Shouldn't we Fight Them on the Beaches?


Has anyone informed Luthuli House that the United States (US) imperialist forces have already landed in South Africa? They have just ambushed a convoy near Alicedale in the Eastern Cape, according to intelligence leaked from the US embassy in Pretoria, and may well be carrying out a tactical landing from a C-130 Hercules military aircraft at East London airport. Other attacks were expected to follow, according to our Deep Throat in the embassy, spokesperson Jack Hillmeyer (oops, that’s rather let the cat out of the bag) including an air assault at night by paratroopers on Bulembo Airport near Bisho. And the dreaded US Marines are planning, Jack (‘don’t call me Snowden’) Hillmeyer further revealed, to back up the initial paratrooper assault by carrying out a full landing at Orient Beach in East London.

The really alarming thing about this US invasion is that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is not resisting it. In fact Hillmeyer revealed that our soldiers are actually collaborating with the enemy.

The more perceptive reader will by now have realized that we are actually talking about a joint military exercise between the US and South Africa. Shared Accord 13, as it is called, ‘is designed to increase the ability of both forces to respond to humanitarian disasters and peace keeping operations’, according to the US press release. About 700 US military personnel are participating in the two-week long exercise, including experts in brigade operations, dismounted infantry tactics, airborne infantry tactics, Civil Affairs, medics, and maritime amphibious assault.

‘U.S. military personnel will work side by side with South African partners as service members from both nations will teach and train each other to enhance knowledge and understanding of both nations’ capabilities … U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) is conducting the exercise on behalf of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)’.

Crude satire aside, one could quite easily be forgiven, after reading the African National Congress (ANC)’s policy on AFRICOM, for expecting Luthuli House to mobilise militias to rush down to the Eastern Cape to fight the US Marines on the beaches. Here is the relevant excerpt from its International Relations policy document adopted at its Mangaung conference last year: ‘The ANC reaffirms its position that African states should be resolute against AFRICOM presence in the guise of fighting terrorism and need to mount campaigns against US military presence on the continent … The ANC recognises that the AFRICOM programme is more than just the building of American bases on the African continent; it includes the involvement of US and NATO military on African soil, either through the prosecution of the so-called War on Terror or through “promotion of democratization”’.

That policy was clearly inspired by the Pentagon’s original intention to base AFRICOM – the new arm of its military which is concerned with Africa – on African soil. That proposal was stiffly resisted by the Mbeki administration, led by then defence minister Mosioua Lekota. The US eventually abandoned that project and decided to base AFRICOM in Stuttgart, Germany, alongside its Europe Command.

But if that plan – which even some American officials thought politically misguided – was the inspiration for the ANC’s policy, the language of the policy document is much more broadly directed, calling, as we saw, for ‘campaigns against US military presence on the continent’. Operation Shared Accord 13 exposes that policy for the ideological posturing – or should that be cognitive dissonance – which it really is. This is just the latest in many joint military exercises and other forms of cooperation between the US and the SANDF which have been going on for years, including the training of SANDF soldiers in US military academies.

Ideological posturing is to be expected, of course, and maybe it should be dismissed as harmless. But there is some reason to believe the ANC’s attitude is inhibiting greater military cooperation between the US and South Africa which could be very useful to South Africa. In March, the outgoing commander of AFRICOM General Carter Ham expressed his regret that although he had visited 43 African countries during his four years at the helm, South Africa had not been one of them. This was because of the hostility to AFRICOM encapsulated in that ANC policy document. Ham added something which was not widely known, that because of the ANC’s attitude to AFRICOM, the US was conducting its military relations with South Africa directly from the Pentagon in Washington rather than from AFRICOM in Stuttgart.

That’s why it was rather surprising to see in the US military’s statement that AFRICOM is involved in Shared Accord 13  – though perhaps the fact that the exercise is actually being conducted by US Army Africa ‘on behalf of AFRICOM’ was supposed to be half a fig leaf for the benefit of Luthuli House. Or perhaps a fig leaf which the US military allowed to slip a little.

But clearly the ANC political commissars’ hostility to AFRICOM is complicating military-to-military relations. And that hostility – which the ANC helped to spread to other countries on the continent – has made AFRICOM too tentative if anything. In Stuttgart AFRICOM constantly repeats the refrain that they are leaving but a ‘light footprint’ in African soil, mainly just helping African militaries to help themselves. That’s not all of course and certainly AFRICOM does not hide the fact that it is also joining African militaries in fighting al-Qaeda in the Maghreb for instance. But was its footprint not too light rather than too heavy in Mali, for example, when separatists and jihadists nearly overran the country?

The Zuma administration has decided to use the SANDF much more assertively, to counter rebel insurgencies destabilising the continent. The SANDF lost 15 soldiers in the Central African Republic in March. Very soon it could clash with the tough M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This is an ambitious and hazardous new role President Zuma has set for the SANDF. It needs all the help it can get to be fulfilled. When the bullets start flying it's important to know who your real friends and enemies are.

Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor, Independent Newspapers, South Africa

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