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Saturday, August 01, 2009

The South African Factor

On 22 January 1879 a 20,000 strong Zulu army equipped mainly with iron spears and cowhide shields fought a force consisting of a mixed British and native force, 1200 to 2000 strong, armed with the then state of the art, Martini Henry Breech Loading Rifle and artillery. The Zulus defeated the British Force killing around 1300 men.

In the First War of Independence (1880-1881) the South African Boers defeated the British Empire. Years later in the Second War of Independence or Second Boer War the South Africans initially took the advantage using modern tactics taken from the American Civil War and the First Boer War, but were eventually defeated. Although the South Africans lost the war their contributions to warfare live on today with the word "Commandos", which referred to units of mounted Boers who were excellent marksmen and riders. Today special forces are referred to as Commandos.

South Africa served in both the First and Second World Wars and there are many stories of South African victories and heroism to be told. At Delville Wood there is still a monument to be seen for the selfless contribution we made during that battle. South African Forces featured in both Africa and Italy during World War 2. During World War 2 General Jan Smuts was the only non-British soldier sought for advice by Winston Churchill and would years later establish the League of Nations which would become the UN in later years. Thus the first groundwork for the United Nations was actually laid by Jan Smuts.

The South African Army and Air Force played a major role in defeating the Italian forces of Benito Mussolini during the 1940/1941 East African Campaign. The converted Junkers Ju 86s of 12 Squadron, South African Air Force, carried out the first bombing raid of the campaign on a concentration of tanks at Moyale at 8am on 11 June 1940, mere hours after Italy's declaration of war.

Another important victory that the South Africans participated in was the liberation of Malagasy (now known as Madagascar) from the control of the Vichy French who were allies of the Nazis. British troops aided by South African soldiers, staged their attack from South Africa, landing on the strategic island on 4 May 1942 to preclude its seizure by the Japanese.

The South African 1st Infantry Division took part in several actions in North Africa in 1941 and 1942, including the Battle of El Alamein, before being withdrawn to South Africa to be re-constituted as an armoured division.

The South African 6th Armoured Division fought in numerous actions in Italy from 1944 to 1945.

The South African Air Force (SAAF) made a significant contribution to the air war in East Africa, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, the Balkans and even as far east as bombing missions aimed at the Romanian oilfields in Ploiesti, supply missions in support of the Warsaw uprising and reconnaissance missions ahead of the Russian advances in the Lvov-Cracow area.

Numerous South African airmen also volunteered serivce to the RAF, some serving with distinction. Sailor Malan (Adolph Gysbert Malan) was a South African and the top fighter ace during the Battle of Britain. He established the Ten Rules of Air Fighting which is still taught today.

South Africa contributed to the war effort against Japan, supplying men and manning ships in naval engagements against the Japanese.

Of the 334,000 men volunteered for full time service in the South African Army during the war (including some 211,000 whites, 77,000 blacks and 46,000 "coloureds" and Asians), nearly 9,000 were killed in action.

Post-war, the SAAF also took part in the Berlin airlift of 1948 with 20 aircrews flying Royal Air Force Dakotas.

South Africa also contributed to the Korean War mainly as fighter pilots in the famous 2 Squadron known as the "Flying Cheetahs."

It won many American decorations, including the unusual honour of a United States Presidential Unit Citation in 1952 which read:

"2 Sqn had a long and distinguished record of service in Korea flying P-51D Mustangs and later F-86F Sabres. Their role was mainly flying ground attack and interdiction missions as one of the squadrons making up the USAF's 18th Fighter Bomber Wing."

"During the Korean conflict the squadron flew a grand total of 12 067 sorties for a loss of 34 pilots and two other ranks. Aircraft losses amounted to 74 out of 97 Mustangs and four out of 22 Sabres. Pilots and men of the squadron received a total of 797 medals including 2 Silver Stars - the highest award to non-American nationals - 3 Legions of Merit, 55 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 40 Bronze Stars. 8 pilots became POWs. Casualties: 20 KIA 16 WIA."

In the sixties, seventies and eighties South Africa in essence fought a civil war as the Apartheid Government fought the Freedom Fighters of mainly the ANC as well as a war in Northern South West Africa/Namibia and Southern Angola.

Today South Africa leads the way in sporting victories. At present we have the number one ranked cricket team in the world as well as the Springbok Rugby Team which has won the Rugby World Cup twice. The movie "The Human Factor" was directed by Clint Eastwood on the 1995 World Cup victory and will be launched soon. Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar.

Several important scientific and technological developments have originated in South Africa. The first human to human heart transplant was performed by cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967. Max Theiler developed a vaccine against Yellow Fever, Allan McLeod Cormack pioneered x-ray Computed tomography, and Aaron Klug developed crystallographic electron microscopy techniques. These advancements were all recognised with Nobel Prizes. Sydney Brenner won most recently, in 2002, for his pioneering work in molecular biology.

South Africa has also cultivated a burgeoning astronomy community. It hosts the Southern African Large Telescope, the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. South Africa is currently building the Karoo Array Telescope as a pathfinder for the $20 billion Square Kilometer Array project. South Africa is a finalist, with Australia, to be the host of the SKA.

South African contributions to the world are too many to name here and even though we have problems like any other country the future looks bright because this country is built on the spirit of who we are. Here is looking to the future. The government plans to build another three or four nuclear power stations to be ready by 2014 and the economy is expanding even though it is being thwarted by the current recession. A sign of a stable economy is how it stands up in a recession and the South African Economy is not doing too badly and should also be boosted by the 2010 Soccer World Cup being hosted here.