- Angola: From war to peace
One of the most remarkable transformations in southern Africa in recent years has taken place in Angola. For over forty years, from 1961, when the nationalist insurgency began, to 2002, when Jonas Savimbi was killed, numerous wars were fought, which killed millions of people. Since 2002, Angola has been at peace and many hope the multi-party elections of 2008 will usher in a new era of political stability.
Much about the wars that ravaged Angola for decades remains murky. There is no scholarly account that presents an overview of all of them.1 There are some brilliant but very partial accounts by first-hand observers: the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Another Day of Life (1987) comes immediately to mind, as does Michael Wolfers and Jane Bergerol, Angola in the Front Line (1983) and the impressionistic account by the American journalist Karl Maier, Angola, Promises and Lies (1996). Much about the [End Page 161] wars went unreported, however, so that there are scant, if any, written records of what happened. Even the South African military involvement in Angola has only received patchy attention. For the first phase of South African intervention, from the time that troops crossed the Namibian border in August 1975 to secure the Ruacana/Calueque hydro-electric plant, to March 1976, when the remaining South African troops withdrew, we have two accounts in Afrikaans – F du Toit Spies’ Operasie Savannah: Angola 1975–1976 (1989) and the more popular history by S du Preez, Avontuur in Angola: die verhaal van Suid-Afrika se soldate in Angola 1975–1976 (1989) – as well as the brilliant history of the international politics of intervention and the Cuban role by the American scholar of international history Piero Gleijesis (2002) of Johns Hopkins University. For the attack on Cassinga on May 4, 1978, there are also a number of first-hand accounts, such as that by the Cape Town-based journalist and soldier Willem Steenkamp (1983), as well as the attempt by Annemarie Heywood (1994) to produce a critical analytical examination of what happened. For the last phase, too, the battles around Cuito Cuanavale, there are a number of accounts from the South African side (see Heitman 1990 and Bridgland 1990). For the many interventions between 1978 and 1987, however, there is nothing beyond, say, the outline in Willem Steenkamp’s South Africa’s Border War (1989).
Many hoped that the withdrawal of South African forces from Angola in August 1988, together with the withdrawal of Cuban forces, which was completed by 1991, would usher in an era of peace for Angola, but after a brief respite war returned to Angola in late 1992 and continued for almost another decade. Not only is there is no comprehensive study of the Angolan wars from 1961 to 2002 in English; the 1990s are particularly poorly documented.2 The four books here under review do not fill this gap, but are helpful in aiding an understanding of the complex history of that war, and the eventual transition from war to peace in Angola. They also point the way for further research.
The books differ widely in approach. Edward George’s is by far the most important, even if it is, as I shall show, flawed in some respects. Based on a PhD thesis submitted to the University of Bristol, it is the first full account of the Cuban role in Angola, from the time that Cue Guevara became involved with the Angolan MPLA resistance in the mid-1960s to the withdrawal of the last Cuban forces from Angola in mid-1991. The early history of that involvement by Cuba had been treated by...