Professor Paul Moorcraft has written what will undoubtedly be recognised as the definitive work on war and revolution in Southern Africa over the last 60 years. It is also his masterpiece in his writing on Southern Africa.
The principal theme of the book is the fight by the apartheid government in South Africa to protect its people against what it saw as an onslaught by African nationalism supported by Communist-ruled countries, notably Russia and Cuba.
This fight could be described as the Third Boer War, with Afrikanerdom pitted, not this time against the British Empire, but against the world.
Professor Moorcraft’s insights into this struggle are extremely personal at times as he spent much time on the front line. He conducted the first-ever television interview with the leader of RENAMO, Afonso Dhlakama, at his headquarters in Gorongosa in Mozambique in November 1986, having travelled cross-country for a week by motor bike to do so.
He obtained an intimate knowledge of South Africa’s war in Angola between 1976 and 1990 again through front-line reporting and access to both UNITA and senior officers of the South African Defence Force.
He has already written about the Rhodesian War from personal experience and knowledge and includes much of this material in this book. He also goes on to describe in detail some of the efforts by South Africa to destabilise independent Zimbabwe in the 1980s as well as Zimbabwe’s military involvement in Mozambique in support of the FRELIMO Government.
His analysis of the final collapse of apartheid shows particular insight. He refers to J M Coetzee’s allegorical book “Waiting for the Barbarians” in which the evils inherent in all types of authoritarianism are described.
He makes the point, which has been made many times over the years, that the real enemy is fear. In the case of South Africa it was an overwhelming fear of the future. It became clear that black rule was inevitable but when and how could and would it be achieved?
Many books were written in the 1980s putting forward suggestions and proposals, usually unworkable and unrealistic.
Professor Moorcraft also quotes an observation by a French writer and philosopher, Raymond Aron, that “when a party gives itself the right to use force against all its enemies in a country in which to start with it is in a minority, it condemns itself to perpetual violence.”
Somehow the South African Government of the time managed to break out of that vicious circle and a majority Government came to power in 1994 without the bloodshed, violence and civil war that had been forecast by many, thanks largely to the statesmanship of F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.
This book is a must-read for anybody interested in the political and military history of Southern Africa. It is a military history as well as a political one and the military detail is impressive.
As a former instructor at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in England and having also taught at the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College, Professor Moorcraft is uniquely qualified to describe the broad picture of South African military strategy in the region.
When these qualifications are combined with his own personal experiences and insights as a front-line war correspondent in Southern Africa, they make for a remarkable and compelling book.
“Total Onslaught” by Professor Paul Moorcraft is currently available at www.amazon.com.
Review by Mark Oxley, September 2018. Mark Oxley is a Zimbabwean business consultant who also specialises in political and economic analysis.