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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 20
Paragraph Numbers 81 to 94
1974–1978: The collapse of the buffer and the re-emergence of internal opposition
81 After the crushing of the liberation movements in the early 1960s, there was a period of relative calm in resistance politics inside South Africa. Simultaneously, workers’ organisations began to emerge from the early 1970s. Their presence and impact was felt in the Durban strikes of 1973, and later in the formation of the independent black trade union movement. In the late 1960s, the South African Students Organisation (SASO) and other organisations influenced by the ideology of Black Consciousness began to emerge. This came about due to growing disaffection by some black student activists with the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and the leadership composition of the University Christian Movement (UCM). This mobilisation culminated in country-wide mass resistance in the 1976–77 period, popularly known as the ‘Soweto uprising’.
82 The uprising, though largely spontaneous, was of tremendous political significance. It contributed to the reconstitution of mass extra-parliamentary politics in South Africa and helped revitalise the exiled liberation movements. Moreover, it stimulated a rethink on the part of big business as to how their interests were to be best safeguarded, and impelled the state to engage in extensive restructuring of institutions, past policies and practices.
83 The most obvious threat to South Africa’s regional security, however, came from developments abroad. Most notable was the collapse of the Portuguese dictatorship that opened the way to independence for its Southern African colonies, Mozambique and Angola. According to the first submission on the SADF: “The unexpected coup in Portugal on 25 April 1974 brought the RSA’s defence line to its borders and this changed the government’s perceptions of security in a very dramatic way”.
84 Inside South Africa, the liberation of these countries inspired the resistance movement, which held celebration rallies in their honour. Indeed, the collapse of the buffer surrounding South Africa opened up new possibilities for the liberation movements. By the time of Mozambique’s independence in June 1975, the ANC had established a sizeable diplomatic presence in Maputo and it was clear that the new FRELIMO government would allow MK guerrillas transit facilities to both Swaziland and South Africa. By this time too, senior ANC figures like Mr Thabo Mbeki, Mr Jacob Zuma and Mr Albert Dlomo were in Swaziland, resuscitating the ANC’s political presence and re-establishing links to the ANC underground inside South Africa. By 1976, a reliable ‘underground railway’ had been established between Swaziland and both the Durban and Witwatersrand areas.
85 The Central Committee of the PAC, weakened by internal struggles in the early 1970s, met in 1975 and resolved to work together towards the “final push” of the struggle. Members of the High Command were dispatched to the front-line states to prepare an underground trail for the infiltration of arms and guerrillas into the country.
86 By the mid-1970s, the PAC had begun military training amongst refugees in Swaziland. The refugees had fled a chieftaincy dispute amongst the Mngomezulu clan of northern KwaZulu and had been allocated land in the area. However, in 1977 the Swaziland government suddenly moved against the PAC by banning the organisation in Swaziland and rounding up all its known members and supporters. All were eventually deported via the United High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to countries other than South Africa, in some cases after lengthy periods in detention.
87 On South Africa’s western flank, SWAPO had by this time opened a diplomatic mission in Luanda and had been given permission to establish military training bases, transit camps and refugee camps in central and southern Angola.
88 The government responded in a way that which suggests that the previous domination of state security policy by the SAP and BOSS was on the wane while that of the SADF, in particular with regard to external military policy, was becoming increasingly influential. This was reflected at a number of levels. Firstly, in 1975 the SADF took over the SAP’s previous responsibility for counter-insurgency operations in the border areas of northern Namibia. Secondly, it appeared that the government was preparing to become involved in the conflict that developed in Angola after the collapse of the agreement signed by the three Angolan liberation groups in January 1975.
89 The next critical development was the occupation by the SADF of Calueque in southern Angola in August 1975. The immediate aim was the protection of the joint South African–Portuguese funded Calueque–Ruacana hydro-electric scheme but a general aim, according to the second submission on the SADF, was to counter “further Soviet-led expansion in the region”. As it turned out, the move into Calueque formed the initial phase of Operation Savannah, the SADF’s secret invasion of Angola in 1975.
90 The failure of Savannah held three important lessons for the SADF.
a First, it exposed the SADF’s urgent need to update its weapons systems which, according to the SANDF submission on the SADF, “led to major developments in the armaments industry in South Africa over the next decade”. One of these was the launch in 1980 of Project Coast, the SADF’s chemical and biological weapons programme.
b Second, it impressed upon the SADF the need for and utility of surrogate forces as allies. With UNITA regarded as “one of the few remaining buffers against further East bloc expansion in Southern Africa”, it now became integrated as a central component into the SADF’s military strategy on its western flank. Assistance took effect on 1 April 1977 with the launch of Operation Silwer, the codename by which aid to UNITA was referred until 1983, when it was changed to Operation Disa.
c Third, it made the SADF aware of a need for increased “intelligence, reconnaissance and a wide spectrum of covert capabilities”. In order to meet this demand it was essential “to continue with the development of its special forces and their covert and clandestine capability”. In October 1974, a Special Forces division was set up as a separate and autonomous arm of the SADF with its command structure headed by a general officer commanding (GOC) reporting directly to the chief of the SADF.
91 By the time of the SADF’s intervention in Angola in 1975, a third arm of Special Forces had been created in the form of 5 Reconnaissance Regiment into which some 500–600 former members of the Portuguese military in Mozambique had been integrated. These were largely specialists in landward and airborne counterrevolutionary warfare. After Savannah, and to incorporate some 1 600–1 800 Portuguese-speaking former members of the defeated Angolan army, a specialist unit of the army, Battalion 32 (the so-called ‘Buffalo Battalion’), was established. Headed by Colonel Jannie Breytenbach, this unit grew in time to number as many as 9 000 troops.
92 Thirty-two Battalion was, in fact, the second such special army unit formed by the SADF. In 1974, it had formed a special tracking unit composed of white officers and !Xu or ‘Bushmen’, many of whom, according to testimony presented to the Commission, were forcibly recruited into the SADF. This unit was Battalion 31 (originally 201), often also called the ‘Bushman Battalion’. Its headquarters were at the Omega camp in the Caprivi, close to the border of Zambia.
93 Another essentially ethnic unit was 101 Battalion, also known as the ‘Owambo Battalion’. This seems, in the eyes of the SADF, to have been an highly effective outfit. In the SADF’s 1986 Yearbook, 101 is described as:
the reaction force of Sector 10 (Kaokoland and Owambo with headquarters in Oshakati) and is a force without equal. It accounted for many of the terrorists eliminated by the Security Forces during 1986, and had the best combat record of all SWA and RSA units during the year.
94 In 1978 the 44th Parachute Brigade was formed, as well as 4 Reconnaissance Regiment, a seaborne Special Forces unit based at Saldanha Bay.