SA Soldiers’ Trip Back to Angola for Peace and Reconciliation – PHOTOS

Decades after the devastating Angolan Border War, almost 100 South African military veterans travelled in convoy during May to revisit battle sites that have haunted them ever since, driven by a need for redemption, peace… and to “say cheers to the brothers”. Defying expectations Angolan citizens greeted them with open arms… like allies, not foes. The amazing pilgrimage is featured on Carte Blanche on Sunday night (and available to South Africans abroad from Tuesday 5 June 2018, if you subscribe to Showmax.)

According to the Unidade de Amizade Team, the South Africans and Angolans (including vets from Cuba and Russia) decided to launch a combined military operation in May – “not in anger this time, but with a focus on reconciliation and peace.”

Below, Gregory de Ricquebourg – a South African Lt General during the army – kindly shares some of his photos of an unforgettable trip…

Angola
Travelling in convoy

15 May 2018 (they set off on the 9th): We are about to go into Cuito Cuanavale – the biggest battlefield. We have a huge armed police escort and the Angolan army ahead of us. Very mixed feelings. Have had no comms till now. We went through the battlefield at Savati on Sunday. Amazing how the war vets are greeting us like heroes.


Angola
At Savati, with the King. War vets are in khaki.
Angola
Angolan General Fernando Mateus – Chief of Army during the Angolan War. This visit to Angola was based on a friendship established a few years ago by South African military veterans with General Mateus.
Angola
Breakfast at the Governor’s residence
Angola
Teaching the young Angolan kids i-Xhosa

Later that night: Very emotional day… at the biggest battle fought in Africa since World War II. I placed a cross at one of our tank casualties in remembrance of Edward Yeo, killed in action.

Angola

These were some of the weapon systems we came up against.

Angola

We assembled on the bridge at Cuito together with the MPLA veterans. Said prayers and threw hundreds of poppies into the Cuito River. Cuvelaigh tomorrow, then the big battle of Cassinga on Thursday.

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The Team
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Here’s me (left) with the Russian Commisar during the war – Andre – now big Kamerada. He came from Moscow to be on tour with us this week.

We had Gen Dippenaar and old Col Cassie Schoeman flown in by chopper today to be with us. We placed Acacia trees with our names on, in remembrance of our fallen comrades.

Angola

The Angolans have built a huge museum in Cuito to commemorate the battle, so we handed over various pieces including a replica of the Colour of our Regiment – 61 Mechanised Infantry Battalion. (It’s freaking hot here – 46 degrees C!)

Angola Angola

Angola
Painting in the museum of the battle

It’s amazing how we’ve been received here… like returning heroes. Every village a huge welcome party, and a HUGE banquet and breakfast in Menongue. We have blue light brigade and army and police escorting us wherever we go. It’s surreal.

Roads are deathly dangerous – huge ravines, never mind potholes! And with the huge convoy, dust and dark – it is very challenging.

Our current home

Friday 18 May: Cuvelai – left Cassinga four hours ago. The roads are so shocking, and the forests so thick I really don’t know how we actually got these Operations right. Sorry no comms. This is a vast very poor country. This has been such a life journey for all of us. I still can’t believe after the destruction we caused, we are welcomed like heroes at every town. Shaking hands with all the town folk (including the veterans we fought against, wearing khaki uniforms).

Angola

Angola Saturday 19 May: We took the cross back to the church at Mupa today. The church was destroyed during Op Meerbos. Church has been rebuilt after we destroyed it. FAPLA were hiding here. The church is really nice and was packed to capacity.

Angola Church

We are en route to the site of another of our big battles – Ondjiva. We will all have lunch with the Governor of this Province – Cunene. Those of us that fought here got the Cunene Clasp to wear with our Pro patria medal.

We are at the Governor’s Palace for lunch. Crayfish for lunch – no expense spared.
You know you’ve arrived when you have a photo taken on the Governor’s throne
One of the BTR we took out at Ondjiva

They have removed most of the vehicles we destroyed, but have left all of ours.

How’s this (picture below) – During the Sadabadeira attack, the guy on the left was the Russian advisor and the guy with the white shirt was the General Officer commanding the whole area. He was wounded, and we took him prisoner. He thanked us today for the excellent treatment he received as a POW (prisoner of war). The lady in red was the Commander Lt Col of the MPLA in this town. Historic like you can’t believe.

We were all hugging and crying.

Old enemies. New friends.
We lost two guys at the airport. Two crosses were laid in their memory near the airfield.
Sunset tonight

Wednesday 23 May (2 weeks after setting off): Home safe. it really was the trip of a lifetime, in every way – emotionally and physically. It was a great adventure too… in an extremely poor country. The last time we did this was in armoured vehicles, so it was quite a challenge in Hilux’s etc. I’m going to make a documentary with all the footage I have and Carte Blanche are doing a show… It really was surreal how we were treated like heroes coming home, although we had caused so much damage there…

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Watch Carte Blanche this evening in South Africa, or from Tuesday if you’re overseas – stream it on Showmax (Free 14-day trial).

All photos copyright © Gregory de Ricquebourg. Please do not use without permission.