Cape Times

SA’s worst military scandal since apartheid

- THE BATTLE OF BANGUI Warren Thompson, Stephan Hofstatter, James Oatway (R256) Penguin Random House | ORIELLE BERRY

THIS is the inside story of our country's worst military scandal since apartheid.

In March 2013, South Africa suffered its worst military defeat since the end of apartheid. After a battle that lasted almost two days, 200 crack troops, engaging 7 000 rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR), were forced to negotiate a ceasefire at their base. Thirteen South African soldiers were killed in the battle, with two dying later as they succumbed to their wounds.

From the start, the mission was shrouded in mystery. The deployment and the diplomatic negotiatio­ns that led to it were kept under cover from the public and Parliament. This, as well as varied shadowy commercial interests held by businessme­n, some of whom had close ties to the African National Congress.

In an investigat­ion lasting seven years, the authors managed to get exclusive access to soldiers who fought valiantly against incredible odds; travelling to Bangui to get documentat­ion and meeting the rebel leaders who took part in the battle. They interviewe­d a deposed dictator living in exile in Paris and also spoke to the widows of the fallen soldiers. They met the influentia­l fixers and deal makers, and uncovered secret files containing bribe agreements – unravellin­g an intricate web of corruption and patronage reaching the highest echelons of power in South Africa and the CAR.

Following almost a decade of high speculatio­n and rumour, The Battle of Bangui lays bare all for the first time: the litany of strategic, tactical and logistical blunders that ended in military disaster, and the secret diplomatic and commercial deals that led to what has become known as South Africa's worst foreign misadventu­re of the democratic era.

It's also a fabulous war story that's filled with heroism, camaraderi­e, terror, pathos and triumph over adversity.

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