South African Border War
The South African Border War, also known as the Angolan Bush War, was a largely asymmetric conflict that occurred in Namibia (then South-West Africa), Zambia, and Angola from 26 August 1966 to 21 March 1990. It was fought between the South African Defence Force (SADF) and the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), an armed wing of the South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO). The South African Border War resulted in some of the largest battles on the African continent since World War II and was closely intertwined with the Angolan Civil War.
Following several decades of unsuccessful petitioning through the United Nations and the International Court of Justice for Namibian independence, SWAPO formed the PLAN in 1962 with materiel assistance from the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and sympathetic African states such as Tanzania, Ghana, and Algeria. Fighting broke out between PLAN and the South African authorities in August 1966. Between 1975 and 1988 the SADF staged massive conventional raids into Angola and Zambia to eliminate PLAN's forward operating bases. It also deployed specialist counter-insurgency units such as Koevoet and 32 Battalion trained to carry out external reconnaissance and track guerrilla movements.
South African tactics became increasingly aggressive as the conflict progressed. The SADF's incursions produced Angolan casualties and occasionally resulted in severe collateral damage to economic installations regarded as vital to the Angolan economy. Ostensibly to stop these raids, but also to disrupt the growing alliance between the SADF and the National Union for the Total Independence for Angola (UNITA), which the former was arming with captured PLAN equipment, the Soviet Union backed the People's Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) through a large contingent of military advisors and up to four billion dollars' worth of modern defence technology in the 1980s. Beginning in 1984, regular Angolan units under Soviet command were confident enough to confront the SADF. Their positions were also bolstered by thousands of Cuban troops. The state of war between South Africa and Angola briefly ended with the short-lived Lusaka Accords, but resumed in August 1985 as both PLAN and UNITA took advantage of the ceasefire to intensify their own guerrilla activity, leading to a renewed phase of FAPLA combat operations culminating in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. The South African Border War was virtually ended by the Tripartite Accord, mediated by the United States, which committed to a withdrawal of Cuban and South African military personnel from Angola and South-West Africa, respectively. PLAN launched its final guerrilla campaign in late March 1989. South-West Africa received formal independence as the Republic of Namibia a year later, on 21 March 1990.
Despite being largely fought in neighbouring states, the South African Border War had a phenomenal cultural and political impact on South African society. The country's apartheid government devoted considerable effort towards presenting the war as part of a containment programme against regional Soviet expansionism and used it to stoke public anti-communist sentiment. It remains an integral theme in contemporary South African literature at large and Afrikaans-language works in particular, having given rise to a unique genre known as grensliteratuur.
|Part of a series on the|
|Military history of
|National Defence Force|
- 1 Roots of conflict
- 2 Conflict begins
- 3 Military operations
- 4 Cold War and Border War end: 1989
- 5 Namibian independence celebrations
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Roots of conflict
During World War I in 1915, South Africa on behalf of the Allied Forces, including the United Kingdom, invaded and conquered German South-West Africa. It established martial law, occupying the former German colony for five years. The League of Nations granted a C-class mandate for the colony to the UK in 1920, to be administered by South Africa.
After World War II, the League of Nations dissolved and the South African government of Jan Smuts hoped to be able to take over the territory. It formally applied to the successor United Nations in 1946 for this, but South Africa's request was refused because of its failure to consult with the indigenous peoples. The UN asked South Africa to place the territory under a trusteeship system, requiring closer international monitoring of the territory's administration, but South Africa refused. This resulted in a long-drawn out international legal battle. During this period, Smuts' South African Party had lost the elections and the new government under the National Party had established apartheid in South Africa, an extensive system of legal racial discrimination, applying it as well to South-West Africa.
In 1966 the International Court of Justice decided that it had no legal standing in the case between the UN and South Africa. Upon the announcement, the UN General Assembly irreversibly terminated the mandate.
In 1971 the International Court of Justice supported the UN, and agreed that South Africa's rule of the territory was illegal, and that South Africa should withdraw. In December of that same year, a general strike of workers showed South Africa the massive amount of resistance against the contract labour system. This was a new element of opposition against South African rule.
Although the South African government wanted to incorporate South-West Africa (SWA) into its territory, it never officially did so: it was administered as the de facto fifth province. Its white minority had representation in the Parliament of South Africa, as per the apartheid system.
On 26 August 1966, the first major clash of the conflict took place.:7 A unit of the South African Police (SAP) supported by South African Air Force (SAAF) helicopters exchanged fire with SWAPO forces at Omugulugwombashe; this date is widely regarded as the start of what became known in South Africa as the Border War. The SAP were unable to manage the escalating conflict, raising the prospect of South African military intervention for the first time. This event was a catalyst for the first use of South Africa Defence Force (SADF) Special Forces being run as an experiment under the leadership of Colonel Jan Breytenbach.
The Reconnaissance Commando (Recce), 44 Parachute Brigade, and 32 Battalion developed from this beginning. The SADF activity in South-West Africa was illegal and unconstitutional, because Parliament had not yet approved their deployment. During the Omugulugwombashe incident, SADF 1 Parachute Battalion members were hastily deputised as policemen.:7
On 29 September SWAPO launched an attack on Oshikango on the Namibian/Angolan border. This attack was led by Johannes Nankudhu, a survivor of the abortive action at Omugulugwombashe. In December 1966 a SWAPO force attacked farm Maroelaboom, taking the fight into SWA for the first time. Within weeks of this incident, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the African National Congress, infiltrated a small unit into Botswana under the command of Chris Hani, regionalising the war.[page needed]
The SAP initially managed counter-insurgency operations in South-West Africa against PLAN by deploying light infantry platoons. During this time the SAP and its local adjunct, the South West African Police (SWAPOL), bore the brunt of the ground fighting on the South African side, with the SAAF backing them up from the air. In the late 1960s, the government formed a special police counter-insurgency unit named Koevoet (Afrikaans for crowbar), with the name symbolizing the prying loose of SWAPO insurgents from the thick bush. The official name of the unit was South West African Police Counterinsurgency, SWAPOLCOIN. The SAP withdrew all their units, with the exception of those performing civilian policing duties, when the SADF took over the responsibility for the escalating conflict.
Angolan War of Independence
In late 1966 UNITA joined the fight for independence against the Angolan colonial power of Portugal. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) were already active in the colony conducting guerrilla war against the government. UNITA was mainly active in southern and eastern Angola, while the MPLA and FNLA were dominant in northern Angola.
South Africa first sent SAAF helicopters to support the Portuguese against UNITA in 1967, beginning its decades-long involvement in the conflict. Cooperation between the South African and Portuguese forces was formalized in 1970 by the Alcora Exercise, the political-military secret alliance among South Africa, Portugal and Rhodesia.
In April 1974, the Carnation Revolution in Portugal resulted in governmental changes in policy for Angola. The new Portuguese government announced that it would grant Angola independence on 11 November 1975; the three rival anti-colonial forces immediately began jockeying for control of the capital Luanda. Various other nations intervened in support of the different factions.
With the loss of the Portuguese colonial administration as an ally and the possibility of new regimes sympathetic to SWAPO in Lisbon's former colonies, Pretoria recognised that it would lose a valued cordon sanitaire between South West Africa and the Frontline States. PLAN could seek sanctuary in Angola. South Africa would have to confront another hostile regime and potentially militarised border to cross in pursuit of Namibian guerrillas.
South Africa's first action in August was to secure the strategically important Ruacana-Calueque hydro-electric works. The official reason for this action at Calueque was that a major civil engineering project being financed by South Africa was at risk after a unit of ill-disciplined UNITA soldiers held some engineers against their will. It also provided a pretext for South African involvement in the Angolan War of Independence, with covert aid from the CIA. The SADF military intervention soon escalated, with Operation Savannah initiated on 14 October in support of UNITA and the FNLA. Cuba in response launched Operation Carlota in Angola in support of the MPLA. This group gained control of the most important areas of the country after winning the Battle of Quifangondo. The authority of the coalition government was fading as the date approached for independence (11 November 1975). The Angolan Civil War started as the war of independence formally ended.
South Africa supported UNITA in the Angolan civil war, with the movement at times effectively operating as an extension of the SADF. It put pressure on SWAPO's bases in southern Angola. In return, the SADF assisted UNITA in its operations against the MPLA and Cubans.
This list of operations of the South African Border War details the various military operations conducted by the SADF during the conflict, many of which involved incursions into Angola. Additionally, the SADF provided covert assistance to the Rhodesian Security Forces for raids conducted against ZANLA and ZANU bases in Angola and Mozambique (Operation Uric and Operation Vanity).
United Nations Security Council Resolution 418 imposed a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa, that gradually eroded the technological advantage that the SADF initially enjoyed over its adversaries. For example, by the end of the conflict, the SAAF had lost air superiority to Cuban MiG-23 aircraft.
The deaths of South African soldiers in this conflict, particularly conscripted National Servicemen, was a politically sensitive issue amongst the white population, who resented their being sent into conflict in other countries. The use of forces such as UNITA, Koevoet, and 32 Battalion helped to provide resources for the conflict while at the same time avoiding headlines. Towards the end of the conflict, the anti-conscription and anti-Apartheid movements gained momentum, particularly through the End Conscription Campaign.
Cold War and Border War end: 1989
In the 1966–88 period, a number of UN Commissioners for Namibia were appointed after the UN withdrew South Africa's mandate. South Africa refused to recognise any of these United Nations appointees, and the UN declared South Africa's administration of Namibia illegal.
Discussions among participants in the conflict proceeded under UN Commissioner for Namibia, Martti Ahtisaari, who played a key role in getting the Constitutional Principles agreed to in 1982 by the front-line states, SWAPO, and the Western Contact Group. This agreement created the framework for Namibia's democratic constitution. The US Government's role as mediator was both critical and disputed throughout the period. For example, in 1984 it made intense efforts to gain withdrawal of the South African Defence Force (SADF) from southern Angola.
The so-called Constructive Engagement by US diplomatic interests was viewed negatively by those[who?] who supported internationally recognised independence. The United States supplied UNITA with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles
In 1987, the MPLA government with strong support from the Soviet Union decided, against Cuban advice, to eliminate UNITA strongholds in the south of Angola. They undertook a serious offensive from Cuito Cuanavale towards Mavinga. As UNITA was being driven back, the South African forces intervened on their behalf. In operations Moduler and Hooper, they decisively stopped the offensive, and pushed the FAPLA forces back to Cuito Cuanavale.
Cuba considerably reinforced its troops in Angola and came to the defence of the besieged FAPLA. The MPLA-Cuban advance against UNITA was halted by the SADF at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, the largest battle in Africa since World War II. Both sides have claimed victory. The Cubans abandoned their advance against UNITA, and the bulk of the Cuban forces instead advanced down the west of Angola towards Namibia. On 27 June 1988, Cuban MiG-23 fighters bombed the Calueque hydro-electric complex at , disabling it and killing 12 SADF soldiers.
Cuban analysts such as Luis Cino believed that the stalemate at Cuito, the death toll, and demonstrated vulnerability to Cuban MiGs, contributed to South Africa soon afterwards agreeing to a peace accord.
United Nations-mediated negotiations were directed to achieving peace in and independence for South-West Africa/Namibia. South African ground troops completed their withdrawal from Angola on 30 August 1988, before the negotiations were concluded.
In 1988, UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, was appointed. In the eventuality of South Africa's relinquishing control of Namibia, Commissioner Carlsson's role would be to administer the country on behalf of the UN, formulate its framework constitution, and organise free and fair elections based upon a non-racial universal franchise.
In May 1988, a US mediation team – headed by Chester A. Crocker, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs – brought negotiators from the MPLA, Cuba, and South Africa, and observers from the Soviet Union, together in London. Intense diplomatic manoeuvering in the context of the military stalemate of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale characterised the next 7 months. The parties worked out agreements to bring peace to the region and to enable the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 435 (UNSCR 435).
At the Moscow Summit of leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union in Moscow (29 May-1 June 1988), the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola was linked to Namibian independence. In this way, the Cubans could claim to have played a part in Namibian independence and the dismantling of Apartheid, while the South Africans could claim success in getting the Cubans to withdraw from Angola. The New York Accords – agreements to give effect to these decisions – were drawn up for signature at UN headquarters in New York in December 1988. Cuba, South Africa, and the People's Republic of Angola agreed to a total Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola. This agreement – known as the Brazzaville Protocol – established a Joint Monitoring Commission (JMC), with the United States and the Soviet Union as observers, to oversee implementation of the accords. A bilateral agreement between Cuba and Angola was signed at UN headquarters in New York City on 22 December 1988.:255 On the same day, a tripartite agreement between the MPLA, Cuba and South Africa was signed whereby South Africa agreed to hand control of Namibia to the United Nations.:255
UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, was not present at the signing ceremony. He was killed on Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded and crashed on Lockerbie, Scotland on 21 December 1988 en route from London to New York City. South African foreign minister Pik Botha, and an official delegation of 22 had a lucky escape. Their booking on Pan Am 103 was cancelled at the last minute and Botha, together with a smaller delegation, caught the earlier Pan Am 101 flight to New York.
Transition to independence
Implementation of UNSCR 435 officially started on 1 April 1989, when the South African-appointed Administrator General, Louis Pienaar, who took the place of the UN's Bernt Carlsson, began the Namibia's transition to independence. Former UN Commissioner for Namibia, Martti Ahtisaari was appointed United Nations Special Representative in Namibia, and arrived in Windhoek in April 1989 to head the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG).
The transition got off to a shaky start because, contrary to SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma's written assurances to the UN Secretary General to abide by a cease-fire and repatriate only unarmed Namibians, approximately 2,000 armed members of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), SWAPO's military wing, crossed the border from Angola in an apparent attempt to establish a military presence in northern Namibia. UNTAG's Martti Ahtisaari took advice from British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was visiting Southern Africa at the time, and authorised a limited contingent of South African troops to aid the South West African Police (SWAPOL) in restoring order. A period of intense fighting followed, during which 375 PLAN fighters were killed. At a hastily arranged meeting of the Joint Monitoring Commission in Mount Etjo, a game park outside Otjiwarongo, it was agreed to confine the South African forces to base and return PLAN elements to Angola. While that problem was resolved, minor disturbances in the north continued throughout the transition period.
In October 1989, under resolution of the UN Security Council, Pretoria was forced to demobilise some 1,600 members of its counter-insurgency force, Koevoet. The Koevoet issue had been one of the most difficult UNTAG faced. The unit was formed by South Africa after the adoption of UNSCR 435, and was not, therefore, mentioned in the Settlement Proposal or related documents. The UN regarded Koevoet as a paramilitary organisation which ought to be disbanded, but the unit continued to deploy in the north in armoured and heavily armed convoys. In June 1989, the UN Special Representative told Administrator-General, Louis Pienaar stated that this behaviour was totally inconsistent with the Settlement Proposal, which required the police to be lightly armed. Moreover, the vast majority of the Koevoet personnel were quite unsuited for continued employment in the SWAPOL.[why?] The Security Council, in its resolution 640 (1989) of 29 August, therefore demanded the disbanding of Koevoet and dismantling of its command structures. South African foreign minister, Pik Botha, announced on 28 September 1989 that 1,200 ex-Koevoet members would be demobilised with effect from the following day. A further 400 such personnel were demobilised on 30 October. These demobilisations were supervised by UNTAG military monitors.
The 11-month transition period ended relatively smoothly. Political prisoners were granted amnesty, discriminatory legislation was repealed, South Africa withdrew all its forces from Namibia, and some 42,000 refugees returned safely and voluntarily under the auspices of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Almost 98% of registered voters turned out to elect members of the Constituent Assembly. The elections were held in November 1989 and were certified as free and fair by the UN Special Representative, with SWAPO taking 57% of the vote, short of the two-thirds necessary to have a free hand in revising the framework constitution that had been formulated not by UN Commissioner Carlsson but by South African appointee Louis Pienaar. The opposition Democratic Turnhalle Alliance received 29% of the vote. The Constituent Assembly held its first meeting on 21 November 1989 and resolved unanimously to use the 1982 Constitutional Principles in Namibia's new constitution.
It was later reported that the South African government had paid more than £20 million to at least seven political parties in Namibia to oppose SWAPO in the run-up to the 1989 elections. They justified the expenditure on the grounds that South Africa was at war with SWAPO at the time.
Namibian independence celebrations
Namibia's Independence Day celebrations took place in the Windhoek Sports Stadium on 21 March 1990. Numerous international representatives attended, including 20 heads of state, and the arrival of Nelson Mandela, who had just been released from prison, caused excitement among the 30,000 spectators. United Nations Secretary-General, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, and the President of South Africa, F.W. de Klerk, jointly conferred independence on Namibia. The president of SWAPO, Sam Nujoma, was then sworn in as the first President of Namibia.
- Cuba in Angola
- Frente Leste
- Military history of South Africa
- Military history of Africa
- Mozambican Civil War
- Portuguese Colonial War
- Rhodesian Bush War
- South Africa and weapons of mass destruction
- Willem Ratte
- Bushwar Statistics
- Portugal Angola
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- [Such as Luis Cino, of the well-known anti-Castro press organisation, Cubanet, ``Cinco meses después, el 28 de julio de 1988, demoledores golpes aéreos de los Mig-23 cubanos contra las fuerzas sudafricanas en Calueque y Rucaná, cerca de la frontera con Namibia, marcaron la derrota sudafricana en Angola. http://www.cubanet.org/CNews/y07/apr07/23a8.htm and Juan F. Benemelis, Las Guerras Secretas de Fidel Castro, Published by el Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia en Cuba with the financial support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, "En junio, las tropas al mando del general Patricio de LaGuardia se aproximaban peligrosamente a la frontera con Namibia.... Sin dudas, esta táctica evitó la caída de Cuito Cuanavale a manos de los sudafricanas.... El canciller sudafricano Pieter Botha, apuntó que esta acumulación bélica causaba serios disturbios en el balance de fuerzas en la región y podría hacer peligrar la seguridad de todo el subcontinente...." http://www.gadcuba.org/Guerras%20Secretas/La%20Batalla%20de%20Cuito.htm]
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- Namibian independence celebrations
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to South African Border War.|
- "32 Battalion – The Terrible Ones".
- Willem Steenkamp's book – South Africa's Border War 1966–1989
- Accounts of both sides: A South African Soldier and an MK operative at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
- Walker, Derek R. "Military Memories of ex-SADF rifleman".
- The Stick (1987) synopsis on IMDB
- "South African Roll of Honour".
- "Sentinel Projects".
- "SA-Soldier Website".