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Special Report Transcript Episode 84, Section 7, Time 43:09
Early morning, May 4, 1978. Cassinga , 250 kilometres north of the Namibian border. Several hundred SWAPO soldiers are on the parade ground. In the rest of the little town family members and refugees from Namibia do the household chores to prepare for another day in the bush. And then death rains from the sky. // There was no ground support. It was basically three companies, under the legendary Col Jan Breytenbach. But the three companies were fairly depleted companies. They were mostly citizen force, they were from one, two and three parachute battalions and the heavier support weapons they had were a few light anti-tank weapons and I think 60 mm mortars. And they flew in and dropped directly after the initial preparatory bombardment which was an aerial assault by the Camberers and the Buckaneers. // What kind of bombs do you use from these aircraft? What would they do? Destroy property or mostly go against personnel? Burn the place down? // The weaponry that the Camberers and the Buckaneers used were antipersonnel bombs and larger, I’m not sure if they were high fragmentation bombs. But typical bombs for killing of personnel, anti-personnel, and bombs that could destroy bunkers. And the idea was to catch and to emphasise surprise which they did, because they apparently, when the Buckaneers and the Camberers came in, most of the people were assembled on the parade ground. And, they caught them totally unaware and literally hundreds of people died on the parade ground. Any large external operation that the South African Defence Force did required political sanction. That meant, that this operation like any other large external operation, was sanctioned personally by the Prime Minister, PJ Vorster, under the advice of the Minister of Defence, who was PW Botha and of course advised by the chief of the National Defence Force, General Malan, and the chief of the army, General Constant Viljoen. But operationally, the operation was under the command of the officer commanding of 101 task group, which was general Ian Gleeson. On the ground the forces were commanded at Cassinga by Col Jan Breytenbach. Well the truth is somewhere between the two perspectives, that of the SADF and of SWAPO, Cassinga was both a military camp as well as a refugee collection centre. It was both a planning and logistic base for plan as well as a centre where people that had fled had assembled. There is sufficient circumstantial evidence to indicate that both were the case. The fact is that the South African intelligence was probably not that good, that they were trying to go in very deep and be very bold in their efforts. And that of course afterwards, it served the propaganda purposes of both, to indicate on the one hand that it was a massacre and to show people the undeniable evidence of the hundreds of women, children that were killed. For the South Africans, who were there, who participated, it was a great military experience in the sense that it was the single and still remains the single largest air born assault that was performed by citizen force soldiers of the South African Defence Force. The figures that I have is the South Africans lost in the attack: three killed, 11 wounded and one guy which went missing, and was never accounted for. And, there was a bit of a follow up with the initial parachute drop and a lot of the soldiers were dropped into a river and off-target, slightly further to the north they would have dropped. So the South Africans suffered, let’s say four killed in action or missing and eleven wounded and SWAPO acknowledged about 600 dead and about 340 wounded and these audit figures seem to be more or less correct. The figures afterwards are thousands of people, I think are slightly exaggerated. // If you are talking about 600 SWAPO, are they talking about guerrillas, or women and children, or both combined? // I think it’s a combined figure. I think the South Africans at the time estimated that there were about 300 trained SWAPO cadres in the base and that there was also a base just outside, which was part of the attack plan, of people that were under training of a few hundred. But the exact figures have never become known.
Notes: Cassinga attack; Dr Jakkie Cilliers, Institute for Defence Policy; Max du Preez; Dr Cilliers; Mass grave; Wounded ; Du Preez; Dr Cilliers ; Mass grave
References: there are no references for this transcript