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Apartheid brass blamed for Cassinga massacre

OWN CORRESPONDENT, Windhoek | Monday 6.50pm.

THE Truth and Reconciliation Commission has blamed former South African army chief Lieutenant General Constand Viljoen, former air force chief RH Rodgers, and their political masters — the late prime minister John Vorster and defence minister PW Botha — for the Cassinga massacre of 1978, in which over 600 people are believed to have died.

The commission, in its report issued late last week, describes the apartheid-era South African Defence Force raid on Swapo’s camp at Cassinga, southern Angola, as possibly the most controversial single operation the TRC dealt with in its two-and-a-half-year mandate.

The TRC also described the brutal attack in which many women and children died as also a violation of Angola’s territorial sovereignty and the occasion of gross human rights violations against civilian occupants of the military camp.

Code-named Operation Reindeer, the Cassinga raid formed only part of the operation. There were also attacks on a number of Swapo facilities in and around Chetequera (an area known to Swapo as “Vietnam”) where more than 300 Namibians were killed and a large number captured.

These prisoners – “between 200 and 300 in all”, according to SADF statistics – were taken to the Oshakati military base where many were tortured. Nearly two years later, in January 1980, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that 118 of them were still being held at a detention centre near Mariental. Some 1200 people — “South West African, Angolan, Cuban and South African” — died; more than 600 others, overwhelmingly South West Africans and Angolans, were wounded in the attacks on Cassinga and Chetequera that day. Some probably died later from their wounds, the TRC reported.

In addition, several hundred were captured at Chetequera. No prisoners, or perhaps at most a handful, were taken from Cassinga

The official death toll, according to an Angolan government White Paper, was 624, of whom 159 were men — only 12 of them soldiers — 167 women and 298 teenagers. In addition, 611 South West Africans were wounded in the attack. These were largely victims of the initial bombing attack. The dead were buried in two mass graves. –The Namibian

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