Military Migration and Memory: Angolan Flechas Four Decades On

On the eve of Namibian independence in 1990 some 3,000 !Xun and Khwe were airlifted by the South African Defense Force from their decades-long residence at a military base in Caprivi and relocated to a military base in South Africa. Originally from eastern Angola, !Xun and Khwe families crossed the border to South West Africa in 1975 after Angolan independence because they had fought on the wrong side. Under the colonial Portuguese government, !Xun and Khwe men served as Flechas, a special unit of the secret police active during the Portuguese Colonial War. From 1975 to 1990 former flechas allied with the South African Defense Force as members of a “Bushman Battalion,” conducting cross-border attacks in eastern Angola against FRELIMO and then against SWAPO within South West Africa. After the disbanding in South Africa of the Bushman Battalion in 1993, a group of !Xun traded their guns for paintbrushes. Through a consideration of prints and paintings created by artists //Thalu Bernardo Rumao, Joao Diakunga and Ferciano Ndala, among others, this paper considers !Xun perspectives on their entangled decades-long militarized engagement with decolonization, as well as their forced migration through colonial Portuguese and apartheid South African spaces.

About the Author

Jessica Stephenson received an MA and PhD in African art history from Emory University, Atlanta, USA and BA and BA Honors degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. She served as Curator of African Art at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University from 2003 – 2013. She joined the School of Art and Design, Kennesaw State University, Georgia in 2013 as assistant professor of Art History. Her research specialty is the emergence of novel art forms in contexts of rupture and change; transtextuality and intercultural arts; art, heritage and tourism; art and agency; and histories of museum collecting and display. These issues inform her research with art collectives in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Angola. She has curated exhibitions including Spirited Vessels: the Ritual and Practice of African Ceramics (2004) and Divine Intervention: African Art and Religion (2011), presented papers at numerous venues including the College Art Association, and published extensively on Southern African Khoisan art collectives, including “Mirror Dance: Tourists, Artists, and First People Heritage in Botswana” which appears in the edited volume The Anthropology of Art/The Art of Anthropology, Newfound Press, 2013.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s