African Bush Wars and Vietnam

African Bush Wars and Vietnam / a comparison

This is a short & simple comparison of the Bush wars & the American war in Vietnam.  It is an outline & may be expanded on depending on your feedback.  This article is part of a group of articles that aims to look at PTSD, specifically  the impact it has/had  in the lives of white Africans.

Thankfully, I have never been to war, so anything I write might well be naive, & I am open to any polite corrections.  The series is based on my own experience of interacting with vets over the years, & some basic research.  Any sources will be listed at the bottom, or linked to in the text.  

The Bush Wars ranged from the mid 1960’s, & into the 1980’s.  They peaked in the 1970’s.  While the Rhodesian War was generally accepted to be more gruesome in nature, both wars had more in common with Vietnam than with either of the world wars. They were unique for the time.  Some 300 Vietnam veterans are said to have fought in Rhodesian bush war, I don’t have figures for foreign conscripts to the SADF.  If you would like to know why an Australian joined the Rhodesian forces, there is an article Here  A quick glance at the picture below illustrates how similar some of the experiences might have been for troopies in either of the wars. The pic is actually a Public Domain image from the Vietnam War


African bush wars & Vietnam

Like Vietnam:

The enemy was harder to define, friend & foe often looked the same

Wars were fought close to civilian populations

Bush wars were long, & included many repeat tours (camps)

More hand-to-hand fighting

Forces were conscripted/no choice – (In Africa, conscription was compulsory for whites only. Some regiments consisted of non-whites who volunteered)

Public opinion varied/s  from unpopular to inhuman

Propaganda was used ruthlessly by all players to manipulate opinion

Timing – Both continued into the 1970’s

Both were fighting Chinese & Cuban trained cadres

Unlike Vietnam:

Nearly all South African & Rhodesian teenagers were conscripted, while Vietnam exempted students.  This divided youth in the USA

Rhodesia’s Security Forces often fought fellow Rhodesians, born & raised in the same country.

African government forces, to a large extent, thought they were fighting a just war.

The bush wars were a lot closer to home. The Rhodesian War was largely within its own borders. South African War was largely on it’s border & in neighbouring Angola

There has been nothing like the, “Love the soldier, hate the war” campaigns that grew in countries like the USA & the UK

Hollywood.  Vietnam is almost a genre of its own.  The bush wars are mostly forgotten

The Vietnam war ended as the bush wars peaked

No national parades or major commemorations for Rhodesian or SADF servicemen.

Bush war vets are not confident in speaking about their time in the forces due to social perceptions.

Lack of support groups.  The Vietnam Veterans of America are just one available to Vietnam vets & they recognise PTSD as a disability.

At the end of the Rhodesian War, the forces had to accept their country being rebranded  – Country renamed, flag changed.

Young men born in the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) could either be fighting in the gov’t security forces, or for either or two liberation factions – ZANLA or ZIPRA, who both fought the Rhodesian Security forces as well as each other at times. Aspirations, tribal differences & propaganda were divisive.

Source included in the link below

Interesting further reading

A summary of the differences from a Rhodesian perspective,

“Primary differences  were that Rhodesians were fighting on their own soil for home and hearth, spoke the home languages , where Americans were fighting in a foreign country for someone else’s home and hearth,  didn’t speak the lingo and weren’t convinced they were doing the right thing. We all thought we were.”  – E V S

A summary of the differences from a ZIPRA perspective,

“In Rhodesia people lived as Christians, children, fathers, mothers, rich, poor and so forth. In the struggle everyone was a comrade. In the armed struggle people lived with the threat of death every second, every minute, every hour and everyday. I think the tension affected people’s behaviours in different ways” – From an article by Retired Brigadier-General Abel Mazinyane, a former member of the Zipra high command. Link to full article is listed, with other here under Liberation Struggle Memory Lane


Let me know if there are other similarities of differences & I will add them if relevant.