SFA (Security Force Auxiliaries)

How to Africanise the war, yet keep the political situation stable, and essentially unchanged? 

The Rhodesians found a possible answer with the Security Force Auxiliaries (SFA) - Pfumo Re Vanhu. The essential idea was that "turned terrs" would be "persuaded" to come "on side", through a combination of propaganda, intimidation and misrepresenting their possible futures. With men like "Comrade Max" ("I am the new DC in the area"), white Rhodesia was generally horrified, whilst it seems that the vast majority of Africans saw them as little more than collaborating stooges. The initial intentions, of "turning" captured African guerrillas, were quickly abandoned, due both to a shortage of captured men, but also, more importantly, to the general unwillingness of those captured to become collaborators. In order to keep numbers up, it would appear that, increasingly, Africans with no military background were "recruited" and became quasi-regulars, outside the standard Rhodesian command structure. 

Recent accounts have started to examine the impact Auxiliaries had on the communities they were based in, but they have done this without the direct 

input of either the Auxiliaries themselves or the white Rhodesians responsible for their deployment. The SFA should be seen as possibly the greatest missed opportunity in the war. Had sufficient numbers been raised to genuinely slow, or even turn, the struggle, it can plausibly be argued that Smith's African allies would have been able to exert sufficient pressure to influence the elections in his favour. Were they the test case that allowed the success of Buthelezi’s Inkhata in South Africa prior to the first truly free elections?  The ‘sheer indigestible amount of information Rhodesian Intelligence collected’ (Bhebe and Ranger (eds) Soldiers in Zimbabwe’s Liberation War, op cit) and surprising lack of proper military-political co-ordination can go some way to accounting for the low priority. While more detailed questions are raised - where did the funding come from, why there was such bureaucratic confusion over their control – the overall question of why they were such an embarrassing failure in the field remains largely unaddressed. 

The first few months of the SFA – initial recruitment, training and deployment  came without any press coverage. The first published account of the SFA was claimed by David Martin, in the Observer (UK) of 11 August 1978 (a few days before the Rhodesians

 introduced them to a shocked country with the unveiling of ‘Comrade Max’ on August 13); the ‘Comrade Max’ incident, when images of AK-47 toting “guerrillas” were presented to a shocked Rhodesian public marks the beginning of press interest in the Auxiliaries. ( See The Sunday Mail, August 13 1978 - front page of newspaper reproduced in Salt, Beryl, The Valiant Years (Galaxie Press Salisbury 1978) The correspondent, Johan Meiring did his military service in PSYAC. He would clearly have been privy to the decision to promote awareness; presumably as a result of the public disquiet, he was stripped of his accreditation.

Originally liaison between the Rhodesian military and auxiliaries was through Special Branch, later on many were to protect PVs under IntAf and the rest under Special Forces. The results were generally poor, though they apparently fought well in Urungwe TTL. From then on there are regular accounts of their activities - in particular in the context of the two elections, in 1979 and 1980. Sithole’s men, disaffected by ZANU-Sithole’s poor showing, were dealt with wholesale; napalmed and machine gunned in their hundreds by white units.

ZANU-Sithole auxiliary mid 1979

Why were they only created in the later years of the war? The conditions that forced the creation of the Auxiliaries in 1978 did not exist in the early years – from 1966 until the early 1970s – which were a different sort of war. The Rhodesian commanders of 1972 could even be compared to the German generals sitting so close to Moscow in October 1941; unable to foresee their technically superior, but overstretched, under-resourced security forces no longer able to contain an enemy able to overcome through sheer force of numbers within a few years. In 1972 it appeared that the Rhodesian Security Forces had the country under control, despite worrying messages starting to come from Intelligence about the degree of guerrilla penetration. It was only with the war’s intensification following the Portuguese collapse that the way the Rhodesians fought had to change; seeming military success had obscured the need to reach an essentially political settlement. In 1974 it seemed – even to more impartial observers - that the war might yet be won by white Rhodesia, but the more vigorous prosecution of the war was accompanied only fitfully by political concessions. The Rhodesian Front had consolidated a political hold over command echelons of the Security forces, which may have delayed the official blessing needed for the Auxiliaries to become an influential factor. The interpretation of insurgency campaigns elsewhere seemed to be restricted to an awareness only of their more applicable military aspects, rather than an acknowledgement that without genuine political concession the long term struggle had little chance of success. 

Whether image, or political necessity, or longer term military planning envisaging the near-permanent external deployment of regular units, the decision was taken to reequip them, and training was altered to turn them into more of a conventional light infantry force.

Pfumoleaflet.jpg (134877 bytes) Whilst Rhodesian success - or rather, general lack of it, during the bush war is still debated, it seems likely that the greatest role played by the Auxiliaries was to come after the 1980 elections, during Op 1980 op merger. The so-called ‘African Askari’ had enlisted largely as a result of unemployment rather than any political convictions. They were to play a critical role in the ceasefire demobilisation, when the numbers and level of experience were reduced as a result of regular soldiers defected to South Africa. These contingents of former army members integrated with ZIPRA or ZANLA, did not suffer from problems of faction fighting because of their apolitical stance and tended to require only further efficiency training to be successfully integrated. It is to the credit of the incoming hierarchy that they recognised the potential of this semi-professional category. They were utilised and were instrumental in sustaining the
 integration process, when it was seriously threatened at the end of 1980 and the beginning of 1981