Following UDI,  the security situation in Rhodesia was a major concern of the South African government. With the August 1967 launch of joint ANC/ZAPU military operations in north-west Rhodesia, South African police units were deployed inside Rhodesia - it was only as a gesture of support for the 1975 Kissinger diplomatic initiative over Rhodesia that South Africa withdrew its police units (although it left behind all its equipment, helicopters and Dakotas, and continued to fund the costs of 50% of the Rhodesian defence budget for 1975–76). 

D Squadron SAS was a South African creation, made up of a Recce unit (see Greeff, A Greater Share of Honour). It did not take long for Rhodesians to realise that these men were from "down south". It is sometimes hard, however, to decide if the elite South African "Recces" were more inspired by, or leading, the formation of the Selous Scouts. Not really an argument that you would want to get into. But certainly Koevoet fighters in South West Africa employed as standard practice the ‘persuasion’ of captured guerrillas to ‘turn’ and assist Koevoet against their former comrades. Apparently most of Koevoet’s founding members had learnt their counter-insurgency skills in the Selous Scouts. South African Security Branch funded out of its secret account the Selous Scouts, in which numerous SAP members also served. And 32 "Buffalo" Battalion - a group of former FNLA guerillas commanded by white officers and NCOs, which fought in Angola and South West Africa also bore many similarities to the Scouts. (Did the South African army actually win the one in South West? That one at least can be realistically debated)

By 1978 the SADF was deploying troops into southern Rhodesia from bases inside South Africa and sending conscripts to Rhodesia to fight in local uniforms as ‘members’ of Rhodesian army units. Whilst all South African troops were supposed to have left Zimbabwe come the 1980 elections, a small number stayed inside the southern border as a form of insurance policy, to act as a guard against the anticipated unrest, and to reassure any of those wishing to leave that it would be safe to do so. It is probable that details of "Operation Quartz" (the planned attack on Mugabe and the guerrilla assembly points) would have been discussed with the relevant SADF unit commanders. Evidence at the TRC for February 1980 when the SSC dispatched a special task team to review the situation in Rhodesia, recommending that "The implication of the elimination of political figures in Rhodesia must be constantly kept in mind" could be interpreted as referring to Mugabe, although there is no evidence suggesting that South African security forces ever attempted to assassinate him in the period prior to the election. The SADF launched "Operation Winter" to recruit mainly white members of various counter-insurgency units; the operation being directed by Major General FW Loots (then general officer commanding Special Forces) who travelled to Rhodesia to screen potential recruits.

In 1979, as the ending of the struggle within Rhodesia would clearly impact upon South Africa, in late March the SSC approved both the establishment of a Rhodesian Joint Management Centre to operate from the South African diplomatic mission in Salisbury, as well as a short-term strategy for Rhodesia. This recommended continuing support for the Rhodesian security forces, both putting more men on the ground, and giving more equipment. In July 1979 a stepping-up of military assistance included air support for external raids, military support with electronic warfare; aerial reconnaissance and support of special operations. On 27 August 1979, it was reported that the situation in Rhodesia had further deteriorated, and that greater military help was needed. The SSC authorised special clandestine actions to be be mounted as a a co-ordinated strategy, which included a number of organisations ranging from transport to the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

In late 1979, South African special forces, operating from bases in Botswana, participated in parabat attacks on guerrillas moving into the cease-fire assembly points in the Tshipise TTL. These attacks, apparently using intelligence provided by the Selous Scouts, may have been prompted by the knowledge that ANC/MK guerrillas were infiltrating Rhodesia along with returning ZIPRA fighters. Most of the ANC infiltrators were eventually returned to Zambia by the new government, but it was largely in response to this MK inflow - a well as offering great moral support, should whites choose to leave, that the SADF moved a unit of its troops through the Beit Bridge border post towards the end of 1979 (this movement of troops across the bridge was done with the concurrence of the Muzorewa Government). In the run-up to the March 1980 pre-independence election, Rhodesia remained key to the perceived need to defend South Africa; when asked what would be done if Rhodesia "went wrong" a proactive defence strategy was envisaged. The South African government had raised in excess of R12 million in support of Bishop Muzorewa’s UANC in the March 1980 election, approximately half of which came from state coffers, while the rest was raised from the private sector by Foreign Minister Pik Botha. At independence in April 1980, the government of Zimbabwe inherited a total debt over R4 000 million which South Africa was to insist be repaid. The outcome of the independence election was not quite the worst-case scenario feared by South Africa. That would have been a ZAPU victory. South Africa would almost certainly have been involved had 'Operation Quartz' been implemented. Nonetheless, the failure of Muzorewa’s UANC to secure a place in the ZANU/ZAPU coalition was a setback. Its initial public response was diplomatically correct; its covert response was counter-revolutionary. At its first post-election meeting on 10 March 1980, the SSC declared Messina an "SADF operational area". This was in order to give the SADF "meer beweergruimte" (more room to manoeuvre) to facilitate the clandestine transfer of RENAMO to South Africa which, according to the SANDF’s second submission to the Commission, began in March 1980.

Sometimes, however, aid from South Africa had proved a slight hindrance. The Natal Witness reported (December 9, 1978) "Grey's Scouts never say dye" that when it became apparent that some white horses which had been donated for support were the wrong colour - white horses would not blend in well - they were then dyed. Unfortunately, one went primrose yellow, one purple, 3 bright orange. It also seems that the apartheid government's use of the Inkatha Freedom Party (essentially the Zulu political party in South Africa before, and since the democratic elections) was inspired by the SFA, several hundred of Bishop Muzorewa’s Security Force Auxiliaries having been moved to a farm near Pretoria.  

The Rhodesians proved remarkably adept at maintaining their air strength (aided by the occasional sanctions-busting foray elsewhere), but the South African Air Force often played an important support role, both on internal missions and external raids. For many years initial training for the Rhodesian Airforce was carried out in South Africa. Operation Polo, a secret agreement in terms of which the SADF assisted in the construction of five new military airfields in Rhodesia, further aided the Rhodesian struggle. From 1975, and even beyond the ceasefire, South Africa was to fly in supplies in Hercules transports at night. 

The night of Zimbabwean independence, and in the subsequent days, white soldiers and their families left in droves by road or in SADF aircraft, forming convoys to Beit Bridge where the SADF was deployed well to the north and controlling the border itself. Following independence, a number of farms in the border area were resettled by Rhodesian veterans. Often armed with semi-automatics, it was a cheap and effective way to control the borders - and any clashes could simply be assigned to "former" enemies. With the above infrastructure in place and large numbers of ex-Rhodesian soldiers in camps in the northern Transvaal, the SADF was well placed to launch Operation Drama – a militarily-driven project aimed at destabilising the new independent government of Zimbabwe. Its objective was to ensure that the government did not provide concrete support to the ANC and PAC in their armed struggles. To this end, it recruited and trained Zimbabweans, primarily for sabotage operations designed to destroy infrastructure, damage the economy and undermine the military capacity of Zimbabwe’s armed forces. A large number of clashes were to take place, with casualties on both sides - the SADF falsified death certificates - whilst official records noted that they had died in the operational area, families were told merely that they died in Pretoria, from multiple injuries - and whilst the apartheid government was to maintain publicly that these men were not acting under orders, the victims' families often received posthumous compensation, sometimes military medals. 

R Reid-Daly and a number of former Selous Scouts were recruited in 1981 to reconstruct the Transkei defence force - many of its members having already been trained in Rhodesia. It is estimated that about 5 000 Rhodesian military personnel were recruited into the SADF, a combination of counter-insurgency specialists, Special Branch police officers and intelligence personnel from the Central Intelligence Organisation were to continue to run agents inside Zimbabwe, alongside South African agents located within the military, the police and the CIO - including the man who was retained by Mugabe as head of close security after independence.

Unfortunately, the TRC was told that the relevant files on surrogate operations were destroyed by DST when it was closed in the early 1990s.

Sources:

Jack Greef``s A Greater Share Of Honour - Ntomeni Publishers, October 2001 offers a good description of Recce operations, including some with the Rhodesians.

Cawthra, Gavin Brutal Force - The Apartheid War Machine (International Defence and Aid Fund for South Africa, Canon Collins House London, 1986)

Stiff, Peter The Silent War (Galago, 1999)

Brent, Winston The Sanctions Busters (African Aviation Series/9)

Numerous TRC sources 

 

Trace