The way that The Recce film was advertised and marketed, I was looking forward to seeing it. With stars such as Greg Kriek and Marius Weyers, I was expecting an excellent production.
Knowing a number of Reconnaissance Commando veterans, including its Founder, Colonel Jan Breytenbach, I thought: it is about time that these veterans and their family members have a film, which highlights some of what they achieved against such great odds. However, this film is a disappointment.
Plot Holes and Inconsistencies
The plot holes are numerous and huge. Captain le Roux, who presents the central character, Corporal Henk Viljoen, with his assignment to assassinate a Russian colonel in Angola, is evidently not a Recce and wears the brown beret of the personnel service. Recces would not have been given their marching orders by any other than Reconnaissance Commando (purple beret) and Intelligence service (black beret) personnel.
Solo Behind Enemy Lines
It is also highly irregular to have a single Recce assigned to a Behind Enemy Lines operation. Platoon and four-man teams were more common, two-men teams extremely rare, but the only Recce that I know of that ever undertook solo missions was Chris Schulenburg and that was when he was in the Rhodesian Selous Scouts. I am not aware that any Recce was deployed solo in Angola.
The tactical errors made by the Henk Viljoen character are so numerous; one wonders whether the scriptwriter and director even listened to a military consultant. Behind enemy lines infiltrations would not have made use of a conveniently available and saddled horse to cross such open veld. Nor would a Recce operator have so recklessly chosen to go into an inhabited village during exfiltration. That is where his whole operation began to unravel, leading to his capture and torture.
Henk’s strangely inexplicable escape occurred when some or other side was attacking the village, (UNITA forces are not mentioned, although they would have been operational through most of Southern Angola). If it was UNITA then there would have been no need for him to flee as they were allied to South Africa.
Nor would any Recce, while being pursued, have so recklessly exposed himself for all to see for miles around in the middle of a valley on a sandbank in a wide river. This is where he gets shot in the stomach. Basic principles of cover and concealment are frequently violated in this film.
Abandoning a Radio
When Henk Viljoen captures a radio from a pursuing insurgent, he manages to contact his base, but he then abandons the radio!
Fires and Firing at Night are Hardly Covert nor Silent
Frequent camp fires at night, while both infiltrating and exfiltrating, violate basic rules of covert operation behind enemy lines and would be an open invitation to be detected and tracked down. As for the outrageous scene where he starts firing wildly into the bush at the sounds of hyenas at night! That would be just about the worst thing to do when low on ammunition and way behind enemy lines!
Also, most strange and irregular is how, immediately before each engagement, the Henk Viljoen character regularly moves to cock his AK47, chambering a round. All soldiers would keep a round in the chamber in any operational situation. The loud metallic cocking of an AK47 would give unnecessary warning to any enemy being ambushed. Considering the amount of firefights he was involved in, it is just unbelievable that any Special Forces soldier would not have the weapon already locked, loaded and ready to go.
Much of the film is in dream-like style and the central character often seems to lack focus.
Callous Drunken General and Ridiculous Premise
The General Visagie character is portrayed as a callous, foul-mouthed and treacherous individual who drinks incessantly while on duty. His decision to launch an assassination operation against his own operator, when it is discovered that he was not, as first suspected, KIA (killed in action), but had survived and was on his way back to the South West African border is incredible. There is just no logical reason. Knowing the kind of generals in charge of Special Forces, such as General Kat Liebenberg, it is completely unbelievable that any special forces general would want one of his men who had survived an operation to be assassinated!
Unrealistic Chain of Command
There were also many layers of command in the SADF, yet in this film, there is only a single Captain from personnel service, who for some inexplicable reason, is the only link between this general and the corporal who is sent on a solo behind enemy lines assassination operation.
There is no reference to Sector 10 HQ in Oshikati, where Signals would have monitored all communications. Nor Fort Rev in Sector 10, or Fort Doppies in Sector 70, from where Reconnaissance operators would have been deployed, monitored and supported.
As the film develops, it becomes clear that there is a moral equivalency suggesting that the SADF Security Forces were no better and perhaps worse than the Marxist terrorists they were fighting.
Rewriting History and Ignoring Reality
Unbelievable sentiments are put into the mouth of the General Visagie character played by Marius Weyers, scorning the idea that there was any kind of Marxist threat to the country. Yet, there were over 55,000 Cuban troops in Angola at that time, Soviet and other East Block Special Forces operators were in Angola and billions of Dollars of high tech Soviet weaponry and missiles were being poured into Angola throughout the 1980s. Soviet war ships were prowling around our shores. Soviet Air Force MiGs were close to our borders on both the Mozambique and Angolan fronts. Soviet manufactured limpet mines and land mines were killing our people.
Unbelievable Sentiments Expressed
Yet the constant refrain given by the General Visagie character and by Leon Viljoen, the father of Recce, Henk, are frankly unbelievable. Every Reconnaissance Commando operator and family member that I know understood the geopolitical threats, were committed to the cause and had tremendous moral strength. In this film, only the mother of Henk, Sandra Viljoen, displays strength of character and conviction in the rightness of our cause.
Facts Are Stubborn Things
If the SADF had actually been as godless, callous, heartless and soulless as this fiction film portrays, we would not have been able to sustain a 23-year war against Soviet backed SWAPO terrorists in South West Africa/Namibia, nor utterly rout and destroy the conventional Cuban mechanised threat during the 14 years of the Angolan War from 1975 to 1989.
Tangible Evidence Ignored
The hundreds of wrecked Soviet tanks and armoured cars littering Southern Angola, particularly around the Lomba River, where Cuba’s elite mechanised 47th regiment was destroyed during Ops Hooper and Modular in 1987, can be viewed from Google Earth as solid evidence of the South African military victory and Cuban defeat in Angola. The fact that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro had his Commander General Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez executed 13 July 1989, also confirms who won the war in Angola.
Obviously Not Angola
As a Missionary who has worked extensively throughout both South West Africa/Namibia and Angola, I recognised none of the terrain of Angola (It was evident that The Recce film was filmed in the Berg River of the Eastern Cape, particularly Baviaanskloof, in Kersefontein of the Western Cape and most obviously in the Klein Cederberg, with its unique rock formations.) What was most missing was the massive termite and anthills, which pockmark Northern Namibia and Southern Angola. Similarly, the Makelaan palm trees, the Baobab trees and Elephant grass. None of which featured in The Recce’s over 300km incursion into Southern Angola.
Russian Colonel with Family Isolated and Far From Any Base
As far as I know, Russian personnel in Angola did not bring their wives and children along. However, in this film, the Russian colonel is not staying near any military base, is not wearing any military uniform, does not even seem to be carrying any weapon and has his wife and son staying with him, in what looks like a South African farmhouse in the Cederberg. There is no apparent reason what on earth this Russian Colonel is doing there and why he is considered an important target for assassination. After the Henk Viljoen character practically hands himself over to be captured, interrogated and tortured, he is informed that this Russian had saved the lives of many people in Angola!
Witchcraft and Torturing
Bizarre witchcraft ceremonies are carried out while the interrogator rambles on about tortures that their people had apparently suffered at the hands of South African forces. As far as I know, there were no cases of South African forces torturing any prisoners of war, especially not in the ways described here, digging into their stomach to find the secrets hidden inside their bodies by some form of witchcraft!
The Recce movie is actually an anti-Recce movie. While marketing itself as “a race for survival” by Recce Henk Viljoen, in which “his mental and physical abilities are pushed to their limits”, in an effort “to make his way home to his loved ones”, this is actually government funded propaganda aimed at discrediting soldiers who fought against all odds with integrity and distinction. This film demonises the SADF and presents an ahistoric, defeatist, and pessimistic view of futility, frustration and failure. The depiction of absolutely meaningless and pointless assassinations back in South Africa were also unbelievable.
Comments such as: “Who is the enemy? Nameless, faceless, ever-changing and elusive.” That is nonsense. The communist enemy was known, identified and defeated. Comments such as: “I have sent so many men to their deaths, I can’t even remember their names. I don’t want to” from the General Visagie character, is completely unbelievable. The Special Forces fraternity cared for its people and remembered the fallen by name.
Some of the Generals who I have met, such as General Constand Viljoen, General Jan Geldenhuys, General Meiring and others, were men who deeply cared and were fiercely loyal to their men.
Bizarre and Unbelievable
The scene of Henk’s father, Leon, burning his son’s photographs and clothes and all other memorabilia after hearing that his son had died in Angola is bizarre and unbelievable. Every parent I know who lost a son on the border cherishes the memories and photographs of their son and honour them. Sentiments such as “I would prefer my son to have been in jail than to have died in Angola” are out of character with the parents of Recces that I know.
Errors, even on the official The Recce Movie page, are many, including describing Henk Viljoen as a Captain while he plainly is wearing the stripes of a Corporal. On the website they also describe the ear-ringed, un-uniformed assassin Impi Buthelezi as a “Special Forces Operator”. The Recce Movie official website also contradicts itself in several points, such as placing the events of the film in 1981, then further down the website states: 1980.
DTI Funded Propaganda
At the end of the film credits, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is listed as a financial backer of the film. That explained the great disconnect between reality and this fiction film. The Recce would appear to be ANC government funded, anti-SADF, anti-Recce propaganda, designed to discredit and demonise the SADF and attempt to demoralise those of all races who fought and served in the South African Defence Force against communist terrorism.
Disgraceful Character Assassination
Our SADF veterans and particularly the Reconnaissance Commando deserve better than the shameful, dishonest and incompetent treatment dished up in this film. I would have expected better from the stars in this film. Of course they are not the scriptwriter, director, or producer. Nor could they have necessarily known all that editing would have done. All in all, this is a most unsatisfying, unbelievable, vile film which I am sorry to have gone out of my way to see. I would never bother to watch it again. I would not recommend anyone to see it. Nor can I imagine any SADF veteran wanting to purchase this video for their collection.
Challenge the Filmmakers
If you have contact with producer, Jack Williams, director, Ferdinand van Zyl, or editor, Jacques Le Roux, you could perhaps ask them: What on earth they were thinking and why they allowed this production to have been manipulated to give such a dishonouring portrayal of the men who fought Communist terrorism in South West Africa and Angola between 1966 and 1989. Why did they not make a film on one of the many real operations of the Reconnaissance Commando. Truth is stranger than fiction and cannot be fit into a politically correct narrative.
For important background information on the context of the conflict, see also: Who Won the War and Who Initiated the Peace?
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
I had the Honour to work and train with 1 of the ELITE ,The Late Col Andre Diedricks. He would be turning in his grave to see such false film footage.
Thank you for this article as I was about to go and watch this movie! I love reading your articles and it is sad how many people are so ill informed. Have an amazing day.
DR HAMMOND I HAVENT SEEN THE MOVIE AND WILL NOT BE WATCHING IT ANY TIME SOON ....ON WHAT YOU SAID ABOUT WHY DIDNT THEY USE A REAL OPERATIONS AS A PLOT IN THE MOVIE ID LIKE TO SUGGEST WHY DONT YOU MAKE A MOVIE OF SUCH AN OPERATION CONDUCTED BY SADF SPECIAL FORCES MEMBERS
Thanks for a sensible review. I wouldn't suggest anybody wasted their time watching rubbish like this unless they are specifically interested in just how unrealistic bad political propaganda can be. Without victory in the bush war, SA would have become a Marxist/Leninist/Stalinist state. For better or worse, the SADF made 1994 possible - by holding the line against Russian/E. German/Cuban-backed communism until the collapse of the Russian imperial empire deprived the ANC of its international military and ideological direction and support. All honour to those who fought.
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