This article treats silence as a collective phenomenon. Silence can be proscribed and
enforced, socially conditioned and sanctioned, or voluntarily embraced. All forms were
evident in the case of soldiers who served in the South African Defence Force (SADF).
First, they acquiesced to an institutional silence imposed upon them regarding their
role in waging a war in Angola/Namibia, as well as suppressing the struggle against
apartheid. Secondly, SADF veterans were complicit in a self-imposed and consensual
silence about human rights abuses following the country’s democratisation. This was
partly enabled by a ‘pact of forgetting’ struck by the political elites and leaderships of
the statutory and non-statutory forces. Finally, SADF veterans have employed silence
as a strategy of control; they have invoked their experiential knowledge of the ‘Border
War’ to assert their authority to tell the ‘truth’, thereby constructing a narrative of
the conflict that remains largely unchallenged in the public domain. Consciously
or unconsciously, SADF soldiers contributed to the public construction of silence
following the violence of the apartheid wars.