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Forged in Flames:The SADF experience of The Battles of Cuito Cuanavale1987 1988This is my History Honours Thesis - 2010I welcome any comments, questions or criticisms. Please email me at: eriksensa@yahoo.comThis item will always be a work in progress as there are always aspects which can be improved upon and new information to include.The Video Documentary accompanying this thesis can be found here:Part 01: 02: 03: more info on this topic see:



History Honours

Full Name: Garrett Ernst Eriksen Supervisor: Professor Gary Baines

Student No: 607e4967 Due Date: 12 November 2010

Thesis Title:

Forged in Flames: The SADF experience of The Battles of Cuito Cuanavale 1987 1988


Contents1. THE BATTLES OF CUITO CUANAVALE A LITERATURE REVIEW A literature review detailing select pieces of literature on The Battles of Cuito Cuanavale. - Pages 3 - 27

2. FORGED IN FLAMES: THE SADF EXPERIENCE OF THE BATTLES OF CUITO CUANAVALE 1987 1988 DE FACTO SCRIPT A script of the included documentary: Forged in Flames: The SADF experience of The Battles of Cuito Cuanavale 1987 1988. - Pages 28 - 34

3. TREATMENT ON THE MAKING AND WRITING OF: FORGED IN FLAMES Detailing the journey from inception to completion of all aspects of this thesis. - Pages 35 - 44

4. TRANSCRIPTIONS OF INTERVIEWS HELD BETWEEN 30 AUGUST 2010 03 SEPTEMBER 2010-11-09 Transcriptions of the interviews held with Danie Crowther, Johann Lehman and Rodercik van der Westhuizen. - Pages 45 - 92


The Battles of Cuito Cuanavale A Literature ReviewINTRODUCTION Background The South African Border War took place during the years 1966 to 1989 and has been the subject of controversial studies, scholarly analyses and political scrutiny for many years since. Arguably, however, no Border War battles have been more controversial than those involving the town of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola during which Angolan and Cuban forces, with Soviet support, and South African and UNITA forces engaged in fierce skirmishes for control of the area in and around the obscure Angolan town. The Battles of Cuito Cuanavale1 lasted from December 1987 to March 1988 and were arguably the most important battles of the South African Border War. The ceasefire that followed the Battles of Cuito Cuanavale is regarded as a pivotal event in the implementation of UN resolution 435, which brought about the withdrawal of SADF forces from Angola and Namibia, and as a seminal event which lead to the end of Apartheid South Africa. It was also an important event in the Angolan Civil War (1975 2002) and lead to the independence of Namibia. New information and fresh research concerning the battles held there are continuously published, with a new generation interested in dealing with the legacies of the conflicts in Angola. A constant flow of debate on who won the overall skirmish underpins the research and memories of some of those involved, as (ex-) soldiers, civilians, scholars and politicians all vie for control over this knowledge and the implications it may hold. In the last eight or so years, several books have been written on the subject; mostly from the view of ex-soldiers or other people directly involved.


In this paper I have purposefully chosen to use the term Battles of Cuito Cuanavale, as opposed to the title Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, which is the traditional title given to this period. While it is true that several battles did occur at Cuito Cuanavale, the latter is usually used to encompass the entire period from December 1987 to March 1988, which, through my research, I have come to conclude is an inaccurate title. Defining all the events that occurred between that time as one battle, is a misnomer to say the least, and was originally created for ease of use by Cuban and Angolan propaganda as a symbol to rally behind. The name was picked up and distributed by news agencies around the world, and popularised by anyone sympathetic to the Angolan cause and/or by those who stood against Apartheid and the SADF, whom they saw as the Apartheid governments guard-dog. The misnomer has since been latched on to and perpetuated by historians, researchers and journalists alike.

4 This literature review will serve as a guide that will briefly outline the Battles of Cuito Cuanavale and a choice of relevant works concerned with the topic. This will hopefully provide the would-be researcher with the information that they would need, in order to adequately decipher the events that happened there and what they meant to the people involved, those who write about it and historians today. Objective This research paper will comprise a literature review of selections from available literature concerning the Battles of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola during the South African Border War. The paper will focus on issues concerning South African Defence Force (SADF) involvement in Cutio Cuanavale specifically, and will, for the most part, ignore most other work on the Border War, only using general information for contextual purposes, unless it pertains to this battle in some way or another. This also extends to circumstances leading up to the battle as well as the aftermath. This paper will hopefully guide the reader through relevant materials that will help provide an understanding of the battle and the people who were involved. Make no mistake, the soldiers thoughts and feelings in the matter are as relevant to this papers objective as any geographical or tactical data one may come across. As such, most of the literature selected has been written by South Africans who were either ex-SADF, military historians or conventional historians; this, I believe, is an excellent place to begin work on unpacking the events at Cuito Cuanavale. Although, there is the danger that some of these sources will be rather biased (in fact many are); however, if enough of them are consulted, a more balanced picture can be formed. But the psychology of the soldier must never be forgotten:War stories arent always about war, per se. They arent about bombs and bullets and military manoeuvres. They arent about tactics, they arent about foxholes and canteens. A war story, like any good story, is finally about the human heart. -Tim OBrien

The soldiers in the Border War are not dead and forgotten; they are alive, here, now, writing about and remembering their experiences. And it is our job as historians to understand what it is they are trying to say, as well as the circumstances and events that occurred then and how they are relevant now.

5 HISTORICAL CONTEXT After the Carnation Revolution in Portugal of April 1974, Angola became an independent nation, due to Portugal releasing its overseas colonies, and a transitional government was put in place. Almost immediately, the three militant, political groups, who had been fighting for Angolan independence, turned on each other and the interim government and began the Angolan Civil War (1975 2002). The three factions engaged in the civil war were: the leftist MPLA (and its armed wing FAPLA), led by Agostinho Neto, the conservative FNLA, led by Holden Roberto (who was supported by Mobutu Sese Seko of Zare); and UNITA, led by Jonas Savimbi (who originally had broken away from the FNLA and would later come to be sponsored by the US CIA and South Africa). Each group managed to capture their ethnic strongholds and began launching operations all over the country: the MPLA in central Angola (and thus the capital), the FNLA in the north and UNITA in the south. Shortly before the Carnation Revolution, a League of Nations mandate, which stipulated South Africa as the official administrative supervising body over SouthWest Africa from 1919 onwards, was terminated by the United Nations in 1966. South Africa refused the termination and in 1971, the UN declared the presence of South Africa in the newly renamed Namibia illegal. South-West Africa was adjacent to southern Angola and thus a beneficial partnership formed between UNITA and the SAP (South African Police) and SADF when SWAPO (Southwest African liberation movement) began armed resistance in early 1966, using southern Angola as a staging area for operations into Southwest Africa. Thus, UNITA became an invaluable ally against SWAPO for the SADF (although this was not the case from the outset.) Most of the Angolan Civil War took place during the Cold War, which saw the Soviet Union and United States of America attempting to manipulate the outcome of the arms race by gaining power through proxies in other countries, Angola was no different. The liberation movements in Africa, who naturally opposed apartheid in South Africa, found support in socialist countries, such as Cuba and the USSR. Angola and SWAPO were supported by the afore mentioned, as well as a few other eastern bloc countries, whilst countries like the US covertly supported South Africa and UNITA. In this way, a mini-Cold War was being fought in Angola, with the winner being either the East or the West and her respective proxies. This, of course,

6 begs the question then: was Cuba simply a Soviet proxy in this conflict, and South Africa and American one? After the Cubans had assisted the MPLA in consolidating power in 1975, they decided to remain until conditions in the country stabilised, whilst the USSR supplied FAPLA with munitions, advisors and technical staff. UNITA, meanwhile supported by South Africa and the US in the form of soldiers from the former and funds and weaponry from the latter, began posing considerable threat to the Angolan government, and by extension the Soviet Unions support. South Africa wished to prevent the MPLA government from gaining control of south-eastern Angola and to keep UNITA in power in the region as a territorial buffer zone, partly to prevent the spread of communism over South Africas borders, aka Die Rooi Gevaar (The Red Danger), partly to ensure SWAPO guerrillas would have difficulties launching attacks into Namibia and partly to ensure a foothold in Angola should further actions against the Angolan government become necessary should South Africa, or her surrounding territories, become threatened. The MPLA was viewed by Pretoria as a pseudo-Soviet government, with strong communist ties, and the continued presence of Cuban troops simply served to strengthen this view. It