'Dogs of War' ban will rob British Army of vital frontline soldiers
From Fred Bridgland in Johannesburg and Michael Evans, Defence Editor
South Africans answered the call to give overseas help to Britain in
the First World War (ART ARCHIVE)
SEVEN HUNDRED South Africans serving in Britainâs Armed Forces will
have to abandon their careers or surrender their citizenship under
draconian new anti-mercenary legislation being enacted by South
The new Bill, designed to scotch South Africaâs reputation as a rich
recruiting ground for âdogs of warâ, was approved by 11 votes to one
by the Parliamentâs defence committee this week despite an
impassioned appeal from Paul Boateng, the British High Commissioner.
If the Bill is approved by the full assembly, as now seems probable,
it will end a tradition of South Africans serving with the British
military that goes back to the First World War, and leave Britainâs
Armed Forces overstretched.
Many of the 700 are serving with British forces in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Second Lieutenant Ralph Johnson, 24, one of the three
British soldiers killed in Afghanistan this week, was born in South
Africa. Sholto Hedenskog, 25, a Marine killed in Iraq in 2003, was
also South African. It was the activities of a former British
soldier, Simon Mann, that inspired the Bill. In 2004 Mann, a former
SAS officer, began an unsuccessful coup against President Teodoro
Obiang Nguema Mbasago of Equatorial Guinea using 70 mercenaries
recruited in South Africa. He is now in prison and Sir Mark Thatcher,
the son of the former British Prime Minister, was fined Â£265,000 for
helping to finance the attempted coup.
The legislation, which will greatly strengthen South Africaâs
previous anti-mercenary laws, is driven by politics as much as security.
The ruling African National Congress, which came to power in 1994
after decades of apartheid rule, fought in exile alongside Angolaâs
former Marxist army against such apartheid-era forces as the Buffalo
Battalion, the Reconnaissance Commandos and the Parachute Brigade.
It is from such units that many South African fighters serving abroad
have since been recruited. Many were subsequently recruited by the
Angolan Government to hunt down and kill the rebel leader Jonas
Savimbi, in cooperation with Israeli special forces. Britainâs Armed
Forces welcomed South Africans from the mercenary company Executive
Outcomes, who with just a few hundred men and a few helicopters
helped in the defeat of the Revolutionary United Front rebels in
When the Bill was introduced late last year Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma,
South Africaâs Foreign Minister, said: âWe donât like the idea of
South Africa becoming a cesspool of mercenaries.â
On Thursday Mr Boateng made an unprecedented appearance before the
defence committee to argue that South Africans serving in the British
military should be exempted.
He said that passage of the Bill would damage Britainâs co-operation
with South Africa on defence issues, but his appeal was rejected.
One ANC MP, Somangamane Ntuli, told Mr Boateng that the specialised
training South Africans received in Britainâs Armed Forces could âbe
used in a dirty mannerâ . . . How or where they used their skills had
to be regulated.
A South African journalist who attended the hearing said he was
âastonished at the short shrift that the High Commissioner was given
by committee members. Unless some kind of extraordinary pressure can
be brought to bear on Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, the defence
committeeâs decision will standâ.
Britainâs Ministry of Defence yesterday sent the 700 South Africans
warnings that they may have to return home.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it was making urgent
representations to the South African Government in a last-ditch
effort to have the Bill amended.
âWe donât think the South African Government is ideologically opposed
to their citizens serving in the British Army,â one official said.
âItâs just that their legislation aimed at banning mercenaries has
drawn us into the dragnet.â
Britainâs Armed Forces have become increasingly dependent on
Commonwealth citizens over the past 20 to 30 years, and in the past
seven years the number recruited by the Army has risen by 3,000 per
cent. The sweeping new legislation will also criminalise between
5,000 and 10,000 South African hired guns serving in various
capacities in Iraq.
# First Victoria Cross awarded to South African colonial forces given
to corporal in the Native Natal Contingent in 1879 for gallantry at
# South African Brigade distinguished itself at Delville Wood, Battle
of the Somme, 1916
# The Light Horse Regiment, a South African reserve force, served in
the First and Second World Wars. Awarded battle honours after the
South African campaign in the First World War, then served at El
Alamein and in Italy, where it sustained heavy losses but helped to
take Florence and Venice
# Jan Christian Smuts fought against British forces in the Boer War.
Became a British general serving in Africa in the First World War and
later joined Lloyd Georgeâs Cabinet. Made Field Marshal during Second