South African Military History 

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Our speaker on 14 August 2014 was Mr Stephan Fourie, whose topic was the “Gukurahundi” which took place in Zimbabwe during 1982. This was a tribal conflict - African style - which could well be called an ethnic cleansing and was an event of which little is known. Our speaker noted that what happened in Zimbabwe in 1982 was not unique nor was it the worst of these frequent ethnic cleansings and inter-tribal conflicts.

He listed some of these tribal conflicts which are the scourge of Africa and which occurred in the second half of the 20th century. These were Sudan (1955, 1983, 2005, 2013 and ongoing), Nigeria/Biafra (1967, 1970), Angola (1975, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2002), Zimbabwe (1982), Uganda (1987 to 1991, 1987, 1994, 2002, 2005 and 2008 onwards), Liberia (1989 – 2005), Rwanda/Burundi (1993 – 2005) and Kenya (2008). Not an insubstantial list. But it is not a complete list – other countries could well be included, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Somalia and the countries of French West Africa.

Mr Fourie then explained why there was tension between the Matabele and the Mashona peoples in Zimbabwe. The Matabele originate from the Khumalo clan from Kwa-Zululand Natal. Under their chief Mzilikazi, they quarrelled with their Paramount Chief Shaka and fled from Natal in 1823. They first went to Mozambique and then, in 1826, settled in the Transvaal, subjugated and assimilated lesser tribes, and became known as the Ndebele tribe.

The Boers defeated the Ndebele in 1836 and they fled across the Limpopo towards Zambia. The tsetse fly drove them south again and they settled in the southeastern part of what is now Zimbabwe, in Matabeleland, where their main kraal was known as Gu-Bulawayo. Matabele impis frequently raided and plundered Shona villages and destroyed the Shona Chaangamire Rozvi State in the 1830’s, demanding tribute. The Mashona remained in subjugation to the Matabele until the white settlers broke the power of the Ndebele and enforced peace under colonial rule.

In 1963, part of the main Rhodesian opposition party ZAPU broke away to form ZANU which drew its support from the Shona regions. Most of the remaining ZAPU supporters came from Ndebele speaking regions in the west. During the Freedom Struggle the armed forces of the two parties, ZAPU’s Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) and ZANU’s Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) vied for the support of the people and fought each other.

When Zimbabwe gained independence, the two armed forces distrusted each other so much that that it was almost impossible to integrate them into the new National Army. So trouble loomed.

Our speaker explained that very little hard evidence exists of the full extent of the atrocities perpetrated by Mugabe’s notorious North Korean trained 5th Brigade in 1982. Whole areas were cordoned off and no reporters or cameras were permitted. The only information available came from research done by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and the Legal Resources Foundation, who succeeded in obtaining information from survivors who risked being murdered by providing it. Mr Fourie has in his archives a number of photographs which are evidence of the torture and maiming committed by Mugabe’s 5th Brigade. These are too gruesome to be shown to our members. Understandably the Matabele people have not forgotten these atrocities but continue to live in fear of Mugabe’s secret police.

Our speaker posed the question whether the critical variables at play in Africa were the legacy of colonialism or simply the mechanics of a pre-feudal people unable to develop. He also questioned whether Africa was really ready for true democracy or was this concept merely abused by some to establish total control by other means which may simply be fronts for avarice and greed.

He then discussed the four characteristics of African tribal conflicts:

  1. An inability to overcome ethic-based conflict which prevents nation building and which is a pre-condition for developing beyond a feudal clan level.
  2. An inability to develop past a barter system to an industrialized economy.
  3. Leadership that tends to regress into dictatorship.
  4. All African conflicts are marred by their cruelty, which surpasses similar conflicts in other parts of the world largely by the phenomena of torture and maiming.
Our speaker then looked at each of the other conflicts listed at the beginning of this talk, listing their particular characteristics.
The Southern Sudan is inhabited primarily by black Christians and animists, who regard themselves culturally as sub-Saharan. Most of Northern Sudan is inhabited by Muslims who are culturally Arabic. The Sudan was granted its independence in 1953 from the United Kingdom and Egypt.

From the start there were tensions between the north and the south and the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) was formed. The conflict was an ethno-religious one in which the Muslim central government’s efforts to impose sharia law on the non-Muslim southerners led to violence. This degenerated into civil war. The situation was worsened by the discovery of significant oilfields in the south and the north wanted to control these. The SSLM restructured into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the civil war continued for a number of years until Southern Sudan became independent. However, the conflict sputtered on and, in addition, there was also tribal conflict which turned into a still-ongoing small but violent civil war between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups.

The civil war in Nigeria in the years 1967 to 1970, which became the Biafran War, was an ethnic and political conflict caused by the attempted secession of the south-eastern provinces of Nigeria as the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra. This conflict was the result of economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions between the Northern Hausa and the Ibos of the south-east. The fact that the south is rich in oil also contributed to the clashes. The war lasted two and a half years and a million civilians died from famine and fighting. There were many deaths from starvation in some of the besieged provinces in the south-west and this led to claims of genocide being laid by the largely Ibo Southerners.

In the 27 year period from 1975 to 2002, Angola endured three periods of major fighting: from 1975 to 1991; from 1992 to 1994; and from 1998 to 2002. These were interspersed by periods of fragile peace.

By the time the MPLA finally became victorious in 2002, more than half a million people had perished and more than a million had been displaced internally. The wars had devastated Angola’s infrastructure and severely damaged the nation’s public administration, economic enterprises and religious institutions.

Our speaker had recently been on a battlefield tour of southern Angola and had been shocked to see how many trees had been chopped down for use as firewood. He had seen only two birds during his trip. The roads are in a bad condition and the countryside of Angola is today a barren, sad and impoverished environment.

The three rebel movements had their roots in the anti-colonial movements of the 1950’s. The MPLA was primarily an urban based movement in Luanda and the surrounding area. It was largely made up of Mbundu people. By contrast, the other two major movements were largely rural – the FNLA largely consisted of the Bakongo people from the north of Angola and UNITA which mainly comprised the Ovimbundu people from the central highlands and the south.

In a power struggle in Uganda during 1978, Amin’s vice president and rival Gen Mustafa Adrisi was killed. This resulted in reprisals which escalated into a civil war which involved Ugandan refugees who were allied to Tanzania and fought against Ugandan and Libyan troops. Uganda declared war on Tanzania and sent troops to occupy the Kageera region of Tanzania, an area which Amin had long regarded as part of Tanzania. Tanzania then invaded Uganda and, after a brief reversal at Masaka, defeated Amin’s troops. Amin then fled, first to Libya and finally to Saudi Arabia.

The period following the ousting of Amin was a time of intense competition and fighting for power among different groups of political and ethnic rivals. This culminated in the Ugandan Bush War between the government of Milton Obote’s UNLA, consisting mainly of ethnic Acholi and Lango tribes, and the National Resistance Army [NRA].

Leadership differences between the Acholi and Lango gave the NRA an advantage. Obote’s UNLA were defeated and Obote fled the country. The Acholi reorganized themselves and formed the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) operating from southern Sudan with the intention of establishing a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments and Acholi traditions. The war is still in progress, known as the ADF insurgency.

The country of Liberia was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves. The indigenous Liberian tribes had been excluded from power since 1847. Samuel Doe took power in a popular coup in 1980, becoming the first Liberian President of non-Americo-Liberian descent. Any hope that Doe would improve the manner in which the country was governed faded when he quickly clamped down on the opposition. Doe’s subsequent preferential treatment given to the Krahn tribe, to which he belonged, fuelled ethnic tension in the country and this turned to violence.

In the case of Rwanda/Burundi, the Burundian civil war was an armed conflict which lasted from 1993 to 2005, which was caused by long-standing ethnic divisions between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes in Burundi. Both of these territories were part of Belgium’s African empire. Both countries were granted independence by the Belgians in 1962 as separate countries.

The fighting began following the first multi-party elections since independence from Belgium in 1962. The conflict was seen to have formally ended with the swearing in of Pierre Nkurunziza in August 2005.

When preparing the two territories for independence, the Belgians had suggested the formation of a Federation but this was not acceptable to either party. They split and became separate countries. The Tutsi dominated and after the murder of the first Hutu democratically elected president of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, violence broke out between the two tribes resulting in the large-scale slaughter of Tutsi. This was known as the Tutsi Genocide.

Ndadaye’s successor Cyprien Ntaramira was assassinated in the same plane crash as the Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. This resulted in the Tutsi-dominated army rounding up thousands of Hutu peasants who were then slaughtered. This, in turn, was known as the Hutu Genocide.

A United Nations peacekeeping force was stationed in the area but this was totally ineffectual and unable to stop the slaughter. The armies of both countries are currently involved in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as are forces from other African states.

Finally, our speaker looked at Kenya. Here, in the run-up to the 2007 elections, the two coalitions vying for government, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the Party of National Unity (PNU), were strongly supported by ethnically-rooted political constituencies.

The ODM was backed by the Luo, Luhya and Kalenjin tribes, represented in the Nyanza and Western provinces and in the Rift Valley. The PNU is backed by the Kikuyu tribe based in the Central and Eastern Provinces and also in Nairobi, the coast and the Rift Valley. The result has been violence between the two groups of supporters and this has been exacerbated by cross border violence with Muslim extremist groups coming across the border from Somalia.

Our Vice Chairman Mr Alan Mountain thanked our speaker for a most informative, interesting and thought-provoking talk and recalled his own experiences in Angola when it was still a Portuguese colony and said how sad he was to learn of the present state of affairs in that country. He then presented Mr Fourie with the customary gift.

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Responses in South Africa to the outbreak of WWI: The Afrikaner Response and the 1914 Rebellion *

When the First World War broke out in August 1914, the British Government called upon the dominions in the British Empire to come to its assistance. The South African Prime Minister, General Louis Botha declared his government’s wholehearted support for the defence of the British Empire. The Union government was asked to send an army to conquer German-South West Africa.

Botha agreed to raise an army of the newly formed South African Defence Force, established in 1912. Before the invasion could take place Botha needed the support of Parliament. A special session of Parliament held on 9 September 1914 voted in favour of the invasion. The South African Party was supported by the Labour Party and the Unionists. Herzog’s National Party voted against the invasion. A number of high profile Afrikaner figures such as General Jacobus Herculaas de la Rey (known as General Koos de la Rey), General Christiaan de Wet, Major J.C. Kemp Commandant-General C.F. Beyers and Lieutenant-Colonel Manie Maritz were against the invasion of South West-Africa (SWA).

When rumours began circulating that the government was planning to conscript civilians for the campaign, opposition amongst ordinary Afrikaners increased. Both Beyers and Kemp resigned from the army, and joined the others in urging Afrikaners into open rebellion against the government.

On 15 September 1914, de la Rey and Beyers left Pretoria for the military camp at Potchefstroom, Western Transvaal to have discussions with Kemp and other senior army officers. However, de la Rey was killed by a police patrol bullet when their car failed to stop at a police roadblock. de la Rey’s death heightened emotions around the SWA campaign, especially as it was suspected that he had been killed deliberately.

The day after his funeral and burial at Lichtenberg, about an hour and half drive from Potchefstroom, Kemp, Beyers and de Wet addressed a large crowd at Lichtenberg, calling on protest meetings against the invasion of SWA all over the country. When Maritz, commander of the military camp at Upington (Northern Cape) rebelled against the decision to invade South West Africa, commandos were formed in the Orange Free State (OFS) and Transvaal.

On 22 October the leaders of the rebellion decided at Koppies that de Wet and Beyers would lead the rebels in the OFS and Transvaal. The rebel forces now numbered 7,000 in the Free State, 3,000 in the Transvaal and 2,000 in the Cape.

Botha had to postpone the invasion of SWA and concentrate on putting down the rebellion. On 12 November 1914, de Wet, who led the rebels in the OFS, was defeated at Mushroom Valley, north-east of Bloemfontein. He was eventually arrested near Kuruman, Northern Cape while fleeing.

Beyers’ force in the Western Transvaal was also defeated on 16 November and he drowned in the Vaal River while attempting to escape with a few of his men. Jopie Fourie still held on near Pretoria, and succeeded in dealing government troops a considerable blow. He eventually surrendered on 16 December, and was court-martialled and sentenced to death. He was executed on the 20 December.  Maritz and Kemp still fought on in the North–Western Cape, but succumbed to government forces on 2 February 1915. Kemp was jailed along with other rebel leaders while Maritz fled to German South West Africa.

Socio-economic background to the 1914 Rebellion

The 1914 Rebellion against the Union government has generally been seen as an example of the resurgence of Afrikaner nationalism and a desire to return to the pre-Anglo-Boer War days of the independent Boer republics. The immediate cause of the rebellion was thus the Union Government’s decision to send troops to invade German South West Africa on behalf of the British Government.

Historian Sandra Swart, however, has strongly contested this interpretation. She argues that this view of the 1914 rebellion is informed by a perspective that looks at the rebellion solely in terms of those who led it, such as wealthy farmers, civil servants and a number of builders and contractors (Swart: 2000:161). Historians have generally neglected the motivations of the rank and file participants in the rebellion. These were made up primarily of poor, destitute farmers and bywoners (poor tenants on farms).

According to Swart, this group’s social position within Boer society on the platteland (rural areas) had become progressively eroded as a result of agricultural policy. The discovery of minerals led to increasing capitalisation of agriculture and after the Anglo-Boer War, an increasing division between wealthy landowners and bywoners developed. The latter was also being displaced by Black sharecroppers who were often preferred by wealthy farmers.

The ownership of land among poor farmers became increasingly tenuous as many were forced to sell their land in fertile areas and move to cheaper land in arid regions or leave the land and be forced to sell their labour in the gold mines on the Witwatersrand or become railway workers. (Swart: 2000: 166).

According to Swart, these men were desperate to return to the land and hence a restitution of their identity as farmers and patriarchs. Stirred up by nationalist rhetoric of re-establishing the old Boer republics, these men heeded the call to rebel in the hope of reclaiming their land. It was easy to gain their support as the Botha and Smuts government, despite numerous investigations into the ‘poor white problem’ had rejected measures of amelioration.

The 1906 Transvaal Indigency Commission argued against government intervention in the form of relief efforts such as debt moratorium, job fixing and government grants of and cattle to assist the returning ‘poor whites’ to the land. Although poor relief efforts in the form of employment projects were introduced after the Anglo-Boer War, these were unpopular as they meant giving up rights to the land. Many poor whites saw the relief efforts as temporary measures that would assist them in regaining ownership of land.

In 1912 the Land Bank also announced that it would no longer make loans available to non-landowners (Swart: 2000:170). Swart notes that areas of rebel strongholds were those such as Kopjes, where people were dependent on poor relief schemes. (Swart: 2000:171).

The loss of land did not just have economic consequences, it also resulted in a profound loss of identity. Proletarianisation and urbanisation meant a loss of status as farmer, patriarch and provider, and living in squalid urban conditions earning a meagre wage. While the rank and file participants of the rebellion were drawn from the ranks of poor farmers and bywoners, the leadership of the Rebellion was drawn from wealthy notables and men who wielded influence as a result of their iconic status as heroes of the Anglo-Boer War. These notables wielded power and influence in the old Boer republics as a result of their wealth and political office in the governments of the Boer Republics. Their motives for leading a rebellion were very different from the rank and file.

In the post Anglo-Boer war and the formation of union, the Milner administration attempted to co-opt the old Boer landed aristocracy into the administration of government and introduced measures to encourage them to capitalise. But not all members of the old landed ruling class accepted the new dispensation and yearned for a return to the old patriarchal hierarchy in which they wielded power and influence, not only over the state, but over poor farmers, bywoners and Black sharecroppers. The modernising Union state eroded the old republican order based on patron client relationships and a highly personalised, local patriarchal from of power and authority. (Swart: 2004: 4-5)

In the old Boer Republics, the veldkornet functioned as a link between the people and the state. He was the symbol of local authority, elected by the community, he was a vehicle for communicating grievances at local level. He played the role of a protector, often looking after the indigent, in particular widows with children. He was responsible for the administration of justice, health, maintenance of roads and management of contagious diseases. It was a position that allowed for upward mobility, often enabling them to accumulate property. Both Louis Botha, Premier of the Union, and rebel leaders de Wet and de la Rey were veldkornets. (Swart: 2004:3-4)

With the formation of Union, the role of the veldkornet was replaced by a modern bureaucracy of appointed officials with no roots in local society. The status of the veldkornet was also dependent on his status as landowner and his duties as a veldkornet placed him in an advantageous position for accumulating land. The new modernising Union state undermined this position and hence his authority and power. Many of the ex-veldkornets formed the second tier leadership in the rebellion. They wielded powerful influence as a result of their direct contacts with farmers on a local level, and their direct line of access to iconic leaders such as de la Rey. It was this layer that was able to draw their supporters into the rebellion. As local patriarchs they commanded a huge amount of loyalty amongst local farmers and impoverished bywoners. It was this layer of leadership that was able to activate the old kinship networks of the commandos of the Anglo-Boer War. The relationships within these commandos mirrored the familial patriarchal system of the Boer family where the leader of a commando was regarded as a father figure of the younger members. In some cases many of the commando members were made up of close relatives and friends, strengthening the bonds of loyalty. (Swart: 2004:4)

* Swart, Sandra (2000). ''Desperate Men': The 1914 Rebellion and the Polities of Poverty' in South African Historical Journal, Vol. 42, No.1, pp. 161—175.
* Swart, Sandra (2004). “Men of Influence” – The Ontology of Leadership in the 1914 Boer Rebellion’ in Journal of Historical Sociology, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp.1-30.
* Muller, C.F. J. (1969). 500 Years: A History of South Africa, Pretoria and Cape Town: Academica, pp. 388- 390.

* With acknowledgment & thanks to South African History Online, for permission to reprint the article titled: Responses in South Africa to the outbreak of WWI: The Afrikaner Response and the 1914 Rebellion

The Editor
(Cape Town Branch)

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Forthcoming Meetings:


The speaker for the evening unfortunately had to cancel and the back-up speaker envisaged also was not available as he departs for a visit to the USA on the very same day. However, members have enjoyed the first two episodes of the above-mentioned series when shown in January, and also indicated an interest in viewing the rest of the series at an opportune time. The balance will be shown in two-episode increments whenever the opportunity presents itself, continuing with episodes 3 and 4 (in a series of 6 episodes) on the 11th. Episode 3 is titled Blood in the Air and deals with the new dimension of warfare as envisaged by Da Vinci: Aerial Warfare. Episode 4 is titled Killers of the Sea and describes naval warfare in all its dimensions as experienced a century ago, with special emphasis on another new innovation in warfare - the submarine.


The focus on the centenary of the First World War may overshadow another campaign which took place in South Africa from August to December 1914. It will probably slip unnoticed by most of the local press and not form part of any national debate. The Afrikaner Rebellion of 1914 had the potential of creating a serious political crisis, mostly within the northern parts of the infant Union of South Africa. However, the Rebellion’s relatively quick suppression was evidence of the superior power of the state. It also reflected the tendency of the enfranchised white community, and most importantly, its Afrikaner component, to oppose any movement which threatened to take South Africa back towards its recent past. A past personified by the divisive 1899-1902 South African War. Fortunately for the government, the insurrectionists were poorly organized with inconsistent motivations. They were also splintered across three disparate regions, with little coordination between them. The talk will specifically focus upon the causes and the course of the Rebellion. It will, however, refer to its effect on the following decades and question what effect this has had on the South Africa of 2014.

Dr Rodney Warwick is a member of the Cape Town Branch of the SAMHS He has presented lectures on a regular basis over the years on specific aspects of 20th century SA military history, which is his particular field of expertise. He has a personal link to World War One, of which he is particularly proud. His uncle, George W. Warwick - author of that brilliant WWI battlefield memoir, We Band of Brothers - fought with the Transvaal Scottish (SA Brigade) at Delville Wood.

BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Asst. Scribe
Phone: 021-689-1639 (Home)

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