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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 85

Paragraph Numbers 158 to 173

Volume 2

Chapter 2

Subsection 19


158 Operation Plathond involved training by the SADF of a surrogate force for operations in Zambia in the early 1970s. At the Commonwealth heads of state meeting in 1981, the Zambian Foreign Minister claimed that between 500 and 600 Zambians were being trained in the Caprivi for operations inside Zambia. There is no evidence to support the claim. While there certainly were foreign nationals being trained in the Caprivi for military operations in the region, they are more likely to have been Mozambican members of RENAMO than large numbers of Zambian dissidents.

159 Zambia was a target of South African aggression. Between 1978 and 1980, the SADF undertook several conventional military operations inside Zambia, aimed largely at SWAPO installations in the Western Province. The first occurred after a SWAPO rocket and mortar attack on the SADF headquarters base at Katimo Mulilo in the eastern Caprivi in which ten servicemen were killed. The SADF responded by sending combat units 250 kilometres inside Zambia to attack SWAPO camps.

160 During the SADF’s Operations Saffran and Rekstok in 1979, SWAPO bases in Western Zambia were again attacked. The recurring nature of these attacks in 1979/80, and the civilian casualties they caused, as well as the disruption to rural life (burning of crops, poisoning of local water supplies, killing of cattle, mining of roads) led SWAPO to abandon its camps adjacent to the Caprivi and move further north. However, with Western Zambia under virtual occupation by two SADF battalions for nine months after Zimbabwe’s independence in April 1980, and with malnutrition and starvation rife, the Zambian government eventually banned SWAPO from operating any military bases in the country – an early success for the strategy of counter-revolutionary warfare. What was also significant, and a lesson the SADF noted, was that this success owed more to the disruption to civilian life than to the damage inflicted on the military capacity of the ‘enemy’.

161 With SWAPO now concentrating its military facilities in Angola, large-scale SADF operations inside Zambia largely ceased. One exception was the SAAF raid near Lusaka in May 1986.

162 Further information supplied to the Commission by the NIA revealed that, as of June 1985, four people were being held in Zambian prisons for spying for South Africa. Two were current members of the SADF, one a former SADF member and the fourth a Caprivian working for South African MI. One of the SADF members was Sergeant Isaiah Moyo, a former member of the Rhodesian African Rifles, who had joined the SADF after 1980 and who was placed in Zambia by MI in about 1984/5. He was sentenced to twenty-five years for spying but released in 1991.


163 From the time of the unilateral declaration of independence in Rhodesia in November 1965, the security situation in that country was a major concern of the South African government. With the launch of joint ANC/ZAPU13 military operations in areas of north-west Rhodesia in August 1967, South African police units were deployed inside Rhodesia where they stayed for the next eight years. As a gesture of support for the 1975 Kissinger diplomatic initiative over Rhodesia, South Africa withdrew its police units but left behind all its equipment, which included helicopters, Dakotas, small arms and ammunition. In addition, the South African government met the costs of 50 per cent of the Rhodesian defence budget for 1975–76. This was followed by Operation Polo, a secret agreement in terms of which the SADF assisted in the construction of five new military airfields in Rhodesia.

164 By 1978 the SADF was supplying sophisticated Mirage III fighters and Impala strike planes, as well as Alouette and ‘Huey’ helicopters. It was also secretly deploying troops into southern Rhodesia from bases inside South Africa and sending conscripts to Rhodesia to fight in local uniforms as ‘members’ of Rhodesian army units.

165 Colonel Craig Williamson told the Commission (3 February 1998) that the South African Security Branch also funded out of its secret account the police counterinsurgency unit, the Selous Scouts, in which numerous SAP members also served.

166 At its meeting on 26 March 1979, the SSC approved both the setting-up of a Rhodesian Joint Management Centre (JMC) to operate from the South African diplomatic mission in Salisbury, as well as a short-term strategy for Rhodesia. This recommended, inter alia, clandestine support (logistic as well as special forces) for the Rhodesian security forces. In July 1979, the SSC approved a stepping-up of military assistance, including covert air support for offensive measures against ‘terrorist’ and other targets in their host states (“gasheerlande”); unspecified military support with electronic warfare; aerial reconnaissance and support of special operations undertaken by the Rhodesian forces.

167 Six weeks later, at an SSC meeting on 27 August 1979, General Malan reported that the situation in Rhodesia had reached a watershed and that it needed further military help. As a result, the SSC authorised special clandestine actions, ordering that these be mounted within the context of a co-ordinated strategy. To this end, it established a Mozambican JMC comprised of representatives of the SADF, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), South African Railways (SAR), the National Intelligence Service (NIS), the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the SAP and the Departments of Finance, Trade and Industry and the Information Service. The presence of the SABC should be noted.

168 Special Forces operative Johan Verster told the Commission that, in 1979, he participated in parabat attacks on guerrillas moving into the cease-fire assembly points in the Tshipise Tribal Trust area. His group operated from a camp “on the side of the river at Gumbu Mine” in Botswana. The attacks, Verster claimed, were ordered by “military headquarters” using intelligence provided by the Selous Scouts.

169 These attacks may have been prompted by the fact that ANC/MK guerrillas were infiltrating Zimbabwe along with returning ZIPRA14 fighters. A list of ANC members who died in exile was supplied to the Commission and includes the names of fourteen “comrades killed in Rhodesia in 1979”. It is possible they were victims of these attacks.

170 Most of the ANC infiltrators were eventually returned to Zambia by the new government, but it was largely in response to this MK inflow that the SADF moved a unit of its troops through the Beit Bridge border post towards the end of 1979. According to Mr Pik Botha’s statement to the Commission, the movement of troops across the bridge was done with the concurrence of the Muzorewa Government.

171 In the run-up to the March 1980 pre-independence election, Rhodesia remained at the top of the SSC agenda. Excerpts from the minutes of the SSC meeting of 28 January 1980 provide an insight into the state’s strategic thinking at the time. General Malan asked what would be done if Rhodesia “verkeerd gaan” (goes wrong) and argued that Rhodesia and South West Africa were key to South Africa’s defence. Arguing for a proactive defence strategy, he asserted that the country’s first line of defence had to be beyond the Republic – “ons moet die tyd en die plek kan kies” (we must be able to choose the time and place). Mr PW Botha assured the General that the meeting shared his views, arguing that “as ons op die Limpopo en die Oranje veg, kan die vyand ons hartland aanval” (if we fight on the Limpopo and the Orange rivers, the enemy can attack our country).

172 Early in February 1980, the SSC dispatched a special task team to review the situation in Rhodesia. The most significant of its ten recommendations read: “Die implikasie van eliminasie van politieke figure in Rhodesie moet voortdurend onder oë gehou word” (The implication of the elimination of political figures in Rhodesia must be constantly kept in mind.) There is an ambiguity about this statement in that the reference could be to other countries’ attempts to assassinate Mr Robert Mugabe. This was the interpretation that both Mr Pik Botha and Dr Niel Barnard gave in their appearances before the Commission and there is no evidence to suggest that South African security forces ever attempted to assassinate Mugabe in the period prior to the election.

173 The South African government raised in excess of R12 million in support of Bishop Muzorewa’s United African National Council (UANC) in the March 1980 election, approximately half of which came from state coffers, while the rest was raised from the private sector by Foreign Minister Pik Botha. At independence in April 1980, the government of Zimbabwe inherited a total debt over R4 000 million which South Africa was to insist be repaid. Moreover, the long tradition of direct South African involvement in the country’s security affairs did not end at independence; it merely changed its form.

13 Zimbabwean African People's Union. 14 Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army.
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