04/21/2004versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

The scent of money
South Africans in IraqIt is believed that there are over 1500 South African private soldiers currently working for so-called "security" agencies in Iraq. Most of them are white, and many played an active role in perpetrating violence during the apartheid years. We spoke to Henrie Boshoff, an analyst of military problems at the South African Institute for Security Studies.

Last January, Francois Strydom, a South African, was killed by a bomb which went off in front of his hotel in Baghdad, Iraq. He was there with several other South Africans including Deon Gouws, who was badly injured in the blast. What was this group of South Africans doing in Baghdad? They were working in Iraq for Erinys, an international agency with offices in South Africa and world-wide, which officially operates in the business of protecting oil rigs. In its company presentation, Erinys claims to specialise in security in Africa and the Middle East and last May it signed a 39.4 million dollar contract with the US military, for the protection of oil fields in Iraq.

"It is a company like many others", explains Henrie Boshoff, "It recruits personnel to send to Iraq to protect oil fields and act as body guards for the employees of companies working in Iraq".

Back in the 1980s under apartheid, Francois Strysom and Deon Gouws worked for the secret police. According to a report in the South African Sunday Times, Deon Gouws requested and obtained amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, after having confessed to placing between 40 and 60 bombs in the homes of black political activists. This is his background.

"Many former policemen who served in the South African special forces under apartheid found themselves unemployed following the countryís transition to democracy". Henrie Boshoff tells us.  "Those who go to Iraq are primarily soldiers leaving the South African army, together with many whites who were employed in the police force. Policemen and soldiers who have taken early retirement in order to be able to go to Iraq. Around one hundred soldiers from the special military unit which protects the likes of President Thabo Mbeki, have left for Iraq. They are employed as security guards by companies such as Erinys. Most of them are white and Iíve yet to hear for a black man working as a body guard in Iraq". They are driven by the prospect of earning high wages.

"In just two months in Iraq a South African can earn the equivalent of a year's salary back home". Henrie Boshoff explains. "Contracts are usually for three months but can be renewed. Salarys are in the region of 70.000 rand per month, which corresponds to around 9000 euros. A professional soldier in South Africa earns less than 1500 euros a month, and that is talking about a high salary". A South African law, passed in 1998, bans South African citizens from serving as mercenaries in foreign countries. The law also states that security personnel (police and soldiers) are not permitted to work in areas considered war zones. After several weeks of uncertainty, the South African Defence Ministry has officially declared Iraq to be an area of armed conflict. From now onwards any South African working in security, information services, recruitment or even medical aid in Iraq can be prosecuted.
Sonia Sartori
Topic: War
Area: Iraq