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  Le Ngondo


29.03.2008 - The Beginning of Apartheid´s End – the 20th Anniversary of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale

Date: 29.03.2008
Organisateur: 26 March 1987 - Cuba and the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale
Pays: Afrique du Sud


Ceremonies in several African countries and the Caribbean this week marked the twentieth anniversary of the 1988 battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola. In this military engagement, which Nelson Mandela called “a decisive turning point in the struggle against apartheid”, the Angolan army and Namibian liberation movement, along with tens of thousands Cuban troops and aircraft inflicted a decisive defeat upon the land and air forces of white-ruled South Africa, ultimately forcing South Africa´s rulers to the negotiating table.

Back in 1974, the Portuguese army ended its bloody wars of colonial subjugation in Angola and elsewhere by overthrowing its own government and withdrawing from Africa. Almost immediately after Angolan independence, America´s puppet dictator of the Congo, Mobutu sent forces into Angola from the north, while white ruled South Africa, also with Washington´s blessing, invaded Angola from the south.

White South Africa´s armed forces were presumed to be the most powerful on the continent, capable of driving from Cape Town to Cairo with little opposition. The Angolans, even with limited aid from the Soviet Union, were thought to be doomed. The long night of apartheid seemed likely to be prolonged in southern Africa. Though most regimes on the continent opposed racist South Africa rhetorically and diplomatically, not one sent a single man with a stick to oppose the South African invasion. Only Cuba, of all Africa and the African diaspora possessed the resources of moral courage and determination to aid the armed resistance to apartheid.

Responding to the request of the new Angolan government, and to the call of their own African ancestors thousands of Cuban military personnel re-crossed the Atlantic and with tanks, aircraft and other weapons arrived to confront the racist South African army. Though the Cubans and their Angolan allies drove the white South African army and its black puppets from the vicinity of Angola´s capital, the South Africans remained able to bomb and raid Southern Angola, sometimes with fairly large forces.

By 1988 South Africa had acquired nuclear weapons and its apartheid army had re-invaded Angola with the usual American approval, threatening to take the crucial air base and river junction of Cuito Cuanavale. Cuba organized a massive air and sea lift, and with the help of Barbados and Guyana, which risked US disapproval by refueling Africa-bound planes carrying arms, equipment and military personnel assembled a formidable force. Cuban pilots knocked South African aircraft from the skies. Cuba concentrated 40,000 troops in an operation which stopped and rolled back the South African advance clear to the Namibian border.

The battle of Cuito Cuanavale forced the apartheid South Africa´s white rulers to abandon their dreams of military domination of the region. South Africa was compelled to begin negotiations on the independence of black Namibia, which it had occupied since 1915, and to agree to the release of Nelson Mandela and eventual majority rule in South Africa itself. The new South African state became the first in history to unilaterally renounce and destroy its own nuclear arsenal. “The history of Africa,” asserted Fidel Castro, ”will be written as before and after Cuito Cuanavale.”

Nelson Mandela agrees. “The defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible” he says “for me to be here today! Cuito Cuanavale is a milestone in the history of the struggle for Southern African liberation.”
It was the victory at Cuito Cuanavale which marked the beginning of apartheid´s end. It´s a victory that should be more widely known, and celebrated here.

Bruce Dixon is based in the Atlanta area and can be contacted at bruce.dixon(at)

Umkhonto we sizwe: Within Living Memories

By Makhanda Senzangakhona, Edwin Mabitse, Uriel Abrahamse and George Molebatsi

The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale

The tide had turned against the invading columns and the SADF army of apartheid in the South. In their eagerness to cut ground to reach the capital Luanda, they had burned themselves against FAPLA and the Cuban defence. Six thousand troops of the SADF were encircled in Cuito Cuanavale and threatened with extinction unless the regime agreed to negotiate. Behind the scenes, a flurry of diplomatic negotiations between the quadripartite countries: USSR, USA, SA and Cuba were under way. The result was the 14-Points Agreement: it provided for the safe passage of the encircled SADF troops in Cuito and the holding of elections leading to Namibian Independence. One of the provisions was a pledge by the countries not to harbour those destabilising them and to respect the inalienable territorial integrity of each other.

The Cuito outcome was pregnant with possibility and fraught with challenges. It was strategic because it guaranteed freedom for Namibia. Nobody was in any doubt that SWAPO would sweep the elections. Freedom for Namibia meant a denial of forward bases for use as springboard by SA for the destabilisation of the Peoples Republic of Angola or violation of the territorial integrity of the countries of the region. Cuito provided the ultimate condition required to realise the Namibian goal of freedom; the people of South Africa, Africa and the world shared in that goal; we had participated in the " common experience of struggle of a Great victory".

Cuito was a resounding victory of the tenacity and sacrifice of the Angolans; it was their culmination of 28 consistent and unbroken challenges to the forces of colonialism and imperialism. Angola had not known peace since independence, actually, since the dawn of the Slave Trade. The victory of Cuito was the necessary condition for the consolidation of the victorious gains of freedom and Independence fought for the people of Angola and Africa. Without the invasion and occupation army of apartheid, the people of Angola were free to decide their destiny. The Angolan people have paid the price and lived true to the commitment of its founding President, Agostinho Neto that: "Angola is the firm trench of revolution in Africa".

The victory of Cuito Cuanavale was a profound defeat for the Imperial ambitions of South Africa. It constituted a reversal of their assumptions to extend the front, to create a cordon sanitaire for the containment of the expansion of the borders of free Africa. Cuito literally rolled the battle to the banks of the Orange, as the Independence of Zimbabwe and Mozambique rolled the frontline to Limpopo and doorstep of South Africa.

To apartheid South Africa, albeit defeated, Cuito provided a tactical save-face. Their white constituency already in revolt, would see their conscripted sons alive. And most importantly, the consequence of Cuito would blunt the threat of MK through distance and dislocation from the region. What the regime could not achieve in the battlefield, it would seek to acquire from the Cuito settlement.

The repercussion of Cuito for MK were obvious; they required the capacity and commitment to accept the dramatic consequences of a victorious process; to realise the imperative of a realignment of conditions and forces locally and internationally in the wake of perestroika and glasnost. MK could not be party to the denial of the conditions for victory for the peoples of Namibia, Angola and by extension the dream of the peoples of Africa.

We laboured under no illusion regarding the capacity and integrity of the apartheid regime to live by their undertaking; Nkomati had taught us that they speak peace even as they prepare for war. The absence of war does not mean peace. We had to move. We moved from Angola: a tactical retreat, but a strategic consolidation. We had always perceived our battle-field to be in SA; that we had to fight where we were and everywhere was to defend so as not to permit whatever obstacle to stand between us and that goal.

It was the SADF that came after us; the conflict is in SA and the people prosecuting the challenge are in South Africa. They are the people´s army is inside, what is outside is only the core. The weight of free Africa and the convergence of the forces of freedom and commitment for the decolonisation of the continent will weigh heavily on the last bastion. "Victory will be won by the people who are fighting on the ground in SA-taking advantage of this weight". The dispersal of the fraternal armies of liberation is the consequence of a strategic task fulfilled. The conditions of victory are laid, the people of South Africa, the region and the continent are responsible for its celebration.

MK is a participant of countless battles: Kongwa, Spolilo, Rio Cuanza, Cacuso, Valo Diloma, Messina, Hoedspruit, Soekmekaar, Piet Retief, Mochaneng, Ngwavuma, Silverton and all over South Africa. All these battles and all the struggle were targeted at the strategic objective to lead to the final objective (OR). Cuito delivered Namibia and gave peace a chance in Angola. There could be no question that the ultimate victory lay in SA and the cherished goal, the entire freedom of Africa in every respect. The political and military leadership of the ANC and MK issued the order for the army to move from Angola to Tanzania (Iringa and Mbeya) and Uganda (Mbarara).

If the apartheid regime entertained the false notion that MK was banished from the theatre of battle, then the Commander-in Chief, OR Tambo had a profound message for them, "nowhere on the African continent is SA too far, no difficulty too great for this army. We trained in Egypt; we trained in Morocco, trained in Algiers and went into the country. If Botha and Malan are clapping hands and saying that we are moving further and further away. They are living in a dream and they´ll soon know it". Indeed, they knew it within eight years.

Paying tribute to the relentless resilience of the struggle of the oppressed and courage of militants of June16 and SA in general, the President imparted an enduring wisdom when he said; "When people cease to be frightened by bullets, they cease to be frightened by anything in the world; when you begin to defy death you´ve acquired the capacity to conquer - and what you need is correct tactics - what you need is the correct strategy because as we all know - the bravest soldier dies in vain if he dies without inflicting damage on the enemy. It is not sufficient to be brave; it is necessary that you fight with skill and with the means that give you capacity to win."

The Great Withdrawal from Angola was a solemn challenge; it was emotional for everyone. The task was understood and it was executed; it was historical and history has vindicated. The rest is not history, but the inspiring challenge that the nature and quality for which the sacrifice was made is retained in its integrity. "Cuito Cuanavale was not a final and definitive end. It was process." The renewal of Africa remains. The struggle is continuous. As OR would have it, "if we don´t fight, if we don´t step up our struggle - our victory will be distorted".

Our forefathers have discharged themselves gallantly; the Class of ´44 has delivered and so did the Classes of ´76 and the ´80s. A strategic beachhead, political power, was conquered in 1994, but the economic, social and cultural goals remain alienated. Terrains have changed and so have the required instruments to prosecute the challenge.

Mark Shope´s dream of bread, an egg and pint of milk a day for every child is yet to be fulfilled. Who are the new generation of Volunteers for Change?

Malome Kotane said to the South African youth of all generations: "At this hour of destiny, your country and your people need you. The future of South Africa is yours; and it will be what you make of it."


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