Veterans from both sides of the Border War have remembered their former comrades who died or were wounded in that conflict and are bringing reconciliation to former enemies.
A media release sent from Menongue in Southern Angola and a report in the Angolan publication Jornal do Angola said over 100 ex-South African Defence Force (SADF) servicemen and two ex-Soviet advisors, as well as Angolans have travelled from South Africa in 26 four-wheel-drive vehicles. They met at Rundu in northern Namibia and drove through the Catuitui Border Post into Angola, where they were met by the Angolans.
From there they drove to Savate, scene of a severe loss for the former 32 Battalion, where they were hosted by Angolan authorities. From there, they followed the tar road to Menongue, which during the fighting was the main Cuban base and also the base for MPLA’s armed wing, FAPLA’s fighter planes. They followed the 200 km-long “Road of Death”, as it had been called by the former enemy, leading to Cuito Cuanavale. There they dropped poppies into the Cuito River in remembrance of the fallen. They were asked not to cross the river and drive around on the eastern side (where the SADF had been during the fighting) presumably because of mines still in the area.
They retraced their steps across southern Angola and turned south, off-road to Cassinga, where they were expected to spend Friday.
The informal name of the tour is “Unidade de Amizade”, or “United in Friendship”, which springs from a discussion between former National Serviceman Johan Booysen and General Fernando Mateus. General Mateus fought in the war, as did Booysen, and it was their initial idea to bring together former enemies in friendship.
Other key members of the team include Major General (ret) Roland de Vries and Colonel (ret) Jaap Steyn, who held key posts during the fighting in 1988. The trip is organised by the 61 Mechanised Battalion Group Veterans Association, but there are also veterans of 32 Battalion, 44 Parachute Brigade and Reconnaissance Regiments, now re-named Special Forces.
There are also two former Soviet advisors with the South Africans who flew into Cape Town and drove all the way up with their former enemies. The media release contains this all-encompassing idea, which politicians and other leaders would do well to learn from: “The human story of sacrifice and fortitude should be told by soldiers and civilians; of triumphs and disasters shared; of how former foes became friends once peace ensued.”
The convoy is scheduled to return via Mupa, Xangongo and Ruacana, all sites of engagements in the war, and will continue to the former SAAF and South West Africa Territory Force (SWATF) base in Rundu. They are expected to arrive home in the middle of next week.