security is better with south africans

An interesting topic that I came to by way of my African Studies professor. In a meeting of the Michigan Action Network on Africa (MANA), he was listing off a number of woes for Africa and among that list was a quick comment about many South Africans working in the controversial security firm Blackwater USA. I could hardly believe it. Could the US security firms really be recruiting from South Africa? I then caught an article in glancing and noticed that foreign diplomats believed that the best security personnel were the South Africans. I had to look into it further. While I could not find the article again I have found a few others that were just as helpful in my knowledge search.

Being involved in the private military or security business is not something to let everyone know. When Mrs. Durant’s husband was kidnapped in an ambush in Iraq she had no support group of weeping war wives to turn to. All she had was her silence. What the Chicago Times called South Africa’s silent war in Iraq has been a very vocal war in the US especially with the controversy over Blackwater’s killing of Iraqi civilians. However, former military and police in South Africa are not new to harsh conflict. In the 1990s thousands of white military personnel left with the apartheid transition. Many of those unemployed officers and soldiers join private security firms and became involved in wars all across Africa, including Sierra Leone and Angola. So it is not surprising that working in a private security firm is something that is not talked about in South Africa. I am sure it holds a very sore spot in the country’s history.

It seems that Blackwater will search every inch of the earth to find good mecenaries. From Chile to Brazil and now South Africa. The UN recently reported that South Africa is one of the
top three suppliers
for security personnel in Iraq. One South African security company received a multi-million dollar contract to train military recruits in Iraq. There are almost 43,000 South African private security personnel working in Iraq. The Institute for Security Studies wrote and article and in it mentioned the story of a doctoral student heading to Iraq to do research and a friend told him to make sure he was placed with the South African security because they were the best.

This may not mean much for South Africa because this is a practice that is not publicized. If you are involved in private security then it is best not to let that be known. You will not be welcomed home as a hero. Many note that after the ‘troop’ surge (or private security surge?) that South Africans will be again be out of security jobs, but maybe the Iraqi government will sign them on after to continue helping at oil stations. At any rate this becomes a larger issue for the US. How can the US government, using private security firms, allow security and war to be outsourced even more? How can there be any more accountability if they are signing on former, white army officers who supported apartheid? It can’t be long before people get fed up with outsourcing in the war-industry, especially the lesser paid and trained soldiers on the ground. It is a very worrisome topic for both the US and South Africa. South Africa seems to have an influx of military personnel, who gained no further skills after apartheid. The US looks to have an issue of controlling said security firms in their actions.

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10 Comments

  1. Hi Alex,Nice to see someone tackling the issue. You are a a little naive about it, but that is OK because at least you are thinking about it. You need to take a VERY careful look at the whole thing though before pontificating. Just see the headline of your post.. why is that true? Maybe it is because the South Africans are dedicated and professional.. there have been no allegations of misconduct about any of them in Iraq. Also, the USA is finding that they are getting woefully short of personnell to deploy.. not least because of the decline in support for the war and the PMCs take the casualties which don’t have nearly as high a political cost. There are a lot of South Africans in Iraq who were NOT part of the SADF.. (a large number as members of the British Army), but you are making a mistake to think that having served in the SADF neccessarily means having supported Apartheid. using an example you might understand.. would you say that all the American soldiers who served in Vietnam (having been drafted) supported the US led war there? Project that out to what happened here in SA. All the bestJohn

  2. I will agree that I am not as educated on the issue as I could be, but naive is a strong word. The headline of the post is true because the South African security personnel are named the best (dedicated and professional). There have been no allegations of misconduct, but Blackwater USA has also denied that any South African’s work for them and Blackwater personnel have been accused of misconduct.There may not be as high of a political cost for South African mercenaries, but why should that be true? The example that you give about drafted American soldiers serving in Vietnam is a good example and I am sorry if I made it seem that all former white SA officers supported apartheid. Do you have any sources where I could learn more?

  3. Hi Alex,Yes.. Naive is a little strong (emotive maybe) but it is a pretty emotive thing to tar everyone with the same brush. Blackwater (and others) will only employ US Citizens as a matter of policy. There are plenty of British and South African PMCs though. The only misconduct that I know of from South African’s is from Americans who think that South Africans on the whole drink too much.. and I wouldn’t like to argue that point :-)There are plenty of sources on the web where you can find out more.. one of them is my ArmyTalk email list at http://groups.google.co.za/group/ArmyTalk Something else to remember is that the SADF was the most integrated (racially) organisation in South Africa during the National Party years. This was done in SPITE of the policy of apartheid. You might be interested in a few books on the subject:http://www.justdone.co.za/catalog/index.php?cPath=21_23_31and especially- Journey without Boundaries (http://www.lulu.com/content/959213)- Borderstrike! South Africa into Angola (http://www.lulu.com/content/136228)All the bestJohn

  4. First of all…wow. This topic is more than a little disturbing. Just when you think groups like Blackwater and ArmorGroup could sink any lower, you find out that they are exploiting the already most heavily exploited peoples on earth.But onward…”Given the very limited capability the South African government has to enforce the legislation it has passed to crack down on the private supply of military and security capabilities to foreign conflict zones, one wonders whether this doesn’t in effect amount to the government having basically given up control of this sector altogether. While it’s too early yet to know exactly what will happen to the market for force in Iraq, the South African government might well be wise to begin now to engage constructively with its citizens who have gone ‘over there’, before the ‘surge’ home begins…”-Institute for Security studies website After reading your post, and the article from which the above sample was taken, I have a few questions. Why exactly would the government of South Africa want to stop its citizens from going ‘over there?’ I realize that it’s wrong for South Africans to go Iraq for a number of reasons, but I’m confused as to what they really are. This gut feeling isn’t enough for me. I want facts. All the articles I’m trying to read about it are a little over my head. I lack the historical background to answer this question for myself, if you will.Also, what exactly CAN the South African government do to stop them? Does the government have any right to tell South Africans what jobs in which they can or cannot participate? Is it because these South Africans are being traitorous, are they hurting the economy.. or what.. why would the government be so against it?

  5. @maomoneymaoproblemsInteresting.. I am not going to respond to your question for facts to support a gut feeling as I am afraid I cannot respect that .. it looks like rationalisation of a particularly offense sort to me as it implies that you are not engaging the issue to inform yourself but rather to gather opinions to support your prejudices. The SA Government has tackled the issue of “mercenaries” by passing laws which treat it as if it was the export of weapons. It is pretty ridiculous because the PMCs are very different things to “Mad Mike” Hoare’s “Wild Geese” in the Congo. That said, there is some suspicion that our Foreign Minister’s sympathies lie with Al Quaida has something to do with his fervent support for legislation which keeps South Africans out of Iraq on the side of the US.. but there is also some suspicion that he is not opposed to South Africans making the journey to be on the other side.. remember that the current government come from a movement which believed in, and used, terrorist tactics to achieve their political goals (no matter what your opinion on how “noble” those goals might have been, you have to admit that they saw nothing wrong with murdering woman and children and various innocent civilians) and that they would be sympathetic to others who are on the same path… this is compounded by the fact that Kader Asmal (Foreign Minister) is himself Moslem. As far as whether the SA Government can stop South Africans from working in Iraq, the legislation criminilises what they are doing so all their assests can be seized at home, and they can be arrested as soon as they arrive back in the country.. there is such a broad base to the law that even guys who have volunteered for the British Army (as provided for within the Commonwealth agreement) and are serving as soldiers in that army, can be charged and convicted.. The British have said that if this is ever acted on, they will make the soldiers affected British citizens to avoid this.. but it does show how broad and non-discerning the law is.. This is not a simple topic; it is multi-faceted and you cannot just look for facts to back your gut feeling.. you either need to engage the topic and research it to get to the facts, or else just acknowledge that you are predudiced and ignorant about the issue and live with that. BTW.,. no hard feelings about this.. I am not arguing the morality of the issues.. I haven’t managed to make up my mind yet what I feel about Mercenary type activity.. as I serve as an officer in the SA Reserves… what has happened though is quite a few regular SA Soldiers have taken a leave of absence and gone across to Iraq on a contract with the tacit blessing of their employer as it is a way for them to gain combat experence… All the bestJohn

  6. John,First of all, I apologize for not leaving my name on my comment. I completely forgot (my name is Nicole). I appreciate that you are taking the time to sit down and write these responses as honestly as possible. It’s nice to see that people who disagree can still act like humans toward one another. I would just like to clear up that I don’t necessarily think that just because I have a gut feeling that something is wrong, I am prejudiced. I guess I should have specified what kind of facts I was looking for when I posted my previous comment. My first instinct is to think that South Africans going to Iraq is wrong, but I am not opposed to hearing the other side. In fact, I’m pretty open minded to receiving facts/opinions from both sides. I plan on checking out the links that you provided for Alex, just so I can see your side of the issue. I’m actually quite “naive” on the issue myself, so I am in no place to argue with anyone at this time. I would like to do more research on the topic before I made any real, solid, stances. Yet, I must admit,…gut feelings do have a place in this world. My research may be somewhat inhibited because of my negative feelings, but I do not think I should completely ignore them. They may prove to be true. So once again, thank you for your input. I realize that you said you haven’t made up your mind about mercenary issues, but if you have any additional information you’d like to share regarding your view of the issue, I’d be more than happy to read it.Just one more thing for clarification purposes. I was a little confused when you were talking about Kader Asmal. For what reason is it important to identify him as a Moslem? I am in no way trying to be rude, I am simply curious as to whether you are implying that being a Moslem has something to do with immorality, corruption or “murdering woman and children and various innocent civilians.” I may very well just be having a hard time following your train of thought, so please, clarify if you can.Alex, I would also still like to hear your side.Nicole

  7. Hi Nicole,It is always good to engage in debate.. even at it’s worst it forces one to think through and solidify one’s thoughts in order to articulate them.. There is nothing wrong per se with gut feelings. The problem that I have, and I may have read too much into what you posted, is that too many times people have a predudice which they describe as a gut feeling, and they do “research’ to find things that will rationalise or justify their predudice. Take Apartheid for example. I have read most of the posts on your blog, and I think that it is a fair assumption for me to say that you are completely opposed to it… and yet I guarantee that you don’t understand it… not in any other than a superficial way. I grew up with it and experienced it and let me tell you that the worst of apartheid was not what you might think i.e. that it was legislated discrimination.. but rather that it was an insidious philosophy which even those who were virulently opposed to it learnt lessons from… If you look very carefully at South African society today, it is scary (and amazing) how much of a correspondence there is between what the ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance government has done over the past twelve years in power and what the Nation Party did when they came into power in 1948. The parallels are truly scary.. Please understand that the NP cabinet was the best educated cabinet in the world at the time and no bunch of idiots.. they knew exactly what they were doing and why… and it had to do with power. Power for themselves and thus by extension power for those who supported them. This is exactly the same as what is happening with the current bunch… they are just as well educated and just as concerned about power. All the various scandals we have had about corruption since they took office have been at heart about a sense of entitlement… sortof a feeling that “we deserve this after winning the battle.. ” and a real surprise that anyone takes exception to them dipping their hands into the public purse. This may seem slightly irrelevant to what we are discussing.. but it is important to understanding where this is all coming from.. my opinion is that there is a feeling that the West supported South Africa before ’94 either overtly or covertly and there is a real desire to reward and/or support those people and places that supported “the struggle”… This has meant selling our strategic oil reserve, selling arms to Iraq under Hussein and various other “dubious” countries, supporting (or not publically disaproving) mad tyrants like Robert Mugabe.. and a general dislike of the USA and to a lesser extent of the UK.. The politicians, especially our President Thabo Mbeki, are, however, extremely pragmatic politicians who understand what they need to do to prosper in the international political jungle.. which is why a lot of what they think of the USA et al (I suspect) is kept private.Now to Prof Asmal.. It is readily apparent that his personal sympathies are with the Moslem world (which is why I mentioned his religion in the first place) and I think that his personal sympathies have had a larger part to play in influencing our foreign policy on occasion than what the more pragmatic members of the cabinet would have liked to be on display. Examples of this are easy to find in things like his stance on Israel, selling weapons etc to Iraq etc.. The reason that the South Africans in Iraq are an embarressment is because they are contravening the foreign policy of the SA Government.. Think of it like this.. the government has decided to take a stance on the War in Iraq.. but I bet you that when people think about South Africa and Iraq.. the thing that they think about first/most is the many South Africans who are actually active in the conflict there.. NOT about the official foreign policy… Mercs in Africa are at least as much of an embarressment.. you need to read a bit about what Executive Outcomes achieved in Sierra Leon.. a small group of men (just BTW mostly black…) managed to do with less than 500 men what around 10000 men from the UN could not achieve before them, nor now after them.. i.e. bring the rebels to heel and impose peace and order on the country (or at least a cease-fire). There are a number of schools of thought that think that this is a GOOD thing.. (OK and just as many that think it is a bad thing).. and that this is in fact an indication of the way that things could or should be done in the future.. The USA burnt their fingers BADLY in Somalia (remember Blackhawk Down?) and will not come back here in the same way any time soon.. that is why they have formed the Afican Command.. so that they can ensure that their interests are protected by local (African) armies without them getting mired down in a military situation that they do not understand and cannot handle.. (the guys from the 75th Rangers will admit to you after a lot of beer that they got their arses kicked big-time both in Mogadishu as well as in the countryside of Somalia). Unfortunately.. the US learnt only some of the lessons from that and not the most important one.. i.e. that they can win the battle, but not the war.. and that is the mistake they made (and are making) in Iraq and to a lesser extent in Afganistan.. Why I am ambivalent on the issue of mercs has to do with what I said about Sierra Leon on the one hand and a feeling that war should be fought by citizen soldiers as this helps to keep governments acountable to the citizenry, on the other.. On another tack.. I feel that the guys that are in Iraq are, to a large degree, not doing anything bad by being there.. they do things like guard convoys and bases etc mostly… I would look to the political level to start debating what is right or wrong. It is also difficult for me to decide between the two points of view.. on the one hand the individuals should have the right (as enshrined in our Constitution) to freedom of association/trade etc.. and on the other that the government is entitled to get a bit prissy about it’s citizens interfering in it’s foreign policy… On the issue of atrocities.. the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation) report is out there on the web.. go read it.. the whole thing.. you will see many atrocities listed by a lot of the people who are in power now.. some of them I witnessed first hand.. like the Magoo’s Bar Bombing and numerous “necklacings” (that is where a car tyre was put around someone’s neck, filled with petrol and set alight so that they were burnt alive.. normal punishment for ‘collaboration’), there were atrocities from policemen and from various other people.. but NOT ONE from the Army.. Even the one that a lot of people called a massacre, the parachute assault in 1978 on Cassinga, the TRC recognised to have been against a legitimate military target.. so you will understand why I am a little leary of broad brush-strokes about “former, white army officers who supported apartheid” not being “reliable” somehow.. never mind that not everyone “supported” apartheid.. that is actually irrelevant.. what is really irritating is the blind derogatroy assumption that someone from South Africa is somehow not as “reliable”.. as if My Lai never happened or Abu Grabi (sp?).. and that was from US soldiers.. and that the only accusations of “bad behaviour” have come about Blackwater which is very strict about employing only US Citizens.. mmmmAnyway.. enough from me.. All the bestJohn

  8. Hello John, Nicole and AlexVery interesting topic here. Thought I might clarify a few things and add my two cents.Kader Asmal is not, and never has been, the Foreign Affairs Minister. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma hold this position. Prof Asmal is the head of the Parliamentary Committee that deals with arms sales by Denel (the state arms company) abroad. His committee also dealt with the Private Military Assistance Act which John referred to. This legislation, though draconian in some instances, is a clear sign that the state is trying to control the military activities of South African citizens. South Africa’s history as a provider of ‘mercenaries’ goes back to the Belgian Congo in the 1950’s and is a legacy that is in conflict with South Africa’s foreign policy, which is portrayed as being based on human rights and multilateralism. (An excellent read on mercenarism in Africa by South Africans, is the Wonga Coup by Adam Roberts.) The government is clearly trying to maintain its ‘monopoly on force’ whilst dealing with the mercenary legacy. I would also agree that former SADF soldiers are perfect for PMCs as they have solid experience and expertise in counter-insurgency warfare etc. Hence their extensive use in Iraq and elsewhere. My view is that these skills are best utilised for peace-keeping missions in the Great Lakes and elsewhere. But that is a story for another day.On the question that the TRC never condemned the SADF for any ‘atrocities’ is in large part due to their ‘military pact’ with the Umkhonto weSizwe (ANC military wing) agreed during 1992-1993. This pact was a crucial cog in the machine that was the South African Transition and negated the threat of a military coup against a black majority government. The pact consisted of two parts. Firstly, was a promise to rearm (see the controversy around the South African Arms Deal) and secondly, both parties agreed to a general amnesty for any atrocities committed during the Struggle.This general amnesty fell away and became a conditional amnesty once the TRC came about due to advocacy and pressure by civil society groups. However, no members of the SADF ever applied for amnesty for atrocities; hence the TRC was unable to make any conclusive findings on the SADF. (While most of the blame was laid squarely at the door of the police.) This lack of ‘truth’ was accepted by politicians due to the earlier pact agreed during transition. The TRC did though find that the large majority of atrocities during Apartheid were committed outside of South Africa’s borders. The number of South African mercenaries abroad has much to do with the downsizing and transformation that occurred within the SANDF after 1994, as well as the obvious commercial benefits. PMCs exist and have become a permanent part of the security sphere that needs to be managed and legislated. How we do this to ensure accountability I feel is up to the states from which each company hails. South Africa has attempted this and whether this law is enforced we will see. But the US has a long way to go in this regard. It is sad that the massacre in Iraq had to happen so that Blackwater could be held accountable, at least within the public sphere.

  9. Hallo Alex,All South Africans can join terror groups (allies of the ANC WHEN IN EXILE)like Hamas, Fatah, Al Quida etc without facing any legal action upon their return to South Africa.Correction – Kadar is the Deputy of Zero Understanding of Medical Affairs (ZUMA)I am currently in Afghanistan. Not because I like it here but my white skin could not ensure future promotion/career in the SANDF.My son joined the British Army because…white skin and no future in SANDF and because I would not allow him to join a banana aids ridden and unprofessional kwazi Defense Force.Interesting to read comments of individuals who never served/visited South Afica.I grew up in a home where my father and mother never refered to black people as Kaffers. There was no racism in my house. I became a racist after 1994 because I and other whites are now the target of reversed apartheid.Johan.

  10. It is interesting how the term “counter-insurgency” is used in this discussion related to the skills of South African military. I am not exactly sure what the writers are referring to in this case so I will not comment, but it would be good to clarify. Are insurgents the black population?We cannot look past the fact that the South African military – while not entirely comprised of racists, apartheid-supporters, or those who committed atrocities – was nevertheless the force charged with defending the country. The SADF clashed with groups such as SWAPO and others working to liberate the oppressed black majority of the country. I will not go so far to say that SWAPO and other groups took the best actions, but they were fighting against a long-running oppressive, often brutal, regime. It is well known that the SADF was used to suppress opposition to apartheid. The TRC documented numerous cases of atrocities committed by SADF personnel: http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=3730(cited in article)It is also well known that the SADF supported the RENAMO rebels in Mozambique, which targeted civilians, women, and children, infrastructure, health systems, and economy to leave Mozambique in ruins – the country still has not recovered. (see most recent issues with fuel prices/ production)Blackwater employed South Africans. Whatever their strict policy is about US citizens obviously does not hold true from the personal account that I noted in my post. Blackwater does not recognize the South African personnel as their own, but that does not mean they are not being employed by Blackwater. Whatever the case of South Africans working in mercenary roles, my main point was accountability and ethics. I understand that some former white military personnel are now out of jobs because of the military restructuring, but for some reason I cannot agree with the continuation of unaccountable private armies with members serving from former oppressive regimes. John has said that not all SADF personnel were apartheid supporters or racist, but then Johan says he will not let his son serve, “because I would not allow him to join a banana aids ridden and unprofessional kwazi Defense Force.” Racism still seems to be alive and well in the minds of white South Africans. Johan I am sorry that you became a racist. I would argue that what is happening now is far from “reverse-apartheid.” You cannot overlook the fact that the SADF and white South Africans represented the oppressive force that made black South African’s lives miserable. A sad story that I have heard of the apartheid-era is that of a white, female US Fulbright student studying the apartheid-resistance movements in South Africa. She was friends with many great anti-apartheid leaders, but she was brutally stabbed to death by an angry mob that only saw her as a representation of the white oppressor. Someone in complete solidarity with the movement is still not free from misguided actions. What we need to do is remember the context of our skin color, especially in racially tense contexts.So you will understand why I am more apt to make broad brush-strokes when I have yet to be shown a case where the SADF was not as a whole in support of apartheid or a case where SADF troops did not support the oppression of black South Africans. I have never stated that South Africans were unreliable or not as good as anyone else. My title is based on the quote from the personal account from my entry. I have actually also stated that South African personnel are noted for their dedication and professionalism.

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