But the troops were few and inexperienced. Instead of saviours, they have been greeted as agents of old-fashioned South African imperialism, the worse for being black. This is a tragedy, not just for the South African government, but for President Mandela personally. Instead of bestriding the stage of the UN in New York this week, he has had to explain events over which he has little control. For a man who had promised so much, not just to his own country but the whole continent, that is no easy lesson.
In the Congo, South Africa wisely avoided direct military involvement. In Lesotho, it probably had no choice. But if you are going to commit yourself to military action, you have to know what your objectives are, and what are the rules of engagement. In this case, the army seem to have been told neither. After the death of eight soldiers, the army seems to have brought some measure of calm to the situation. But South Africa's invasion force is likely to be stuck keeping down a hostile population for months, if not years.
What can Pretoria do now? In truth, it can do little but make its security clampdown as effective as possible, re-establish relations with the civilian population, and get the rebels and the government to hold talks as quickly as possible. Not very glorious, maybe. But that is what you get when the popular demand for intervention comes across the hard realities of the military situation on the ground.Reuse content