South African Military History 

P.O. BOX 12926


Our speaker on 12 August 2010 was Mr Cloete Breytenbach, the well-known journalist/ photographer and brother of Col Jan Breytenbach, one of South Africa's most distinguished soldiers, as well as Breyten Breytenbach, the author. Mr Breytenbach was a war correspondent during Portugal's war in Angola, documenting the decades-long civil war that erupted in 1961. Interwoven with this was South Africa's Border War which lasted until 1988. He is the author of Savimbi's Angola, an widely-acclaimed pictorial history - sadly now out of print and which is now a piece of Africana, much sought-after by book collectors and historians of those fateful years of conflict in Angola and South West Africa/Namibia.

Mr Breytenbach's talk was illustrated with a presentation with a series of excellent photographs of UNITA in the Angolan bush - most of which was taken in situ by himself. The first few of these showed Portuguese conscripts serving in Angola. At the time, Portugal was the poorest country in Europe and the conscripts came from the poorest elements of Portuguese society. Many had never worn shoes prior to their military service.

There were three phases in the Angolan revolutionary war - the uprisings of 1961, the limited struggle lasting from 1962 to 1966, followed by the extended war from 1967 which lasted until the coup in Portugal on 25 April 1974.The revolutionary parties were the UPA which later merged with the Angolan National Liberation Front to form the FNLA and the Angolan Peoples Liberation Movement or MPLA. A third movement, UNITA, started up - this was based largely in the South of Angola.

When the first uprisings took place in 1961, the Portuguese Army launched a counter-offensive which was its first major military action since the end of the First World War! They later built up the largest armed force in Southern Africa, which included many African soldiers. By 1973, Portuguese forces in Africa numbered some 230 000, of which 100 000 were Europeans.

General Antonio de Spinola's book Portugal and the Future was published on 23 February 1974. His main contention was that there was no military solution to the war in Africa. He favoured the establishment of a broad Lusitanian community including Brazil, i.e. all of the Portuguese-speaking world, founded on the progressive autonomy of its constituent member states.

On 25 April 1974, there was a military coup in Portugal which resulted in Angola being given a choice between federation with Portugal and complete independence. In Angola, the three independence movements rejected a referendum and the struggle for power had a bloody start. UNITA concluded a ceasefire with the Portuguese and invited the white settlers to join their movement. FNLA agreed to a ceasefire on 12 October 1974 and the MPLA followed on 21 October 1974.

Our speaker described his long and cordial relationship as a war correspondent with the UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi and the time he spent with him in the bush. This was quite unlike his experiences in Vietnam and in other wars. There were no conducted tours for war correspondents and he had to either hitch a lift and initially arrived unannounced at their main operational base, no questions asked and no explanation given! In time he was accepted and trusted and often accompanied the military cadres on the various missions or treks when UNITA frequently moved camps for the reason of security - this often involved walks cross-country for weeks on end! He described Jonas Savimbi as highly educated and a most diplomatic person. When Mr Breytenbach first accompanied UNITA's forces, they were highly effective guerrillas but, when they were given rations, uniforms and more modern weapons, they became reluctant to fight.

Mr Breytenbach referred to another book he had written about Savimbi and the UNITA movement (commissioned by Savimbi himself) to promote the image and cause of the movement in Europe and elsewhere overseas. He explained that every page of the draft of the book was vetted and signed off by an Angolan liaison officer named Wilson Jamba, who specially came to Cape Town for this task. When the book was published it contained a picture of Savimbi with Pik Botha, South Africa's Foreign Minister at the time. Savimbi had wanted a picture of himself with PW Botha in the book and was extremely angry when this happened as he disliked Pik Botha intensely. On a subsequent visit to the UNITA headquarters, our speaker noticed a group of women sitting with piles of the publication in question, carefully cutting out the page with the offending photograph on it! Our speaker was taken to task for this by Savimbi and when he explained that the blame lay with the liaison officer who approved the publication, the matter was dropped. However, when our speaker made enquiries about the whereabouts and well-being of Wilson (he found him a very likeable and well-educated person), he was met with a wall of silence - atypical of Africa and its inhabitants - and evasiveness about his well-being and whereabouts. He subsequently discovered that the unfortunate liaison officer was eliminated on the personal orders of Savimbi for his unforgivable sin!!

In the 18 months following the coup in Portugal in April 1974 up to Angolan independence on 11 November 1975, Portugal failed to control the discord which had developed between the movements. Although the three movements had agreed to the formation of a transitional government of national unity to organize elections prior to independence, hundreds of Angolans died in factional fighting.

The Russians and Cubans, aided by the pro-Communist bloc in the Portuguese government, installed the MPLA regime which Admiral Rosa Coutinho (nicknamed the "Red Admiral" for his pro-communist sympathies), the representative of the Portuguese Government in Angola, considered to be the "the only force capable of directing Angola". By March 1975, a large quantity of Russian weaponry, including armoured cars, heavy artillery and rocket launchers, had begun to arrive in Angolan ports.

Mr Breytenbach described his experiences as a war correspondent and explained how he had built up trust with the UNITA forces. He had been allowed to sit in on meetings and was well looked after by the South African Defence Force. He also reminiscenced about some of his previous assignments in Africa spoke with bitterness about an irresponsible journalist who "invented" the "biggest battle in Central Africa" to keep his editor happy and augment his income to sustain his above-average lifestyle! Other newspaper editors complained to their reporters about their failure to report on this "very important event" which was only a figment of the very fertile imagination of the war correspondent concerned, who was anxious to justify his expenses at the end of the month!

Our speaker described an excellent book produced and written by the Angolan Department of Agitation and Propaganda - somewhat biased perhaps! He also spoke of the seven-storey building housing the well-run Angolan archives which are easily accessible to all. The book was presented to Mr Breytenbach by President dos Santos in person.

Our speaker then briefly discussed the war that followed after 1975 within Angola, the Cuban intervention and the border war which followed along the South West African (now Namibian) border. Excellent photographs depicting all of the phases of the Angolan civil war and the South African involvement in the South illustrated his talk. These vividly showed the beauty of the country with its colonial-era and well-developed coffee and other plantations that all went to waste or were neglected, as well as the massive destruction caused by the civil war on the one hand and the ideological power struggle between the East and the West, on the other.

Having finished the first half of his presentation, he then showed a DVD that he produced of a visit of South African Border War veterans during 2009 to the erstwhile battlefields of Angola during the conflict that ravaged the country in the 1970s/1980s. He accompanied his brother, Col Jan Breytenbach, who acted as tour guide. He explained that many thousands of landmines are still buried all over Angola where they continue to indiscriminately kill and maim innocent people and animals alike. Perhaps the most memorable battlefield visited by the group was Cassinga where Col Breytenbach met one of the men he had fought there and who showed him the scars of his wounds. The South Africans joined with their Angolan hosts in saying a prayer for the fallen buried in mass graves in Cassinga - the same graves that were so callously exploited for propaganda purposes and political gain in the last few decades. South African casualties on that day were four killed, one missing and sixteen wounded. The video showed graphically the damage caused by the war, very little of which has been repaired in the 20-odd years since the end of the war. Pictures of a new Chinese-built railway line were also of interest, as this is representative of the massive investment and aid by China in the war-ravaged country (although their built infrastructure, like roads, quite often leave much to be desired!). Our speaker described the difficulties encountered when one the members of the South African group required medical attention and the distances which had to be covered to obtain medical assistance. For those of us who had not served in Angola, it was interesting to see the country and towns visited by the group.

Mr Breytenbach then recounted the sad end of Jonas Savimbi's notable career after he thought that he had ended his long fight with his political enemies. In order not to compromise his whereabouts and divulge his location to his enemies, mainly the FAPLA forces of the MPLA government, he used his satellite phone only very briefly and immediately changed his location whenever having done so. This was absolutely necessary to prevent his position being compromised through the electronic intelligence counter-measures continuously performed by his opponents in their effort to capture or kill him. On the fateful occasion when he was ambushed by government special forces, one of his bodyguards used his satellite phone without his knowledge and so compromised their location. The following day the government forces - having located their position through radio-triangulation - ambushed, shot and fatally wounded Jonas Savimbi in the ensuing fire-fight. With his demise, UNITA's new leaders were willing to come to the peace-table and this rapprochement can be viewed as the official end of the long, drawn-out civil war that devastated this beautiful country and destroyed the social, economic and physical infrastructure throughout most of southern Angola - an area equivalent to the surface area of France!

The chairman thanked Mr Breytenbach for his most interesting talk and presented him with the customary gift.



We welcome Mr T Bevan who joined the Branch during the last month and hope that we will see him at future monthly meetings.

If you have not yet paid your subscriptions, we would appreciate receiving your remittance as soon as possible. Thank you to all who have paid.



The Official History of the South African Naval Forces during the Second World War 1939 to 1945 is now available from the Naval Heritage Trust, P O Box 521 Simon's Town 7995, at a cost of R250 plus R30 postage. Please deposit the correct amount into the Naval Heritage Trust account at Standard Bank, Fish Hoek, Branch Code 036009, account 072102276. Send a copy of your deposit slip and address to the above address or Email to

Fellow committee member, Cdr Mac Bisset, has published a book South African Recipients of the Pacific Star or Clasp, a record of the South Africans who served in the Pacific during World War 2. It may be purchased from City Coins at a cost of R170 including postage. Contact auctions@city

There are still a few copies left of the two titles that well-known author and one-time member of this branch, Mr Ian Uys, has offered at a special rate to members of the branch. The two books, dealing with maritime disasters/shipwrecks around South Africa's coastline, as well as incidents of South African historical interest, are:

- SURVIVORS OF AFRICA'S OCEANS (1993), 184 pp., Paperback. The book deals with shipping disasters and incidents dating back to Portuguese and Dutch seafarers, the Waratah incident, WWI (Mendi), WWII (Laconia, Nova Scotia & Llanduff Castle), postwar (Klipfontein) and more recently, the Oceanos incident. Normal retail price: R220,00. Price for branch members: R190,00
- OCEANOS: SURVIVOR'S STORIES (2010), 184 pp., Paperback. The book recounts the reminiscences and personal experiences of the survivors and the story of the amazing sea rescue performed by the brave crews of the South African Air Force. Normal retail price: R195,00. Price for branch members: R165,00

(As we had only ten copies of each, members wanting a copy are urged to act before are sold - please contact the chairman, Johan van den Berg, who handles the sales on behalf of Fortress Publishers. Tel: 021-939-7923 - Cell: 082-579-0386 - Email:

DVD: ANGOLA: Van Konflik tot Hoop ('n Besoek aan die Bosoorlog slagvelde van die jare 1975 tot 1988 - en die Angola van vandag). Produced and marketed by Mr Cloete Breytenbach. The DVD is a copy of the original marketed at R200,00 per copy, but now available in a budget packaging for only R85,00. Copies of the DVD will be on sale at the next meeting.



A Ghost Laid To Rest?? Memories of a Child Prisoner of War in Java during World War Two by Prof Herman de Groot

Our speaker, a well-known gynaecologist and professor in medicine, will share some of his boyhood memories of the Dutch East Indies under occupation by the Japanese Imperial Forces during World War Two.

H.M.S. DORSETSHIRE: Flagship, Africa Station: 1933 -1935' by John Parkinson

Our speaker, well-known in naval circles for his excellent illustrated talks on naval subjects, will be on a visit to Cape Town in October and has kindly agreed to present a talk - on the subject of the H.M.S. Dorsetshire - to the Cape Town Branch. The topic covers the commissioning of the ship and service with the Africa Station from 1933 to 1936, when Vice-Admiral "Teddy" Evans (member of Scott's ill-fated expedition to Antarctica, 1910-13) was C.-in-C. of the Africa Station. The talk will also deal with the ship's pre-war visits to S.A. ports (Simon's Town, PE, Durban, etc.), as well as the Royal Visit by Prince George in 1934, the cruises to Mocambique, Madagascar, West Africa, etc. Lastly an overview of her WWII career, which included participating in the sinking of the Bismarck, will conclude the talk.

SUBJECT: Still to be determined. SPEAKER: Simon Norton

Details of the last lecture for the year will follow with the next newsletter.

BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Scribe
Phone: Home: (evenings) 021-689-1639
Office: (mornings) 021-689-9771

Phone: 021-592-1279 (office hours)

South African Military History Society /