Note: This is part four of a series. You can read part onepart two, and part three here.

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?