Books That Should Exist, But Don’t: The South African Military

Millions and millions of books. Even in the history field, thousands and thousands. Usually monographs on pretty narrow topics. But amidst all that, despite the numbers, you sometimes find that a book you want just does not exist.

I got thinking about South Africa recently, due to a perusal of Ralph Peters’ remarkable essay The Lion and the Snake, hat tip Eddie. And it occurred to me that I knew less about the South African military than I’d like. It is a remote corner of the Anglosphere which I’d like to know more about, and being me, I wanted to start from the military angle. I went looking for something like Granatstein’s history of the Canadian Army, or this essay collection on the military history of Ireland. I found remarkably little. There are unit histories, and an official (or semi-official) history of South Africa in the Second World War, and some books about the South African Army from the 1980s, and a few other odds and ends, such as this short essay, and this interesting list of books (click on “literature”). So there is a fair amount of material out there, but nothing comprehensive. I want someone else to do the research, the heavy lifting, and put the whole thing together for me, with an nice annotated bibliography.

Despite substantial searching, I am forced to conclude with regret that there is no one volume history of the South African armed forces, or military history of South Africa. I think we are too close to the transition from the apartheid regime to the successor regime. Old wounds are still open.

Still, too bad. It would be a very fascinating story, told as a continuous narrative. Lots of military, political, cultural and racial drama. The Dutch settlement, the British capture of the Cape, the Zulu Wars, the Boer War, South African expeditionary forces in both world wars, the Cold War era struggles against guerillas in adjacent countries, The military’s involvement in sustaining the apartheid regime, the clandestine nuclear program, the current ambiguous situation, including the virtual privatization of important segments of the South African Army into mercenary bands for hire, and some predictions and guesses about what the future might hold. What a tale. Even if it covered only the 20th century, starting with independence, after the Boer War, it is a story which would certainly have a lot of interest and lessons. It belongs in one volume. I hope someone writes it.

I close by opening the floor to our readers: Do you have any book recommendations about South Africa, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, etc., not necessarily limited to the military angle.

5 thoughts on “Books That Should Exist, But Don’t: The South African Military”

  1. Another set of wars that is interesting is the Xhosa wars (1779-1848) between the Xhosa and the Boers then the British.
    (By the way, the Xhosa are the ethnic group that has produced most of the ANC leadership. Mandela is a Xhosa clan chief.)
    If you want music to go with your reading of Farwell or Pakenham, here is a modern adaptation of an Afrikaans folk song about Koos De La Rey, one of the Boer’s best guerrilla leaders:

  2. You might be interested in the books that I have published, as well as the ones that are in production. You can see these at my Just Done Website
    The books include some that are new editions of old books on the SA Military (such as Borderstrike) and some are completely new (such as Three Frigates)

    There are also a whole lot of new books in production, and you can join my announcements list to be notified when new books are published.

    If you want to buy them within SA, then order from my site, if from anywhere else, then they are available via Lulu

    All the best

  3. I agree with you,there is a dearth of good books on SA`s military history,particularly on the subject of whats called the ” Border War” from the 60`s to the late `80`s.

    Some authors on the subject are Peter Stiff and Willem Steenkamp, but they are thought of as being the “official authors” of the SADF so their objectivity and neutrallity are brought into question as far as I`m concerned.

    Regards from Vancouver,Canada
    I served in this war in 81 and 82,and trying to find GOOD books or even analysis of this conflict has proved an impossible task.
    For an unbiased analysis of this conflict I finally turned to a thesis by a Lt.Colonel in the US Marines,

    Some books I have in my collection are by “Ashante Publishing”,in Rivonia,South Africa, and they published a series in the ealy 90`s called …”South Africans at War”, mostly about the II WW and Korean conflicts.

    As far as the Anglo Boer War goes, there are a lot of books on this subject,even at your local library.

Comments are closed.