Objectivity is an almost unattainable goal for social scientists in general and historians and political scientists in particular. Searching for the truth in a counterinsurgency campaign in which both the insurgents and the counterinsurgents were operating in a cloud of ideology and where they deliberately tried to undermine the truth in an effort to manage perceptions about the so-called threat and support for the war effort represent a real challenge. Applying Leopold von Ranke’s idea of ‘bloss zeigen, wie es eigentlich gewesen’ (simply show how it actually was) is simply impossible in the case of the South African counterinsurgency effort in South West Africa/Namibia and South Africa (Van Jaarsveld 1982: 74). Consequently, a comprehensive understanding of the South African counterinsurgency approach requires a broad effort to gain insight into the ideological, political, strategic, operational and tactical dimensions of the war. Writing about South African counterinsurgency, just like the unfolding of the counterinsurgency campaign between 1966 and 1994, is influenced, shaped and sometimes even dominated by three very particular considerations. The first factor is of a political nature and rooted in the harsh, often ideological, realities of the unfolding political landscape of the time. From an international and global perspective, the Cold War played itself out in southern Africa and had a defining influence on the ideological, political and military involvement of China, the former Soviet Union and Cuba in support of a variety of revolutionary organisations on the one hand, and the subtle indirect support of the West, particularly Britain and the United States, and the crumbling white-dominated states in southern Africa in general and South Africa in particular, on the other. At a continental level, it was a time of de-colonisation in Africa, and most of the wars in Southern Africa were seen, at least by the revolutionary movements, as wars of ‘national liberation’. At a national level, the apartheid ideology and subsequent policies reached its apex in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. In the same way that there is more to war than warfare, it is important to understand that, within the ideological context of the Cold War and de-colonisation, there was more to apartheid in South Africa than segregation and racism. Writing about South African counterinsurgency is, thus, often shaped by questions about a particular author’s position and nuanced understanding of the Cold War, de-colonisation and apartheid ideologies in Africa in general and southern Africa in particular. The influence of this factor is vividly demonstrated through Chester Crocker’s view that, in Angola, the United States finally managed to ‘win the Cold War in the Third World’ (Crocker 1992: 17). This view was countered by Shubin and Tokarev with questions such as ‘Who rules Namibia (currently): SWAPO or the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA)? Who becomes the President of Angola: Dos Santos or Savimbi? And who became the first President of democratic South Africa: Mandela or Buthelezi?’ (Shubin and Tokarev 2001: 607) A second factor that shaped South African counterinsurgency, and therefore also writing about the counterinsurgency, is of a strategic nature and concerns the South African strategic choices at the time. More specifically, the South African military made a (not necessarily deliberate) strategic choice to focus its military Schwerpunkt in Namibia and to leave the domestic South African situation largely for the police to deal with. This strategic reality was underpinned by a number of considerations. Most important was the nature of the perceived ANC-driven threat to apartheid South Africa. The ANC’s strategic approach was based on urban mass action by millions of South Africans through the trade unions, the United Democratic Front (UDF ), the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) and the thousands of individual actions and mass actions, as well as armed propaganda (O’Brien 2003: 63). And, as Anthea Jeffrey in her recently published book, People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa (2009; also see O’Brien 2003), clearly demonstrates, the National Party government never really considered the ANC

and its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, much of a military threat, or something that could not be dealt with by the South African Police. The military were therefore free to focus most of their effort on the counterinsurgency campaign in Namibia. Of course, the war in SWA/Namibia and Angola served a number of (political) purposes for the apartheid government – besides the strategic necessity of fighting the war itself. It kept the military – the most powerful tool of the apartheid state – out of domestic politics and controversy. There was a (proud) so-called ‘a-political’ tradition in the South African Defence Force (SADF), meaning that politics was never discussed and that there was (supposed to be) no individual involvement in politics.1 The truth is that no military can be un-political (in the sense of being non-political) and, as an organisation, the SADF was a key political player in SA at the time. The SADF, for example, was the key actor in the State Security Council that was seen by many as a sort of politburo of the apartheid state. One of the most controversial deeds of the De Klerk administration in the early 1990s was the ‘back to barracks’ message that was sent out by firing a number of SADF generals suspected of dirty tricks (Carlin 1992: 13). In the end, the military permeated every dimension of South African society. The militarisation of the South African society was indeed one of the ‘success stories’ of the apartheid government. The military became a power instrument admired by friend and feared by foe. In the domestic security environment, the SADF was always deployed ‘in support’ of the police. At the same time, though, the military was indirectly the senior partner through the mobilisation of the society at large. In addition, the war in SWA/Namibia and Angola provided the National Party government with tangible proof that it was making progress in the war against both the so-called swart and rooi gevaar (black and red danger). The extent to which these threats were creations of the National Party government itself is still an issue of intense debate. However, even the most extreme of autocratic governments need to keep their core constituency happy. The war in SWA/Namibia and Angola was a ‘clean’ war for white South African constituents. In typical heroic Afrikaner tradition, mothers could watch their sons go off to fight what they considered a ‘just war’ (SANDF Military Archives).2 The pre-emptive and follow-up cross-border operations in SWA/Namibia provided easy and tangible proof of the threat by highlighting dead PLAN guerrillas and captured Soviet equipment. Indeed, these tangible proofs of the threat were needed to mobilise the population or to keep them mobilised for the protracted nature of the counterinsurgency effort. Both the sense of threat and that of progress were essential elements of the SADF ’s internal and external warfighting efforts. It was strategically important for the National Party political and strategic decision-makers to maintain a buffer between itself and the swart and rooi gevaar. One of the successes of the South African government’s foreign policy was the extent to which it succeeded in keeping the Frontline States (FLS) from joining the fight in SWA/Namibia and Angola. This argument is rooted in the question about why the other FLS did not join the fight against the SADF forces in SWA/Namibia and Angola. To a considerable degree, the National Party government had economic leverage over these countries; some were struggling with their own internal challenges, while others, like Zimbabwe, were suffering from battle fatigue. From a South African perspective, the use of this economic leverage by the National Party government, however, was only part of the story (Potgieter 2007; Sanders 2006). For the South African government, it was strategically necessary to keep the fight against the SWAPO/Cuban/Russian forces in Angola from physically linking up with the internal fight by the ANC/PAC and others (Shubin 2008).3 The presence of the ANC and other SA freedom fighters in Angola provided ample proof to the South African government that there was a definite possibility that the fight in northern SWA/Namibia and Angola would shift to Namibia if the SADF withdrew from SWA/Namibia

and Angola. From this perspective, the war in SWA/Namibia and Angola was buying time for the National Party government in its effort to find solutions for a long list of items on the domestic political agenda. Another key factor in the strategic focus of the South African government and its military on SWA/Namibia and Angola was the need to be strategically effective. There was a fair chance that the military could play a key role in solving the problem in SWA/Namibia and Angola. It may be argued that the SADF was indeed strategically effective in the end in creating the battlefield stalemate in Angola and the impression in the minds of the belligerent forces (SWAPO/ Angola/Cuba/Russia) that they needed to talk about a political solution because there was not going to be a battlefield solution. This argument makes the debate about who won the so-called Battle of Cuito Cuanavale almost irrelevant since South Africa succeed in doing what it set itself out to do – to get the Cuban/Russian forces out of Angola as a prerequisite for Namibian independence. Because of the South African strategic prioritisation of the Namibian counterinsurgency, that particular campaign shaped the counterinsurgency doctrine that was eventually also employed domestically against the ANC and other so-called liberation movements. True understanding of South African counterinsurgency (and this is also reflected in the writings about that strategy and doctrine) necessitates a strong focus on South African military involvement in Namibia. A third factor that influences the writing and the professional and scholarly debate about South African counterinsurgency is the South African conventional military support for União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA) in the Angolan Civil War. South Africa, together with Zaire, CIA advisers and the forces of the Front for the National Liberation of Angola (FNLA), intervened in the Angolan Civil War for the first time in 1975. This intervention, known in South Africa as Operation Savannah, ended when South Africa withdrew its forces in 1976. Yet, by the mid 1980s, the South African military was sucked into the mud pool of the Angolan Civil War for the second time. South African operational and US equipment support for UNITA against the Cuban and Soviet-supported Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) forces in Angola resulted in the fiercest conventional battles on the African continent since the Second World War. Many of the authors, defence analysts and scholars writing about the South African military involvement in SWA/Namibia and Angola failed to distinguish between the South African counterinsurgency war against SWAPO within SWA/Namibia that sometimes led to pre-emptive operations into Angola on the one hand, and the South African conventional military support to UNITA against the combined MPLA, Cuban and Soviet forces in southeast Angola, on the other. This oversight often directs the analysis of the counterinsurgency campaign and doctrine. It leads to an overemphasis on the military dimensions of the counterinsurgency doctrine to the detriment of the often-successful non-military dimensions of the counterinsurgency campaign in Namibia (De Visser 2010). The oversight also meant that the debate about who won the so-called Battle of Cuito Cuanavale that shaped the outcome of the Angolan Civil War became a metaphor for the success (or failure) of the South African counterinsurgency in SWA/Namibia (Labuschagne 2009). The support of the South African ANC government for the view of the so-called destruction of the apartheid forces at Cuito Cuanavale reiterates this particular view (Sithole n.d.).