The Battle That Helped Crush South Africa’s Apartheid

Part VII of Africa Series

On March 25, the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, Angola, was celebrated in Cuba by Raúl Castro and government representatives from Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Although the battle is mired in propaganda over whether the South African apartheid army really lost or the Cuban Army-led forces won, it marked the beginning of the end of the hated South African apartheid regime and the myth of its army’s invincibility in Southern Africa.
It has been called “Africa’s largest land battle since World War II,” occurring amid the Cold War between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. A brutal, bloody civil war gripped oil-rich Angola after it won independence from Portugal in 1975. Angola’s MPLA government was pro-Soviet. So the CIA, the apartheid South African regime, Congo’s corrupt dictator Mobutu and Israel armed, financed and trained UNITA, a guerrilla movement that had also fought Portugal’s colonial army. UNITA and its backers outgunned the MPLA, so the latter sought aid from Cuba, which sent thousands of soldiers to fight alongside the MPLA. The South African army also wanted UNITA to control Angola’s southern border to stop the liberation movement (SWAPO) fighting for Namibian independence from South African control.

The border war’s final battle occurred in the city of Cuito Cuanavale, in early 1988. It involved hundreds of tanks, artillery, planes and 50,000 Cuban-army-led soldiers against the UNITA-South African army attempt to capture the city. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. The apartheid regime claimed it wasn’t defeated.
But as von Clausewitz said, “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” That battle crushed the myth of invincibility of the racist apartheid regime and its army. Several years later, apartheid was dismantled in South Africa.

Unfortunately, this defeat of the hated apartheid regime didn’t include a revolutionary struggle against the root of racism: capitalism. Today, the rulers of South Africa, Angola and Namibia (all former leaders of those liberation movements) are in bed with capitalism and imperialism. Cuba looks to be turning towards the “China” road of free-market capitalism. And a new imperialist battle for Africa’s oil and other vital resources is developing, now between the U.S. and Chinese imperialists. A luta continua (the struggle continues).

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One thought on “The Battle That Helped Crush South Africa’s Apartheid

  1. Kai says:

    Cuba showed a solidarity with a worthy cause and many cubans stepped up to the plate for this. In spite of Cuba’s flaws and Castro’s as well, I dont think the paper is circumspect enough when it is being critical of Castro’s leadership and the gains that were made even under a state capitalist society like CUba’s. that so many volunteered their lives to fight on behalf of Africans (the worlds most reviled people on the racial totem pole) speaks volumes about the consciousness of the Cuban people. This example of international working class solidarity and anti-racism struggle is not extolled enough.


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