Book review: Anderkant Cuito


As far as I can determine, there is not yet an English translation of Anderkant Cuito – ‘n Reisverhaal van die Grensoorlog. The book therefore sadly, for now, guard itself against reading.

Anderkant Cuito is a telling of a journey to Cuito Cuanavale – the Cuito of the title – undertaken by 32Bn veteran Louis Bothma and a group of 61 Mechanised Battalion Group “old boys” a year ago (October 2010). Former Sergeant Major of the SANDF and Special Forces operator WO1 “Koos” Moorcroft was tour leader. Among the veterans was Major General (Ret) Roland de Vries, who played a major role in many of the battles in south Angola during the “Border War”.

The purpose of the trip was to visit some of these over some two weeks. The intrepid Angolanauts set off for the north by vehicle, crossing Botswana and passing through Gobabis and Windhoek for Tsumeb where some old friendships were rekindled and new ones forged. There was an obligatory stop at Omuthiya, the ruin of 61’s former main base and Okatope, a company base in the former 54Bn area of responsibility. The party crossed into Angola near Ruacana (in the west) and headed for Xangongo before following a modern tar road to Ongiva. From there it was north, along sand tracks to Evale, Mupa, Techumutete and Cassinga – names intimately familiar to former national servicemen and PF’s (SADF Permanent Force). Cassinga is empty now, save for the weathered graves of those who died there. As they go along, anecdotes are shared, photographs are taken and De Vries briefs his fellow veterans on who did what to whom where. At Indungo it was Moorcroft’s turn to describe a fierce fighting there involving 5 Reconnaissance Regiment, 1 Parachute Battalion and 101 Battalion. Then on to Menongue along roads fair and foul – and Cuito Cuanavale, a rest stop one night. The symbolic highlight of the trip is crossing a Bailey bridge over the Cuito. The area is still badly contaminated with landmines so there was little scope for exploration.

On the way back, the intrepid travellers stopped at Caiundo and Savate – location of a 32Bn set-back before crossing into Namibia near Rundu. Then it was onwards to Buffalo, the old 32Bn base, now a nature reserve – and home via Botswana.

The book lacks an index but is easy to navigate and the copious photographs should greatly entertain the interested reader. Bothma did a lot of work here and is to be thoroughly commended – the more so for his efforts to tell both sides of the story, to give a face to Angola’s people as well as South Africa’s opponents of the time – the PLAN and FAPLA soldiers. Far too many accounts of the “Border War” and, for that matter the Rhodesian “Bush War” remain one dimensional – portraying at best a faceless enemy “to whom things are done”.

LJ (Louis) Bothma

Anderkant Cuito – ‘n Reisverhaal van die Grensoorlog

LJ Bothma