Thursday, June 19, 2008

Book Review - An Unpopular War


An Unpopular War - From Afkak to Bosbefok

J. H. Thompson

Zebra Press (2006) 238 p.

Subtitled “Voices of South African National Servicemen”, this book is a compendium of oral testimonies of white conscripts who fought in the apartheid armed forces. Thompson conducts over 40 interviews, jumping between narratives and dividing each testimony according to a chronology of themes.

Beginning with the anxiety of call-up, life in boot camp and the physical and mental rigors of training, the storytellers convey a range of experiences, from the cruelty of their superiors to the boredom of patrols and the friendships formed in the bush. The most compelling sections are those that deal with the border conflict in South West Africa (Namibia) and Angola against SWAPO guerrillas. The intensity of the fighting there in the late 1970s and 80s is one of history’s underexposed truths.

More attention could have been given to a contextual chapter or some way of linking these anecdotal accounts to a broader understanding of the military campaign in Southern Africa. As stand-alone pieces however, these voices are nevertheless an important contribution to the literature on apartheid.


Zebra Press have a site that seeks to create an interactive space for readers and authors. With regards this title, conscripts have sent letters to Ms. Thompson outlining their feelings and thoughts on their involvement in the conflict. They reveal some tell-tale signs of post-traumatic stress, and less than sympathetic views towards the ANC and its armed struggle (unsurprising given the extreme levels of indoctrination to which soldiers were subjected).

Follow this link to read more:

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