'Mercenary town' to be razed

The majority of the 64 coup “foot soldiers” imprisoned in Zimbabwe last March on their way to an abortive coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea were released on Thursday, following a Zimbabwe High Court order that they be deported back to South Africa.

But their future is bleak. Members of the former South African Defence Force’s crack 32 Battalion, they have been told that their 15-year tenure at Pomfret, a former asbestos-mining town in North West province, will end in July. The town — including about 700 houses, a school, churches, shops and a cemetery where the remains of soldiers who died in combat are buried — will be razed to the ground.

About 6 000 former Angolans were settled there in 1989 and given South African citizenship as part of the defence force’s obligation to its allies during the Angolan War.

The unit was disbanded in 1993, creating a reservoir of skilled former soldiers from which mercenary outfits such as Executive Outcomes have drawn hundreds of hired guns for more than a decade. In addition to last year’s abortive Equatorial Guinea coup, 32 Battalion veterans were used in Angola, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to a former military intelligence officer, it took “no more than four telephone calls” to mobilise a mercenary force in the past. Determined to stamp out the country’s image as what Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has called “a cesspool of mercenaries”, South Africa introduced stringent anti-mercenary legislation in 1998.

However, both the recent coup plot and the exodus of about 8 000 former security force members to Iraq as employees of private military companies contracted by the United States administration have exposed loopholes in the law, expected to be plugged by Parliament over the next few months.

The forced removal of the Pomfret community, officially ascribed to the danger of asbestosis, is seen by observers as an attempt to break up the “ready-made” army of unemployed war vets.

Announcing the move, which will cost the military about R50-million, Brigadier General BJ Moerane said residents would be relocated to wherever alternative accommodation was available, but that this would not be as a group. Those who do not want to move have the option of returning to Angola, where they fear reprisals from their former enemies.

Coup lawyer probed for ’unethical conduct’

A year after the Equatorial Guinea coup attempt was torpedoed, the saga smoulders on. Now the international lawyer acting for the government of Equatorial Guinea is being probed for unethical conduct by the British Law Society, writes MarlÃ

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