Special Assignment

Skeletons of Cuito Cuanavale

Almost three decades after the biggest battle since World War II was fought on the African continent, mechanical skeletons litter the landscape of southern Angola and many deadly dangers in the form of landmines remain hidden in the soil, taking their toll on innocent civilians.

It’s been 27 years since the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in southern Angola. It played out against the backdrop of the Angolan Civil War and the ending of the cold war between America and the former Soviet Union. During the battle, the USA and apartheid South Africa were supporting UNITA, an anti-communist opposition army led by Jonas Savimbi. In 1987 the liberation forces (FAPLA) received extensive support from the Soviet and Cuban governments, allowing them to take on UNITA with renewed vigour. The South African Defense Force (SADF) came to UNITA’s aid. This led to the largest land battle fought in Africa since World War II.

Many commentators and historians believe that the battle had a direct influence on the liberation of South Africa. Almost 30 years on, there is still no consensus as to who won the war, with all sides claiming victory.

Many white, South African men, 18 years and older, who were conscripted into the army, fought at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. 46-year old Johan Booysens still suffers from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of what he experienced. He and other former SADF soldiers who fought there, were compelled to make the difficult journey back to Cuito in order to reconcile their past experiences and reach out a hand of reconciliation to the people living there. Despite being advised against it, they travelled the difficult roads on motorcycles.

Special Assignment follows the journey of Booysens, his family and friends, led by the Ex-Combatants Association made up of his former enemies from Mkonto we Sizwe. This week we show part one of this two-part documentary series written and Produced by Richelle Seton-Rogers.

 Watch Skeletons of Cuito Cuanivale on Special Assignment – Sundays on SABC 3 at 20h30. Repeated Mondays at 23h30.