During the last three hundred years, the history of Southern Africa has been characterised by internal strife and military conflict. Thousands of South Africans, Black and White, fought on the side of the Allied Forces during the First and Second World Wars. During the Cold War once again, South Africans were not found wanting when air- and ground-crew of the SAAF played prominent roles in the Berlin Airlift and the Korean War.
In 1948 the National Party of Dr. D F Malan came into power with the election promise of Apartheid. The new South African government and its racial policies alienated many countries, especially in Africa. In East and Central Africa the political winds of change, which had started as a gentle breeze in the late 1950's, were beginning to blow much stronger at the end of the decade. On 1 July 1960 the Belgian Congo became an independent state. The great change had begun. The process of decolonisation in Africa, helped in no small part by the winds of change sweeping through the continent, emboldened the peoples of Africa to seek military means to attain their independence from their European colonial rulers. Tension was increasing, not only in Africa but also in Southern Africa, with the Rivonia high treason trial of 1964, an indication of the impending internal, military conflict in South Africa. In South West Africa the South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO) started making ominous overt military threats. Like the South African ANC, SWAPO was banned under Pretoria's anti subversion laws. Both organisations went underground and started preparing for a military onslaught against the South African government. On 16 August 1966 SWAPO insurgents attacked the border post at Oshikango and ten days later on 26 August the first clash between SWAPO and members of the South African security forces took place at Umgulumbasche in the north-western part of Ovamboland, in northern South West Africa. The clash on 26 August marked the official beginning of the Border War, a war that would ultimately last 23 years and claim thousands of lives.
The increasing military threat ranging against South Africa forced the government to implement compulsory military service of nine months for all white South African men older than 18 years. After the 1975-1976 Angolan war of Independence and the Soweto riots of 1976 the South African Minister of Defence, P.W. Botha, increased the duration of compulsory military service to twelve months. This was still not enough to meet the growing military manpower needs of the SADF, so in 1978, the duration of compulsory military service was yet again increased, this time to two years.
During the past ten years it has become clear that most South Africans never knew what went on during the Border War. Due to the South African government's disinformation campaign and secrecy clauses, a lot of people today have the wrong impression of how and why South Africa fought a war in South West Africa and Angola for twenty-three years. In the following narrative, told through photos' and script, I hope to give the reader an insight into the day-to-day happenings on the border as experienced by thousands of South African conscripts during the years of the Border War. It is not intended to be a `guts and glory' telling but rather a factual detailing of what it was like to be a national serviceman during the Border War.
Published: 1 July 2000.
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