Dealing with SA's 'Vietnam war'

2012-03-26 14:38

kalahari.com

Johannesburg - Many white South Africans conscripted to fight for the apartheid military in Angola still struggle to swallow the bitter pill that their battle landed on the wrong side of history.

Known here as the Border War, apartheid South Africa sent troops to support Angola's Unita rebels, backed by the US against the then-Marxist MPLA government and its Cuban allies.

The Cold War conflict was depicted at the time as a battle to stave off communism and black liberation, and until recently few veterans dared talk about their experiences for fear of upsetting South Africa's ruling black majority.

In the past year there has been a surge in dialogue about the Border War, including a raft of self-published soldiers' memoirs, some deemed insensitively nostalgic, or even racist.

Award-winning film

But there have been some more considered accounts, and several film documentaries, including Marius van Niekerk's award-winning My Heart of Darkness which follows four ex-conscripts, black and white, on an emotional journey back into Angola.

"I am trying to raise awareness of what happened in Angola and film is a good way to do that," said Van Niekerk, himself a Border War veteran.

"There is a lot of unresolved trauma, a misunderstanding between different sides, we haven't talked enough about how we feel and we need to."

Also adding to the discourse is the re-staging of Anthony Akerman's controversial and hard-hitting play Somewhere on the Border which was banned under apartheid due to its brutal language and its depiction of the South African Defence Force.

Akerman wrote the play in the 1980s while in exile in Holland, having fled South Africa to avoid the draft.

Fighting on the wrong side


"When the play was first done 25 years ago, kids who couldn't talk about their experiences of war took their parents to see the play, and afterwards, they were able to talk," Akerman told AFP.

"So now, maybe it's the other way round, the guys who were the kids at the border, now have their own kids who want to know what happened and that can facilitate an inter-generational dialogue again."

Paul Morris, 45, saw the new production as part of his own journey of re-examining his experiences as an 18-year-old conscript.

"The hardest thing for me to come to terms with is that I fought on the wrong side. As a teenager I didn't really see the choices but now on an emotional level, I feel deeply saddened," he said.

Morris plans a journey back to southern Angola later this year to revisit the battlefields where he once fought.
He plans to travel by road with a group of veterans from Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the former military wing of South Africa's ruling African National Congress, which fought with the MPLA. He then plans to cycle back home alone.

"I remember Angola was a beautiful country so I would like to go there and travel as a tourist," he said.

"Angola in my mind is still a battlefield, I would like to come back with a different memory of the country, I suppose you could say it is part of my healing journey."

War museum

Leading the Angolan road trip is Colonel Patrick Ricketts, who joined MK at age 20 and spent eight months at ANC camps in Angola.

Ricketts has already made several visits back to Angola and is working to create a war museum and memorial at Cuito Cuanavale, home to the 1988 battle that turned the tide of war and the fight against apartheid.

"We were all separated by history, by a very vicious system, but we are adults now in a new South Africa and we have the chance to get together and talk about our experiences," said Ricketts, who is now part of South Africa's modern military.

"It was traumatic for everybody, regardless of which side they were on," he said.

"Our trips are as mixed as possible. It is nice that everybody is there together because it gives us a chance to talk about our experiences of the system from our own sides and see how we were all victims in different ways."

Healthy engagement

Theresa Edlmann, a Rhodes University researcher who is documenting the war, said bringing ex-enemies together is an important way of re-examining the conflict.

She compared South Africa's border war to America's Vietnam, including the time it took for people to speak openly about their conscription experiences.

"The trauma of a war experience is so intense that you almost need that period of silence before people are ready to talk," she said.

"It is also a time in South Africa's own history when the honeymoon of democracy is over and our political process has reached a point where these kinds of conversations are possible in ways that they might not have been in the past."

"What we need is a healthy engagement, with people from all sides coming together to listen to each other so we can make new meanings about what it is to be South African.

- Were you in the war or do you have a relative who was? Send us your story
- SAPA

Read more on:    angola  |  southern africa
NEXT ON NEWS24X

SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
72 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Fashion
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Friday Cape Town - 16:15 PM
    Road name: Wet Weather
    RAIN across the greater Cape Town area - drive with care and use headlights - Allow Extra Tavel Time
  • Friday Kuils River - 09:28 AM
    Road name: Polkadraai Road Eastbound
    ROADWORKS between the R102 Van Riebeeck Road and the R310 Baden Powell Drive exit - DELAYS
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

Claims Consultant

Cape Town CBD
Human Communications (Pty) Ltd
R15 000 - R17 000 Per Month

CRM Manager

Western Cape
Ivy Farrell Recruitment

Job: SQL Developer, Digital Marketing Agency, Cape Town, R20k – R30k

Cape Town Southern Suburbs
Initiate International
R20 000 - R30 000 Per Month

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2 TV Series for R250

Get 2 TV Series box sets for R250 and save up to R148! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on beauty & fragrances

Save up to 30% off beauty and fragrances. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 50% off hair care products!

Save up to 50% on professional hair care products at kalahari.com. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off academic books

Score a mind blowing 30% off academic books! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on electronics!

Save up to 35% on electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

BlackBerry Bold 9780

BlackBerry 6 Engage your world with BlackBerry 6 OS on the...

From R3049.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be putting too much effort into someone or something. You are doing it out of love and compassion but there is a chance...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.