The KOEVOET UNIT
Koevoet was an elite policing unit operated by the South African forces on its Namibian border during the 1980’s. In 1978 the counter insurgency war on the Angolan SWA Namibian border was going badly for the South Africans.
SWAPO was gaining the upper hand, so the South African decided to organise an Elite Commando-security based on the RHODESIAN SELOUS SCOUTS.
The unit was handed the Top Secret Project Koevoet (crowbar) to provide operational intelligence by capturing and interrogating insurgent, but its commander came to realize that
So, the team reverted to basic police work, building informer networks, recruiting black police Officers and SKILLED TRACKERS.
In it 10 year existence, Koevoet fought in 1615 encounters and took 3225 prisoners – the equivalent of almost 6 Battalions of troops!
They were the most effective unit (in terms of personnel lost versus enemies killed) deployed against SWAPO fighters (seeking Namibian independence from South Africa) and were accused by them of brutal and indiscriminate use of force.
But, after heroically repelling SWAPO’S invasion of
Koevoet: it was a luvverly war
By Emsie Ferreira
SOUTH Africa's former Koevoet (Crowbar) fighters gathered near Cape Town recently to reminisce about their glory days as the apartheid regime's most efficient killers of terrorists and to help each other cope with being outcasts now.
The specialised police unit sometimes celebrated by slashing off the ears off its victims and stringing them into necklaces.
Officers used to drag bodies behind their vehicles to instil fear.
"We did good work. We were described by many an international journalist as the best anti-terrorist unit in the world," Brigadier Isak van der Merwe, the former second-in-command of Koevoet, told AFP as 180 of his men holed up at a holiday resort near the rural town of Paarl outside Cape Town last weekend.
Koevoet earned its reputation killing members of the South West African People's Organisation (Swapo) in neighbouring South West Africa before that territory became independent as Namibia in 1989.
The unit numbered only 300 South Africans, backed by co-opted native Namibians, but managed to kill more than 10 times as many members of Swapo.
The statistics are proudly emblazoned on the labels of wine bottles emptied at the reunion -- 3861 Swapo were killed compared with 153 Koevoet members who died in action.
But in an interview with the Cape Times, former Koevoet members said they were brainwashed by the apartheid rulers to believe that Swapo, like the then-banned African National Congress, posed a terrorist threat.
Now that the two movements are ruling respectively Namibia and South Africa, they have come to realise that they were fighting for nothing.
"They told us we were fighting the swart gevaar (black danger) and communism. But now Swapo and the ANC have the most democratic constitutions in the world," said former Koevoet member Herman Grobler said.
"And the people we were fighting against weren't communists. They were ordinary people."
Grobler said he also felt guilty about the 1000 Ovambos, black Namibians, who fought with them.
"They were my brothers. We drank out of the same water bags ... but it was our war we forced on them."
The memories of the past and the public condemnation have taken their toll on the members of Koevoet, which was disbanded in 1993.
Some have had nervous breakdowns, and many have committed suicide, Grobler said.
"They felt that they had no purpose in life. Nobody thinks you have any right to exist. It is the Vietnam syndrome. You are not being acknowledged for who you are, that you fought as a soldier for your country."
It is the same argument that has been taken by countless security police members and defence force fighters who have been accused of atrocities while trying to suppress the liberation struggle, but the argument has found little support outside the white right wing.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up by former president Nelson Mandela to probe apartheid era abuses, found the unit had been responsible for gross human rights abuses.
Its report, handed to Mandela in 1998, described how Koevoet soldiers tied the bodies of those they had killed to car bumpers and dragged them through Namibian villages.
Van der Merwe said it was now up to the former Koevoet members to support each other, and that it why they founded an organisation, the Union for Former Koevoete with its own constitution, at the weekend.
"We just want to take care of our people, especially the families of those of our men who were killed. It is a welfare thing. It is a non-political organisation; we support the government of the day," he added.
The main purpose of the reunion, he said, was for the "men to relax over a few drinks and to talk about old times".
The weekend was a family affair where the men's wives and children came along, and ended with a church service.
The preacher told the men God would forgive them their sins if they confessed. Several burst into tears, but Van der Merwe was adamant that the group had no regrets.
"The whole thing was one big success we are proud of. We shot and they shot and we shot better. We don't apologise for it, not one bit."