12 December 2012

Cuba and Southern African Liberation - Pambazuka


The unknown story

Isaac Saney

2012-12-05, Issue 609

One of the greatest military victories in African history, conducted jointly by Angolan and Cuban troops in 1987-1988 in the Angolan town of Cuito Cuanavale, is little known in global history

Cuba's direct, extensive, critical and decisive role in the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa is little known in the West. As 2012 marches into 2013, we are in the midst of the 25th anniversary of a series of military engagements that profoundly altered the history of southern Africa. In 1987-1988, a decisive series of battles occurred around the southeastern Angolan town of Cuito Cuanavale. 

When it occurred, these battles were the largest military engagements in Africa since the North African battles of the Second World War. Arrayed on one side were the armed forces of Cuba, Angola and the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO), on the other, the South African Defense Forces, military units of the Union for the Total National Independence of Angola (UNITA - the South African proxy organization) and the South African Territorial Forces of Namibia (then still illegally occupied by Pretoria).

Cuito Cuanavale is marginalized in the west, frequently ignored, almost as if it had never occurred. However, the overarching significance of the battle cannot be erased. It was a critical turning point in the struggle against apartheid. From November 1987 to March 1988, the South African armed forces repeatedly tried and failed to capture Cuito Cuanavale. In southern Africa, the battle has attained legendary status. It is considered THE debacle of apartheid: a defeat of the South African armed forces that altered the balance of power in the region and heralded the demise of racist rule in South Africa.

Cuito Cuanavale decisively thwarted Pretoria's objective of establishing regional hegemony (a strategy which was vital to defending and preserving apartheid), directly led to the independence of Namibia and accelerated the dismantling of apartheid. The battle is often referred to as the African Stalingrad of apartheid. Cuba's contribution was crucial as it provided the essential reinforcements, material and planning.

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