The South African army convinced Savimbi to start guerrillas in Angola

Jonas Savimbi during a rally in Luanda, 1991

Jonas Savimbi during a rally in Luanda, 1991

A senior South African army officer who was responsible for the creation of the battalions 31 and 32 in Angola claimed that it was South Africa that, in 1976, advised Jonas Savimbi to start a guerrilla war.

Speaking to the Lusa agency in Lopitanga, where the funeral ceremonies of the historic leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) took place, lieutenant general Philip du Preez said that he had been in the origin of the formation of the African Angolan commandos in Angola to fight against government forces, which then began to be supported by the Soviets and Cubans, in a civil war that would only end in 2002.

"After the end of the great war of 1976, the South African military advised Savimbi not to try to advance on the ground on open warfare [to fight against government forces], but to embrace a guerrilla scheme. However, Savimbi preferred to turn east to the province of Moxico to rest and to prepare his troops," he stated.

"We then sent a message in order to help Savimbi, asking if he wanted us to send personnel to Moxico. He said yes and we sent around 100 people. Can you imagine the map of Angola back then? From Moxico [Luena, main base] to Catuiti [province of Cuando Cubango, near the Caprivi Range, Namibia] there are about 1,200 kilometers. They walked and walked and walked. And in August of 1976, they were in Moxico, where we began to cooperate with UNITA. It was a small number of people with few ammunition, but we took care of the leading group. We accommodated and trained them", observed the South African Offical, today in reserve.

Before that, recalled the first liaison officer between SADF and UNITA, the South African army had already created Battalion 31, with the "Bravo Group" (preceded by the "Arrows"), with elements coming mainly from the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA), which helped the Portuguese colonial troops in the fight that was happening in the then colony of Portugal.

The "Arrows", initially known as "Auxiliary Body", were a special indigenous force created in 1966 with the support of South Africa, in response to a need by the then International State Defense Police (PIDE / DGS) for the gathering of important political-military information to the Portuguese in Eastern Angola, as said to Lusa by John P. Cann, North American historian and author of the book "The Arrows - The Hunter Warriors of the East of Angola - 1965/ 74", published by Tribuna da História.

"Before I started working seriously with UNITA in May of 1975, I was contacted by some Angolans to train them and to fight against the forces of the MPLA [Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola] and, already at that stage, they told us that the Cubans were in Moçâmedes [southwest of Angola]. We got them all together, and then we began training them seriously to participate in this war, which we called "Operation Savannah", in August of 1975" said Philip du Preez.

The South African officer recalled that he was no longer present at the creation of Battalion 32 (or Buffalo Battalion), as he had handed the operation to a "very good young military man", the then Colonel Jay Breytenbach, a South African Army infantry soldier.

"He took that group and went to war, not as Battalion 32, but as the 'Bravo Group', which was joined in August 1976 by several other elements, mainly from UNITA, who created the very efficient Buffalo Battalion", he explained.

Asked by Lusa about the reasons why the South African army decided to become involved in the civil war in Angola, Philip du Preez recalled that at the time the word "communist" was "perceived very, very badly" in South Africa and that the presence of Soviet and Cuban military near the then South-West Africa was not pleasant.

"We worked hard with Savimbi, from 1975 to 1976 and then until 1990" recalled the South African official, who considers the historic leader of UNITA as a "very charismatic, great and adaptable leader."

"I was present when he spoke with the local traditional kings, with their subjects. You can not imagine what an impression he made. He always spoke in a popular language and there were no traditional chiefs opposing him. We, South Africans, really liked Savimbi," he said.

Regarding the funeral ceremonies of Savimbi, 17 years after his death - he was killed in combat in February of 2002 -, Philip du Preez considered this as a "great gesture of national reconciliation", remembering that his family, the MPLA (the ruling party) and UNITA gave hands to make everything possible.

"This is a great gesture of reconciliation between the different factions of the war. No political question can be solved by force of arms. It is solved by words and deeds", he concluded.

The Battalion 32 has come to be seen as a threat to the multiracial democratic regime established in 1994 in South Africa because it was created, trained and used by the "apartheid" regime. It was dissolved in 1993, a few months after the first democratic and multiracial elections in South Africa, imposed by the African National Congress (ANC).