South Africa’s Border War 1966-1989


By Willlem Steenkamp, Published in 1989



Willem Steenkamp’s account of the protracted struggle for South West Africa (now Namibia) has become one of the most enduring accounts of a conflict that went on for a generation. In South Africa’s Border War 1966-1989, the reader finds a comprehensive retelling of a war which went on between a sometimes confusing array of forces. As Steenkamp observes in his Foreword:

Southern Africa’s longest war effectively ended on November 1 of 1988, when South Africa and the South West African People’s Organization finally called it quits, 23 long years after the first shot had been fired. It had gone on for so long that for several generations of people of all races it was hard to believe that peace had come; that (on the South African side at least) a father and son could be wearing the same campaign medal for fighting on the same front but 15 years apart. In the latter stages, in fact, the brunt of the war was borne on both sides by young men who had not even been conceived when it had started.

It would be easy to critique the work based on the quarter century of events that have transpired in the region since South Africa’s Border War 1966-1989 was first published. However, such a reaction would miss the point: Steenkamp’s book offers the reader an opportunity to see how the conclusion of the battle for South West Africa appeared to observers at the time of its conclusion, and it is presented by a knowledgeable writer who was a witness to the conflict. Steenkamp’s journalistic work received commendation from United Press International in 1967 and 1968 for his coverage of the conflict; at the same time, Steenkamp served (in his words) “ingloriously but happily, as an ordinary mechanised infantryman.”

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