At least 3,000 Angolan soldiers recruited by South Africa’s apartheid government in the 1980s to fight against their fellow Africans are now living in abject poverty, forgotten and unwanted.
These Angolan men are stuck in the town of Pomfret on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, where they have no access to healthcare, jobs or basic services like water and electricity, according to News24.
They were recruited into the apartheid-era unit called the “32 Battalion” to help the British colonial government to fight communism in South Africa, including in Namibia and Zambia.
“The government should tell us what we did wrong. Why are they punishing us like this?” 69-year-old Jose Lourenco, one of the Angolan soldiers, told News24.
The Feared 32 Battalion
Mr. Lourenco narrated how he joined the apartheid era unit after years of fighting against communism in his home country Angola.
Being members of the 32 Battalion meant taking up arms against their own relatives and friends who were opposed to White invasion. But Lourenco, who now lives in a run-down shack, said the squad was a source of great pride at that time as it had won many great battles.
“We didn’t fear anyone, we were the best unit in the world,” he said.
He added that there was no racial discrimination in the Battalion and all fighters, both black and white, were treated with respect.
When the war against communists in Pretoria ended, members of the 32 Battalion relocated to Pomfret, where the South African government promised to integrate them into the regular South African army.
Despite its remote location, Lourenco says the town was fully functional, with its own public swimming pool, tennis court, ball room, club, and a large, well-stocked supermarket.
Disruptive Political Change
In 1990s, when the wheel of political change in South Africa started rolling, the Pomfret’s glory started to fade away.
More trouble came in 1993 when the Battalion was disbanded, forcing some soldiers to leave the town along with their families. With its population slowly declining, Pomfret started to slide into oblivion.
By the year 2000, the government of South Africa announced its intention to close the Pomfret military base and relocate the remaining families, but the ex-servicemen refused to move.
Even so, the government went ahead to cut off basic services such as water, electricity, and healthcare to the town, rendering it inhabitable.
Many of those stuck in the town now feel stranded between South Africa, where their service is no longer needed, and Angola, where they are seen as traitors.