Gen. C.L. Viljoen


Paper by Gen. C.L. Viljoen

Most of our careers were that of self-sacrifice, and we were always prepared to pay the price that was asked. Many of our friends paid the Supreme price - in the service of our Fatherland - true to the ethos of the South African Defence Force "Out of the Nation for the Nation" - an honourable profession - ageless but untouched. Many of us sacrificed our lives for this profession and the ideals for which we served and fought.

And now in the twilight of our years and with grey hair one wishes to reflect on the past and evaluate, lots of times you don't really want to, but circumstances force you to do this, and more often than not, when this does happen you get blinded by the artificial light of propaganda that negates history. It is very easy to lose your sense of perspective when this happens and most times you get blinded by this "Light on the way to Damascus", the longer you look the more you lose your view of the past.

Today we are seeing the continued attempts to bring down the pillars of the Temples of the Past so that our psyche can be purged of that in which we believed and fought for.

Firstly we have to realise that the Revolution that entailed AK47's, Limpet Mines and Wimpey Bar Bombs has been "negotiated" into oblivion. The rest of the Revolution is continuing stronger than ever, and the tried and tested doctrine of brain washing the subjects first and then implanting your way of thinking in it's place is happening - psychological warfare, pure and simple.

The Soldier who had served his Country for a couple of decades upto 1990, now has to make sense of the "Peace" which is supposed to have brought an end to the conflict, but this creates a dilemma as this is a revolution in itself. If we look at the present situation in a simplistic military way this is an enigma, however if you understand revolutionary warfare there is a glimmer of light, but at closer inspection we see the words we saw so many times in Portuguese "A Luta Continua" - "The Struggle Continues".

A normal military campaign ends with one side winning and imposing its political and military will on the loser. The defeated enemy accepts its lot and is subjugated.

We warned that a successful counter strategy required a ratio of 80/20 of which the military would only be 20% and all other political facets would make up the remaining 80%, but in our case at the end of the conflict the ratio turned out to be an unexpected 100% political and 0% military.

We were never defeated militarily but in the final stage we were dropped like the proverbial hot potato and even pushed to one side. The only problem was that the 20% we gave in the past was so effective that those who had to deliver the 80% were still displaying the same incompetence right up to the bitter end. But this is not the subject of my being here........ all I can say to you is that we did our duty and that we are rightly proud of what we did. Currently we are being exposed to a deliberate attempt to denigrate what we accomplished - as if we acted dishonourably! But we know our Enemy and we recognise the light shining in our eyes.

Let us examine our Foe and the righteousness of our actions.

The Struggle Against International Communism.

The ideology of communism with the centralisation of economies collapsed finally in 1989. It would be wrong to ascribe this collapse to a military defeat and it would be dishonest to attribute this defeat to the Old South African Defence Force in South Africa.

It is a known fact that the USSR was ruled by a clique of 3 million party members who kept a population of 70 million in thrall for almost three quarters of a century. It is also known that the Soviet Union tried to export this ideology to the rest of the world, especially Africa and South Africa. Another fact of life is that the USSR used local conflicts and military assistance as a means to an end to gain a foothold throughout the world, this happened here as well, but I do not wish to get involved with the rights or wrongs thereof, or even if the internal struggle in South Africa could have been avoided or not.

What is important about our actions is:

a. The struggle was a small cog in a global strategic situation. The liberation movement internationalised their struggle and it became part of a global conflict.

b. The cruel oppression by communism where it had been allowed to flourish in the world was cause enough for us to engage in a righteous struggle to fight to keep our land free from this foreign ideology.

c. We did not destabilise Southern Africa, in fact the reverse holds true. After 1989 normal democracies are coming to the fore in Africa which is also embracing the free market, stability is growing by the day. We fought for an honourable cause because if we had surrendered to international communism before 1989, this process of democratisation would have been delayed to a great extent.

The fall of communism was due more to the failure of internal economic systems but this world experiment in ideological export became the USSR's Vietnam. Nato and The Warsaw Pact had a balance of terror - Anatole Gromyko, head of the Institute of African Affairs in Moscow, put it thus:

The Kremlin has one major aim apart from dominating Europe and ultimately the Free World it intends to become the major power on the Continent of Africa before the end of the century.
Looking back today I can see the USSR's Vietnam in three zones - The Middle East, Southern Africa and Afghanistan. The resistance in these three areas were inspired by nationalism and this bled the USSR dry - psychologically and economically. The resistance in these three continents ultimately broke the USSR.

But let me turn to our conflict. Willem Steenkamp in his epilogue in South Africa's Border War deals with a number of critical questions also affecting the morality of our dedication. He poses the question - Should South Africa have fought the insurgents? And he reasons then -

The answer is that apart from personal inclinations they had no alternatives, once it became clear that the insurgency was not a nine day wonder. To many - possibly most of their voters - they would have been seen as handsuppers.
He asks another good question - Could the war have ended sooner than it did? His conclusion is yes - the Swapo war could have been stopped at an earlier stage. But then he carries on, pointing out that it was not due to stonewalling by the South African Government that the war lasted too long, the other side was equally culpable. Steenkamp also argues on this point the issue of a willingness to negotiate and says -
The question should be seen in the context of its time. The 1960's was the era of the Freedom Fighter, not the negotiator and in any case the South African Government of the time was little disposed towards negotiations with an openly revolutionary organization which had links with Moscow.
Of course all these quotations indicate the interwoveness of politics in the conflict. It is a sad fact that in the context of the times we had to fight to defend our country and region agfainst insurgents or revolutionaries. In the context of the post-1994 years the accusation is often directed at us that we fought to maintain an unjustifiable system. This has never been my approach. In fact I recall four occasions where we exceeded our military mission by formally advising the then Government to initiate and implement a program of political reform that would remove the sting from the revolution. There was a slight resistance against the war effort from a very limited part of the voters, but in general the war effort was well supported.

One can draw a parallel to the law case Rex versus Smith and say that the general perception was that the orders given and the war effort in total, had the clear character of being a lawful command and an acceptable defence effort against insurgents that carried with them the dangers or at least the potential dangers of an unacceptable international aggressive intention.

I maintain our action as a professional Defence Force was an honourable one.

The Use Of State Funds

We are also accused of dishonourable conduct as a result of the defence effort utilising taxpayer funds that could have been used to uplift the population. The war in Namibia is quoted as costing the South African taxpayer a couple of million Rand per day. The fact is, however, that the Defence budget only exceeded 5% of the gross GDP once. Our actions were honourable as we made sure that the defence budget was used in the best possible way. Furthermore, we played a major part in the creation of a defence industry which in turn created employment opportunities and allowed the Government to obtain much needed foreign currency. The defence budget therefore was not a dead loss as is so often alleged, the economies of South Africa and Namibia got a shot in the arm as a result of this. We as veterans and members of Armscor can rightly hold our heads up high for the role we played in applying the methodology of warfare, weapon systems and tactics inter alia.

This contribution was honourable and played a major part in assuring that the South African Defence Force was unbeatable in Africa right up to the end of the conflict in 1989.

We bought time:

In the past we often reiterated the fact that the Revolutionary Conflict in South Africa could not be resolved by military means alone, but we bought time to enable the campaign to be pursued by other means.

Please allow me to highlight some of the honourable courses of action we engaged in:

We won breathing space for South Africa until the following had been accomplished:

a. The fall of International Communism, about which I have already spoken.

b. A compromise had been reached regarding the practical strategic negotiations on both sides.

c. An acceptable spirit of co-operation became possible in Africa. The "Uhuru" style conflict that dominated the 1960's was not conducive to settling the vexing problems of our country, we were not the representatives of a colonial power. Africa laboured for a long time under the illusion that the conflict in South Africa was a struggle to cast off the chains of colonialism. We won enough time so that the final resolution of the conflict in South Africa turned out to be an internal one based on pluralism and ethnicity.

d. We were pioneers doing honourable work, to fight and die and shed our blood for and with Africa and thus a greater "Africanism" was born - not only did this secure a place for us in Africa that had been almost impossible for a couple of centuries, but these sacrifices were made for a common cause.

This also held true for the make-up of the South African Defence Force which became progressively more representative of all the peoples of South Africa. The time that was bought enabled us to build bridges between the different population groups.


The campaign in which we were involved to buy time was not a deliberate attempt to prevent change by means of brutal military might, it was not a case of us dragging our feet in this respect. Our role in Africa was purely a defensive one and not one to create chaos and destabilization. It was a concept of defence in depth and it was 100% compatible with the modern concept of limited warfare in the context of the time and place when that defence and warfare was the responsibility of both you and me.

Our goal was an honourable one and we acted in an honourable way to achieve that goal. Unfortunately the present goal which is touted as one of "Peace and Reconciliation" is an aberration that is in itself carrying the seeds of its own destruction because the negotiated détente agreement cannot bring true peace and reconciliation, nor does it truly try to achieve this.

As General Chaim Hertzog concluded in his Lessons and Implications from the War of Atonement, it seems as if the same can be said of the détente negotiated settlement here. He said about détente in this war - "Détente is at best a convenient myth, at worst a dangerous illusion".

The struggle has not ended - it continues! Our role in this struggle has not changed nor has it reached its nadir , we still have a duty to perform, not for ourselves, but for our Country and Region. The consolidation phase of our defence has still to come in greater reconciliation and especially economic stability - without this there will be no lasting peace.

Be on your guard for the blinding propaganda light on the way to Damascus. We have a noble task to perform which will entail hard constructive work for those of us who fought the good fight honourably up to now. We owe this to our friends and Brothers in Arms who made the supreme sacrifice.

I thank you.

(Translation into English by Cobus Venter, who maintains the 32 Battalion Home Page)

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