BORDERSTRIKE!
South Africa into Angola 1975 – 1980 (3rd Edition)
Willem Steenkamp. Just Done Productions (http://www.justdone.co.za)

Borderstrike! South Africa into Angola 1975 - 1980 (Front Cover)Historically the so called ‘Border War’ is still very close to us and as a result there might be a tendency by some, on whatever side they might have been in that conflict, to take a jaundiced view on any book written from a perspective different from their own. No matter the rights and the wrongs of the case, whether or not South Africa, or for that matter Cuba, not to mention the CIA and other such players, had a right to involve themselves in it, a conflict DID take place on mainly Angolan soil. And that conflict DID play a very big role in the development of South Africa and Namibia and Angola into the countries that they now are. We must also accept that no matter what our own personal perspective might be, whether or not we were for or against involvement, there are lessons both military and political to be learnt from what happened in Angola in the mid 1970s. Surely it is better that we try and learn those lessons rather than taking the chance of making the same mistakes all over again?

In this the third Edition of Borderstrike!, the passage of time and consequent release of previously classified information has allowed the author to expand considerably on the content of the first version of this book. In this context, naval readers will be pleased to see that this edition includes much more information on the SA Navy’s part in Operation Savannah than has been published up until now, and that the extraction of the South African advisors and equipment from Ambrizette in northern Angola by SAS President Steyn has at last been given in some detail.

Steenkamp’s own career as the defence reporter on the staff of the Cape Times during this period as well as the fact that he was also an active Citizen Force officer and was therefore called up for service during this conflict, makes him a most suitable author. His background and experience in both of these fields has also allowed him to give a clear picture of all of the major operations conducted by the then SADF in the period 1975 to 1980. Admittedly he covers these operations very clearly from the South African viewpoint, however as he explains this is in many ways due to the information available to him. As he says in his Foreword Cuba is still being run by the same people who ran it in that era, and they are reluctant to give open access to documentation that might paint a less rosy picture of their actions than they would like to see. Much the same problem exists in the case of information from Angola and the governing party in Namibia. Thus what little he tries to give of their side of these operations is purely speculative.

Given these shortcomings openly admitted to by the author, nevertheless this definitely remains a book worth reading and one that gives a very clear picture of how the SADF achieved what they did with as little as they had. Especially as the author does not fall into the trap of trying to either apologise for, or explain away the actions of the South African Defence Force in Angola, but has done his best to describe South African military operations in Angola during the period covered by this book as factually as he can.

Utilising his experience as a newspaper reporter Steenkamp, in his own words has used a reporting style ‘describing as accurately as I could how it looked to a South African soldier taking part, and providing enough objective background to give the reader some idea of why it happened’. The result is a book that is easy to read and that holds one’s attention, a book that also gives some background to the political turmoil that reigned in Angola as the Portuguese withdrew and the impact that this had on South West Africa, now Namibia. He gives some of the origins of the conflict between the three major factions, clearly on the cards by mid 1975, and which had in fact been underway for some months before 11 November 1975 when the last remaining members of the Portuguese colonial authority cynically joined the frigate waiting for them in Luanda harbour and sailed away into the noon day sun.

Available internationally from Lulu and in South Africa from Just Done Productions

Review by Rear Admiral Chris Bennett (SAN) (Rtd)

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