Mutiny as troops say no to Angola

More than 400 members of the 101 Battalion of the SWA Territorial Force (SWATF) have mutinied by refusing to fight inside Angola on the side of Jonas Savimbi's Unita movement. Dissent among soldiers of 101 Battalion, a voluntary unit manned by Owambo-speaking troops and based at Oshakati in northern Namibia, has apparently led to a number of resignations and detentions of soldiers.

Asked to comment yesterday, SWATF liaison officer, Commandant GRC Bester, said: "No comment." Commandant JP Botha, second-in-command of 101 Battalion, also declined to comment. He referred queries to other officers in the battalion, all of whom were unavailable.

The mutiny is the first significant sign of discontent among South African and allied forces with the invasion of southern Angola. It comes alongside growing concern about the number of South African fatalities in the conflict – 25 conscriptees, according to official figures and a rare admission by the South African military that its purpose is to bolster Unita in its fight against the MPLA government, described as "Russian and Cuban surrogates". 

Previously, the South Africans have claimed they invaded Angola only to counterSwapo's guerrilla war. The mutiny can be reported only because the SWATF does not fall under the Defence Act, which is being used to restrict unofficial accounts of the SA Defence Force's involvement in the Angolan conflict. One source, who claimed to have resigned very recently from 101 Battalion,alleged this week that more than 400 members of the SWATF unit "have gone on strike" at Oshakati and Mavinga in Angola.

A journalist who returned to Windhoek yesterday from the north confirmed that several independent sources in the area had reported a large number of 101 Battalion troops were refusing to fight in Angola. It was also reported that members of the unit were given Unita uniforms before going into Angola. The soldier who had resigned accused the SADF of using 101 Battalion members as "Unita mercenaries against our will. "I am one of those who resigned. I received my trainingat Oluno, with the aim and principle being to defend the Namibian border.

"In August this year, we were transported from the north to Mavinga, via Caprivi, to fight against our will on the side of Unita," he said. He said former Swapo guerrillas, who had become members of 101 Battalion, had been captured by Angolan Fapla troops at Mavinga and handed back to Swapo. "Fapla are using sophisticated weapons while we were only armed with light ones," he said. The soldier made an appeal to all Namibians who wished to join the SADF. "To go and fight Swapo in Angola is a crime against our society. To go and fight against Fapla in their own country is a fight against God's will," he said.

The SWATF has been described by members of the territory's interim go verment as "our own national army". Established in 1980, the SWATF claims 60 percent of the troops in the north are Namibians in the SWATF. Claimed to be a force larger than the armies of 39 African states, it consists of eight full-time battalions, 27 area force units, one reaction force brigade and a large number of support and training units.

Meanwhile, the Angolan news agency (Angop) yesterday said South African President PWBotha had made himself an outlaw when he illegally crossed the Angolan border last week and visited the southern region of the country.

South African Defence Minister Magnus Malan said last week Botha and several other ministers had recently visited the troops in southern Angola after what he described as clashes with Soviet and Cuban military units fighting alongside the regular Angolan army. Botha's presence in Angola, the Angop despatch said, "proves once again" that South Africa "isn't and never was" interested in a peaceful solution to conflict in the region. – Mark Verbaan

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

 

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