Research & Studies

One Percent Terror, Ninety-Nine Percent Boredom

An analysis of the military boredom and leisure time experiences of SADF soldiers during the South African Border War 1966–1989

Stellenbosch University, PhD History Dissertation – 2023

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The soldier’s recreational time is not particularly well-researched, even in contemporary armies, with most emphasis being placed on the battles themselves, their aftermath and post-war trauma. Important aspects indeed, however, a soldier’s activities when resting, recovering or when keeping themselves entertained between adrenaline-soaked action is also worthy of scrutiny as it raises questions on war and society, and opens a window into the base-level mental state of what one could consider “professional combatants”.

Using conscripts deployed during the South African Border War 1966-1989 as a case study, this research considers the causes and impacts of military boredom for the Cold War-era South African soldier as well as the strategies employed and structures built to overcome this state. This study reviews the institutional and the interpersonal circumstance of the bored South African Defence Force (SADF) soldier by exploring and analysing the historical, sociological, and psychological costs of boredom and leisure strategies whilst considering the interplay between boredom and trauma, the weighty influence of an increasingly militarised society, and finally how veterans now navigate memorialising this time in their lives.

Evidence has revealed that, as the war progressed, the SADF became increasingly aware that leisure was as much a need to cater to, and boredom as much a state to guard against, as were clean water and nutritious food needed to ensure the physiological well-being of the soldiers under their command. Countering boredom, as a result, became a significant enterprise into which many resources were funnelled, from simpler aspects such as ensuring access to reading materials to more involved and far-reaching socio-military structures such as sports, religious organisations, and civilian support networks such as the Southern Cross Fund. For the men themselves, resolving boredom was as much an exercise in relieving daily duty drudgery as it was about survival in a hostile and alien environment with some successfully bearing their required National Service as a result, whilst for others, these strategies led to significant trauma and destructive coping mechanisms.

The result of this study is a broader image of an under-researched conflict that demonstrates that the impact of the lesser known 99% of boredom is as important to a fuller understanding of this war as the 1% of terror is. This is also where a significant aspect of the human cost of such a war is hidden, the impact of which we are only now beginning to understand.

Stories, Shadows and Dust

A filmmaker’s experience of documenting the stories of SADF veterans of the Southern African Bush War

Edinburgh University, MSc African Studies Dissertation – 2012

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Click here to watch the Documentary


The purpose of this dissertation is to ask questions on subjective experience and Constructed Memory. How do the two relate and in what way do they relate to social media spheres and especially for those of the filmmaker and the film documentary? Specifically, how do these dimensions play out when the subjective experience pertains to the experiences of former South African Defence Force (SADF) soldiers who fought in the Southern African Bush War (1966 – 1989)? The experiential narratives contained in Constructed Memory can provide a different explorative avenue for historical events, that is to say, different views of the same war in this case. The accompanying documentary Stories, Shadows and Dust showcases the experiences of five former SADF soldiers, allowing the audience to share in their experiences and draw their own conclusions. This dissertation then seeks to explore the concept of their memory constructions against the backdrop of emotional contextual experience with specific focus on film media representations of the Bush War.

Forged in Flames

The SADF experience of The Battles of Cuito Cuanavale 1987 – 1988

Rhodes University History, Honours Thesis – 2010

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Soldier 07

This research paper will comprise a literature review of selections from available literature concerning the Battles of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola during the South African Border War. The paper will focus on issues concerning South African Defence Force (SADF) involvement in Cutio Cuanavale specifically, and will, for the most part, ignore most other work on the Border War, only using general information for contextual purposes, unless it pertains to this battle in some way or another. This also extends to circumstances leading up to the battle as well as the aftermath. This paper will hopefully guide the reader through relevant materials that will help provide an understanding of the battle and the people who were involved.

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