32-Battalion and the South African Border War

The South African Border War was a conflict that occurred in Namibia (then South West Africa) and southern Angola from 1966 to 1989 – a conflict which took place against the back-drop of the Cold War and which was in fact anything but cold in Africa. It started out as a conflict between the South African Defence Force (SADF) and the armed wing of the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), but escalated into a war between pro-western forces (the SADF and its allies) and Soviet-backed forces (the Angolan/Cuban pact, SWAPO and their allies). This resulted in some of the largest battles on the African continent since World War II and some of the biggest losses for Soviet-backed forces during the Cold War.

32-Battalion’s story is virtually the untold story of the Border War. Starting out as Bravo Group during Operation Savannah in 1975, the battalion was officially founded in 1976 and comprised mainly of former Angolan FNLA and other soldiers from around the globe. Together with their South African officers, they forged a formidable battalion that became known as the Terrible Ones, wreaking havoc on its enemies.

From 1976 until 1989 the battalion was deployed on an almost permanent basis to conduct offensive operations mainly inside southern-Angola, acting as a buffer between the SADF’s regular forces on the Namibian Border and its enemies who had their bases inside Angola. The battalion also partook in all major SADF external operations, from Operation Savannah in 1975 until the last battles and campaigns in 1989 – including the so-called battle of Cuito Cuanavale during 1987/88.

The unit’s activities covered a wide spectrum, ranging from counter-insurgency and guerrilla-style operations; reconnaissance missions through to semi-conventional and even fully-fledged conventional operations during the last phases of the war. The unit was also used to assist Jonas Savimbi’s guerrilla movement, UNITA, against Angolan and Cuban Forces.

After the 1989 Namibian settlement the unit was relocated to South Africa and all its foreign members received South African citizenship. The battalion was then used to patrol borders and also deployed in urban unrest areas.  However, in 1993 this proud unit was disbanded after it had become a hot potato during the CODESA negotiations for a new political dispensation in South Africa.

Today, this elite unit still receives international recognition for its impressive combat record.