Bring “Skillie” Home

Bring “Skillie” Home
Ex MK Colonel 'Blaz' in front of Capt. Jeronimo's Russian T34 Tank

Andries “Skillie” Human was last seen alive exiting the side-door of a C130 Hercules aircraft at 500ft behind enemy lines, over the fortified military base ‘Cassinga’ 250-kms across the SWA – Angola border on May 4th, 1978.

Skillie was only found to be ‘Missing-in-Action’ that evening when the Parabat’s returned to base back in Southwest Africa.

No man left behind

Although all military units cultivate the ethos that no man is left on the battlefield, living or dead, this has a special importance to the paratroopers.

Most of the killed and wounded in action during conventional battles are close to medical help. Ambulances, stretcher-bearers, field-hospitals, and the means for rapid Casevac are immediate to hand.

Paratroopers on the other hand, usually find themselves fighting far behind enemy lines. Because of their need for swift mobility, they are usually lightly armed and medical equipment is at a bare minimum.

This means that paratroopers must look after their own to a far greater extent than normal infantry.

The implicit promise each paratrooper makes to his comrades is that whether wounded or killed, they will be brought home.

Fulfilling this promise is the reason Skillie’s comrades-in-arms are going to such extraordinary efforts to bring him home, no matter how late the hour and how far the distance.

Why 44 years have passed before Skillie comes home.

Speculation that Skillie Human had landed in the Culonga River, which ran alongside the camp was the most probable cause for his disappearance.

Over the years, every tour group that visited the battlefields of Angola was asked to make inquiries as to Skillie’s whereabouts.

In 2011 a rumour spread that Skillie had been found and buried by a local tribesman and this spurred Mike McWilliams of the Parabat Veterans Organization (PVO) to plan a trip to search for the grave. Detailed estimates of Skillie’s landing site were made considering the aircraft ‘run-in’ speed and the location of the landing positions of his stick. The expedition anticipated using Below-Ground Radar and metal detectors to sweep the banks of the river.


While planning proceeded, a windfall came our way. A Namibian Historian, Gordon McGregor, visited Cassinga and made enquiries about Skillie. Gordon was taken to a nearby village, where he met the man who had found Skillie’s body and buried him.

Skillie had indeed fallen into the river and drowned. Around four days after the battle, his parachute floated to the surface and was retrieved by the headman. The body of a paratrooper was attached to the harness and was buried in a waist-deep grave next to the river. The old man took the historian to the grave site and showed him the indentation in the ground where the body lay.

A detailed GPS reading, and photographs, were taken at the site.

The grave is surprisingly within 100m of the estimated landing area established by ‘dead reckoning’.

The plans for the expedition were immediately put into high gear and General Gert Opperman of the Ebo Trust was contacted to help with the governmental interaction. The Ebo Trust had previously brought three SADF remains back from Ebo near Luanda and had experience in this kind of project.

 Strange Bedfellows

During the fundraising effort, Mike McWilliams, then President of the PVO was approached by Eeben Barlow, the founder of Executive Outcomes, the famous private security force. Eeben told of a friend of his – Blaz, an MK soldier, who had retrieved remains of dead ANC cadres from Angolan and Zambian camps. This man had close relationships with both the SA and Angolan governments and was willing to help with the Skillie project.

Another soldier MIA

A vital part of getting Skillie Human home from his lonely grave in Angola was an effort to gain the confidence and trust of the Angolan authorities.

We were asked by the then Angolan Ambassador to SA to help them establish the fate of a FAPLA Captain, Sebasteao De Carvalho Jeronimo – who was MIA from Operation Protea on 24 August 1981.

The Angolans believed that the South African forces had captured Capt. Jeronimo, but never returned him at the end of hostilities. Their government had made numerous representations to the SADF and SA government since then, but all inquiries had drawn a blank.

We made it our mission to find out what had happened to the captain.

After months of exhaustive detective work, not made easier by the shut-down of our military archives, we pieced the story together.

Capt. Jeronimo was a tank commander, and his tank was the first to be shot out by SA forces near Xangongo, during ‘Ops Protea.’

His tank crew, a driver and gunner, had escaped through the tank’s driver hatch but subsequently died alongside the tank of their wounds.

Capt. Jeronimo’s body remained in the turret when the Russian built T-34 tank was captured by SA forces and driven to an assembly area from whence it was later sent to South Africa.

The next morning, the SADF driver decanted Capt. Jeronimo’s remains from the tank and buried his remains next to the tanks overnight position, somewhere in the trackless Angolan bush.

Blaz and I found the tank at the SA Army College in Voortrekkerhoogte, near Pretoria – now Thaba Tswane – a military training area near the South African Capitol – Tswane. On visiting the Army College, we went to the Officer Commanding’s office and met with him as well as other serving officers. They knew nothing of any T34 tank on the premises, but the OC personally led us to where he knew several tanks were parked.

The first tank we found was the T34 we were looking for.

As related, it had suffered a direct hit from a HEAT round, burning a hole clean through the left-hand side of the turret. This was inflicted by a Ratel 90 Armoured Infantry Vehicle during Ops Protea.

During close examination, we found a barely legible brass plaque on the tank, identifying it as the actual tank shot out near Xangongo on 24 August 1981.

Blaz immediately phoned Capt. Jeronimo’s widow, Rita and informed her of our find.

She was very emotional and thankful after suffering so many years of uncertainty, to get some form of comfort, now hopefully assisting her to get ‘closure’- sometime in the future.

A third MIA from a third army.

I spent a day at the Namibian High Commission in Pretoria discussing the ‘Bring Skillie Home’ operation.

They were amazed at the news of us having found the unmarked grave of one of their soldiers nearby Skillie Humans grave. I offered them our goodwill in either exhuming the remains in that grave and re-burying them at the mass grave at Cassinga, leaving the matter alone; or marking the grave so that the Namibian authorities can exhume the grave later when they build the monument to their dead at Cassinga.

They would be pleased if we could mark the grave and give them a GPS co-ordinate for later reference once we get there.

We had a long fruitful and friendly chat and one of the then SWAPO, a Lt Col Amukwa was particularly interesting as he was a part of the clean-up squad that was brought into Cassinga immediately after the battle.

As one can imagine, we had lots to talk about. Among other things, he used one of our parachutes as a tent for his stay at Cassinga. I asked for it back as it could have been mine.

Expedition Date

We would very much like to Bring Skillie Home by the end of June this year. It will have been exactly forty-four years since he went missing. May is the time when the big rains stop in Angola, so it is the ideal time to launch the expedition.

This means that we need to get the balance of about R350 000 between now and then to enable us to bring Skillie home and inter his remains at the Voortrekker Monument – among all the other soldiers who lost their lives during the bush war.

The possibility exists, we eventually find nothing at the grave; predators, floods, and degradation of the riverside may have obliterated any trace of Skillie.

Nonetheless, we are determined to make the strongest possible effort to bring home Andries Human. Skillie died on the day of his fourth wedding anniversary.

More so to the honour of his wife, Ms. Rachel Human, remaining faithful, never re-marrying – never doubting her husband Andries’ return.

Not only so that he can rest in peace alongside all those that fell in the Bush War, but that she’ -Rachel Human- now waiting for 44-years can for the first-time sleep-in peace . . .

You ask why?

The answer is simple: ” Skillie. . . is Home. . . “ *

Fund Raising

General Opperman estimated that a sum of around R350 000 would be needed to launch a successful expedition. This was based on the amount used to execute the retrieval of the Ebo remains.

The PVO launched a multi-function fund raising effort in October 2016 and since, that target has been achieved.

Because of a now six-year delay in executing the mission, there is a great need to raise far more funds than originally expected; more than double the original amount.

Inflation, Rand/US Dollar exchange rate, Covid 19 compliance, pathology, forensics, diplomatic issues, and the likelihood of adding a cadaver K9 to the mix, are only some logistical issues our crew has had to contend with since 2016.

Donations and financial support in aid of the “Bring Skillie Home” Project, will be most gratefully accepted into the:

Parabat Veteran Organization’s Not for Profit – audited bank account at:

Nedbank, Somerset West Branch, Account Number 1131959035, Branch Number 114145, SWIFT NEDSZAJJ.

Please use SKILLIE as the account notification and your own name as Payer and send a Proof of Payment notification to