2011 - African Migration, Global
Inequalities, and Human Rights: Connecting the Dots.
Current African Issues Paper for Nordic Africa Institute.
August 1, 2010 - Oped in Providence Journal U.S.-Africa 'reset' requires honesty about America's wrongs
President Obama has inspired hope in Africa and around the world.
Africans who heed his call to build the future, however, must still
reckon with the stubborn fact that the United States can be an
obstacle as well as a partner.
Spring, 2010 - Foreword to issue of Articulate -
End "Aid," Invest in Global Public Goods
Let us agree that the "aid paradigm" is fundamentally flawed, in that it is based on
a model of the rich "helping" the poor. But the paradigm advanced by free-market
fundamentalism, that poor countries and poor people can and should lift themselves
up by their bootstraps, without benefit of support from the wider society, is also
April, 2010 - Zimbabwe: Demystifying Sanctions and Strengthening Solidarity,
by Briggs Bomba and William Minter
In the case of Zimbabwe today, both supporters and opponents of
sanctions exaggerate their importance. The international community,
both global and regional, has other tools as well.
October, 2009 - Africa: Climate Change and Natural Resources,
by William Minter and Anita Wheeler
Africa will suffer consequences out of all
proportion to its contribution to global warming, which is
primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions from wealthy
countries. But Africa can also make significant contributions to
mitigating (i.e. limiting) climate change, by stopping tropical
deforestation and ending gas flaring from oil production.
March, 2009 - Making Peace or Fueling War in Africa,
by Daniel Volman and William Minter, for Foreign Policy in Focus
html | pdf (283K)
Will de facto U.S. security policy toward the continent focus
on anti-terrorism and access to natural resources and prioritize
bilateral military relations with African countries? Or will the
United States give priority to enhancing multilateral capacity to
respond to Africa's own urgent security needs? If the first option is
taken, it will undermine rather than advance both U.S. and African
February, 2009 - Inclusive Human Security: U. S. National Security Policy, Africa,
and the African Diaspora, edited for TransAfrica Forum html (150K) | pdf (2.8M)
Fundamentally, it is necessary not only to present a new foreign policy
face to the world, but to shape an international agenda that shows more
and more Americans how our own security depends on that of others. The
old civil rights adage that "none of us are free until all of us are free" has
its corollary in an inclusive human security framework: "None of us can
be secure until all of us are secure. "
April, 2008 - Migration and Global Justice, pamphlet written for American Friends
html | pdf (379K)
"As the global economy drives global inequality, movement across borders
inevitably increases. If legal ways are closed, people trying to survive and
to support their families will cross fences or set sail on dangerous seas
regardless of the risks. "
December, 2007 - "The Armored Bubble: Military Memoirs from Apartheid's
Warriors," pp. 147-152 in African Studies Review
html | pdf (70K)
"The books reviewed in this essay are a small sample of one genre of war
literature: detailed accounts of battle from the perspective of those among
South Africa's military veterans who have no question that they were fighting
a just cause in defense of their country. "
Jan 31, 2007 - Oped in Providence Journal
"Don't replay Iraq in Horn of Africa"
"Somalia is not Iraq, of course. ... But the similarities are nevertheless substantial. The United States and Ethiopia cut short efforts at reconciliation ... They disregarded Somali and wider African opinion in an effort to kill alleged terrorists. And while chalking up military "victories," they aggravated long-term problems."
Jul 8, 2005 -
"Invisible Hierarchies: Africa, Race, and Continuities in the World Order" (pdf)
"The failure to acknowledge race as a fundamental feature of todays unequal world order remains a striking weakness of radical as well as conventional analyses of that order. Current global and national socioeconomic hierarchies are not mere residues of a bygone era of primitive accumulation. Just as it should be inconceivable to address the past, present, and future of American society without giving central attention to the role of African American struggles, so analyzing and addressing 21st-century structures of global inequality requires giving central attention to Africa."
In Science & Society, July, 2005
Jul 8, 2002 -
"Aid—Let's Get Real"
"There is an urgent need to pay for such global public needs as the battles against AIDS and poverty by increasing the flow of real resources from rich to poor. But the old rationales and the old aid system will not do. ... For a real partnership, the concept of "aid" should be replaced by a common obligation to finance international public investment for common needs."
In The Nation, July 8, 2002, with Salih Booker.
Nov 3, 1992 - Oped in Christian Science Monitor
"Savimbi Should Accept That Democracy Worked in Angola"
"Just one month after Angolans peacefully thronged polling stations in their first multiparty election
ever, the conflict-battered Southern African country is on the brink of all-out war. ... The international
community, including the US, has been unanimous, in urging Savimbi to accept the election results, but Savimbi and his close-knit group of top officers remain both unpredictable and militarily potent. The new conflict, which appears to the starting, will be hard to contain."
April, 1988 - "When Sanctions Worked: The Case of Rhodesia Reconsidered", with Elizabeth Schimdt, in
African Affairs html (97K) | pdf (3.4M)
"Sanctions, while not the only factor in bringing majority rule to Rhodesia, made a significant
long-term contribution to that result. ... Moreover, more strongly enforced sanctions could have
been even more effective. If Rhodesia's petroleum lifeline had been severed and if South Africa
had not served as a back door to international trade, ... the country could not have survived
for more than a matter of months."
"Action against Apartheid,"
in Bruce Douglas, ed., Reflections on Protest: Student Presence in
"But the government usually seems to be a very distant and unresponsive target
[for anti-apartheid protests]. Therefore exposure of U.S.A. business involvement in
Southern Africa - by demonstrations, withdrawal campaigns, etc. - is at least equally
The Armored Bubble:
Military Memoirs from Apartheid's Warriors
African Studies Review, Volume 50, number 3, December 2007, 147-152.
Days of the Generals: The Untold Story of South Africa's
Apartheid-Era Military Generals. Cape Town: Zebra Press, 2006 (2001). xvii + 242
pp. Photographs. Glossary. Select Bibliography. Index. $19.95. Paper. Preview available
on Google books.
At Thy Cry We Did Not Falter: A Frontline Account of the 1988
Angolan War, as Seen through the Eyes of a Conscripted Soldier. Cape Town:
Zebra Press, 2005. xii + 194 pp. Photographs. Glossary. $19.95. Paper. Preview available
on Google books.
32 Batallion: The Inside Story of South Africa's Elite Fighting Unit.
Cape Town: Zebra Press, 2003. xviii + 315 pp. Photographs. Maps. Bibliography. Index.
$18.95. Paper. Preview available on Google books.
The Silent War: South African Recce Operations, 1969-1994. Johannesburg:
Galago Publishing (www.galago.co.za), 2004 (Reprint with corrections).
608 pp. Photographs. Maps. Charts. Bibliography. Notes. Index. $42.00. Paper.
Warfare by Other Means: South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s.
Johannesburg: Galago Publishing, 2001. 600 pp. Photographs. Charts. Bibliography.
Notes. Index. $45.00. Cloth.
The Covert War: Koevoet Operations Namibia, 1979-1989. Johannesburg:
Galago Publishing, 2004. 512 pp. Photographs. Maps. Charts. Bibliography.
Notes. Index. $45.00. Cloth.
Cassinga Day--May 4--is a national holiday in Namibia, commemorating
the 1978 attack in which South African troops killed more than six hundred
Namibians at a SWAPO camp in Angola. South Africa's Truth Commission
called it "one of the biggest single incidents of gross [human rights] violations"
they considered (Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report,
vol. 2, p. 3). For many veterans of the South African military, however, it
is still celebrated as the largest paratroop drop since World War II and "a
complete success," with "at least 608 SWAPO fighters killed" and only four
dead among the attackers (Stiff, Silent War, 205). The Truth Commission's
careful review acknowledged that the camp was both a military and civilian
installation and that many details were still uncertain, but it concluded
that there was little doubt that many of the dead were civilian women and
children. The commisioners note that they find it difficult to believe that
this would have happened had the targets been white (Truth and Reconciliation
Commission Report, vol. 2, p. 43). But the controversy continues, illustrating the still
widely divergent perspectives on the battles of apartheid's final years.
The books reviewed in this essay are a small sample of one genre of war
literature: detailed accounts of battle from the perspective of those among
South Africa's military veterans who have no question that they were fighting
a just cause in defense of their country. Significantly, this kind of book
features prominently on displays in airports in Southern Africa.
None of these authors defends the apartheid system; indeed, as far as
one can gather from these books, none ever did. And they are indignant
that anyone should doubt the integrity and professionalism of the South
African forces. "The idea for this book," writes Hilton Hamann (xi), "came
about when my youngest son, after watching a television news broadcast,
said to me 'Dad, when you were in the army, why did you kill all those innocent
people?'" "I was flabbergasted," Hamann continues. "The SADF I was
part of was an organisation that operated according to rules, traditions and
codes of conduct." The other authors all reflect similar sentiments.
Hamann was conscripted into the South African Defense Forces
(SADF) in 1975 and served in the South African conventional forces in
Angola that year. He later became the military correspondent for the Sunday
Times, wrote for Soldier of Fortune magazine, and traveled with the SADF,
Unita, and South Africa's special forces. His book is based on interviews
with retired South African generals; more than the other books reviewed,
Days of the Generals focuses on the strategic perspective, including differences
among the top generals. At the other end of the military hierarchy
is Clive Holt, a conscript drafted in 1987, just in time to be sent as part of
a mechanized battalion (61 Mech) to the battles around Cuito Cuanavale.
Holt kept a diary, and his account differs from the others both in its level of
personal detail and in his account of his posttraumatic stress disorder, followed
by emigration to Australia. Still, as indicated by the title ("At thy call,
we did not falter"), Holt regarded his war as an act of patriotism.
Nortje, who served as regimental sergeant major of the 32 Battalion, presents
his account as a tribute to the "unsung heroes" of this elite fighting
unit composed principally of black Angolans and commanded by white
South Africans. It is the most clearly detailed and professionally written of
these books. The final three books form a comprehensive trilogy by Peter
Stiff, the bestselling author of a host of similar books, as well as novels, on
Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South Africa, and the rest of southern Africa. Stiff,
a London-born South African citizen, lived in Rhodesia for twenty-eight
years, twenty as a member of the British South African Police and eight
as a private security consultant. The Galago Web site describes him as "an
old Africa hand," and the acknowledgments in his books identify him as a
"good friend" of Colonel Jan Breytenbach, a legendary South African soldier
whose credits include leading the 44 Parachute Brigade on their attack
All these books are based on personal experience and/or on extensive
interviews. Nortje, Stiff, and Hamann also cite a wide variety of written
sources, including internal documentation from the SADF. Notably, none
seems to have made any systematic effort to talk to Africans other than
those in the SADF, whether civilian witnesses or veterans of the guerrilla
forces, although Stiff cites two veterans of the SWAPO guerrilla forces in his
book on Koevoet. They are uniformly dismissive of the Truth Commission
as biased, and of news accounts of "atrocities" as inflated or even fabricated.
Except for Stiff's overview of largely internal covert operations (The Silent
War), all of the books conclude with a "Roll of Honour" of South African
soldiers killed. These are accounts of war from the perspective of participants
apparently untroubled by doubts concerning either the cause or the
means employed. Nevetheless, with these caveats in mind, it would be a mistake
for the historian to dismiss these books and the genre they represent
as irrelevant. In addition to providing much detail that may at some future
point be cross-referenced with other memories or documentation, they are
often inadvertently revealing.
For example, reflecting the views of the generals he interviewed (Magnus
Malan, Constand Viljoen, Jannie Geldenhuys, Andries Liebenberg, and
George Meiring), Hamann's work shows significant disagreements on strategy
and tactics both within the SADF and between the SADF and other
security agencies. Perhaps the most striking illustration of these differing
perspectives emerges with their attitudes toward Koevoet, the counterinsurgency
unit in Namibia that fell under police rather than army command,
in which case Hamann cites generals Viljoen, Geldenhuys, and Meiring.
Viljoen told him, "They had a cruelty about them that certainly didn't further
the hearts and minds of the people.... [In the army, by contrast,] we
realised, in a revolutionary war it is not a case of how many people you kill
but rather the battle for the minds of the people" (65). Geldenhuys added,
"They would go into an area, ęclean' it up, then collect the bodies and drag
them through the the town behind their vehicles" (65). Yet Hamann's own
account shows that the military, too, commonly measured success and failure
in terms of kill ratios. (The books by Stiff and Norje reveal the same
perspective.) Thus Hamann describes the stalemated series of battles at Cuito
Cuanavale, which led to successful negotiations on the independence of
Namibia, by summing up the "scoresheet." On the Cuban/Angolan side,
he notes, 4,785 men were confirmed as killed in action, while the South
African troops lost only thirty-one (97). Ironically, neither Hamann nor
Holt (who cites only slightly different numbers ) even mention Unita
troops, who provided the cannon fodder in these battles for the mechanized
South African units.
In his volume on Koevoet, Stiff dismisses the generals' critique of Koevoet
as "scurrilous" and inspired by professional jealousy of the unit's success
(95). The Covert War's more than five hundred pages recount the internal
counterinsurgency war in Namibia, including detailed narratives of
many "contacts" between Koevoet and guerrillas. Stiff notes that Koevoet
was modeled on the successes of the Rhodesian Selous Scouts (the subject
of an earlier book by Stiff). Practically every description of a contact is accompanied
by its kill count; Stiff reports that from its foundation in 1979
through 1988, Koevoet killed 2,812 insurgents and captured 463. They lost
more than 160, a greater number than that lost by any other South African
unit since World War II (318-19). Stiff concludes by denouncing the
National Party leadership in the 1990s for failure to speak up for Koevoet,
allowing them, particularly the black Namibian members of the unit loyal
to the South African authorities, to be "demonized" by the press (486).
The other books in Stiff's trilogy constitute a comprehensive inventory
of South African covert operations, including those by the elite Recces
(the common term for South Africa's special forces, the Reconnaissance
regiments) and a wide variety of other units, from security police to surrogate
forces on both sides of the South African border. While the works
may not match the tribute in the unsigned foreword, apparently by the author
himself, claiming that "there will never be anything better researched
and definitive on South African secret operations" (Silent War, 15), they
are nevetheless detailed and revealing. In many cases the actual names of
operatives are not given, but some have been subsequently disclosed. Gary
Branfield, for example, who was killed in Iraq in 2004, was then confirmed
by Stiff as being the "Major Brian," a former Rhodesian policeman who was
responsible for the assassination of the ANC's Zimbabwe representative Joe
Qqabi in July 1981. Stiff's accounts go back as far as the 1960s, with Rhodesian
and South African intervention in the Biafran revolt in Nigeria, and
extend up to the abortive right-wing intervention in Bophuthatswana just
before the 1994 elections in South Africa.
Stiff's observations should be read with the caveat that the information
comes from those actually involved, who may or may not be inclined
to tell the truth. But it does confirm many operations previously denied by
South African officials, and provides details that may serve as data for careful
comparision with other sources by future historians. In The Silent War,
for example, Stiff reports on a range of actions: a commando raid on Dar es
Salaam in 1972, South African recce involvement in Mozambique in cooperation
with Rhodesian SAS in the period before 1974, the South African
commando raid on Matola in 1981, supplies to Renamo in Mozambique
after the 1984 Nkomati Accord, and raids on Lesotho, Botswana, and Swaziland.
Among many other topics, Warfare by Other Means documents the buffoonish
coup attempt in Seychelles in 1981, covert support for "homelands"
leaders, the death squads of the Security Police and the Civil Cooperation
Bureau, and the assassination of Anton Lubowski. One chapter recounts
the use of Rob Brown, a former Australian and Rhodesian professional soldier,
to found "Veterans for Victory" in opposition to South African draft
resisters, and to serve as liaison with right-wing religious groups supporting
In contrast to Hamann and Stiff, who cover a broad range of South
African military operations, Nortje and Holt focus more narrowly. Nortje's
book is by far the most detailed. It shows, in his words, "the extent of a single
unit's contribution to every major campaign [,]... a band of brothers who
spilled their blood together, shed it for South Africa and were truly forged
in battle" (xv). Notably, this unit, founded by Jan Breytenbach in August
1975 during South Africa's first major invasion of that country, consisted
primarily of Angolans, veterans of the branch of the FNLA (National Front
for the Liberation of Angola) led by Daniel Chipenda in the 1975-76 conflict,
many of whom had earlier been members of the Popular Movement
of the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Although 32 Batallion has been the
subject of two previous books by Breytenbach, Nortje's is far more comprehensive.
Nortje acknowledged that the unit was not exactly desegregated:
the officers were white, and there were separate amenities on the bases for
white and black. But, he adds, "on the battlefield, and during deployment,
no form of discrimination on grounds of race was ever practised" (47).
Nortje recounts 32 Batallion operations in Angola, where they were
the South African unit most often on the front line, operating both separately
and in conjunction with Unita, and, on conventional operations, with
other South African units as well. It was, he notes, the "only SADF unit
besides Special Forces that maintained a constant presence in Angola from
1975 through the signing of a peace treaty in 1988" (256). In addition to
providing meticulous accounts of military operations—in contrast to other
accounts, these include details on Unita participation in joint operations
at Cuito Cuanavale—the author includes an appendix of unit songs, in Portuguese
and in African languages, with English translations. The book also
features more than forty detailed maps, and, like the books by Stiff, an
ample selection of color photographs. Nortje reports casualty figures for
many operations, but, unlike Stiff, he does not seem to revel in them.
Holt's is the shortest of these books. It is also the most restricted in
scope, confined to his two years as a conscript, and particularly his first-
person account of the battles around Cuito Cuanavale. He is the most conscious
of the horrors of war, recounting his growing insensitivity to death
and the competition to collect war souvenirs, such as a full set of an enemy
uniform. He also describes his frustration at the secrecy surrounding their
presence in Angola, and the damage to morale from the artillery and air attacks
from Angolan and Cuban forces. Despite the psychological distress he
reports, however, he has no doubt that he and his fellows were doing their
In short, there is much of interest to be found within these works. Even
more striking for this reviewer, however, is what is not there. There is neither
justification nor critique of the apartheid system. Although there are
repeated references to the bias of the Truth Commission, there is no real effort
to engage with the content of testimony there. There are no reflections
on guilt or on the nature of the South African system, or even acknowledgement
that such reflection might be called for, as in classic works such as
Antje Krog's Country of My Skull (Times Books, 1999). It is as if these writers
are living within an armored bubble, insolated from any consideration of
the meaning of the death and suffering they and their fellows inflicted. All
deny that they were fighting for "apartheid," but they are remarkably vague
on what they thought they were fighting for. The phrase that repeatedly
comes to mind while reading these books is the subtitle of Hannah Arendt's
report on the Eichmann trial: "the banality of evil."
It is clear, at least, that these writers were not defenders of the Afrikaner
nationalism of the stereotypical "white tribe of Africa." The image
of South Africa portrayed in these books encompasses not only English-
speaking and Afrikaans-speaking whites born in South Africa, but also recent
immigrants such as Peter Stiff himself and the other ex-Rhodesians
who flocked to the South African military after 1980. It even includes the
black Angolans recruited into the 32 Batallion, although Nortje notes that
their army identification numbers had the special prefix SP (for "soldado
preto," the Portuguese term for "black soldier" ). The social context that
molded these authors most deeply and inspired their loyalty most intensely
appears to have been the military itself; indeed for some of these writers
(and those they interviewed) the "cause" appears to have been the excitement
of war itself. Stiff refers to Jan Breytenbach's initial involvement with
the Rhodesians in Mozambique as "simply the best war around" (Silent War,
86), and his descriptions of combat sometimes give the impression of a
sports announcer recounting the scores and exploits of his favorite team.
For Nortje and Holt, the cause became their brothers in battle, a common
experience in almost every war. Even Hamann and Stiff, who for most of
their careers wrote about war rather than participated in it, were in effect
"embedded journalists," very much a part of the social world of the military
they reported on.
In effect, the military was the "country" they thought they were defending
and the social context that defined their reality and protected them
from contradictory perspectives. Unlike conscripts who came to oppose the
war or other white South Africans who in various ways came to doubt the
system or join the struggle against it, these writers represent another option.
A decade after the end of political apartheid, they are still living in the
mental bubble that apartheid created for them. The unanswered question
is how large a group they, with their loyal readers, represent.