Colonel Archie Moore of The South African Defence Force (SADF) leads the joint military monitoring commission on an inspection of the SADF built pontoon bridge crossing the Kavango river .
With him are once enemies from Cuba, the Soviet Union (Russia) and FAPLA . On this day the political and socio-economic landscape in Southern Africa would change forever. The SADF would withdraw, so too would the Cuban, FAPLA (Peoples Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola), and PLAN forces (SWAPO’s Armed wing). South West Africa/Namibia would then implement resolution 435 and the war would come to an end.
The ramifications of the end of the Bush War would have a resounding effect and change the course of history of the sub continent and South Africa specifically. The war had always been fought on a “Cold War” status – the fight of western styled capitalist democracy (as South Africa viewed itself albeit an Apartheid one) and the spread of Communism.
A number of factors came together to herald the change in South Africa’s disposition to the war, the primary one been the collapse of Soviet communism in 1988, the loss of the USSR satellite states, all cumulating in the collapse of the Berlin wall on November 9, 1989 and the eventual collapse of Russian communist domination in its wake.
This seismic change to global politics encouraged the National Party of South Africa (who were fiercely anti-communist) to review its position continuing the “Cold War” in southern Africa. The Nationalists where beginning to feel comfortable enough that the stage could be set for a democratic election in Namibia, which would occur not on the back of a Communist backed militant overthrow, but on terms which would not see South Africa fighting a protracted Communist led war on its own border against Cuban and Soviet forces building up in the region. This fear, not entirely unjustified, fundamentally underpinned most of South Africa’s rational for maintaining the Border War and its interests in Namibia.
The writing on the wall began in late 1987 and early 1988 as eastern Soviet block countries started demanding independence from Russia and the Soviet Union began unbundling, the process for South West Africa’s transition to independence from South Africa also began against this backdrop, and by 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 manoeuvring 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.
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 and the end of the Communist threat to South Africa.
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. 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.
Funnily, today we look back and view these simple facts which heralded the end of The Border War in a different light, Nambian and South African current governments and many young people preferring to take up the romantic idea that “Apartheid” South Africa was somehow beaten back by the combined liberation forces of Nambia and South Africa. When the truth of matter is that history records facts and to those of us who actually lived through this era and saw this war – these are the facts.
The argument that the battles along the Lomba and at Cuito Cuanavale had somehow taken the fight out of South Africa are simply untrue. The fact of the matter is that South Africa maintained a military force that constituted a regional super-power with nuclear capability, staunch discipline, highly motivated and highly resourced. The Nationalist government was a highly conservative, intensely God fearing, belligerent, introspective and aggressive one, and one founded on a history of taking up arms against all odds – fully prepared to put itself and the country’s military at odds with any adversary, armed with a simple belief founded in 1838 – that God was on their side.
In an unassailable position of power in 1989 with a growing majority white support, the only people who could change the course of the South Africa’s history, dissolve themselves from power and redress the injustice of their policies where the National Party themselves – and as an inconvenient truth goes, that’s exactly what happened.
Featured image – Photo copyright – John Liebenberg