The SAGA of South African POWs in Angola, 1975–82

  • G Baines Rhodes University


This article narrates the story of nine soldiers captured during and shortly after Operation Savannah, the codename for the South African Defence Force invasion of Angola in 1975–6. Eight of these soldiers were captured in Angola in three separate incidents by Angolan and/or Cuban forces, whereas the last was abducted from northern Namibia by SWAPO (the South West Africa Peoples’ Organisation). The article then provides a chronological account of the sequels to this story that interweaves a number of threads: first, the account relates the South African government’s attempts to suppress press coverage of these stories for fear of the political ‘fall-out’ that the matter might cause amongst the white electorate and in case it jeopardised secret negotiations to secure the release of the prisoners; and second, it uncovers the role played by intermediaries, especially the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in the sensitive and fraught negotiation process. It will be shown that the South African authorities adopted divergent approaches when dealing with SWAPO and the Angolans/Cubans to secure the release of prisoners of war (POWs). This is because the South African authorities regarded the former as involved in an internal insurrection whereas the latter were members of the military forces of sovereign states. Accordingly, they paid lip service to the Geneva Conventions in the case of Angolan and Cuban POWs but treated captured SWAPO cadres as ‘terrorists’ or ‘criminals’.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2224-0020
print ISSN: 1022-8136