An international bestseller since its release over 20 years ago, this new edition of Jim Hooper’s classic captures the courage, fear and intensity of the Namibian bush war.
Never before had an outsider been given unrestricted access to Koevoet, the elite South West African Police counterinsurgency unit. His five months embedded with the semi-secret and predominantly black Ops K coincided with one of the most vicious and determined infiltrations ever mounted by the communist-backed South West Africa People’s Organization. Crossing regularly into Angola in pursuit of the insurgents, he saw friends die next to him and was twice wounded himself.
This updated edition, drawing on the recollections and diaries of the men he rode with, will fascinate yet another generation of readers. In assembling this work Hooper had the opportunity to re-connect with many of the men who allowed this outsider to ride with them, all of which brought a new intensity and poignancy. A tribute to Koevoet and the legend they created, this new edition features a substantially rewritten and expanded text accompanied by nearly 100 colour photographs.
Correspondent Jim Hooper took a slug in his right arm during a firefight on 17 January 1987. Less than two months later he took a sizeable mortar fragment in his left arm. Neither kept him from pounding out a fiercely human war book. Hooper has captured the exquisite terror and tenderness of battle that will touch both combat veterans and those who could, until now, only imagine the gritty fascination of war.
Time magazine (retired)
former Vietnam correspondent
The continued presence of irregular conflict in Africa has brought new interest in the conduct of contemporary counterinsurgency by South Africa and its roots, practices, and prospects after decades of neglect. Required reading should be Jim Hooper’s account of South Africa’s successful “Ops K” in Namibia against South West Africa’s People’s Organization guerrillas. The classic narrative is as timely today as it was twenty years ago.
—Charles D. Melson
U.S. Marine Corps University
British Army Review
Hooper’s informal style of writing brings the reader immediately into the story. The more I read … the more I am amazed that this story has never been properly told before. I knew absolutely nothing about this conflict and through Jim’s book I am finding it so engrossing and educational it is hard to stop. It is full of detail, flavour and character… but what is most important is that he provides detail to a conflict that, I suspect, most people in the Western World have never heard of or if they have, have no real idea of what went on or why. The portrait he paints of Africa is hugely interesting, compelling and sad at the same time. I think this is a bestseller and deserves to be on the book shelves of everyone who has an interest in international conflicts. As editor I decided to publish these excerpts because of the descriptive nature of COIN operations and also because this kind of experience is currently unavailable from our COIN operations in Afghanistan.
The Canadian Army Journal
The book Koevoet (read Koo-foot) is a reissue a publication originally published in 1988 relating the experiences of its author, independent journalist Jim Hooper, during the South African Bush War. Hooper spent a year embedded with the SWAPOLCOIN (South West African Police Counterinsurgency Unit), the official name of Koevoet, during the period 1986 to 1987. Hooper’s book traces the path he took that led him, as a journalist, first to Africa and the Chadian insurrections and then ultimately to South Africa. He outlines in detail the challenges that he faced getting the opportunity to join Koevoet on patrol and the even greater gulf that he had to overcome to become accepted and trusted by unit members. His book sheds light on aspects of the South Africa Bush War that were rarely seen and even more poorly understood by those not involved (including the people of South Africa themselves); those being the level of mutual trust and respect between members of the unit (which was a mix of black and white), the level of violence and the capability of the SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organization) forces that they were fighting. Hooper details the development of the unit, the tactics that it developed to address bush fighting requirements, its success and failures, the nature of the war itself and the differences between what the world saw (and assumed) and the realities of fighting on the ground. He does not glorify what these men were doing nor does he gloss over the less palatable aspects of the war (including his own naiveté and preconceived ideas). Rather, he paints a picture that is raw, honest and enlightening. The small unit structure of Koevoet operations means that Hooper gets to know the soldiers themselves and is able to convey their frustrations, prejudices, loyalties and underlying motivations. This is critical to adding a human face to the conflict.
While today viewers may be well adjusted to seeing journalists placing themselves in as much of the ‘operational’ world as possible, this was not the case in the 1980s. This was especially true in the counterinsurgency war within South West Africa (modern day Namibia) where South African and Namibian regular and irregular forces (such as UNITA – National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) were engaged in a long running war with Soviet and Cuban-backed SWAPO who were seeking the establishment of a communist regime in Namibia. Hooper’s writing style is very accessible for the casual tactician. He specifically avoids long technical descriptions of equipment and operating doctrine; providing enough information to inform the reader without detracting from the overall picture. Instead, his narrative is focused on the ‘human’ dimension of the conflict; the soldiers with which he worked and came in contact with, their frustrations, fears and successes. He paints a very deliberate picture of the conflict itself blending into the storyline explanations of the external stressors placed on the unit through conflict with the international media, the regular army, the political climate and the great divide between the population “at home’ in South Africa and the soldiers doing the fighting at the front.
Readers will certainly appreciate and understand the difficulties faced by the author as he endeavours to understand and be accepted by the men that he is stationed with. Given the lack of international support for South Africa and its operations on the international stage throughout the 1980s, it is very understandable that Hooper would have been met with a less than rousing welcome as an American journalist when he first arrived. His explanation of his efforts to obtain permission from the authorities to report on the conflict, his disappointment at seemingly being regulated to a unit he had never heard of and his gradual transition from green reporter to seasoned bush veteran make for a remarkable and engaging narrative.
While Hooper obviously respects and admires the soldiers that he is working with, he does maintain an impartiality that balances his storyline and draws attention to some of the less palatable aspects of the bush war. This includes the hypocrisy of the so called freedom fighters of the SWAPO organization and its blatant manipulation of the international media and organizations such as the UN. Through interviews with SWAPO representatives in London and elsewhere, he exposes a number of contradictions between what the world viewed and the realities on the ground. He also focuses upon the tragedy of the people of South West Africa caught up in the fighting between the opposing forces.
The production value of this book is high and it includes a myriad of maps, colour and black and white photographs and an acronym section that is of great value. The reprint of this book with an update by the author should be very well received by the reading public. It is an engrossing ‘amateurs’ insider view of operations during the Bush War and an outstanding glimpse into a region of conflict that remains virtually unknown to the general population.
—Major Chris Buckham
Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research
Originally published almost 25 years ago, this book is an updated account by American journalist Jim Hooper who was embedded with the South West Africa Police Counter-insurgency unit, also called Koevoet (Afrikaans for crowbar), in 1986-87 during it’s struggle to prevent South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO) infiltration from neighbouring Angola. SWAPO fought an insurgency against South African occupation of South West Africa, which dated from 1915, from the late 1960s to 1989 when an international agreement led to becoming an independent Namibia in 1990. In this new edition recent statements by former members of Koevoet have been sprinkled throughout the book to give additional perspectives on specific incidents. Predictably, the Koevoet operators did not want Hooper around, as they distrusted foreign journalists who usually portrayed them as brutal agents of a racist regime, but eventually he gained some acceptance, particularly after being twice wounded in combat.
The book offers a day-to-day narrative of Koevoet’s main task, the rapid tracking and elimination of SWAPO insurgents that often led to hot pursuit across the Angolan border. Taking turns riding in mine-protected armoured personnel carriers, the skilled Ovambo trackers – some of whom were former SWAPO fighters who had changed sides – would stay on the trail of the insurgents for a long time, and ultimately catch up with them. At this point the Koevoet team, which usually consisted of four carriers, would use the superior firepower of its vehicle-mounted machine guns and on-call helicopter gunships to kill the insurgents. This was an incredibly dangerous tactic as given the sound of the armoured vehicles, the insurgents would usually know they were being followed and would plant anti-personnel mines and set ambushes for the trackers. As a result, Koevoet suffered high casualties rates compared to other South African units in what came to be called the ‘Border War’. Displaying a stunningly cavalier toward danger, Koevoet members initially shocked Hooper, and also their more conventional South African Defence Force colleagues, by using open cooking fires in their temporary bush camps, including those inside Angola, with the explanation that SWAPO insurgents could not predict where they would be located in the vast area and could not shoot straight if they did.
The main strength of the book is on the individual policemen of Koevoet including their physical appearance, personalities and stories. However, as Hooper readily admits, his inability to speak Afrikaans or Oshivambo – the working languages of the unit – meant the personal accounts of the Ovambo trackers do not receive the attention they deserve. The few that are included offer a fascinating glimpse into the experience of the black security force personnel who fought for the South African apartheid regime. The book also raises questions – and again the author fully recognises this – about the potential objectivity of war correspondents embedded in military units engaged in combat. Hooper is obviously no fan of SWAPO, which he accuses of hypocritically brutalizing and killing the Namibian people it claimed to be fighting to liberate, and grossly dishonest in wildly exaggerating the extent of casualties and damage it inflicted on South African forces. Furthermore, given the time that has passed since the first edition, a few more explanatory notes would have been useful such as for Eugene de Kock, a founding Koevoet officer, who is briefly mentioned for his role in developing the unit, but in fact that he later became commander of a notorious apartheid-upholding police death squad in South Africa and is currently serving a 200-year sentence is omitted.
Since Hooper was a photographer, there are several sections with monochrome and colour photographs of Koevoet operations and personnel, including many of those who are discussed in the text and who have contributed their own memories. The book ends with a new section on what eventually became of many of the Koevoet members that Hooper came to know after the unit was disbanded in 1990, including the betrayal of the Ovambo trackers who were re-settled to South Africa and promised jobs in the South African Police, but then abandoned during the political transition in that country. While this is clearly not an objective book, it is a valuable first-hand account of South African counter-insurgency operations in what was then South West Africa, and should be read by anyone interested in southern African conflicts of the twentieth century.
ARRSE – the Unofficial website of the British Army
Jim Hooper is an American journalist based in England. A former parachute jumping instructor and business owner, Hooper turned to journalism in the 1980s. He began to seek out a small war that he could report on. His instincts lead him to the war in Namibia. He managed to get a short attachment to the South African Defence Forces operating against the SWAPO guerrillas in Namibia. Based on those experiences, he sought, and was granted a six-month attachment to Koevoet.
Koevoet [pronounced koo-foot] means Crowbar in Afrikaans. This was the name adopted by the South West African Police Counterinsurgency Unit during the period of the conflict with SWAPO in Namibia. Hooper was given complete and uncensored access to their operations. He accompanied several units on their week-long operations, and tried to acquit himself in the bar afterwards.
Publication of the book was controversial in 1987, as it showed a human face and a reality, to the otherwise contra view held by many areas of the liberal press and political establishment. This re-published version contains new material from those he worked with. This consists of their personal recollections, inserted into appropriate passages of the original text. This adds much to the original as it gives the perspective of those he was with at the time.
This is really two stories in one. Firstly, it is an account of Koevoet’s operations at a particular point in time. Secondly, it is an account of Hooper’s own passage as a War Correspondent. I found this a particularly good read. Despite the occasional use of Afrikaans, the language is clear and vivid. I only had recourse to the glossary once. It has a good pace. It also has a good postscript detailing what has happened to the main characters from Koevoet since he left. It wraps the book up nicely.
Special Forces Club Newsletter
“As editor I decided to publish these excerpts because of the descriptive nature of COIN operations and also because this kind of experience is currently unavailable from our COIN operations in Afghanistan.” So says the editor in the latest issue of the British Army Review.
There can be little higher praise from the point of view of serious military interest and possible applications to the vagaries of Counter-insurgency Operations Theory. This is a revamp of a book first published in 1988 and which subsequently became a niche best seller in the genre of “Obscure African Bush Wars during the Proxy Wars of the Cold War.” The current interest in Bar and others in these wars is indicative of the continuing intellectual search for a sound COIN basis for the West’s more recent and current conflicts; but as every “counterinsurgency” has proved to be quite distinct from the next, the arguments continue over the very definition.
Hooper describes the actions of the South West African Police COIN unit, which operated on the northern border of Namibia in the 1980s to counter the infiltrations of the communist-backed military arm of SWAPO, which had been provided with safe bases in Angola.
Most of the success of Koevoet, which comes out clearly in the book, was due to the fact that 90% of its members belonged to Ovambo tribe, some even included ex-SWAPO. The remaining 10% were white South Africans and “Southwesters” (whites from Namibia). SWAPO itself was dominated by the same Ovambo tribe, and a motivation to defeat what SWAPO stood for was the human combat driver for members of Koevoet. The application of what can be described as “cultural intelligence” by the Ovambo members of the unit, and the whites’ lifelong knowledge of southern Africa fulfilled the primary requirement for effective COIN: intimate knowledge of people and environment.
The unit did not function as part of an overall strategy of co-ordinated Information Operations as we would try to apply it today today. The South African security forces did have ComOps (loosely embracing Influence Activities) but Koevoet was not under this umbrella. It was particularly known for its high kill rate, but this was a unit which essentially worked with the law and within clear moral parameters.
The book is slightly unusual in that it is also a bit of a personal quest by the author; there is quite a bit of bonding all around and this makes for a lively and reflective read, especially when he gets shot and then, later, hit by mortar shrapnel.
There is plenty of understated humour; after a particularly bloody contact: ‘A medic is carefully cleaning Lesch’s back. His bush shorts are eased off, and we’re all suddenly aware of the blood on the front of his underwear. Lesch follows our eyes and blanches. He reaches down quickly to pull the elastic waistband forward and check. The elastic snaps back and he sighs. The blood is from another of his wounds. As witnesses, we sigh with him, a nervous chuckle going around the stretcher.’
Photos are apposite, atmospheric and of good quality. All credit to the publisher here. Hooper has specialised in reporting and researching the less usual niche conflicts and the more esoteric aspects of modern warfare. This book should please his many fans and fellow SF Club members.
—Special Forces Club Newsletter
As a member of 32 Battalion I never had much interest in the doings of Koevoet, the South African Police Counter insurgency Unit. I had bought the 1988 edition of Jim Hooper’s book about them and found it brilliantly written, but never had the inclination to re-read it – until we were introduced by publisher Steve Crump. The exchange of emails prompted me to dust off the early book and have another look. Then I ordered a copy of the new edition and was even more impressed.
Unlike the original, Jim explains his early (and sometimes turbulent) life and his efforts to bring the true stories of Africa’s brutal wars to a Western audience. It made me understand why he was accepted by the Koevoet operatives as one of their own, and why I can easily connect to him.
This expanded edition is a skilfully woven mosaic of personal accounts from those involved and what he experienced during combat with Koevoet. The use of new material from those he rode with lays bare the realities of war, the fears and emotions that ebb and flow in the heat of combat, and the courage one finds to bring the battle to the enemy. He captures the chaos of contact; the bitter pain of losing friends; the contradicting emotions of elation at having survived. Jim writes about the character of the Koevoet operatives, black and white, making one realize that, even during the peak of the apartheid years, they did not see colour as an issue: they were Brothers in Arms.
Author 32 Battalion
From a US Army mechanized infantry battalion commander:
Jim, first let me say that your book is excellent. Not only is the subject riveting but your writing is fantastic.
Your experience and your description of the emotions we all feel once we’ve been shot at and been part of a team like that are something every combat veteran can relate to. Everything from the smug feeling you get when you see Soldiers who haven’t seen what you’ve seen to the surreal feeling you get when you leave a hot LZ and land in a safe clean spot with folks carrying on with their daily lives.
As to the broader theme of COIN, there are so many other similarities to what we’re observing now that it’s hard to know where to begin…Your book, and books ranging from Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul to Trinquier’s Modern Warfare make it clear that insurgencies and the fights against them are timeless. I really wince when I hear the term “conventional warfare,” or really any attempt to categorize the organized violence that is war. It defies categorization, and like your book, has to be appreciated for the incredibly unique context of itself. Sure, some commonalities exist, but the lessons can’t be cut and pasted into some kind of cookie shape! The second similarity is the inevitable abandonment of the indigenous supporters of COIN. The Iraqis who worked for us paid a dear price, and those in the security forces now can’t sleep with both eyes shut, and I don’t envy the fate of those Afghans who’ve thrown in their lot with us. Although the South Africans made an effort (as we all have), the majority of the Ovambo spoorsnyers appear to have suffered.
Another point is that despite tactical success, and it is evident that Koevoet were masters of the art, the broader effort failed. I’m not familiar with what the rest of South Africa’s strategy was in regards to Namibia, but it appears that stopping a large number of infiltrators was a success that wasn’t reinforced by much other work – kind of like Afghanistan. We are killing the Taliban like flies, but our broader strategy, addled by a mish-mash of philosophical principles rather than reality-based outcomes will doom what are otherwise huge tactical successes. Can’t thank you enough for sending me the book, truly, truly enjoyed it and gave me a great deal to think about.
Amazon Customer Reviews
I read Afrikaans version & many years later this one. Great, this one conveyed the soul of those crazy times! I was a SAAF Radio Operator & very familiar with the units as we had some embedded SAAF guys in the Ops units. It’s also sad, but poignantly written of the futility of trying to do the right thing. Jim told a factual account, not a story & he is one of those very few that came, got the facts & told the story. Well done
Jim Hooper has to be admired for his bravery, tenacity and desire to tell the truth. I am an ex South African, now US citizen, and spent time “on the border”. My curiosity of Koevoet was aroused due to their incredible effectiveness in COIN operations and friends who had flown missions in support of Koevoet.
The book, Koevoet, is an accurate and unbiased account what actually happened in COIN operations and the life of the operators. The author was granted full access to the Koevoet teams and basically became one with the unit when he embedded for an extended period of time. Jim has a wonderful style of writing and the book is so easy to read and difficult to put down. This is a must read for anyone who has an interest in trying to understand the dynamics of the “Border War” and the socio-political influence of communism on the world. After reading Koevoet I immediately procured a copy of Blood Song and Black Vortex has been ordered.
From the outset Jim Hooper captured the forgotten years and told it like it was.
Will read again, a must
A great, engaging read. Truthful account of the lives of those in South Africa’s counter insurgency units who fought the Marxist SWAPO terrorists in South West Africa/Namibia during the 70’s/80’s. Obvious this was not penned by the next drive-by reporter. Cannot but recommend it.
This book is by far the best account of guerrilla warfare I have ever read. Written by a neutral American journalist who became personally and deeply involved in daily combat operations, it chronicles the lives of the men who lived and fought together, forging deep personal bonds in the process, as did the author.
It is extremely well written and keeps the reader spellbound as it moves from the personal accounts based on interviews with the men to the daily experiences of the author who was twice wounded himself. The book is well illustrated with photos taken by the author which add to the authenticity of the work. An understated and highly recommended read!
A more accurate impression of the border war than one could hope to encounter. I led ad-hoc blocking platoons in support of Koevoet on a few occasions during its early years. Much of what transpired could never be spoken of, was twisted by SWAPO, disbelieved by fellow South Africans, and trashed by US news … which was generally believed by American citizens (of which I am one now). It was a different world, a different reality. Thank you for sharing this reality with others.
One of the best books I’ve ever read. The writer has a talent for observation and compassion/empathy for his fellow man that few ‘professional’ novelists approach. This is a tough read, and a must read for young people who’ve been brainwashed about Africa. Truth is both stranger and much better than fiction when the story is told this well
Well written. This document is another detailed account of both the conflict & the necessary military response required. It is time that the truth of the matter was disclosed & recorded, in order to refute the lies & propaganda provided during the conflict.
Great factual account of a crack unit during the bush war in Northern Namibia
I really enjoyed this book. It presented an unbiased picture of Koevoet and I found it easy to keep my attention engaged thanks to the humor and general writing style. This is the best account of Koevoet or the South African Border War in general that I’ve yet read. 10/10 would recommend.
This is the best account of the Border War in SWA and Angola that one can read. Thanks, Jim and salute to all Koevoet members.
I recommend reading this because it’s got credibility. I loved the way the author invested himself in the narrative. He was also able to get me to visualise the events.
This book is an eye-opener for us westerners. It challenges all our preconceived notions of the realities of South Africa’s combat campaigns against the Communist insurgencies of their neighboring nations. It tells a gripping tale of one of the best Counter-Insurgency Police Units in the world, and their efforts in preventing Namibia (back then known as South-West Africa and a part of South Africa) from falling into the hands of Soviet controlled Communist Guerrillas. The world depicted by the author, Mr Jim Hooper, is a dangerous world of violence and intense combat, and yet you cannot help but to relate to these men, blacks and whites, their reasons for joining the unit and keeping on fighting (each with their own reasons) and in the end you’ll find yourself caring about these men and their fates after the Namibian independence. This is truly a great read and I cannot praise it enough.
Couldn’t put this book down. Intense riviting reading. The book portrays what an elite fighting unit Koevoet were. Highly recommended
An outstanding account of the real action and activities of Koevoet. A must read to get closer to the truth. Well written by a neutral journalist who struggled to hold that position after witnessing the realities of the conflict. Fast moving, real life, true story action .. Read this !!!
—Brian N Graham
An awful war! Well described. Noise, panic, wounds, deaths and all. So many levels present, with each man having his own reason to be there: the communist threat; the harm done to their families; the closeness of comradeship under fire; and just the longing for the adrenaline pouring in the veins as the spoor is found and followed – all the while never believing the end is near. The reader can feel this American being slowly accepted into the closely knit team of expert killers, slowly getting to know them as he did, feeling the losses as they are hit one by one and feeling the emptiness when back at home in the UK surrounded by “normality”. An excellent book about war and its oft forgotten horrors.
I thought this was an interesting and balanced view of a controversial war. A riveting read.
Great book. Felt like I was there with the author
Exactly as it happened, when blood is spilled in action it’s red same for black or white soldier or tracker.
An account of a deadly fighting unit during the South African bush war, immortalized by the author. A war, like so many, that remains now only in the memories of those who were there or in a book such as this. It brings to life the speed with which a contact takes place, the fear and the camaraderie. A realistic account of war and loss.
Extremely interesting book of an embedded reporter with one of South Africa’s elite police units during the border war.
Different than any war book I have ever read. Fast paced and exciting!! Good read.
An interesting perspective of the South West African/South African Police response to SWAPO terrorist infiltration and activity in what is now known as Namibia. Several assumptions that I, an American, had held at a considerable distance, are not supported by the author’s report. His first hand, on-the-ground tale is engaging. I highly recommend it!
Well written, you think you know the truth about the early wars involving South Africa and SWAPO? Guess again…this book brings to life the war and its tragedies.
More realistic than some the other accounts of what really went on.
Excellent read! Jim Hooper’s story of Koevoet and his experiences with the operators) was most excellent. The man had a big set to stay and win the confidence of the people he was embedded with! No problem recommending this as an excellent read!
What a gripping description of Koevoet’s brave battles against an enemy that had available the perfect weapons for the situation and how Koevoet smashed them.
It’s awesome to read that Jim Hooper as an American (English) journalist got to experience Koevoet first hand AND told the story truthfully. Well written and what an experience.
This is one exceptional book about the South African bush wars well written and presented in a well written book
Outstanding details of the counterinsurgency in Africa fought by the South African and Rhodesian Forces. Detailed description of the tactics and methods used to hunt down and destroy the guerrillas.
Richard M. Cavagnol
Excellent book, historical, on the ground view point from actually being there, personalized characters, great read
Well written, captivating first hand account of life on the border during a time when the world ignored South Africa (except to boycott her). Very quick read as it is hard to put down – just brilliant.
pbg – the lance colonel
The author is honest with himself about his reasons for going to Namibia and putting himself in harm’s way. But the best thing is the story of the South African Police fighting the communist insurgents from Angola. This book sheds light on a little known war.
A well-written book that kept me turning pages.
Unbiased journalism. Jim did an excellent job to take the reader on a realistic journey through eyes of warriors that consider themselves policemen. This is a 5-star read, worthy of the top shelf in my study.
Hans van Heerden
An incredible account of an almost unknown fighting unit in Namibia during the terror incursions from Angola by SWAPO. The brilliance and dedication of these brave men is awe inspiring. The author writes with real inside knowledge having spent a great deal of time with the men on the ground and in the thick of the action. I highly recommend Koevoet to anyone with an interest in African military history.
Michael J King
One of the most gripping books about the bush war I have read. I really couldn’t put it down.
Written by someone who experienced it himself. Excellent.
Although this war ended almost twenty seven years ago, reading Jim Hooper’s KOEVOET never ceases to bring back the memories, sights, sounds, smell and emotions vividly and also, sadly, some lost friends back to life. Although they had never seen the end of the war, they live on eternally in a great military masterpiece.
The book is written in a superb narrative style that not only sets a standard rarely equalled in the military writing genre but the story is told in the first person. So personal that the writer was wounded not just once, but twice in this epic journey into a war almost hidden from the world’s eye. A collectible classic, especially for those interested in pursuing historical reading in combating insurgency and waging bush warfare.
Great book, a must read to educate yourself to the SA Border War. Well-written and a tremendous sacrifice for both the author but especially those who fought communism in the region to protect the South Africa from the imminent threat.
20 years later the events have become clouded in political correctness. Jim’s work is a blow by blow portrait of the characters fighting a full blown war, far removed from the post conflict propaganda popular today. Writing such a unpopular perspective took a lot of courage, not to mention physical danger he exposed himself to.
Brilliant read. Jim gives a true account of the members of Koevoet, life in Koevoet and how effective they were in COIN.
This is the closest I have read to reality. Having been there with the army and then with the citizen campers, what I saw and experienced is exactly what Jim writes in this book. An absolutely brilliant read.
Peter john van staden
A very good and authentic account of counter-insurgency operations in South West Africa (now Namibia). As one who was involved in that conflict, it rang true to me.
A masterpiece book giving great introduction to the “Bush War of South Africa” an African Vietnam which is totally unknown and forgotten. Jim Hooper, a brave American journalist, takes the readers to the hearts of Koevoet’s combat operations in the northern part of the then South West Africa (now widely known as Namibia) and Angola. An ordinary person without deep knowledge of South Africa internal politics and apartheid regulation will be shocked after reading information about high number of African (black) volunteers joining Koevoet – The South West Africa Police Counter-Insurgency Unit. This book brings light over those brave men who sacrificed their lives in the name of communism for a free country. The author is not afraid of presenting unpopular topics (from politically correct point of view) but going further, he tells true stories which present black and white people who become his friends during The Bush War. If you look for courage, friendship, bravery and love to the country, read this book. Do not forget Jim Hooper did not write that book sitting in a comfy armchair away from bullets, landmine and rockets. He was inside of that hell, he took part in the real “contacts”. Jim Hooper was badly affected by that war facing his friend’s death, being a witness of war brutality and finally being wounded during a “contact”. This book is a true, untold story which must be read by everyone who is interesting in Africa, war and friendship.
A simply incredible book. I was having a hard time at the beginning of the book trying to see where we were going. I’m glad I held on, as you will become immersed in that world, and you will feel an emotional attachment to the players. You will also check your moral compass several times, as good works should compel you to do. I fully recommend this book to anyone, regardless of your interests.
Great introduction for me on a conflict I know very little about. I enjoyed Hooper’s style of writing, comments from the book’s characters and follow up on the participants after the war. I will be looking for other books by Jim Hooper and on that conflict and would recommend this one.
Timothy M. Lavelle
I bought Koevoet! after an acquaintance from South Africa mentioned his military service in Southwest Africa (now Namibia) during the ‘Bush War’. Before reading the book, I considered myself a fairly well-informed student of Cold War History, but this work showed me that there was a ‘Southern Front’ in the Cold War which most of us in the USA were completely unaware of. Jim Hooper’s work tells a compelling story of brave people fighting to defend their homes and families against a Soviet/Cuban/East German/Chinese-sponsored insurgency, whether those family members were a few miles away in Southwest Africa or a few hundred miles away in South Africa. This book also tells a story that is in many ways at odds with the picture of South Africa that was painted for Westerners in the 1980’s by celebrities, media outlets, and movie studios. I would encourage anyone interested in either the history of the Cold War or of Africa in general to read this book with an open mind and to form your own conclusions about a group of people who have been much maligned in the global press. I have read a lot of military history and this may be the very best example of the genre ever to pass through my hands.
Brilliant book, extremely well written journal about South Africa’s bush war, Jim Hooper really does take you there…………loved it, highly recommended
A wonderful read and interesting part of South African history. This book is much better than other books on this subject.
What a read. The real story of the men who fought in the bush war. Not written by some self serving author to make his name in the PC camp. Sometimes it takes nuts to write the truth……This is one author who will not have trouble sleeping at night, like so many must.
M. L. Wilson-ward
This book “Koevoet: Experiencing South Africa’s Deadly Bush War” by Jim Hooper an American journalist/combat correspondent given access to cover Koevoets combat operations in the bushveld of the northern portion of the then South West Africa (now Namibia) and Angola. This unit is officially known as the South West Africa Police Counter-Insurgency Unit, which operated predominantly in South-West Africa. This outfit was the most effective paramilitary unit deployed against South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) fighters, during the South African Border War and is accredited with more SWAPO kills then the South African Defense Force. This book does an excellent and unbiased job at describing the horrors of this guerrilla war, with a particular interest toward the savage tactics used against each other by both sides of the conflict. These graphic details compounded with the human side of the story intertwining patriotism, heroism, brotherhood, honor and the dedication of these men in combat make this book an all-around great military read for all. I also found this edition has much more personal information on many of the topics discussed in the book, as well as extensive background information on Jim Hooper. Overall, anyone interested in the South African bush wars, counterinsurgency and military history in general on this book of interest.
T.A.L. Dozer “Professional Warrior
Jim Hooper’s newest book about Koevoet is a very accurate, gripping recollection of what happened in a deadly conflict that is not very well publicized. Jim tells it the way it really happened. You can almost smell Ovamboland in the 1980’s – sweat, tears, blood, fear, death, diesel and gunpowder. It is the best publication on South Africa’s Deadly Bush War that I have read (I have read most everyone published up to now). From the viewpoint of a former Ops “K” operator (ZT – 1982/82) I relived the war the way I experienced it. It brought back lots of memories (from 30 years ago). In the end it felt like I was in that mortar attack with you guys – could only be written by somebody who experienced it, tasted it and who was really part of it.
PJM – ZT – Ops “K”
Having spent 50 years in Africa, I find this book very down to earth and realistic. Good reading and very factual
Chief John Thornton
The conflict between the South African supported forces of Namibia and the Communist insurgency took place during an era of growing western hostility towards apartheid in particular and white involvement in Africa in general. This usually meant much South African suspicion towards western journalists, media people who were experts at ignoring the atrocities committed by communist supported insurgents while proving themselves ever eager to believe the worst of the South African forces on the flimsiest of allegations. This meant Jim Hooper faced a difficult time in getting acceptance to allow him to understand what was going on, that he did so and was able to do justice to the men of Koevoet is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this account, after all the men involved in this sort of fighting were not likely to be impressed or fooled by some smarmy two faced western journalist. A first class read of the difficulties and affects that war imposed of those who sought to offer Namibians an alternative to the communist and UN inspired offering of lies and brutality. A first class read.
Barry E. Sheridan
What a fantastic read. Written in a manner that transports you to the scenes being described. Minor grammatical errors but overall a pleasure to read and a glimpse into the history of South Africa and the “Border War”.
Having been a member of the Police Service for over 30 years and been a member of a firearms unit, I have somewhat limited experience of going on duty and attending firearms incidents, not like the members of Koevoet did every day..
I found this book excellent, I can fully appreciate the feelings of not only the author, but also the members of Koevoet teams going out on patrol, at least I didn’t have to put my life on the line each and every tour of duty as they did. The book is superbly written and one can feel and live the tension as the teams clash with the Communist SWAPO Terrorists. An excellent read, a pity at the end “Political Correctness ” and Racialism forced this superb, crack Police Anti Insurgent Unit to be disbanded.
A truly independent view of how it really was by a gutsy journalist who went to war with those fighting for their country. I found this an absolutely fabulous read which was hard to put down.
This book, written and illustrated by journalist Jim Hooper, brings to life a much misunderstood war where brave men, black and white, fought together in the South West African Police’s Counter Insurgency Unit to combat, along with the regular South African Defence Force, communist insurgents, and in many cases bringers of terror, in South West Africa (Namibia). What we get here is an insider’s view of the men who were prepared to put life and limb on the line to prevent a Marxist take over of that part of Southern Africa. There are so many strands and threads of heroism, quiet dedication, non-apartheid comradeship, and eventually political betrayal. Highly recommended and very readable with many intriguing photos in colour and black and white.
Good balanced writing that filled in a few gaps. This unit has had bad press in the past and this book appears to rectify the situation.
Great to see a politically unfiltered first hand account of black and white brothers in arms serving their country with the highest honour in extreme danger.
Excellent. I lived through it all and travelled throughout Southern Africa at the time. We all knew change would come about but we also knew it wouldn’t be through the barrel of the gun. We were right and Hooper tells it like it was.
May I have been reading various titles regarding the bush war, all have been great, but this has been top of the pile. Could not put it down. An outsider giving you an honest portrayal of an unforgiving war.
Jim Hooper’s “Koevoet” is a gritty and honest portrayal of the crucible of combat. The book places the reader directly on the ground and into the heavy emotional trial of men living and fighting in a deadly complex war. Page after page the reader will be thrown into the unpredictable confusion of uncensored combat and then witness how these men decompressed and prepared for the next “CONTACT!” The book’s pictures taken by Jim Hooper add the images needed to complete this vivid account of events. The fact that Jim Hooper embedded with “Koevoet” for such an extended time enables this book to transcend from historic record to becoming a priceless first person narrative of the true humanity found in individuals who serve in times of war. Being a combat vet, the book continually struck up my own memories of OEF and OIF. In my opinion no matter the war or the time the experiences found in war are the same for those that fight. This book captures this sentiment by illustrating the lifetime bond forged among brothers in arms, and the devotion they have towards each other. In this current edition the addition of Koevoet veteran current reflections about the unit and the author adds an incredible new insight. “Koevoet” is a must read for anyone trying to understand and gain a first person perspective of the men who fought day after day in South Africa’s Bush War.
I was much impressed when the first edition of this book appeared 20 years ago, and I am delighted with this revised edition, with much expanded eye-witness testimony and illustrations. Jim Hooper’s account of the five months in 1987 that he spent embedded with a (mainly black) South West African Police counter-insurgency unit in the Namibian bush war was about the most unpopular kind of testimony imaginable in the climate of the late 1980s. The difference between ‘acceptable’ truths and ‘unacceptable’ truths is one of timing. When a story is breaking the media can’t handle the complexities of real life; they make a choice as to who are the guys in the white hats – a choice that is not always dishonest, but is ALWAYS partial. Choosing to tell the truths of the men he rode with – sympathetically, but with complete honesty, based solely upon what he had seen and heard – opened Hooper to unjust, even slanderous criticism.
Hooper is a careful reporter, but also a born writer; his vivid word-pictures drag you in and hold you. He skilfully conveys his initially unwelcoming reception by an operational unit; the long, frustrating grind of search operations in punishing terrain and climate; the extraordinary bush skills of the Ovambo policemen; the shock of sudden contact, and its aftermath. He didn’t just come in, get a few quotes and posed photos, taste the dust, and leave, to write up a glib piece in an air-conditioned hotel room. He stayed; and that enabled him to at least begin to understand the men whose lives he shared for months on end.
Their trust in him was vindicated when he came back to them after being wounded the first time. His unflinching description of his reactions to the mortar attack in which he was wounded for the second time – and which cost the lives of men he had come to know – will stay with me. Like so much in this book, it could not be farther from the stereotyped tropes of some reporters. Its neglected subject, and the voice that the author has found to tell it, make this book something really unusual. Do yourself a favour, and read it.
My involvement with this story is rather personal; in the year that this was penned I was an Ops Medic at the military base of Eenhana when the author was casevacked to us after getting hit in the arm during an enemy contact. Things being what they were then, I did not really get a chance to speak with the “Mad foreign journalist” as we jokingly referred to him, but he left me with enough of an impression to want to read his take on things.
Having missed the 1st edition I was very glad to see Koevoet re-released 25 years later on. Snapping up a copy on Amazon I was immediately transported back to the heat and conflict of Okovangoland in 1987.
It takes the astute observations of an outsider to expose a story like this with the complete objectivity it requires. It also took some balls to immerse himself into a proverbial nest of vipers – even more so getting it published.
I felt the story was an accurate and unbiased portrayal of the situation and true reflection of a complicated war not fully understood even by those fighting it. If you were there this is a must read, if you were not, it will take you there and show you what it really was.
An awesome read and true reflection of what the “bushwar” was all about in the then South West Africa. Jim gives a blow by blow account of how it was and how it was done in a time of war operating with Koevoet. For those who were there and always imagined what it was like for the operators of Koevoet this is a must read.
A strong story about the fight against SWAPO terrorist / freedomfighters (pick your viewpoint) and how they worked. No glamour and no excuses, but lots of broken promises. A must read for anyone who wants to know more about conflicts in southern Africa.
Johan L “Johantheswede
Jim provides his readers with an honest documentary on his time with Koevoet, which is commendable considering all the warped sensation seeking reports written about this outfit and war. It is an easy read and provides readers with great insight into a war few knew about or understood.
Suidwester op die eiland
This book is very well written with insight and passion to establish the objective reality of the life everybody were living willingly or not during the Bush war.
I am fairly knowledgeable about the bush wars, but the one on the Namibia-Angola has gone largely unwritten, that is why this book is so important. Jim, the America Journalist who wrote this, has written an informative, detailed account of the war, not from distant observation but by total immersed for many weeks in the conflict. He writes factually, modestly and objectively, not siding with the insurgents as most arm-chair journalists have, but seeing the side of the government troops who risked life and limb to keep Communist-influenced SWAPO insurgents at bay. It is long but well worth the read.
First person account on the anti-insurgency war in Namibia from someone embedded within the SWAPOL. New to me, this account comes from one of these African revolutions and rebellions no one (almost) ever heard of, even though it was happening during the 1980s and 90s. Worth reading.
The chance of a lifetime for a real journalist and Jim took it! A good account of the bush war with Swapo and the atrocities inflicted on locals by them.
I could not put this book down. The fact that it was written by a journalist put me off to begin with but I found it added to the story telling. It was crisp at times, gutsy and raw at other times. The direct quotes from members of Koevoet added greatly to the book. Jim Hooper tells a great story. Fantastic read.
An honest and balanced assessment of a harsh and cruel episode in Namibia so typical of Africa, then and today, and so hard for western, liberal, Pollyanna journalists, activists, politicians and writers to come to grips with.
An assessment rendered extremely spell binding because of Jim Hooper’s direct involvement and embedded status. Jim draws you right into the chaos and fear of “contacts” and the aftermath of every skirmish. Having experienced similar events during the Rhodesian Bush War, I found his accounts completely accurate and real. You get as close to experiencing his life in Namibia during the heat of battles and during the lull of “base life” as you will ever get, without being there.
Jim Hooper has to be admired for his bravery, tenacity and desire to tell the truth. I am an ex South African, now US citizen, and spent time “on the border”. My curiosity of Koevoet was aroused due to their incredible effectiveness in COIN operations and friends who had flown missions in support of Koevoet.
The book is an accurate and unbiased account what actually happened in COIN operations and the life of the operators. The author was granted full access to the Koevoet teams and basically became one with the unit when he embedded for an extended period of time. Jim has a wonderful style of writing and the book is so easy to read and difficult to put down.
This is a must read for anyone who has an interest in trying to understand the dynamics of the “Border War” and the socio-political influence of communism on the world. After reading Koevoet I immediately procured a copy of Blood Song and Black Vortex has been ordered.
All I can say is thank you, Jim! Balanced material surrounding the bush war is hard to find, especially when it comes to Koevoet!
Jim Hooper was incredibly brave to write this book in the 1980s, which was an honest account of the most effective fighting force deployed by South Africa against communist-backed SWAPO in Namibia and Angola. Hooper has revised the book significantly, and cleared up the record on a lot of matters that were shrouded in uncertainty for the first edition. He is not only one of the few journalists who could write about South Africa honestly; he is a master story-teller.
Jim did an excellent job to take the reader on a realistic journey through eyes of warriors that consider themselves policemen. This is a 5-star read, worthy of the top shelf in my study.
Hans Van Heerden
Well written book about a little know war (little know in the west). Excellent as a war history and as a personal account of a microcosm of the Cold War.
Author does a great job of honouring the men, both black and white, that served in Koevoet. I couldn’t put this down. Highly recommend.
I found the first edition of this book many moons ago. Having recently re-read this new edition, I am again impressed by seeing a view of South Africa’s efforts to halt communism in SW Africa/Namibia. Now that apartheid has ended officially, we in the rest of the world can see the other side of life in the southern tip of Africa. Mr. Hooper’s description of his time with Koevoet is both exciting and in-depth in his examination of the people conducting counter-insurgency against the communist supported SWAPO. A good, fast read that can allow the reader a chance to expand their knowledge of what atrocities were committed by forces in the name of “global Marxism.” Balance this work with recently released histories on American work against communism. You the reader can now decide with a more balanced view. Not just a war history but a look at why men fight for seemingly unjust causes.
Koevoet is a highly personal and riveting account of an often forgotten African conflict. Often dismissed as thugs of the apartheid regime, Jim Hooper tells the story of the men who made up the South African Koevoet unit with a keen and observant outside eye. Along the way you can smell the diesel and the sweat and feel the tension as he rides along with the men of Koevoet on a terrible venture called war.
I have had the pleasure of spending some time in the country now called Namibia. I have been very fortunate to make good friends there. In the course of many long conversations around a camp fire the subject of the bush war will inevitably arise. A former member of Koevoet told me that Jim Hooper was the real deal. What more needs to be said about the author or this book. Anyone trying to understand the struggle that shaped this fascinating part of the world would do well to this book.
The tough comradeship within Koevoet, which made distinctions of colour or race meaningless, is captured by Hooper and by the end of the book we share with him the sense of personal loss as he makes his way back to his home in rural England. Koevoet combines information and reflection with adventure, humour and tragedy. He is a gifted photographer and craftsman with the written word.
I don’t pretend to be a literary critic or book reviewer. But, as a newspaper columnist and reader, I can tell you that Hooper’s book is gripping, well-written and deals with his time in the field with Koevoet, an elite South African counter-insurgency unit. Whether you read it as a necessary work about a little-known aspect of that part of the world…or as a book by a guy who has spent as much time living his dreams as he has contemplating them, you could find worse ways of spending a chilly fall weekend.
—St Petersburg Times