[Toespraak van generaal-majoor Marius (Mo) Oelschig, SAW (afg.) tydens die bekendstelling van die boek Ons was daar, saamgestel deur generaal Jannie Geldenhuys, uitgegee deur Kraal Uitgewers.]
General Geldenhuys has asked me to say a few words about Operations Moduler, Hooper and Packer. These operations constituted the decisive armed clashes between the forces of Savimbi’s UNITA movement, supported by elements of the SA Defence Force, and those of the Angolan and Cuban Armed Forces, supported by Soviet military advisors and massive, unprecedented Soviet logistic support. The operations took place exclusively in the south-east of Angola and spanned the period June 1986 to August 1988.
There are a number of books dealing specifically with this phase of the war in Angola. Recommended reading are the books The War for Africa by Fred Bridgland, South Africa’s Border War by Willem Steenkamp and War in Angola – The Final South African Phase by Helmoed-Römer Heitman. The latter provides a detailed tactical explanation of all the battles that took place. I will in no way attempt to here summarise this excellent piece of contemporary military research. What I do want to say is that an entire section of General Geldenhuys’ new book, twenty-seven chapters in all, is dedicated to Operations Moduler, Hooper and Packer. These are not one-eyed, sensation-seeking articles by newspaper hacks nor are they political spin by party-political propagandists; they are the personal stories of the men who were there.
You may now wish to ask why so much emphasis is being placed on just these operations when there were dozens more that took place elsewhere in Angola and SWA/Namibia at the same time. Allow me to explain.
At the time of Gen Magnus Malan’s death in July of this year the Sunday Times journalist Chris Barron wrote a biased, vituperative and totally unacceptable so-called obituary that appeared in the newspaper on 24 July. Besides being in very poor taste it is also exceptionally poor journalism, reflecting the on-going decline of a once-great South African newspaper. Furthermore the article slanders several generations of patriotic South African servicemen and women, without whose sterling service and dedication to duty this country would be nothing more than just another failed African State. Such slander cannot go unanswered and the soldiers’ stories in this book prove the lie of Barron’s message. Unfortunately his bias and vitriol provides grist to the mill of the ever-active anti-SA Defence Force lobby that continues unabated with its dissemination of Soviet-style propaganda and lies in an attempt to distort or to re-write the history, particularly the military history, of this country. Allow me to quote a single example.
Writing for The Independent as recently as 20 July 2011 the journalist Gavin Evans wrote that South Africa’s military support for UNITA “……. came to an end in 1988 when the SADF failed to take the town of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola, which prompted their retreat and a series of setbacks at the hands of the Cubans….”
This, and similar slanted and hopelessly inaccurate commentary, is nothing but an echo of the message put about internationally by, amongst others, the Cuban propaganda machine. To what purpose, you ask? Quite simply to justify the loss of thousands upon thousands of Cuban soldiers in far-off Angola; sacrificial cannon-fodder in pursuit of that failed ideology of communist global domination. Then, the old dictator Fidel Castro also needs to leave a legacy similar to that of the other revolutionary icon, yet hopelessly inadequate, Ché Guevara – and “Hero of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale” appears to be the peg upon which he hopes to hang his rather shabby reputation. Yet, like so much else regarding the chimera of el Paraiso Cubano, there never was a Battle of Cuito Cuanavale.
The contribution to this book by the late Brig-Gen Junior Botha is particularly relevant. He was a senior staff officer at the Directorate of Operations at Army HQ at the time. He was consequently personally aware of every single directive, order and other operational correspondence between the Higher (Army) HQ and all subordinate HQs. He was fully aware of the strategy, plans and intentions of commanders in Pretoria and on the front. His detailed explanations make mince-meat of the arguments and opinions of the armchair critics, providing valuable insight into the level of strategic thought behind these operations. His conclusion is blunt and to the point – there never was a Battle of Cuito Cuanavale.
The myth of such a battle is, unfortunately, supported by the ruling party in our country for its own political purposes. Having come to power in South Africa it suits them to create the impression that the SADF was “defeated” in Angola. And this is not without precedent for, as the author Charles Frazier says in his book Thirteen Moons dealing with the dispossession and forced removal of the Cherokees in America, “…… it’s generally the victors who get to make up the stories and furthermore that they have a great deal of leeway in regard to adherence to facts and especially interpretation and opinions, not to mention outright lies.” All we can do is pen our recollections and tell our stories in the hope that the generations of children to come, and possibly the odd serious researcher or military historian, will read them, consider them and embrace them. Read the book and learn the truth from the men that were there.
So, in conclusion, allow me to summarise the basic facts regarding Operations Moduler, Hooper and Packer.
- In 1986 five FAPLA conventional brigades launched an offensive against Mavinga and Jamba in south-eastern Angola. Their aim was the military destruction of UNITA.
- The SA Defence force deployed a limited number of conventional forces in support of UNITA. Their aim was to prevent the capture of Mavinga and to drive the FAPLA forces back to Cuito Cuanavale from whence they had come.
Only politicians, denialists and propagandists could ever manufacture a Cuban victory from the embarrassing disaster that ensued. The result was an epic, resounding military victory for the South African forces that participated in this historic campaign. Nothing can ever deny them that honour. Read about it in this book!
My final words are directed at all the men and women of the South African Armed Forces, past and present. Whilst we should forever honour our own heroes let us also honour our foes, especially the fallen, and respect them all in the spirit of the universal Brotherhood of Warriors. Let us take pride in our military achievements and not allow anyone to deny or to vitiate our glorious military heritage. We should rather build upon the sterling example of those that went before us. And before we ever question the manner in which the SADF persecuted the Border War we should take serious heed of the following advice taken from the historical novel Excalibur by Bernard Cornwell (page 192):
Only a fool wants war, but once a war starts then it cannot be fought half-heartedly. It cannot even be fought with regret, but must be waged with a savage joy in defeating the enemy. A man should love peace, but if he cannot fight with all his heart then he will not have peace.
Thank you all, and enjoy the book.
[Om die boek te bestel teen R300 (posgeld uitgesluit), SMS die woord ‘GRENS’ na 34388.]