The scent of money
It 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.
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