It must have seemed like de'ja' vu to members and visitors at our meeting
on 8 Feb, when fellow member Stephan Fourie gave us his graphic, earthy
narrative of his experiences in Southern Angola during operation Savannah
With slides and overheads he set the scene of a desolate countryside, where heat and dust, red ants and mosquitoes, boredom and absence of any creature comforts were often worse than the uniformed enemy. His base was mostly an Eland 90 Armoured Car with a 60 mm mortar.
A strange war was fought in the bush between the SADF and enemy uniformed troops whose allegiances ran not only along tribal but also political lines, and, in addition, were influenced by personal greed and criminal motivation. Our soldiers had to be alert at all times and know whom to trust. It was a cruel and senseless war between primitive people with no pardon given or taken and with women and children suffering the most on the one side, and the young men from the SADF on the other. They had to learn, and learn quickly how to react to the many atrocities they witnessed. It shaped the young soldiers' perceptions to life and death, and many became changed persons. They were not given the luxury of trauma counselling of which so much is talked about today, but had to overcome the dangers and cruelties on their own.
(Those of us who fought in WW II and afterwards might ponder how we managed to come to terms with our own experiences).
It was also not easy for them to distinguish between friend/ally and enemy,
because the Angolan and foreign soldiers wore a variety of their own or
captured uniforms; some spoke Portuguese, some only their own dialects.
Long stretches of boredom, the joy of evening parties, sudden attacks from an invisible enemy and the advance north, all this Stephan described in detail, and also read from a diary he kept for his time in Angola.
In November 75 he was flown up in C 130 Hercules to join Foxbat Group and received his first blooding during the battle for Ebbo that ended with an inglorious retreat.
Other stations in the string of successful military operations were Calueque, Pereira dEca, Roca des Cela and Santa Comba. There was Port Amboime and Sanga, with Bridge 14, Catofe and Qiebala being the northernmost points of operation Savannah.
A decided weakness was the lack of information the soldiers received, with individual units not knowing where the others operated, how the attacks were going, and the fact that operations were planned, controlled and interfered with by staff in far away Pretoria. (How often do military minds deplore this calamity but never seem to learn from it). With operation Savannah over, our speaker and his group went back to South Africa.
Fellow member Col Ossie Baker thanked the speaker for a colourful account of army life in the bush, and we hope Stephan will talk to us again on further aspects of his varied military career.
Stephan Fourie joined the SADF Armoured Corps in the early 70s, and went to the border in 1974. After completing his army service he studied at Stellenbosch and is now a successful businessman.
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