The story of South Africa’s struggle for liberation and the ultimate triumph of our revolution cannot be complete without a detailed story of the role and contribution of Angola and other frontline states. The people of South Africa owe the government and people of Angola a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to repay in our life-time.
The African National Congress identified international solidarity as one of the pillars of the national liberation struggle. Angola sacrificed everything they had and risked the wrath of the imperialist West in pursuit of solidarity with the struggle of South Africans and the people of Namibia, led by the African National Congress and SWAPO respectively. They took the side of the freedom struggle at great risk to their own security and the real prospect of economic destabilization of their country. Indeed, many of our fellow MK soldiers perished in the hands of UNITA, a group of counter-revolutionary bandits supported by the racist regime.
When they decided to take the side of the people of South Africa and the Namibians against the brutality and aggression of the apartheid regime, the people of Angola never asked: “What will happen to us once the apartheid regime and their imperialist allies decide to unleash their vicious might on?” No, they posed the question differently: “What will happen to the oppressed and exploited masses of fellow Africans if we do not take their side?” This is the practical meaning of solidarity.
After our liberation, the Angolans are still confronting the challenge of rebuilding their own country whose economy and infrastructure was so cruelly and heartlessly ravaged by SADF and UNITA forces. The people of Angola and their government have demonstrated their determination to defend the gains of their liberation and to continue to care for its people.
Angola stood by us despite the escalation of violence in southern Africa and the Reagan administration’s determination to support the racist dictatorship through its “constructive engagement” project.
The arrival of the Cuban Five to our shores recently revived painful memories of our armed struggle. Two of them fought alongside Angolan forces against the apartheid in the eighties. This is vivid reminder of how central the role of Angola and Cuba were in our national liberation struggle. The people of Cuba, inspired by their internationalist outlook, have taught the world the content of international solidarity.
To appreciate the meaning and content of solidarity and internationalism, as well as what motivates and inspires the revolutionary people of Cuba, let me quote the immortal words of Ernesto Che Guevera:
“After receiving my degree, I began to travel through Latin America and I got to know it intimately. And in the way I travelled, first as a student and then as a doctor, I began to come into contact with poverty, with hunger, with disease, with the inability to cure a child because of lack of resources with the numbness that hunger and continued punishment cause, until a point is reached where a parent losing a child is an unimportant accident, and often happens among the hard-hit classes … and I began to see that there was something that, at that time, seemed to me almost as important as being a famous researcher or making a substantial contribution to medical science, it was helping these people”.
As we join the Angolan people in celebrating 40 years of independence, South Africa should never forget the sacrifices made by the people of the great countries of Angola and Cuba. Cuban soldiers fought side by side with our liberation movement in pursuit of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa. They made all these sacrifices, not for personal glory or recognition, but to give practical expression to that which defines us true revolutionaries – solidarity with the oppressed.
The Battle of Cuito Canavale in 1987-88 was indeed a decisive moment which turned the tide against apartheid aggression and in favour of the democratic movement. After many centuries of resistance against apartheid and colonialism, it was the battle of Cuito Canavalle that was to be a defining moment in the people’s struggle to seize power. The role of Angola was critical to the surrender of apartheid South Africa, with Cuban military prowess proving decisive.
The humiliating defeat of the might of the apartheid army, which forced the National Party to the negotiation table, was not only a victory for the people of South Africa and the entire international progressive movement, it also shattered the mythology of SADF invincibility.
Comrade Lindiwe Zulu is an ANC NEC Member.
She underwent military training in Angola as an MK soldier.