Like Executive Outcomes in the 1990s, STTEP faces an uphill battle against a media narrative that has accused the South African contractors of being white, racist mercenaries who helped prop up apartheid. STTEP’s chairman, Eeben Barlow, scoffs at such a notion.
“Some in the media like to refer to us as ‘racists’ or ‘apartheid soldiers’ with little knowledge of our organization,” Barlow says. “We are primarily white, black, and brown Africans who reside on this continent and are accepted as such by African governments—but as usual, us palefaces are outnumbered in the company.” Although seldom stated in the press, Executive Outcomes primarily hired black Africans, as does STTEP.
Leashing the dogs of war?
“In the dying days of apartheid, a stream of white South African ex-soldiers sought to ply their trade in conflicts abroad,” writes the Economist. “These soldiers of fortune, with experience drawn from subjugating the black majority, were an embarrassing export for the post-apartheid rulers of South Africa.”
The Economist promotes a highly agenda-driven point of view, one in which there is little more to the South African contractors aside from being white racists. But, even the STTEP’s detractors have to admit that, “Sometimes foreign mercenaries have been saviors—for instance in Sierra Leone, when a privately hired helicopter-gunship crew helped to save the capital, Freetown, from falling into the hands of hand-chopping rebels in 2000.”
Like many others, the Economist piece references South Africa’s 1998 Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act, which attempts to regulate South African private military companies. Many in the press reference this law as being enacted to specifically shut down Eeben Barlow and Executive Outcomes in the 1990s. “I wrote about this in my book,” Barlow says, referencing his memoir, “and Executive Outcomes had a South African government license to operate—something no journalist wanted to mention.”
Barlow continued, “It is ironic that when the West uses companies such as ours, they are PMCs. When African governments use an African company with a record of success in ending conflicts and wars, we are labelled ‘mercenaries.'”
The press is far from color blind
The press reported on the death of Leon Lotz, a former Koevoet operator in the South African special police combat tracking unit, however, the second STTEP employee killed in the same friendly fire incident was barely mentioned anywhere. But why?
The second employee, killed in the same vehicle as Lotz, is identified only as ‘Nangombe.’ Apparently, the liberal sensitivities of the mainstream media are such that the deaths of white contractors are reported as being the deaths of white racist mercenaries, while the deaths of black Africans working for the same company are almost never mentioned, the previously mentioned Economist article being an exception.
Vanguard and the Washington Post are two examples of media reports that reference Leon Lotz but don’t even mention the black contractors killed alongside him. “STTEP’s black team members share the same views, hardships, joys, and sorrows as we do. But, as we have learned, black deaths are almost irrelevant to those outside our company,” Barlow told SOFREP.
This is the great hypocrisy of the media machine. They pick and choose which facts to report. In this case, they only report the facts that confirm the assumptions of the journalists writing them. To report about blacks going into combat alongside whites would undermine the racial narrative they have constructed, be it through ignorance or outright lies.
“Such nonsense reporting is aimed at trying to exploit race within the company when in fact, the opposite is very evident,” Barlow explained. He also pointed out that the press hardly even mentioned the Nigerian soldiers injured in the same friendly fire incident.
Who serves in STTEP?
The true makeup of STTEP is multi-racial, with white contractors being outnumbered by blacks. Digging a bit deeper, the truth is much more interesting than the false narratives spun by the press. “We primarily recruit South Africans and Namibians who either fought with us or against us in our periods of conflict,” Barlow said, referencing South Africa’s border wars in the 1980s. STTEP actually employs reformed communist guerrillas who fought against the South African Defense Forces.
Times change, and reconciliation is possible. Barlow has incorporated some of these men into his team, “However, we have also recruited several ex-SANDF members and ex-servicemen from other nations, as we need to carry over our knowledge and approach to them,” Barlow told SOFREP. Barlow noted that the lessons learned by his men now need to be passed on to the modern South African military veterans from the South African National Defense Force.
STTEP does have standards to enforce. Even back in the days of Executive Outcomes, at least one employee had to be let go because it was discovered that he was using company logistics lines to smuggle diamonds. “We recruit by word of mouth, and anyone who transgresses our code of conduct, who does not follow our ethics, or is unable to fulfill his role, is immediately dismissed.”
STTEP’s code of conduct is as follows:
- Behave in a legal, moral, and ethical manner
- Exercise honesty, integrity, and due diligence in all tasks and responsibilities
- Comply with all national laws and regulations as well as local laws
- Respect all customs, traditions, and religions
- Safeguard government and client confidentiality
- Never compromise the trust placed in them
- Refrain from accepting or offering any improper gifts, favors, or services
- Refrain from discrimination of any kind involving national origin, race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, or disability
Yet, the race card is just too tempting for the press to let go of. Barlow rejects the racial narrative entirely: “Had we been the so-called racists some media whores insist on calling us, do you think any African government would even want to speak to us? I very much doubt it.” The South Africans of STTEP often find themselves pigeonholed by the media as being soldiers of the apartheid.
“We find this labeling quite hypocritical,” Barlow said, “as we never read of Bush or Blair’s ‘anti-Muslim’ armies or soldiers, nor are U.S. ex-military personnel referred to as ex-‘Republican’ or ’Democrat’ soldiers.” Having whites in Nigeria doesn’t look good, but do we prefer Boko Haram instead? Does the effective solution also have to be politically correct for polite society? If so, the war will never end.
African governments wake up
Interestingly, the United States offered a JSOC contingent to the Nigerian government to aid in rescuing the Chibok school girls, the initial task STTEP was contracted to complete, only to be rejected by President Goodluck Jonathan. More than once, Barlow has seen that when his company becomes successful in defeating anti-government forces, outside powers begin pressuring the countries he is contracted in to cease working with him and his company.
“The U.S., for example, recently used AFRICOM to pressure a potential client not to use us, and even went so far as to make veiled threats against that potential client. What conclusion can one draw from this?” Barlow asks. However, it appears that many African governments have woken up to the poor advice they have been given by third-party interlopers and are now much more accepting of the idea of working with companies like STTEP.
“Africa must, after all, start taking control of its destiny instead of having to rely on others,” Barlow insists.
(Featured image: Strike force members unloading ammunition.)