Book Review: The Battle in Bangui: The Untold Inside Story


This 40-page publication is a “must read” for everyone in uniform as well as those charged with decision-making in the South African military, particularly the SA National Defence Force’s political masters.

Written by top South African defence analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman, “The Battle in Bangui: The Untold Inside Story” gives an insight into just how bravely the outnumbered contingent of South African soldiers performed in the long, high intensity firefight they found themselves in between March 22 and 24, 2013, and which resulted in the overthrow of the Central African Republic’s President Francois Bozize.

The book also gives background into what the soldiers were doing in the Central African Republic (CAR) in the first place and draws out a number of lessons learned during the incident. “The Battle in Bangui” raises interesting questions, like should a larger force have been sent, what choices did Commander-in-Chief President Jacob Zuma have, and importantly, what were the lessons learned.

Heitman has no problems with the manner in which the South African soldiers acquitted themselves in the fighting earlier this year. “Do not blame the soldiers and junior leaders: they are doing their best and their best is quite often outstanding,” he says.

He also exonerates the generals for deploying small and/or under-armed forces.
“They can only do the best with what they have. And what they have in terms of the numbers of soldiers, the type of equipment and support capabilities is simply inadequate for the role South Africa’s government wishes to play (in Africa).
“If there is blame it must go to the politicians who starve the Defence Force financially and then expect it to work miracles,” he writes.

Heitman ends with a warning to those in charge of the national purse strings: “There is no such thing as military operations on the cheap: what is saved in cash will be paid for in blood”.

The Battle in Bangui: the Untold Inside Story

Helmoed Romer Heitman
40 pages, five colour photographs and maps

Published in South Africa in 2013 by Parktown Publishers (Pty) Ltd Trading as Mampoer Shorts

Only available digitally from

ISBN 978-0-9921902-8-6