbrandt was a South African Olympic boxer who later came a fervent Nazi follower. He joined the German Army, where he became the first South African to be trained as a Fallschirmjäger and glider pilot. Leibbrand was trained with comrades of the Brandenburgers at a sabotage training course of Abwehr II (Abwehrschool “Quenzgut”) near Brandenburg an der Havel, west of Berlin.

In South Africa he soon made contact with the Stormjaers and was brought to Pretoria to see van Rensburg.

Nothing, however, came of the negotiations. Leibbrandt’s megalomania was enough to deter anyone from cooperating with him, and van Rensburg refused to be drawn. At the same time Leibbrandt’s fanaticism attracted a number of members of the Ossewabrandwag over to his side, and within a short while Leibbrandt was leading his own group, whose members were bound to one another by a blood oath which partly read:

“All my fight and striving is for the freedom and independence of the Afrikaner people of South Africa and for the building up of a National Socialist State in accordance with the ideas of Adolf Hitler.”

The quite truce between Leibbrandt and van Rensburg quickly developed into open hostility. Leibbrandt, disappointed that the OB did not officially support his mission and its resultant failure began to attack van Rensburg as an agent of Smuts. This sealed his fate. After a few months in South Africa he was ‘sold out’ by insiders, his location now known he was the arrested, together with a number of leading Stormjaers. Placed on trial he was sentenced to death for treason, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after much lobbying from Afrikaaner Nationalist organisations.

The Stormjaers sabotage activities were getting too violent for DF Malan’s National Party policy of negotiated settlement with Germany when (and if) they won the war. Many of these acts of violence were going too far for the majority of moderate Afrikaners, and Malan ordered the National Party to break all ties with the OB later in 1942.

The South African Union government then cracked down heavily on the OB and the Stormjaers, placing thousands of them in internment camps for the duration of the war.

Summing up the achievements of the Ossewabrandwag’s campaign of sabotage, van Rensburg wrote this in his autobiography which was published after the war:

“I fought (Smuts’) war effort and I fought it bitterly with all the means at my disposal – which were considerable…. There is no doubt that they (the Ossewabrandwag) seriously hampered the government’s war effort. Hampered it because the government was forced to draw off considerable manpower to guard many strategic points and essential services. A not inconsiderable military element also had to be retained in South Africa as a strategic reserve for possible emergency.”

At the end of the war, the Ossewabradwag was absorbed back into the National Party and ceased to exist as a separate body, many of its members achieving political notoriety as members of the National Party government on their accent to power with the National Party electoral win over Smut’s United Party in 1948.

Imagine the sheer frustration felt by the veterans after “The War for Freedom” (as WW2 was known) had been fought with the massive cost in South African lives (literally thousands), to rid the world of Nazism and Fascism in the “good fight” – only to come home in 1945 and within three short years find the “home grown” pre-war pro Nazi Germany and pro Nazi philosophy politicians swept into government. The very men and their philosophy they had gone to war against in the first place.

By the early 1950’s the South African nationalist government was littered with men, who, prior to the war where strongly sympathetic to the Nazi cause and had actually declared themselves as full blown National Socialists: Oswald Pirow, B.J. Vorster, Hendrik van den Bergh, Johannes von Moltke, P.O. Sauer, F. Erasmus , C.R. Swart, P.W. Botha and Louis Weichardt to name a few, and there is no doubt that their brand of politics was influencing government policy.

Louis Weichardt South African Nazi “grey-shirts” founder (later became a National Party MP) and Oswald Pirow (New Order founder) inspecting German Luftwaffe troops on a “unofficial” visit to Nazi Germany – later he became a key Public Prosecutor under the National Party.

Also by the 1950’s, this state of affairs led to open Anti-Apartheid protests from the South African military veterans community – in their tens of thousands, led by Adolph “Sailor” Malan and other returning war heroes in “Torch Commando rallies” (Torch) and it ultimately led to the marginalization of South African war veterans, their veteran associations and the ultimate suppression of anti Apartheid movements like the Torch by the National Party.

Images show Sailor Malan at an anti-apartheid Torch Rally in Cape Town attended by over 10 000 World War 2 veterans on protest.

In the interests of consolidating themselves in power and in the interests of securing the “white vote” both English and Afrikaans voters (especially English speaking white South Africans of British extraction) much of this legacy was a political “hot potato” for the National Party. Nazism, Fascism and National Socialism was purged from Europe with the loss of millions of lives, and exposed for what it is – a crime against humanity.

Political careers – especially those of future National Party State Presidents and Prime Ministers would not be helped if their associations to Nazi Germany, Nazi political philosophy and even anti British ideals was openly promoted. Especially when National Service was instituted and the National Party called on English speaking white South Africans (and even moderate or leftist Afrikaners) to rally behind their causes and serve in the armed forces.

So it was shielded – in formal secondary education it was at best trivialised if even taught at all and it was never really widely reported on national media mouthpieces. Little is left in the modern historical narrative on South Africa, surprising since this is all still in living memory of the old War War 2 vets still alive. In the end it disappeared into a politically generated one-sided narrative of South Africa’s involvement in the two world wars, and lost to future generations. It even remains a very dark and relatively unknown topic even to this day.

The irony is that the future “struggle” of South Africa’s Black people (and many White veterans too) against the political philosophy of these men would emulate the same “struggle” these men initiated against the philosophy of British Parliamentarian rule – and in both instances it carried with it armed insurrection, detention of “heroes,” imprisonment of a future President and the promotion of a political “ism”, albeit that “Communism” and “African Socialism” where diametrically opposite to “Nazism” and “National Socialism”” left and right of the political sphere. The net result is that “centre” balanced moderate politics in South Africa has been completely elusive since 1948.

Article researched and written by Peter Dickens

References from South African History On-Line, Wikipedia and “The Rise of the South African Reich” written by Brian Bunting, “Echoes of David Irving – The Greyshirt Trial of 1934” by David M. Scher. “Not for ourselves” – a history of the SA Legion by Arthur Blake. Lazerson, Whites in the Struggle Against Apartheid. Neil Roos. Ordinary Springboks: White Servicemen and Social Justice in South Africa, 1939-1961

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SAAF Ventura down

A little bit of Cape Town’s rich history.  Here is a South African Air Force Ventura 6515 from 17 squadron went down in an open field following a engine failure shortly after take-off from Ysterplaat on 26 November 1956.

The crew members – 2Lt R.C. Pelk and 2Lt J.H. Nel survived the crash landing.  Naturally it became a bit of a public spectacle as this image shows.

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The Ventura PV-1 was an American aircraft made by lockheed and they were extensively used during World War 2 by the Americans, British and Commonwealth forces. The SAAF also operated the aircraft during the war and continued to do so after the war in a coastal patrol role for many years.

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Let us die like brothers … the silent voices of the SS Mendi finally heard

On 21 February 1917, during World War I, this chartered troopship – the SS Mendi – containing a full battalion of South African Native Labour Corps men and officers on its way to the western front was rammed in fog conditions in the English Channel. The SS Mendi sank in 25 minutes with the loss of 616 South Africans and 30 British.

The greatest tragedy was yet to come as due to racial prejudice this event was somewhat down-played through the years and not enough recognition given to these men, something the South African Legion and the South African National Defence Force is now working very hard at redressing.

The accidental ramming of SS Mendi Troopship by SS Darro on a cold foggy morning eleven miles off Isle of Wight, on 21st February 1917, became an almost unparalleled wartime tragedy for South African forces.

Darro, at almost three times Mendi’s weight, travelling ‘full ahead’ in fog conditions – not using her fog horn to warn shipping in the area or the appropriate lights – she rammed the troop ship with such force the SS Mendi sunk and was resting on the sea-bed within 25 minutes. The violent impact, nearly at right angles, left a gaping 20ft tear amidships instantly trapping more than 100 soldiers below decks who were unable to escape the rapidly rising water as the ship quickly listed to starboard.

Her crew, consisting 29 sailors, failed to launch sufficient life rafts for the 811 strong contingent of 5th Battalion South African Native Labour Corps (SANLC). In the dense fog and inadequate rescue effort that followed, many remained aboard the ship, unwilling to commit to an icy plunge.

They were reportedly exhorted by the Chaplain Rev Isaac Dyobha who called them together to die like warriors and brothers – what he said is now legendary.

He said “Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place now is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the drill of death. I, a Xhosa, say you are all my brothers, Zulus, Swazis, Pondos, Basutos, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our weapons at our home, our voices are left with our bodies.”

They took off their boots, picked up imaginary spears and shields and performed an African war dance, a dance of death.

Thus, together, as brothers they chanted and danced on the tilting deck, facing death with unparalleled bravery until finally being sucked into the vortex created by the sinking ship.

The reference to weapons was to the fact that the South African Government had agreed to send black men to assist the Allied forces as labourers, but, due to policies of the time, they insisted they could not be given weapons.

There were many more individual acts of bravery and selflessness in those terrifying early morning hours in the freezing water. A catalogue of failures exacerbated the final outcome, the Darro for example made no effort at all to rescue the men in the water, and ultimately it was that many of these brave men had no experience of the sea combined with extended exposure to the frigid February waters, off St Catherine’s Light, that accounted for the unusually high death toll.

Fewer than 200 of the 840 souls aboard the SS Mendi survived. The total toll on human lives lost that day reached a staggering 646.

Although the then Prime Minister Louis Botha brought the South African Parliament to attention in remembrance of the tragedy and the impact to the community, convention and prejudice meant this dreadful tragedy was not afforded appropriate recognition by respective Governments in South Africa and the United Kingdom. South African officials during these years demonstrated their unwillingness to highlight black people’s wartime contributions by withholding medals and reasonable post-war recompense to ‘non-combatant men’ deemed somehow less valuable.

Particularly poignant was that South African Labour Corps men, drawn from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, had readily volunteered their services to support the British Crown’s war effort on the Western Front in the hope it would win them greater political concessions at home. The reality was that remarkably little changed for 7 decades.

After World War 1, none of the black servicemen on the Mendi, neither the survivors nor the dead, or any other members of the South African Native Labour Corps, received a British War Medal or a ribbon. Their white officers did (i.e. commissioned and non commissioned South African Labour Corps officers – whites only).

The War Medal was issued by the British to all who participated in World War 1 fighting for Britain and her Empire. The decision not to award it to Black South African servicemen was a South African government decision and South African government alone. Black members of the South African Labour Corps from the neighbouring British Protectorates of Basutoland (modern Lesotho), Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Swaziland did receive medals, as the government in these territories approved the issue.

Approaches are now been made to the British government by the SANDF Attache in London to see if this issue can be redressed and medals struck, a memorial “commemorative” medal have also been struck for surviving family members and will make up part of the Centenary commemoration of the sinking of the SS Mendi.


The British War Medal with King George V bust, the medal in question and King George V who is seen here inspecting N.C.O.’s of the South African Native Labour Corps at Abbeville, 10 July 1917.

The shipwreck has recently been awarded World Heritage and War Grave status and an increasing number of Memorials are testament to contemporary recognition for, and acknowledgement of the sacrifices made by not only the 607 South African Labour Corps men lost that day on His Majesty’s service but also many thousand silent black South African citizens who risked everything to join Europe, ‘like brothers’.

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Rev. Isaac Williams Wauchope Dyobha (1852-1917) – see insert picture, our hero who called all to the death dance on the SS Mendi was a rather remarkable man – he was a prominent member of the Eastern Cape African elite in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a Congregational minister, political activist, historian, poet and ultimately the legendary hero in the Mendi disaster.

As a Lovedale student he joined a missionary party to Malawi, he was instrumental in founding one of the first political organisations for Africans, a staunch ally of John Tengo Jabavu and an enthusiastic campaigner for the establishment of the University of Fort Hare. For over 40 years, from 1874 to 1916, he was a prodigious contributor to newspapers, submitting news, comments, announcements, poetry, hymns, history and biography, travelogues, sermons, translations, explications of proverbs and royal praise poems. He used nom de plume Silwangangubo, Dyoba wo Daka and Ngingi and published The Natives and their Missionaries in 1908.

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This is a recent picture of a diver on the wreck of he SS Mendi and an artefact recovered from the wreck.

The Mendi sinking is considered one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the South African military, and was one of the worst maritime disasters of the 20th century in British waters.

For South Africans this is especially important as there are very few physical reminders of this tragedy, such as this photograph BASNC plate courtesy of David Wendes.

Some small things can be seen on the wreck, such as some of the plates that the men would have eaten off. It was the crest of the British and African Steam Navigation Company on some of these plates that allowed divers to identify the wreck as the Mendi.

For many years in South Africa the only memorial to these men was a life ring with the words “SS Mendi” on it on a railing in Simonstown, South Africa and the Hollybrook Cemetery Memorial which listed all the names of the SS Mendi missing in Southampton, England.

Happily this suppression of Black South African contribution to WW1 is no-longer the case, after 1994 memorial statues to the SS Mendi memorials now exist in Pretoria, Cape Town and Johannesburg.   Memorial services are held countrywide and form part of the SANDF’s Armed Forces Day (Mendi Day).  Awards and decorations for Bravery in the name of the Mendi have been issued, and the South African Navy has named two ships – the SAS Mendi (a Valour class Frigate) and the SAS Isaac Dyobha (a Warrior class Strike-craft).  Memorial services are also regularly held overseas in Southampton England and Noordwijk Netherlands.  A dedicated exhibit now also takes up place at Delville Wood in France.

The image to the left of the Atteridgeville memorial is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and President Nelson Mandela unveiling the memorial to the SS Mendi in Soweto, South Africa.

The immediate recognition of this event by the British government in 1995 was one of the first acts by the Queen on her return to South Africa – she had last been in South Africa in 1947 and was prevented from visiting again as South Africa had “resigned” from the Commonwealth in the intervening years of Apartheid.

Once South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth in 1994, such was the importance and urgent need to recognise this tragic event as a fundamental building block to nation building it took centre stage of Royal visit not seen in South Africa for 47 years.

To give perspective on the scale of the disaster and the loss of life and the impact to the black South African community at the time, page down through the honour roll of the South Africans who lost their lives that day, it’s quite staggering.

Emslie, S. Lieutenant
Richardson, E.H. Lieutenant
Turner, T.K. Regimental Sergeant Major
Botes, A.D. Staff Sergeant
Cockrell, A. Staff Sergeant
Botha, C.H. Colour Sergeant
Ford, T.A. Colour Sergeant
Knaggs, R. Colour Sergeant
MacTavish, R.A. Colour Sergeant
Abraham, Andries 11164
Abrahams, Fred 11163
Aliveni, Jim 8911
Bade, George 9707
Badlana, Joel 10016
Baleni, Langeni 11098
Banana, Nkeni 9665
Bangani, Mxonywa 9379
Basilie, Isaac 9170
Bay, James 9294
Beko, Heny 9374
Beta, Jack 9164
Beyulea, Windvogel 11070
Bhay, Jim 9260
Bikleni, Dodoka 9377
Bokleni, Henry 7587
Booi, John 9690
Bovi, Mkokeli 10017
Bungane, Freddy 11169
Butitje 9802
Chesa, Elijah 11170
Collis, Vimba 9650
Dabani, Jim 9241
Dampi, Piet 9203
Danki, Thomas 9215
Dano, William 9265
Dealtaha, Annaniya 9754
Dengese, Aldum 9567
Dinoka, Geelbooi 9780
Ditsepo, William 9436
Dyushani, John 10018
Eland, Piet 11138
Etea, Piet 11188
Fidyoli, John 11172
Franci, Rueben 9956
Fule, Steven 9261
Gabaza, William 564
Gabutloeloe, Lucas 9708
Geina, Manie 9689
Gigima, John 8010
Gilweni, Jim Tom 9915
Gobizitwana, Willie 11206
Gqweta, Henry 9928
Gumede, John 11216
Msiya, Lemu Galimini 9647
Gumeni, Charlie 9685
Gwabu, Jack 9321
Gwatyuza, Jacob 9954
Hasbane, Jan 9147
Hendricks, James 9943
Hendricks, Willem 11132
Hlangweni, Mtati 11161
Hlatshwayo, Fishi 11126
Hlope, Zanempi 11120
Holoane, Francis 11171
Homelane, Willie 9289
Jackson, Abrams 9803
Jacobo, Isaac 9695
Jamangile, Jim 8892
Jantole, Joseph 8900
Johnson, Willie 8913
Jonas, Jim 9710
Jonas, Saluseni 9244
Jongilanga, Pansi 9390
Jubile, Lawrence 11045
Kabi, Simeon 10964
Kakana, Jan 9441
Kakele, Mac 9154
Kale, Karl 9818
Kali, Hamilton 10021
Kaloto, Simon 9418
Kana, Mali 11176
Karishi, Change 9146
Kashane, Jan 9176
Kataza, John 9686
Kazamula, Moskein 9626
Kazamula, Simon 10931
Kazimula, Natal 9623
Kepisa, Jack 10374
Kepsize, Johnson 9848
Ketsbai, Helon 9905
Kgadile, Kleinbooi 9820
Kgana, Johannes 3703
Kgatjane, Lucas 11144
Kgobosemang, Kleinbooi 9740
Kgosi, Isaac 9211
Kgupa, Longone 9425
Khaile, Robinson 11173
Khoanamutsi, Mapipe 9429
Kholopane, Dovey 10960
Ngcobo, Vincent Pansi 9319
Kladi, John 9578
Kleinbooi, Jack 9263
Koalane, Josaih Walter 10896
Kokoto, Jonas 9398
Kolong, Kimon 9822
Koluba, Sam 9406
Koopman, Jan 9293
Kopane, Jan 11048
Kopane, Snele 9666
Kozamula, Captain 9447
Kula, Hlongwana 11088
Kumalo, Magwala 11112
Kuse, John 9785
Kutshwayo, James Henry 5969
Kwikanye, Jack 9290
Lebeko, Charlie 9415
Leboche, Abram 11056
Lefi, Ishmael 11141
Legoabe, Stephen 9763
Legwale, Stephen Lucas 3274
Lekau, Alfred 9188
Lekau, John 1256
Lekgoli, Soloman 9728
Lekhoto, John 1791
Lepero, Geelbooi 9829
Ntshangase, Dick Mqitsha 9914
Lephethe, David Job 11196
Lesele, Corporal 9654
Lesetja, Jan 11063
Leshage, William 10947
Lesiba, Daniel 10369
Lesiba, Jan 10384
Lesiba, Joseph 9186
Lesiba, Simon 10371
Lesibana, Jim 10364
Lesitja, Charlie 10373
Lesitja, Martinus 9908
Lesoale, Johannes 11192
Letau, Karel 9286
Letebele, Namatshan 9748
Letebele, Pond 9155
Letwatwa, Lucas 9659
Lifa, John 11247
Likgoli, David 9946
Likgoli, Sebolai 9947
Linganiso, Simon 10020
Lithaba, Michele 9761
Liwela, Frans 10951
Louw, Piet 11137
Luhlongwana, Koni 9580
Luputini, Jacobus 9255 8
Maake, Saucepan 9142
Mabagwana, Titi 9271
Mabane, Mpini 9393
Mabaso, Zula 11122
Mabila, Charlie 9126
Mabururu, Abraham 9125
Macambi, Mareyama 9794
Madikizela, Tatani 9388
Madimetja, Jacob 10383
Madosi, Robert 8910
Madubanya, Jack 10365
Madume, Botha 9124
Madume, Frans 9189
Madume, Jack No. 1 9174
Madume, Jack 9408
Madume, Jim 10949
Madume, Kleinbooi 9185
Madume, Mackson 9420
Madzibana, Frans 9631
Mafadi, Ephraim 9576
Mafika, Daniel 9371
Mafiliba, Mtigedwa 9243
Magadi, Daniel 562
Magagamela, Alison 8356
Magaju, Hlongwana 11092
Maggisi, Sitini 11079
Magoba, Isaac 9195
Magudulwana, Hlongwana 11093
Magwegwana, Hlongwana 11105
Mahaladi, Windvogel 11067
Maharo, Stephen 9544
Mahlaba, Whisky 9629
Mahlentle, Richard 9773
Mahloapitseng, Klaas 10965
Mahludi, Isaac 11154
Mahohoda, Klass 9643
Mahutu, Canteen 9149
Makalima, Robert 9288
Makamba, Bloro 9198
Makasha, Jim 3021
Makatini, Nongqayi 9558
Makatu, Kleinbooi 11181
Makaye, Ndabana 11215
Makeleni, Kimberley 9688
Makhohe, Jan 8967
Makilitshi, Paraffin 9117
Makoba, Majuta 10002
Makoe, Jack Jantji 11185
Makole, Benjamin 9839
Makopans, Frank 9897
Makosana, Charles 9143
Makudu Johannes 9898
Makwane, Jacob 9857
Makwatedi, Mack 9193
Makwena, Josias 9857
Malebogo, Jack 9427
Malemutle, Chairlie 9119
Malesela, Jan 10363
Malgas, Hlanga 9932
Mali, Mac 11069
Maluse, Charlie 10391
Maluse, Frans 10382
Maluse, Lucas 10366
Mambolo, Johannes 11065
Mandcas, Sam 9248
Mandubule, Dick 10027
Mandwane, Hlatshwayo 11101
Maneka, Jack 10375
Mangaliso, Hlongwana 11090
Mangapela, Piet 11150
Mange, William 9709
Mangise, John 9669
Mangoloane, Jacob 8997
Mangqe, Timothy 8876
Mangwana, Jan 9162
Mantupsi, Jack 9426
Manunyane, Bernard 9285
Manzane, Ben 9635
Mapalala, Keve 11121
Maparana, Charlie 9136
Maphessa, William 9563
Mapheto, Hosiah 11066
Maphoto, Harry 9826
Mapulane, Sampson 9433
March, Martinus 11135
Marofula, Jacob 11057
Marole, Willem 9138
Martinus, Johannes 9295
Masade, Albert 9757
Masaleni, Jeremiah 9927
Maseko, Windvogel Captain 11071
Mashali, Jameson 9411
Masia, Dick 9432
Masiaane, Jim 9562
Masikela, William 9173
Masilo, Transvaal 9782
Masina, Taweni 9238
Masinde, Jonas 9518
Masindi, George 9237
Masoling, Julius 11167
Matebula, Piet 9358
Mathlana, Aaron 9287
Matjala, Richard 9798
Matjola, Jan 9565
Matkala, Picennin 11186
Matlala, Johannes 11190
Matonsi, Jaftha 9806
Matsang, Abel 9751
Matshana, Hezekiah 9924
Mathse, Marcus 9853
Matshelane, Andries 9661
Matsubane, Jim 10368
Matume, Frans 10370
Matume, Moses 9760
Matupu, Thousand 9133
Mazaku, Gwavuma 9381
Mbata, Albert Nkomempunga 9913
Mbedla, Isaac 9931
Mbikwa, Sam 11140
Mbiyazwe, Jim 9199
Mbombiya, Jim 9373
Mbuzi, Mzingele 9382
Mcanyana, Russel Palmer 9792
Mcitshwa. John 9768
Mdata, Soloman 11075
Mduna, Edward 9770
Mdunyelwa, July 9922
Mdyogolo, Mnyeliso 9651
Mehlomane, Silwanyana 9242
Mekgoe, Herman 9253
Menza, John 9658
Mgidi, Billy 11204
Mgingana, Koza 11099
Mgoyoye, Petrus 9670
Mgwena, Soloman 9784
Mhlanga, Ndukwana 11118
Mijana, Willie 9831
Mkezo, Mpotyana 9394
Mkohla, Joseph 10012
Mkomazi, Frans 9152
Mkomazi, Jim 9627
Mkoni, John 9256
Mkonvama, Daniel 9118
Mkumguri, Jim 9736
Mlahleki, Jail 11155
Mlando, Hlongwana 11086
Mlonyeni, Robert 9386
Mncedana, Melville 7601
Mnyeliso, Gama 9652
Mnyikinwa, Longone 11055
Moatse, Josiah 8991
Mobitsela, William 9775
Modeba, Theophilus 9194
Modikeng, Goodman 11151
Modisane, Jan 10899
Modise, David 9204
Modisoatsile, George 9718
Moeata, Petrus 9783
Moeng, Sampson 9945
Maake, Joseph 9140
Mofokeng, Koos 10953
Mogalobutha, Klaas 9183
Mogorosi, Benjamin 10433
Mohale, Jacob 9177
Mohase, Vellum 9660
Mohowe, William 9128
Mokatakisa, Hendrick 10963
Mokgeleli, Aaron Jili 9333
Mokgosi, Aaron 9370
Mokgwere, Samuel 9743
Mokhali, Simon 10958
Mokhapo, Mac 9129
Molabi, Amos 9156
Molelekoa, Titus 9819
Molide, Sitebe 9267
Molife, Andries 11194
Molife, Linesa 9269
Molife, Mosmiti 9268
Molisanyane, Andries 9951
Moloi, Kleinbooi 9797
Moloi, Philip 11189
Moloyi, Mreki 9557
Moloyi, Ntikimana 9275
Molthlakane, Letsie 9838
Monahela, Edward 10959
Monamatuga, Thomas 9191
Mongologa, Joseph 9700
Monoke, Johannes 9825
Montso, Michael 11152
Monyako, Philip 9835
Monyele, Elias 9368
Morashe, Jim 9401
More, Pinefas 10434
Morolong, Walter 11178
Moshe, Moses 9132
Moshimane, Jack 10377
Mositsi, Amos 9739
Motaung, Jacob 9950
Motebang, Eliah 10962
Motela, Jack 9187
Mothei, Jan 9741
Motobi, Peter 7210
Motsoahai, Mpalakela 10957
Mpafulane, Udmund 9366
Mpatu, Simon 9437
Mpee, Johannes 9901
Mpete, Jan 9687
Mpoa, John 9721
Msesenyane, Jan 9632
Mshote, John 563
Msimango, Lubaro 9270
Msiya, Lemu Galimini 9647
Mtembu, Mswela 11109
Mtirara, John 9385
Mtolo, Sikaniso 9999
Mtombeni, Abraham 9560
Mtshotshisa, Gabayi 9939
Mudungazi, July 9638
Muhlaba, Joel 9252
Mukopo, Andries 9171
Mukotle, Fred 9168
Mulabe, Change 9440
Mulamu, David 9163
Munani, Mukale 9419
Murape, Jim 9430
Murda, Jack 11149
Mutinjwa, Daniel 9236
Mvele, Jerele Mazalemvula 9646
Mvula, Joniseni 11108
Myamana, Verandah 9622
Mzamani, Jim 9279
Mzayifana, Alfred 11207
Mzimane, Johannes 9677
Mzono, Jotama 11072
Nafufa, David 9644
Napane, Charlie 9421
Natedi, Jack 9141
Nawane, George 9698
Ncotele, Litye 9862
Ndaba, Pikiti 11128
Ndamase, Richard 9389
Ndanise, Baleni 9641
Ndeya, James 9795
Ndhluli, Jim 11060
Ndiki, Samuel 9859
Ndingi, Olifas 8893
Ndlankuhle, Nzulu 802
Ndlovu, Isaac 9529
Nduna, William 11058
Nepthale, Tsusa 11145
Ngade, Ben Elias 11061
Ngake, Enos 9749
Ngate, Canteen 9148
Ngate, Picannin 11054
Ngcenge, Durward 9771
Ngcobo, Pindela 9272
Ngcobo, Vincent Pansi 9319
Ngesi, Walter 9910
Ngqotoza, Zilandana 9653
Ngwahewa, Jan 9637
Ngwane, Jamse 9654
Nini, George 11053
Nkakuleni, Sly 9407
Nkhereanye, Lukase 5743
Nkoane, Peter 7277
Nkomandi, Konisars 9639
Nkunwana, Jack 9212
Nkwambene, Charles 9634
Nkwenkwe, John 9889
Nodolo, Squire 9772
Nokwelo, Makali 7067
Nomvaba, Charlie 9207
Nongwe, Johannes 10024
Nquza, Jabez 9202
Nsulansula, Zondo 11097
Ntabani, Picannin 9716
Ntelte, Frans 9139
Ntindili, Charlie 8891
Ntopi, Piet 11187
Ntoro, Kleinbooi 3711
Ntozake, Honono 8912
Ntshangase, Dick Mqitsha 9914
Ntshetsha, Mbalela 9383
Ntsieng, Bullar Martinus 9575
Ntsutswana,Thomas 9938
Nukula, Ben Sydney 11051
Nxazonke, Mlungu 9934
Nyambana, Konish 9636
Nyati, Samuel 9283
Nyonane, Ebenezer 11205
Nziba, John Clout 11177
Olibeng, Fanwell 9216
Olijn, Pieter 11131
Oliphant, Piet 11166
Pala, Alexander 9851
Pambili, James 11052
Papetje, Johannes 10378
Pasile, Radoma 9175
Pasoane, Amandus Aupa 11146
Pasoane, William 9850
Paulus, Dolf 11133
Payipeli, Charlie 9249
Payo, Jacob 9667
Perike, Ephraim 9599
Petela, Kleinbooi 9923
Petrus, Paul 9296
Petula, Stephen 10908
Phaladi, Bob 11046
Phiti, Tom 9179
Phohophedi, Thomas 8329
Pieters, Isaac 11162
Pietersen, Paulus 10900
Pikahila, Stephen 9793
Pinyana, Nodyiwana 8020
Pisani, Matthews 9151
Pitso, Andries 9911
Pitso, Jan 9717
Pkula, Simon 9953
Plaatje, Thomas 9657
Plaatjes, Malgas 9711
Poko, Philip 9824
Pokwane, Frans 9399
Ponyose, Koos 11059
Pugiso, David 9251
Pulana, Philemon 11047
Pule, Lazarus 9834
Pupuma, Madela 8907
Qaba, Edward 9648
Qakala, Jan 10013
Quvalele, Parafin 10022
Quzula, Charlie 10928
Qwebe, Cawood 9909
Rabatji, Jan 11064
Radelbe, James 9376
Radzaka, Jucas 9781
Rakau, Frans 11179
Rakgokong, Johannes 11062
Ramakalane, Titus 11193
Ramakhutle, Gerson 8992
Ramakoko, Modise 8990
Ramasi, Rabintoe 9746
Ramasita, Job 9902
Ramatea, Joseph 11143
Ramathodi, George 9896
Ramedekoane, Thijs 9001
Ramkosi, George 9833
Ramoho, Charlie 9130
Ramoshiela, Nicodimus 8994
Ramosole, Abel 9000
Rampomane, Aaron 11184
Rampopo, Lukas 8996
Rampunve, Jan 9733
Ramurumo, Frederick 9668
Raskane, Jan 9160
Ratilulu, Samuel 11147
Ratskogo, Gilmore 10897
Resinali, Picanin 9625
Roadway, Smith 9656
Rwairwai, Jerry 9694
Samela, Wolobile 9197
Seathlane, Selepe 10954
Sebadi, Samuel 994
Sefako, Geelbooi 8999
Sefako, Jim 9671
Segule, Smith 9122
Sekakaile, Rice 9412
Sekonyela, George 9816
Sekoro, Josiah 11142
Sekote, Stephanus 11191
Sekwidi, Jan 9779
Selami, Jim 9192
Sello, Seth 9907
Seodi, Green 9397
Sepalela, April 9417
Serewe, Jackson 9724
Setani, Style 9920
Setloko, Philemon 11180
Shebeshebe, Jack 10379
Shikamba, Jack 9445
Shiletane, Bossboy 9137
Sibalabula, Timotheus 9210
Sibalela, Jim 9240
Sibisi, Jacobus 9817
Sibizo, Edmund 11240
Sibolayi, Sampson 8993
Sifaku, Kleinbooi 10948
Sigededhla, Zachariah 9556
Sigidi, Hlongwana 11085
Sikawuleb, William 9755
Sikota, Theodore George 11202
Sikwayo, Ben 11157
Silika, Molefi 9266
Silwane, Frans 9121
Sinqana, July 11203
Siposa, Willie 9392
Sitebe, Mqobo 11107
Sitlaro, Koos 8995
Sitole, Charlie 10912
Sitole, Mgqiki 11116
Skhabi, Hermanus 11182
Skip, Jim 9428
Soka, Anderson 9892
Solani, Meji 9655
Somatshungu, Tom 9805
Somgede, William 9800
Songca, Lukakuva 8879
Stephens, George 9413
Stunga, James 9280
Suping, Abraham 9744
Suping, Johannes 11049
Swarts, Jan 11130
Swarts, Sma 11129
Tabudi, Jacob 9854
Takisi, Frank 9181
Tamasinya, Johannes 9590
Tambu, Peter 11168
Tankobong, Zachariah 9742
Tanoni, Phineas 11153
Tentata, July 11165
Thebeagae, Charlie 9753
Timpane, Billem 9745
Tiya, Percy 9706
Tlabure, Elias 11183
Tladivamutsi, Michael 11076
Tokhae, Jan 9134
Totwana, Hlongwana 11094
Tsamaya, Jacob 9246
Tsase, John 10950
Tsehlana, Jack 10372
Tshabalala, Kaysi 11102
Tshabana, Willie 9555
Tshange, Ngqakamatshe 11091
Tshekosi, Klaas 9780
Tshenene, Charlie 9860
Tshikari, Paul 11174
Tshite, Joseph 10431
Tshomolokse, Paul 9702
Tshotsha, Hlongwana 11110
Tshulo, Abram 9758
Tsule, Soloman 9434
Tube, Jackson 9259
Tumberi, Jim 9630
Tyilo, John 11198
Tywalana, Jeremiah 9649
Utuni, Frans 9776
Uziningo, Jantshi 9926
Voss, Philip 7229
Vovela, Joe 10929
Vutula, Charles 9801
Wauchope, Isaac 3276
Williams, Freddy 9714
Williams, Henry 9292
Zambezi, Hlongwana 11096
Zatu, John 9937
Zenzile, Arosi 9375
Zimuke, Mashaya 11068
Zingwana, Johannes 9640
Zinyusile, Edward 11158
Zitonga, Mongameli 8021
Zondi, Solomon Vili 9299
Zondo, Magida 11103
Zondo, Mufakabi 11114
Zondo, Pukwana 11115
Zulu, April 9247
Zwane, Sikonyana 11087
Zwane, Sukwana 11089

Lest we forget.

Copyrights: The underwater sonar image of the SS Mendi copyright contains Marine Aggregrate Levy Sustainability Fund materials © Crown Copyright 2016. Prepared by Wessex Archaeology

The reference on Isaac Williams Wauchope – The journalist on-line http://www.thejournalist.co.za. The article complied by Peter Dickens from various sources on-line including Wessex Archeology

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Wartime beach defences and legendary hospitality

During the Second World War South Africa became a central destination for British, South African as well as other Commonwealth nurses, soldiers, sailors and airmen for a little ‘R&R” (Rest and Recuperation) – especially Durban and Cape Town. Seen here in this famous LIFE magazine image are servicemen on South Africa’s beaches enjoying some of the prettier sights and sun that South Africa has to offer.

In fact many veterans fondly remember South Africa’s hospitality during the war years as the country really opened their arms and welcomed them.

Note during wartime even both the strategic ports of Cape Town and Durban’s beaches were heavily guarded against invasion with barbed wire beach obstacles.

Image copyright – LIFE Magazine

 

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The ‘Casus Belli’ for war; compare the Iraq War & the Boer War

History repeats itself, that’s the ironic part. For starters let’s compare the Boer War (both 1st and 2nd Boer Wars) to the last Iraq War.

The Boer war started due to a mix of Imperial interests in Africa, the wealth in the ground in the Boer republics – Gold and the perceived threat to the mainly British citizens working in the Boer Republics on the mines (this part was based on very ‘emotional’ grounds and less on reality – but it was the ‘Casus Belli’ – justified case – for war). The Iraq war started due to a mix of USA interests in the Gulf, the wealth in the ground – Oil, and the perceived threat to Americans and Israelis (or ‘the world’) from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (entirely fabricated but also the ‘Casus Belli’ for war).

All war is for ‘economic’ benefit, and the Boer and Iraq wars are no different. The subjective and emotional reasons given for the war –mainly that of ‘threat, oppression and persecution’ to minority groups in each case is no different. Like the USA in the modern day context (citing oppression by the Iraqis of Kurds, Christians, Kuwaitis), Great Britain also put it’s case forward to the ‘world’ (citing oppression by the Boers of British, American, European miners) and in both instances the war was passed off as entirely legitimate once it ended for these same reasons … the ‘Casus Belli’ had been made.

In Iraq, America remained as an occupier after the war – Great Britain did the same in South Africa after the Boer War– and in both instances the rational given to the ‘world’ was the reconstruction of the state both economically and politically until it’s perceived ‘threat’ was removed and the country was moulded in a likeness of themselves i.e. … more palatable ‘less aggressive’ version to the ‘world’. In both instances they attempted coalition political parties to govern the country as a means to gradually withdraw from direct governance, but retain influence – and in both instances injecting huge economic aid into both to ‘reconstruct’ it in their likeness.

In both instances, civilians where oppressed and randomly imprisoned as a means of removing support to guerilla cells. In the case of South Africa it was curtail supply to ‘Boer Fighters’ and in Iraq it was to curtail supply to ‘terrorist cells’ (the irony and the truth is that both these guerilla groupings where local and ethnically based). In both instances civilians where exploited to achieve these military objectives.

Oil in 1990 is to Gold in 1900. On the economic front the ‘world’ was presented a case that ‘aggressive’ states where not allowed to be in charge of the world economy as they hold the ‘key’ to it, and these states needed to be removed to ensure worldwide economic stability – this was argued by the USA in 1990 and by Great Britain in 1900 with a similar outcome and support to both.

The Iraq war – lets face it the whole WMD thing was a complete farce and millions of people where affected and will be for years to come, and whose kidding whom it was about Oil at the end of the day – same thing with the Boer War, an emotionally flawed reason for war, millions of people affected for years to come, and whose kidding whom it was about Gold really.

In summary, the cruel thing about history is that it repeats as it is the human condition that guides it. The reasons for war are always economic but they are guided by emotional convictions (religion, political dogma, ethic oppression, human persecution etc etc). The even crueler thing about both Iraq and South Africa is that ‘world’ opinion will always justify the war because of the strong cases put forward before and after the war by the victor (albeit very flawed cases). For this reason it is very unlikely that the USA will be compensating Iraqi families 110 years after the war and apologising, the same is also true of Great Britain and South Africa

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Conveniently ignored ‘Heroes of the struggle for Democracy’ … the SADF!

Here is an unusual “hero of the struggle for democracy in South Africa”.  This is a South African Defence Force (SADF) former “whites only” National Service conscript turned “volunteer” holding a R4 assault rifle as he safely escorts the ballot boxes to a counting station during South Africa’s landmark 1994 election.

He, like thousands of other old SADF white “National Servicemen” literally volunteered over the transition between 1990 and 1994 to bring democracy to all South Africans and make the elections a reality.  For good reason to, even on the election day itself bomb attacks where still going on and lives were still under threat. Yet now these military “heroes” are conveniently forgotten or vanquished and rather inappropriately branded as “racists” by a brainwashed South African public that has lost perspective.

This is their story and it needs to be told. 1990 was a significant year – Apartheid in all its legal forms was removed from the law books, the system that had generated “the struggle” was dead. The African National Congress (ANC) was also officially unbanned in February 1990, unhindered to practice its politics. All that remained was a period of peaceful negotiation and reconciliation … the future looked bright.  But did that happen?

Unfortunately not, all hell broke out and the organisations that ultimately kept the peace were the statute armed forces of South Africa (SADF and SAP), who by default steered the country safely on the path to democracy in its final course up to and through the 1994 elections, and not the “struggle heroes” of the ANC, who it can really be said to have stumbled at the last hurdle.

It’s a pity as without this stumble the ANC could truly claim the mantle of  the “liberators” who brought democracy to all South Africans but now, rather inconveniently for them, they have to share it with the SADF – and in addition to SADF professional soldiers a huge debt gratitude is owed by the country to the old “white” SADF National Servicemen.

In 1990, once unbanned the ANC immediately went into armed conflict with all the other South Africans who did not favourably agree with them – especially the Zulu ’s political representation at the time – the Inkata Freedom Party (IFP), but also other “Black” liberation movements such as AZAPO (Azanian Peoples Organisation) and the old “homeland” governments and their supporters.  Instead of taking up a role of actively peacekeeping to keep the country on the peace negotiation track, they nearly drew South Africa into full-blown war.

From 1990 to 1994 South Africa saw more violence than the entire preceding period of actual “Apartheid”. There was extensive violence and thousands of deaths in the run-up to the first non-racial elections in South Africa in April 1994 – and to be fair it was not just the ANC , the violence was driven by a number of political parties left and right of the political spectrum as they jostled for political power in the power vacuum created by CODESA negotiations.

To deal with this escalation of all out political violence, the SADF called out for an urgent boost in resources, however conscription was unravelling and numbers dropping off rapidly from the “national service” pool.  Luckily however, tens of thousands of “white” ex National servicemen were now serving out “camp commitments” in various Citizen Force units, SADF Regiments and in the Regional Commando structures who heeded the call and volunteered to stay on – fully dedicated to serving the country above all else, and fully committed to keep the country on the peace process track and stop the country sliding into civil war.

In an odd sense, if you really think about it, these “white conscripts” are the real “heroes” that paved the way for peace. For four full years of political vacuum they literally risked their lives by getting into harms way between the various warring protagonists, left/right white/black – ANC, IFP, PAC and even the AWB – and it cannot be underestimated the degree to which they prevented an all out war from 1991 to 1994 whilst keeping the peace negotiations on track to a fully democratic settlement.

That South Africa enjoys the fruits of the CODESA democratic process, without plunging itself into civil war whilst democracy was negotiated is very much directly attributed to the men and women in the SADF.

In 1991, the armed insurrection in South Africa became more complex when far right-wing “white supremacist” break-away groups such as the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) began to increasing turn to armed violence to further their cause. South Africa’s Defence Force and Police structures and personnel now also had to deal with this added, rather violent, dynamic to an already feuding and violent ethnic and political landscape.

“White” loyalties where quickly cleared up between white right wingers and white members of the statute forces when the issue came to a head at ‘The battle of Ventersdorp’ on 9 August 1991.  The statute force maintained the upper hand and in all, 3 AWB members and 1 passer-by were killed. 6 policemen, 13 AWB members and 29 civilians were injured in the clash.

In addition to Pretoria and surrounds, this right wing “revolution” also focused  on Bophuthatswana in 1994,  The AWB attempted an armed Coup d’état (takeover by force of arms) after Bophuthatswana homeland’s President Mangope was overthrown by a popular revolt.  In addition to the SADF, this uprising was also foiled by what remained of the statute forces of Bophuthatswana, and was to cumulate in the infamous shooting of 3 surrendered AWB members in front of the world’s media by a policeman.

Luckily not part of this particular controversy, the SADF ‘national service’ soldiers were deployed into the region to quell the uprising and arrested looters in the chaos of the revolt stabilising the situation – as the below famous image taken in Mmabatho by Greg Marinovich shows.

The net result of all this is recorded as a “SADF victory, removal and abolition of Lucas Mangope’s regime, disestablishment of Bantustan”.  In all, Volksfront: 1 killed, AWB: 4 killed, 3 wounded and Bophuthatswana’s mutineers suffered 50 dead, 285 wounded.

To get an idea of this low-level war between the ANC and IFP for political control in Kwa-Zulu Natal alone, The Human Rights Committee (HRC) estimated that, between July 1990 and June 1993, an average of 101 people died per month in politically related incidents – a total of 3 653 deaths. In the period July 1993 to April 1994, conflict steadily intensified, so that by election month it was 2.5 times its previous levels. Here SADF soldiers conduct a search through bush veld in KwaZulu Natal 1994 and keep a close eye on protesters with “traditional weapons” – Section A KwaMashu Hostel, an Inkatha stronghold.

Moreover, political violence in this period extended to the PWV (Pretoria– Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) region in the Transvaal. The HRC estimated that between July 1990 and June 1993, some 4 756 people were killed in politically related violence in the PWV area. In the period immediately following the announcement of an election date, the death toll in the PWV region rose to four times its previous levels. Here are SADF National Service soldiers on patrol in Soweto, South Africa, 1991/2 and keeping the peace in Bekkersdal in 1994.

Much of this climaxed into famous incident when the IFP chose to march in Johannesburg brandishing “traditional weapons” in 1994.  Outside the African National Congress (ANC) headquarters at ‘Shell House’  a shootout in downtown Johannesburg between the ANC and IFP supporters erupted. Here in a famous photo taken by Greg Marinovich is a member of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) who lies dead, his shoes are taken off for the journey to the next life. These three SADF soldiers have come forward into the line of fire – strait between the two warring factions and are keeping the ANC gunmen at Shell House at bay preventing further loss of life, the another image shows a SADF medic coming to the assistance of a wounded IFP member at Shell House – the degree of the life changing injury of a bullet shattering his leg quite graphically evident.

Another good example is also seen here at Bekkersdal township, Transvaal, South Africa 1994. AZAPO supporters fire at ANC supporters in armed clashes between these two groups of the “liberation struggle”.  The SADF again suppressed the clash, the next image shows heavy armed SADF National Servicemen in support by driving into the middle of the fray and keeping the belligerents apart – in effect saving lives.

Bigger clashes took place in KaZulu Natal – an example is seen here at KwaMashu in 1994. ANC militants with a home-made gun or ‘kwash’ do battle with Inkatha Freedom party supporters across the valley at Richmond Farm.  Again SADF personnel were moved in to separate the protagonists, here 61 Mech National Servicemen in a SADF “Ratel” IFV patrol Section A, KwaMashu Hostel, an Inkatha stronghold.

In an even stranger twist, a blame game ensured with the ANC not blaming itself and instead accusing a “third force” of guiding the violence and laid the blame on FW de Klerk.  Funnily no evidence of a “third force” has ever been found and the TRC hearings rejected the idea after a long investigation.

In the lead-up to the elections in April 1994, on 24 August 1993 Minister of Defence Kobie Coetsee announced the end of “whites only” conscription. In 1994 there would be no more call-ups for the one-year initial training. Although conscription was suspended it was not entirely abandoned, as the SADF Citizen Force and SADF Commando ‘camps’ system for fully trained conscripts remained place. Due to priorities facing the country, especially in stabilising the country ahead of the 1994 General Elections and the Peace Progress negotiations, the SADF still needed more strength to guard election booths and secure key installations.

So in 1994, the SADF “called-up” up even more “white” SADF Civilian force members, SADF Commando and SADF National Reservists to serve again, and despite the unravelling of conscription laws the response was highly positive with thousands of more national servicemen ‘voluntarily’ returning to service in order to safeguard the country into it’s new epoch.

National Reserve members were mustered at Group 18 outside Soweto in January 1994, some even arriving without uniform.  As part of this mustering I even have the personal experience of asking one of them what happened to his equipment and uniform to which the reply was “burnt it after my camps, but for this I am prepared to serve my country again.”  This comment says a lot as to devotion and commitment of someone making a difference at a turning point of history.

“Camp” call-ups and the call-up of ex-conscript SADF members on the National Reserve reached record proportions over the period of the April 1994 elections, and for the first time in history, in a strange twist of fate, the “End Conscription Campaign”( ECC) called these conscripts to consider these “election” call-ups to be different from previous call-ups and attend to their military duties.

It is highly ironic that even the ECC could see the necessity of security to deliver South Africa to democracy in this period – it was not going to come from the “liberation” movements or any “cadres” as they were part of the problem perpetuating the violent cycle in the power vacuum – it had to come from these SADF conscripts and statutory force members committed to their primary role of serving the country (and not a political ideology or party).

The threats on election day where very real – here South African Defence Force personnel cordon off a bomb blast area and South African police personnel inspect the bombing near the air terminals at Jan Smuts International Airport (now OR Tambo International).  This was the final Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) cell attack on April 27, 1994 in response to the landmark election day held the same day.

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While campaigning for the Presidency, even Nelson Mandela, seen here in traditional dress, made sure to stop and thank citizen force members of the SADF for their support and duty during South Africa’s first fully democratic election in 1994.

These ordinary South African servicemen showed what they are really made of by putting themselves in harm’s way to bring about the democracy that South Africans share today – they where literally the unsung heroes, and all respect to Nelson Mandela, he knew that and took  time in his campaigning to recognise it – these men did not ask for much in return and this small recognition would have been enough.

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Here a SADF member keeps a guarding and secure eye whilst fellow South Africans are queuing to vote in the historic first democratic election on April 27, 1994. This election poll was in Lindelani, Kwa Zulu Natal. Nelson Mandela voted here at 6am and his car passed by as these youngsters sang to honour him.  Another image shows a SADF National Serviceman guarding the election booths in Johannesburg, whilst a newly enfranchised South African eagerly points the way to the voting polls.

It was not just National Servicemen, all the uniformed men and women of the SADF and the SAP, of all ethnic groups in South Africa, paved the way for real peace when the country really stood at the edge and about to fall into the abyss of violence and destruction from 1990 to 1994.

This is an inconvenient truth – something kept away from the contemporary narrative of South Africa’s “Liberation” and “Struggle” – as it does not play to the current ANC political narrative. These men and women are now openly branded by lessor Politicians in sweeping statements as “Apartheid Forces” – demonised and vanquished – whereas, in reality nothing can be further from the truth. South Africans today – whether they realise it or not, owe these SADF Professionals and especially the former “whites only” national service conscripts a deep debt of gratitude for their current democracy, civil rights and freedom.

If you had to summarise the military involvement in the transition period, it was the SADF – not the “Liberation” armies of the ANC and PAC, who brought down civil revolts in all the ex-“Bantustans”, it was the SADF that suppressed an armed right-wing revolutionary takeover in South Africa , it was the SADF that put itself into harms way between all the warring political parties in the townships all over the country and literally saved thousands of lives for 4 long years and it was the SADF who stood guard and secured the 94 election itself.

The SADF veterans by far make up the majority of South Africa’s military veteran community, they also fought for liberation and peace, and as they say whenever current South African politicians idealise the MK veterans and demonise the old pre 94 SADF veterans – “please don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

Article researched and written by Peter Dickens.

Photo copyrights to Greg Marinovich and Ian Berry.  Feature image photograph copyright Paul Weinberg

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A little cheeky military humour

A little bit of “cheeky” military humour to see out the old year – please excuse the brashness but this is typical of military humour.

Here a South African Air Force Alouette III helicopter’s Flight Engineer/Gunner gives a typical response to fellow crew members flying alongside.

Not found in the Public Relations photographs in the SADF at the time. However in the light of combatants fighting  far away from home, and in need of some light banter to alleviate the seriousness of combat on the Angolan border, who can blame them  … “boys will be boys”.

Photo courtesy of the SAAF Alouette crew veterans fraternity.