Pierre Donadieu –
Angolan soldiers recruited by South Africa’s apartheid government to fight against their homeland now live in squalor, forgotten and unwanted.
Without healthcare, jobs or basic services, some 3,000 Angolan-born men call home the town of Pomfret in a far-flung northern corner of South Africa on the edge of the Kalahari Desert.
Dilapidated buildings crumble by the side of the town’s sun-baked main road, water and power are cut off.
Former soldier Jose Lourenco, 69, a black Angolan, pointed to yellowing photos of ‘32 Battalion’ — his elite South African unit — in action in Angola against communist government forces.
In the 1980s, while still living in Angola, he joined the unit that had been formed to fight communism across southern Africa, including in Namibia and Zambia.
“The government should tell us what we did wrong. Why are they punishing us like this?” he said, speaking in Angolan Portuguese.
When the Cold War ended and as Pretoria ceased its shadowy wars against supposed communist threats, 32 Battalion was relocated to Pomfret with the promise that its members would be integrated into the regular South African army.
Life was initially good in the extreme northern outpost.
The town had its own public swimming pool, tennis courts and a large, well-stocked supermarket.
But the political change of the 1990s swept away the white-minority government, brought Nelson Mandela’s ANC to power and shattered the town’s sheltered existence.
The battalion was disbanded in 1993 and a number of the soldiers left Pomfret along with their families.
Many of the men of Angolan heritage waived their right to be incorporated into the reformed army in return for a cash handout worth $32,000 in today’s terms.
Gradually families who had contributed to the small community began to drift away and the town started its slide into decline.
By the 2000s, the government signalled its intention to close the base in Pomfret and to relocate the remaining families. But a hard core of ex-servicemen refused to budge.
The police service left the town, homes were ransacked and the hospital was trashed.
The modest graveyard, which stood as a reminder to the men of 32 Battalion lost in South Africa’s “border wars”, became overgrown.
Finally in 2014, authorities cut the power to the town. Water is only supplied once a week. — AFP