The history of colonialism and the resultant conflicts in southern Africa from 1960 to 1990 are complex and has been the subject of much analysis, but there is no dispute that these conflicts played a central role in determining South Africa's military strategy and the development of its unconventional arms programmes. Conflicts in the sub-region, including Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, were inextricably linked. For much of the 1970s the South African Defence Force was engaged in conflicts on four fronts—in Mozambique, Angola, Namibia (then South West Africa) and Rhodesia—which had a determining effect on the scale and duration of these wars.44
The announcement on 18 July 1966 by the International Court of Justice that it could not rule on the disputed territory of South West Africa led to the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) making its statement of war, the Dar es Salaam Declaration. Although a few battles took place between the South African Defence Force (SADF) soldiers and guerrilla fighters of SWAPO, the period 1970-74 saw the intensification of the political mobilisation of SWAPO members and their allies. In 1972 the SADF was deployed in the northern areas of South West Africa on a large scale.
Two years later, in 1974, the independence of Angola after a coup in Portugal by the Armed Forces Movement changed the face of the war in Namibia. The guerrilla soldiers of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), SWAPO's armed wing, were able to move through Angola more easily to establish a permanent presence in South West Africa.45
In January 1979 the South African Police responded by launching a new unit in Ovamboland, called Operasie Koevoet [Operation Crowbar]. The unit adopted the modus operandi of the Rhodesian Selous Scouts. Eugene de Kock, a veteran of the Rhodesian war,46 was assigned to the unit. He describes it in his book A long night's damage: