The British Peace Support Team (BPST), established in 1994 to assist with integrating the South African Defence Force with liberation movement fighters, has concluded its mission and bid farewell to South Africa.
A reception was held at the British High Commissioner’s Residence on 4 December to mark the occasion. British High Commissioner Nigel Casey said it is a happy but sad occasion, because although the mission was ending, it has been a success.
The BPST started out as the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT), which was established in Pretoria in June 1994 following a request from the post-apartheid government for the UK’s assistance in integrating the armed wings of the liberation movements into the new South African National Defence Force (SANDF). This included Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla), and the defence forces of the Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and Ciskei (TBVC). Some 20 000 MK and Apla soldiers were merged with 70 000 SADF and TBVC soldiers.
Casey said this task was “quite an undertaking” in both logistical and political efforts, with some initial culture clash. He said people now take for granted the transition, which was at times “bumpy” but ultimately successful.
Over the years, the BMATT’s role evolved into that of peace keeping training force for South Africa and the wider region, and it was renamed the British Peace Support Team (BPST). Its mandate then became to advise on aspects of democratic defence management and peace support operations. The BPST comprised nine military officers and one civilian support staff.
In 2016 South Africa and the UK decided the time was right to bring the BPST to a conclusion, and close the BPST in December this year.
Casey said he now hopes the UK’s defence relations with South Africa will be as valued and equal partners and will go from strength to strength.
Lieutenant General Lindile Yam, Chief of the South African Army, said that people don’t realise that things could have gone badly, especially with tensions running high after Chris Hani’s assassination. He said the wounds were still unhealed when the integration process began, but “here we are now”.