SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa's mercenaries pack their bags.
KWA-MASHU, South Africa, May 8 (Reuter) - Sniper rifle cradled on bulging
forearm, face beaded in sweat, a huge man dressed in black stands on a barren
hillside and squints through his telescopic sight at a mob of Zulus chanting
By Kurt Schork
"There's going to be some rock and roll tonight," he grunts with satisfaction.
They call him "Skoloza" (the cheeky one), a white mercenary who came home to
South Africa after years in Central America and Angola because he thought the
country's first all-race elections would lead to civil war and steady
Wrong. Elections are over. Nelson Mandela is about to be sworn in as the
country's first black president and political violence is declining.
Bitter, bored and broke, men like Skoloza are packing their bags heading for
other hot spots around the world.
"I'm going to New Guinea to train rebels," explained the 29-year-old, who
learned his military skills in South Africa's army and later did a stint in
Australia's Special Air Services.
Skoloza is in his last week running a "protection unit" for a construction
company laying water pipe in the black township of Kwa-Mashu, north of Durban
-- the sort of job he hates.
"We are here to prevent abductions and theft, but I'm a warrior not a
policeman," he explained. "We're dealing with criminal violence. They want to
ransom a supervisor or steal our guns or the vehicles. There's nothing
political about it."
South Africa's huge security industry provides temporary employment for men
like Skoloza, but not the high-adrenalin fix they crave from heavy combat.
"Bang-bang, rock and roll, nothing like it," he explained. "I went through a
drug period in my life, but drugs are nothing compared to combat. Once the
shooting starts it's the greatest rush and it's all natural."
Skoloza's men are blacks with army experience, recruited from the township.
When a foreman goes out, they ride in the back of his pick-up through the mean
streets of Kwa-Mashu toting sawn-off shotguns and wearing bullet-proof vests
with cartridge belts slung from their waists.
The construction compound sits like a military base on the dividing line
between turf controlled by rival African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha
Freedom Party factions, complete with razor wire, sandbags and snappy salutes
from gate guards.
"Nobody wanted to wear a flak jacket or put sandbags up until one of the men
got shot," Skoloza chuckled. "Now they sleep in the damn things behind the sand
bags. This is a free-fire zone some nights, with tracer rounds and flares like
a real war zone. People aren't shooting at us so much as at each other. We
just happen to be in the middle."
Skoloza started carrying his sniper rifle, wrapped in camouflage netting, after
local toughs began taking pot-shots at construction crews with rifles from a
"I may not spot them exactly but as soon as I send a round back in their
general vicinity they bugger off," he said.
"They're bullies. They don't like getting shot at."
On this afternoon, Inkatha supporters in Kwa-Mashu had just heard official
results confirming their party's victory in provincial elections.
Hundreds of Inkatha members danced through the streets, singing and firing
occasional shots of joy into the air.
Skoloza sighted the crowd through his sniper scope to ensure they posed no
threat to his crew. "Inkatha and ANC may go at it tonight, but I doubt there'll
be any action for us," he said.
Skoloza prides himself on being a professional, on not allowing personal
feelings or political beliefs to affect his performance. Like most of his
colleagues, he works for the side that offers the most. Since peace pays no
dividend to the mercenary, he is leaving South Africa.
"There's no money in the region any more," he complained. "South Africa's gone
quiet, the war's over in Mozambique and Angola's gone bad. You can make a
thousand dollars a week there, but you can't get out. If you get shot, they
leave you. There's no medevac. I don't mind being unacknowledged, but who wants
to die for a thousand a week?"
(c) Reuters Limited 1994
Source: REUTERS NEWS SERVICE