Former South African Special Forces commander Wynand du Toit, like another famous POW, South Vietnam’s Colonel Vo Dai Ton (“Reminder of communist tyranny from a good man”, News Weekly, September 10, 2016), was imprisoned by the communists during the Cold War and subsequently turned wordsmith.
Wynand du Toit
South Africans were engaged in the Cold War in Angola on a limited scale from 1975, to prevent problems in South-West Africa (SWA, now Namibia), a territory then controlled by the Republic of South Africa. The South Africans feared that the Marxist Angolan state, with USSR and Cuban help, would encourage insurgents in SWA. If SWA became inflamed with communist insurrections and foreign troop penetration, then incursions across the Orange River would duly follow into South Africa.
Du Toit was recently in Perth promoting his books. To his first book he gave the title, Judas Goat, because he believes that the mission that forms its subject was betrayed from within.
In May 1985, a nine-man Special Forces team landed on a beach in the oil-rich province of Cabinda, Angola. Their mission was to blow up six massive oil storage tanks. In the firefight that ensued, two South Africa soldiers were killed and Captain du Toit was captured. Indeed he was lucky to survive: after being wounded, he was deliberately shot in the neck by a soldier of the Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola (FAPLA, Angolan Marxists).
“It should have been easy: get in, blow them up and get out by submarine. Instead, I spent over 800 days in captivity.”
His captors told him: “Your government told us you were coming.”
Du Toit knew the operation was a Department of Foreign Affairs project, rather than being run by Defence. And he had been concerned that his team was landed 21 kilometres from the installation and that he was told specifically where to take cover by the chief of the SADF, General Constand Viljoen. Moreover, he was threatened with removal as leader if he did not follow those instructions.
Instead of having current photos of the oil installations he had none. He found out years later that the photos had gone missing prior to the operation.
It was the small South African Defence Force (SADF) presence in Angola that prevented the Marxists of the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) from marching to the South-West African capital Windhoek and on to and across the Orange River in northwest South Africa.
That didn’t stop American politician Rev Jesse Jackson, from a disgraceful attack on the prisoner, who was a U.S. ally in the Cold War, no matter how much Jackson may have disliked that fact. In fact it was the Cubans who were the invaders on African soil, unlike the South Africans who were engaged in forward defence to safeguard their soil.
Yet for two hours, Jackson and his press poodles berated du Toit with political questions about how racist and fascist the South Africans were.
Jackson simply demeaned himself, while du Toit’s conduct was impeccable. Indeed, he was reminiscent of Colonel Vo, who, after being coached in what to say by his captors, was paraded before the media, in 1982, by the communist Vietnam regime but simply refused to denigrate the United States or its allies.
Both men show how lonely being a political prisoner can be and how writing became an escape from deprivation.
The former SADF officer would not have shed a tear at the recent death of Pik Botha, the South African foreign minister at the time of the Cabinda mission.
Du Toit makes clear in many places in his book the feelings of betrayal that he had for the former foreign minister. However, Wynand du Toit and the serving men of the SADF have nothing to reproach themselves over. They simply deserve, and have, respect for holding the line in the Cold War.
Despite the jaundiced opinion from Western liberals and Marxists, South Africa did not start the war in Angola. But, in a sense, du Toit’s feelings of abandonment is a microcosm of the treatment that his nation received in the long conflict.
From small beginnings as an essentially police operation in August 1966, the conflict escalated over the following 23 years to include the SADF, three factional Angolan forces, and the USSR and Cuba; with some 55,000 Cuban soldiers involved at the end.
Some four U.S. administrations were also engaged: those of Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush snr, with the South Africans being their proxy in the long-running Cold War engagement.
The Cubans intervened on one side in a three cornered dispute and were never there at the invitation of an established Angolan government but rather as opportunists as the U.S. had been weakened by the Watergate trauma and resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974.
The subsequent failure of a craven Democratic Congress, plus the Ford and Carter administrations, to deal with the problem led to a protracted struggle because South Africa, rightly, was not prepared to allow communist interlopers to threaten its territory (South-West Africa) with the concomitant potential to then mount incursions into South Africa itself.
The war eventually finished with a treaty, signed at the end of 1988.