ZAIRE 1989-1991

The author in a MI uniform. They always worked in civvies.

See the photo illustrations.

With South West Africa/Namibia, quickly slipping through our hands, with its independence date fast approaching and Angola being of extreme importance to our interests, MI got permission from the "friendlies" in Zaire to establish a permanent presence in that country.

Two monitoring Electronic Warfare stations were established in that country, one in Kinshasa, the capital and the other in Lubunbashi, in the southwest of that vast African country.

In Kinshasa, there was a permanent SADF military attache, a SAN Captain (equivalent to Colonel). He was our ex military attache in Paris. Later a South Africa mission (Embassy) was established and NI (National Intelligence) also had a permanent agent resident in Kinshasa. At a stage he was more interested in the SADF, than anything else. We were told to break all social contact with him. Apparently our borrowed cryptographer, a SAAF WOI from Cape Town, had a very loose tongue and the NI chap became over curious. What happened with this particular cryptographer was an isolated case, as most of the cryptographers, that MI "borrowed" from other units, were very responsible personnel.

My MI Portuguese colleague, ex Rhodesian Army, Sgt Ildfonso become the OC in Kinshasa and I was asked to run the Lubunbashi project.

We started to work immediately in Kinshasa, with very good results. For the first time MINSE (Ministerio Nacional de Segurança) Angolan Secret Services, made their very important north communications "available" to our ears. MINSE was in full control of Angola's territory north of Luanda up to the border of Zaire (later DRC). They had their own paramilitary forces that operated in the terrain just like the army ( FAPLA), clashing and holding operations against the enemy. FAPLA's presence in the north of the country was almost nil. (It was hard to convince the Angolan desk back in HQ in Pretoria, that there were no FAPLA nets in the north!!)

FAPLA's area of operations was mostly in the center and the south of the country, where they operated against UNITA and us, the South Africans.

We also monitored the TGFA (Tropas de Guarda de Fronteiras de Angola) Angolan border guards and the nets in Cabinda. Later UNAVEM (United Nations Angola Verification Mission) also become our hosts (What a poor bunch!! In 1992 I would join them).

After spending thousands of rands of taxpayers money setting up a station in Lumbubashi, the project was shelved due to a lack of funds!!!

Our station in Kinshasa was located in a beautiful Belgian colonial residence, right next to the Prime Minister's office complex, facing the river and the capitol of Congo, Brazaville. It was a Zairian Secret Services "Base".

As the Zairian Secret Services never really trusted us, they placed all of us like tinned sardines in a single small office, without any windows. This was in the middle of two of their own offices!! In order to enter or exit our work area, we had to go through an office full of smelly Zairean agents and a woman typist.

There were always two local Secret Service agents allocated to us, and we had access 24 hours a day to them, via VHS radios. Very handy in case of emergencies, and did we have emergencies!

Every traffic cop in Kinshasa knew well, that we were "protected" people, we all carried cards from the President, stating that we worked for him and that any state, police or army official had to provide us with assistance, whenever required by us. They always did the opposite!

They constantly stopped us, barked a lot of poor French at us, falsely accused us of traffic violations, threatened us with arrest and tried to remove the keys from our vehicles. We had no option but to call our friends, who used to arrive with screaming tires and sirens and react very aggressively against the cops. They in turn asked for assistance from their units, resulting always in a lot of shouting and ugly confrontations.

Whenever one of us arrived or had to depart Kinshasa, Ildfonso had to be present with an agent at the airport, to prevent questions or our luggage to be searched by airport security, customs and immigration officers. The Presidential Guard, who were responsible for airport security, always tried (sometimes very aggressively) to question and search us, resulting in violent confrontations with the Secret Service Agents.

We were housed in the most expensive hotel in Kinshasa; the five star Inter Continental Hotel.

One night after retiring to bed, my very good friend 32 Bn Sgt Ollie, received a call from the night club manager, inviting him to come down for a drink as someone wanted to see him.

Ollie (famous, for being the 32Bn soldier, who was shot by SWAPO and who had to be operated on behind sand bags, in order to remove an live projectile from just under his shoulder) put on his best clothes and was down like a flash, just to be arrested by a Colonel from an elite military unit, who sent him away with four soldiers and carried on enjoying his drinks and the best AIDS infected flesh available in Kinshasa. The Inter was full of spies for the local forces. Someone must have told this Colonel about this good looking coloured (mullato), always very well dressed and full of money that could not speak a word of French or the local tribal languages, staying for a long time at the hotel. Next morning Ollie, who was never late for breakfast, was nowhere to be seen and did not answer his door, until someone told Ildfonso that he had been taken by the Security Forces.

Ollie, was driven around in a military Jeep, for the entire night all through the huge city of Kinshasa. He started contemplating running away, as he was sure his guards had orders to kill him. They tried to communicate with him in all different languages, but Ollie would not answer, as he could only speak Portuguese. As Kinshasa started to wake up and the thousands of prostitutes that rule the Kinshasa night, started to retire, one of the soldiers asked Ollie in the best of Portuguese if he could speak the language of Camões? When Ollie answered in the affirmative, he ordered Ollie to keep still, not even try to escape and do as ordered, promising him protection from the others. Eventually, they locked him in a dirty smelly cell at a military barracks. It took three days for our military attache and the Secret Services to get him released. The Colonel just refused to release him, claiming Ollie to be a spy. Ollie was indeed a very lucky man to escape with his life.

After this very nasty incident, Pretoria ordered us out of the hotel, as our lives were in danger/at risk. Ildfonso rented a luxury 3-story home, that had been an embassy, from an Diamond lord. We all moved in including our cryptographer and all of his equipment, who up to that stage had operated from the military attache's house.

Ildfonso took the top two floors and his wife and daughter joined him from Pretoria.

Someone of senior rank became jealous of the very well paid position Ildfonso held and because Ildfonso was only an Sgt, he tried to hijack the post from him, creating big problems for Ildfonso in the process.

Ildfonso who was born in northeast of Portugal (in the same area as the SADF legend Danny Roxo), a tough, mountainous area, whose people are known for being hardworking and brave, dealt with this guy in his own manner, telling a senior rank in the process to get fucked!!! He went on to do an outstanding work for MI, many times standing in for the military attache, when he was away. At the end of his tour Sgt Ildfonso was awarded a MMM for his outstanding good performance in a very difficult and demanding country.

There were other SADF projects running in Zaire. The Recces had also a presence in Kinshasa. We were invited to attend braais at their house. They were a great bunch, who could entertain us and our Navy officer attache, with their war stories and jokes. We also got together many times at the attache's house, where we were received in the best of diplomatic fashions. I want to make use of this opportunity, to thank our mil attache Capt (SAN) P. and his kind wife, for making our very long stays in Kinshasa more pleasant and especially for the satellite phone, which he allowed us to use, so that we could speak to our loved ones back at home.

At our house in Kinshasa we had guards (civilian), servants and a chef. The cook was an ex Angolan by the name of Garcia, that had been a sergeant in the Zairean Air Force (was he also an agent for the local Secret Services, as he could understand our conversations in Portuguese???).

One morning, as we were about to leave for work, he came up to me and said "Bom Dia, Patrão" good morning master. Please don't go to work today, there are going to be problems in the city. You will be in danger."

"Fuck off Garcia", I told him, but I knew he was right! The pot had been boiling for long in Zaire. It was just a matter of time, and its contents were going to spill over. I went up to Ildfonso and asked him to call P. on the radio and tell him about the warning. P. called back sometime later, saying that we could go to work as he had got assurance from Tango (agent), that there were no problems expected (so much for good intelligence!!).

After being at work for a couple of hours, Ollie got up to go for a leek, it was done at the back of the house against the back wall. We did not have the stomach to use the toilets. He come back running saying that there was a huge battle raging in Kinshasa. We downed our headsets and went outside. Automatic rifles, mortars, heavy machine guns were going off at all the time. At last "La Revolution" had made her appearance. Our Secret Service guards took off with their rifles, just to return later with lots of loot, so much for the Secret Services of Zaire!! Some of them were of senior rank. They were always dressed in civilian clothes, but I always looked at their duty roster to find out their ranks. They were now acting in the best of African tradition, just like fucking animals!

A few hours later, the agents told us over the radio, to make a run for it and try and reach home as they could not come to our assistance. We were the only car traveling in Kinshasa at that time but made it home with no problems. Locked at home and the situation was just getting worse. The authorities were loosing control. There was constant fighting, lots of looting and killing. Our military attache's house was in a badly affected area in town. He was alone at home with his wife. All the houses around his were looted and destroyed. The Secret Services could not get to him. As the situation worsened, the SADF in Pretoria started to draw up plans to rescue foreign affairs personnel and us. As I was the only one that could speak Afrikaans, P. used to talk to me over the radio in Afrikaans, telling me of the latest plans, hoping that the Secret Service agents on the same frequencies, could not understand us!!?? Surely they could understand Flemish, Zaire being an ex Belgian colony, anyway it was the only option left to us.

The first plan was to use some Recces that knew the area, and try and land in Kinshasa, control the airport and drive to town to meet up with us. After a few days P. tells me, that the new plan, was for the Navy to sail north and when in reach a Puma would take off to meet us, we had to make provisions to walk a big distance.

In the end the South Africans left it in the hand of the Belgians to take us out. At this time there was already a small South African community living in Kinshasa that owned business, that was looking at their government for help.

Unlike all of our other MI deployments in Africa, in Kinshasa we had no weapons what so ever for our personal defense. We started to burn tons of documents, a task done at the back of our garden at home. While we were doing this, shots were taken against us, some of them hitting our Defender just behind me. I still have some of those bullets, that I kept as souvenirs. Our cryptographer, a rotation member, ex sector RSM in South West Africa, was in constant contact with Pretoria, giving updates as the situation especially around P's house was getting desperate. His wife was already in a very bad shape. The house could have been attacked at any moment and the Secret Services could not reach any of the houses as many areas were in the hands of non-friendlies. A couple of days later, we got the communication to get to our two cars, the Defender and a Suzuki Jeep immediately as the Secret Services were ten minutes from us. We got into the cars, opened the gates and drove out traveling just a few metres, to be surrounded immediately by civilian types. We tried to ignore them the best we could, while we waited. Suddenly they appeared in two cars at a huge speed, Delta leading brandishing an automatic rifle from the window, followed by P's Discovery, with Tango in it telling us to follow them, using a 9mm to indicate the way. As soon as they appeared all those civilian types were gone like a bolt from the sky.

I could not believe it, just 50 metres from our house, there was just devastation and destruction and blown up corpses lying on the ground.

We went trough several road blocks, that must have been in the hands of friendlies, as Delta spoke to them and they let us through. At last we arrived at our ambassador's house, turned into a refugee camp. There we found the Recces, foreign affairs personnel andthe small South African community of Kinshasa, they owned the big Makro warehouse, which was looted and burned to the ground.

Our arrival was very emotional for the two "military" ladies in the group. Ildfonso and P's wife were taking it bad, especially P's wife, she had been under fire for days and was certain that the end result was going to be very tragic. Even the French ambassador got killed inside his own house.

The Belgian Special Forces took over the airport, loosing a man in the process and started to liberate routes into town, in order to evacuate their citizens.

Eventually D day arrived, the Belgian troops stopped in front of the ambassador's house in a civilian truck, liberated somewhere in Kinshasa and in a military jeep, with them there was a blue Police armoured car that must have been loyal to the still President Mobutu. It was time to move. We moved slowly in a convoy through out the destroyed and looted city. We passed in front of a Portuguese owned supermarket where I had shopped many times, the family that owned the place lived on top of their business. The supermarket was completely looted as well their residence on top. I said a prayer for them and hoped they had reached the Portuguese embassy safely. The convoy kept on changing route to avoid hostile areas in the city. After a lifetime we arrived at the airport in the hands of the Belgian troops entrenched everywhere, although outside some heavily armed local troops could be seen. The terminal building was shot to pieces as well the control tower, on the tarmac a Safair B707 awaited us. One passenger got out however, a 7 Med Medical Doctor, who I had seen with the Recces a few months back. He had come back to rejoin the group (in 7Meds history, this episode is recorded as one of the highlights of the unit!).

We made our way to the aircraft walking along side a row of heavily armed Belgian soldiers. As I reached the aircraft stairs I saw Delta, in a half military uniform, armed and with an elite military beret on (as to say to the Belgians that there were still very decent Zaireans around and that they still held some kind of control over their country, it was the first time I had seen him in uniform).

I went up to him, stopped and embraced him in the best of Latin tradition, "Goodbye Mate, Best of luck", he was so pleased with my gesture and was full of smiles. I got all sort of ugly looks from those Belgian troops and whites boarding the plane.

I wanted to shout:


Delta, Tango, I never found out your real names, don't know if you are still alive, but you guys were brave and risked your lives by going out alone to rescue a bunch of "racists" from South Africa. Thank You. You are my brothers in Arms.

As we entered the aircraft, we were surrounded by a big bunch of journalists including a TV crew from the SABC. They were prevented from disembarking or taking any pictures from the airport. I just ignored the fucking lot.

Myself, Ollie and Alberto, ex PIDE/DGS, ex FNLA mercenary, ex CIO Rhodesia and still a serving member of MI, sat next to each other, the two "military" ladies sat behind us.

Ildfonso, Capt P, the Recces, their newly arrived 7Med doctor, our cryptographer and the ambassador stayed behind.

As the B707 rolled to take off, I felt so embarrassed to be taken out with a bunch of civilians, while my comrades stayed behind (orders from Pretoria!). But looking at Ollie, a seasoned 32Bn bush fighter, sitting next to me, I felt just a bit better.

As we landed at Jan Smuts international, an stupid air hostess said over the intercom, "Welcome to South Africa, the best country in the world" Stupid Bitch! Those people had just lost all their possessions and were leaving with only the clothes they had on. They were not in a mood for such comments. Just for the record, some of the passengers on the flight were the families of the American embassy personnel in Kinshasa, I guess there was some cooperation RSA/USA.

We were met at immigration by my Cmdt. Cmdt Van took us out immediately through a side door, so that we could avoid the large media contingent waiting outside arrivals.

Next morning while still in bed and watching Good Morning South Africa, I was shocked to see myself and Ollie all over the small box. So much for Cmdt Van's efforts to avoid the media.

Back in Kinshasa it was Ildfonso and Capt P's duty to close the doors and retrieve as many of the SADF possessions as possible. The Recces were there to provide protection to the now small group.

When driving to our station to retrieve our expensive equipment, they were lucky to be able to leave with their lives. They were nearly killed by the Security Service guards who prevented them from entering.

Weeks later our military presence in Zaire come to an end (SANDF troops are now again present in that country renamed DRC), when our last people boarded an SAAF C130 and flew out to Waterkloof AFB in Pretoria.

This time there were no restrictions on our people or media. The families were waiting and a lot of tears rolled down the faces of those waiting for their loved ones. The image that I saw on TV, of our WOI cryptographer S. H. in a full beard hugging and kissing his daughter after more than 4 months away from home will stay with me for as long as I live.

Unfortunately, foreign affairs used it as a publicity stunt on their behalf. The cameras were there as well the nauseating of our foreign affairs minister Pik Botha, waiting for our men as a hero that had saved our people, and the SADF took second place.


Flag of Zaire


Photos: SAMS TC & 1 Military Hospital (1985-1987)

SADF Military Intelligence - (1987 - 1994)

SADF Military Intelligence in the Comoros (1981 to the 1990s)

Lt Domingos Jose de Almeida Vinez

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