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New book by alumnus Lennart Bolliger explores experiences of African soldiers who fought in apartheid security forces

Posted:
05 November, 2021

A new book by alumnus Lennart Bolliger, based on his DPhil research, draws on oral histories to explore the experiences of Black Namibian and Angolan troops who fought in apartheid South Africa’s security forces.

In anticolonial struggles across the African continent, tens of thousands of African soldiers served in the militaries of colonial and settler states. In southern Africa, they often made up the bulk of these militaries and, in some contexts, far outnumbered those who fought in the liberation movements’ armed wings. Despite these soldiers' significant impact on the region’s military and political history, this dimension of southern Africa’s anticolonial struggles has been almost entirely ignored in previous scholarship.

Black troops from Namibia and Angola spearheaded apartheid South Africa’s military intervention in their countries’ respective anticolonial war and postindependence civil war. Drawing from oral history interviews and archival sources, Lennart Bolliger challenges the common framing of these wars as struggles of national liberation fought by and for Africans against White colonial and settler-state armies.

Focusing on three case studies of predominantly Black units commanded by White officers, Bolliger investigates how and why these soldiers participated in South Africa’s security forces and considers the legacies of that involvement. In tackling these questions, he rejects the common tendency to categorize the soldiers as “collaborators” and “traitors” and reveals the un-national facets of anticolonial struggles.

Finally, the book’s unique analysis of apartheid military culture shows how South Africa’s military units were far from monolithic and instead developed distinctive institutional practices, mythologies, and concepts of militarised masculinity.

Find out more about the book.

Read an excerpt.

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