Apartheid’s Black Soldiers: Un-national Wars and Militaries in Southern Africa by Lennart Bolliger is out this month from Jacana Media.
‘Bolliger pays close and careful attention to the military cultures of the different units that made up South Africa’s counterinsurgency spearhead. He also attends to the afterlives of apartheid’s Black soldiers, showing the complex ways they have found a political voice in contemporary Namibia and tried to eke out an existence on the margins of South African society – or on the battlefields of Africa’s never-ending wars. This is an important book, and it will add immeasurably to our understanding of war in southern Africa.’ – Jacob ST Dlamini, author of Safari Nation: A Social History of the Kruger National Park
New oral histories from Black Namibian and Angolan troops who fought in apartheid South Africa’s security forces reveal their involvement, and its impact on their lives, to be far more complicated than most historical scholarship has acknowledged.
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 categorise 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.
About the author
Lennart Bolliger is a lecturer in international history at Utrecht University. Previously, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Asian and African Studies of the Humboldt University of Berlin and a visiting researcher at the History Workshop of Wits University. His research has previously been published in the Journal of Southern African Studies and the South African Historical Journal.