History of War magazine
Jim Hooper’s work needs little introduction. His words and photographic images have captured the heart, soul and desperation of Third World conflict for almost three decades. Author of the critically acclaimed Koevoet! and A Hundred Feet Over Hell, Hooper is renowned for his brutal honesty. In this all-new work, he takes a powerful and retrospective look at four of Africa’s deadliest conflicts.
Known to many of the former South African Special Forces employed by the private military company Executive Outcomes, Hooper was granted unparalleled access to its engagement in Sierra Leone. He accompanied the black and white mercenaries fighting the sadistic Revolutionary United Front, which was responsible for the torture, mutilation and death of thousands. His images capture the role of guns for hire that protected the innocent as much as the failed state that bought their services.
In Namibia, Hooper was the only outsider ever embedded with the South West African Police Counterinsurgency Unit – the legendary Koevoet. Over the course of five months, he earned the respect and trust of these elite warriors as they conducted aggressive search and destroy operations against the communist-backed People’s Liberation Army of Namibia. Armed with just his pen and cameras, he was twice wounded in the chaos of close quarter combat. His unique images bear witness to the ferocity of the war fought by ‘Ops K’.
During the 35 years of the Angolan civil war, Hooper was one of only two journalists allowed first-hand access to Jonas Savimbi’s Unita movement. Three long trips with the battle-hardened guerrillas took him into the heart of the country, trekking hundreds of kilometres through savannah and jungle to document attacks against Cuban-supported government forces. Included in his unique photographic record is the use of child soldiers, a tragedy he revealed long before it became a cause célèbre in the West.
The third-largest country in Africa, Sudan suffered the continent’s longest-running and least-reported civil war. On one side was the Arab government in Khartoum which tried for over 50 years to impose fundamentalist Islam on the south. Treated as a friend by the ebony giants of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, Hooper criss-crossed the battlefields to record their struggle against the religious and racial oppression of the north. His images of their victories were the first to be published in the West.
Each page in Black Vortex tells a story, each reflects the human cost of war. Look into the eyes of the warriors, the survivors, the dead – reproduced here as a commentary on Africa’s never-ending history of violence.
“…succeeds in owning the eyes and chilling the soul to the very bones. Credit must be given to Hooper’s courage and conviction in carrying out his art and this latest work will doubtless inspire the next generation of reportage students.”
Another example of Jim Hooper’s impeccable work.
Black Vortex. Recalling the realities of the violent civil wars, insurgencies, multiple coupe d’ etat and unrest that have plagued Africa since the sixties, it is a profoundly apt title. Through the lens of a talented photographer who happen to be an unbiased reporter, his stark use of monochromatic black and white combined with color pictures tell the tragic story of the “Dark Continent. ” Despotic cannibal rulers, corrupt officials, the ineptness of the UN to address the issues and unwillingness of the western media to report the truth, is vividly depicted. From the border war in Namibia fought between South African forces and the communist backed elements in Angola, to the devastation of the “blood diamond” atrocities in Sierra Leone and the successful resistance by the rebel forces who resisted Muslim oppression in Sudan, it is obvious that the book was written by a real life reporter who “was there”. No punches pulled and no political agenda. The book is a beacon to truthful reporting. It is highly recommended on it’s own, but best appreciated if read along with “Koevoet,” one of his other books.
-Barend J. Kruger
Lots of pictures and not so much text. I haven’t spent that much time with the book yet but I’m really looking forward to it. If you want more text and details read, “Koevoet” by the same author.
Amazingly good book that covers a very broad subject matter. I think that the major achievement in this book is covering so much area, so many battles, so many different aspects of the many wars in the past 40 years inside Africa. I rate this book so high since it truly gives the reader enough information (I love the introductions) for each of the individual segments, but at the same time leaves the reader longing for more! Then you must consider the amazing pictures that give the reader an insight into what was happening, and where, and what the situation was at that time. Again, some might consider this a weakness, but I am just the opposite! It builds the case of the author, without a sense of pandering or promoting his personal ideals. You really get a sense of the reality of the wars, and the brotherhood of soldiers wherever they are. Simply amazing. Highly recommend this entertaining and educational adventure into Africa’s many wars.
In the closing decades of the 20th century, armed conflicts in Africa were either largely ignored by the worldwide popular press or the accounts were notoriously, and in many instances preposterously, presented through the political lenses of absentee reporters. As an embedded, dedicated, and objective war correspondent, Jim Hooper’s most recent contribution to the literature, “Black Vortex: One man’s Journey Into Africa’s Wars” is in stark contrast to those perspectives. In particular when observed in concert with his other narratives on the subject, his personal pictorial retrospective covering Namibia and Koevoet, Angola and UNITA, Executive Outcomes in Sierra Leone, and Sudan and the SPLA, offers a valuable block in building an overall understanding of the current geopolitical state of affairs in several countries across Africa.
Jim Hooper, author of “Koevoet: Experiencing South Africa’s Deadly Bush War”, has put together what can be fairly described as being on par with books like “Contact: A tribute to those who serve Rhodesia” and “South Africa’s Border War 1966-89” by Willem Steenkamp. It’s just going to be something you’ll want to have just by virtue of what it is; a solid collection of memories.
About the book itself. Overall quality is excellent. Strong binding, thick covers, heavy weight pages, very nice dust cover, and lays flat when open. It’s a coffee table book at 10.7″ x 9.5″ x 0.9″, really, so all qualities you would expect.
After a short preface and short guide to the acronyms and abbreviations to follow, it’s broken into four primary sections … :
- (I) Namibia and Koevoet
- (II) Angola and UNITA
- (III) Executive Outcomes in Sierra Leone
- (IV) Sudan and SPLA
Each section ranges anywhere from approximately 20 to 45 pages and begins with some background on the conflict and the combatants, how and why Jim Hooper came to be there, and some thoughts about the politics of the day. Each introduction is relatively terse, at around two to five pages each, and it’s clear that, while the photography is excellent, having some knowledge of the bush wars Jim Hooper presents would be helpful to fully appreciate the material.
Past each section’s brief introduction, the reader is presented with a series of approximately 9″ x 6″ photographs (although there are some slightly larger and other smaller photos as well), one per page side. Each collection starts with a series of black and white photos, then a smaller amount of colour photos, and finished with yet another smaller set of black and white photography.
I found the quality of the photos to be very good. To be true, the print quality of the entire book is very high. No colour bleeding, no unintended blurriness. Colour plates are page numbered separately from the black and white prints but they’re done by section. In that, I mean, the first colour photograph in section one is “page 1” and first colour photograph in section two is “page 1”. I don’t know if that was intentional but, without a proper index, I think it was either a bad idea at best or a printing mistake at worst.
Each photograph carries with it a sentence or two describing the scene Jim Hooper has provided; short and sweet. The reader is left to their own devices or experience to fill in the rest of each story. A lot of this work I have never seen before but I do not know if Jim has published any of it previously. I’m tempted to list my personal favourites here but I’ll let each reader find their own.
I have given this book 5 stars. First reason being that I think Jim Hooper is exceptional in his efforts to make this available and to have even had put himself there to capture it in the first place. So, right from go, it’s a unique collection. Second, I have read, and subsequently lost, Jim’s book “Koevoet: Experiencing South Africa’s Deadly Bush War” so I have an idea of where he is coming from now, where he was at then, who he was with, and why. I have a personal appreciation for this work.
Is this book perfect? No. It suffers from lack of general context. Not that it’s Jim Hooper’s fault or even the subject matters’ fault. It’s just not a subject many people are familiar with, unfortunately. Or, they are familiar with a very biased version of it all that diminishes the spirit and subject of the work unfairly. I think that is the price that has to paid when the cover is pulled back and the reader is presented with both barrels of “Ware Afrika”.
I hope that Jim Hooper finds good success with this offering and I would be lying if I said I have not been left wanting more.
As usual, Jim Hooper outdoes himself. Outstanding, soldier!
Having been involved in a sub Sahara war for many years , I found this excellent book to be very well researched & written.
Just amazing! What an excellent book with amazing pictures covering Namibia, Angola, Sierra Leone and Sudan. One of the most interesting books that I have acquired. A must for all interested in KOEVOET.
-Bernhard D Uytenbogaardt
After reading Jim’s book; Koevoet, this photographic illustration adds further reality to an already realistic account of the Namibian / Angolan conflict by Jim. Amazingly, few of the photographs are surprising because of Jim’s ability to paint the picture in writing. However the book represents a clarifying mental registration of the events described by Jim. A coffee table must if one has friends at all interested in knowing the real facts of past watershed conflicts in Africa and interested in understanding why Africa will continue to be a continent of strife and tragedy while western “know all” politicians, liberal meddlers and misguided AID organisations keep their Pollyanna fingers in the pie.