31st Anniversary of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale: MK Contribution

By Gcwelumusa Chrysostomus "Castro" Khwela

The 23rd of March marked the 31st Anniversary of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. What is unknown, is that Umkhonto we Sizwe contributed immensely in the victory of the progressive forces in the defence of the African revolution in Angola.

On the 23rd March 1988 the battle of Cuito Cuanavale reached a halt. In the words of 32 Batttalion commander, Colonel Jan Breytenbach, he wrote: ‘the Unita soldiers did a lot of dying that day’ and ‘the full weight of FAPLA’s defensive fire was brought down on the heads of [SADF] Regiment President Steyn and the already bleeding Unita.’ According to this view, the SADF failed in its intention and was successfully thwarted by the combined Angolan forces (South African History Online).

Attached is a paper that explores the role of Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, in the defence of the African revolution against the joint The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)-South African Defence Force (SADF) forces in Angola from 1987 to 1988.

The Angolan government, under the leadership of the MPLA (the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Portuguese: Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola – Partido do Trabalho, MPLA), was under continuous attack from the joint UNITA-SADF forces, which were repelled by the armed wing of the MPLA, the FAPLA (The People’s Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola) with the assistance of the Cuban forces in 1975, thus leading to the ultimate withdrawal of the SADF from Angola on 27 March 1976.

Although the conflict continued throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s in Angola, the joint UNITA-SADF forces began another offensive in 1983 with the rejuvenated support of the US under the Reagan administration. This became the first instance in which MK became an actor in the defence of the African revolution in Angola, in what was then called the “Eastern Front”. During this period MK camps came under threat from the UNITA forces. The most important contribution made by MK, nonetheless, was in the period 1987 to 1988, in what came to be labelled as the “Northern Front”, which occurred simultaneously with the skirmishes that ended in the military victory for the joint FAPLA-Cuban-PLAN forces in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. Ultimately the New York and the Geneva Agreements were signed in July and August 1988 respectively and these led to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 435/78 for the independence of Namibia and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Angola – including MK. The significance of MK’s involvement in the defence of Angola was that it played a strategic role in stifling what was probably a well-orchestrated effort by the UNITA-SADF-CIA forces to stretch the joint FAPLA-Cuban-PLAN forces along two fronts, in the North and the South of Angola. However, as a consequence of a steadfast conviction to defend Angola, it is maintained that MK, as an internationalist force, with the joint FAPLA, Cuban and PLAN forces, played a critical role in promoting the success of the African revolution in Angola. It is concluded that this was significant in terms of allowing the joint FAPLA-Cuban-PLAN forces to focus their entire attention on the main force attacking from the South. Hence they managed to achieve victory at Cuito Cuanavale and accordingly ensured the success of the African revolution in Namibia and South Africa.

Here’s the paper on the role of MK in the defence of the African Revolution in Angol. It was written by Gcwelumusa Chrysostomus “Castro” Khwela in 2003 for presentation at a Military History Conference at the Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Military Science campus in Saldanha Bay. Umkhonto We Sizwe and Angola
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