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Africa and the Cold War - Term 2 Week 7

Cuba, South Africa, and the struggle for Angola, 1974-1989

The sudden collapse of the Portuguese empire in 1974 did not end the conflict in Angola. Agostinho Neto’s MPLA government faced internal opposition from Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA. Savimbi was supported by South Africa, which secretly invaded Angola in 1975, and – intermittently – by the United States. The Soviet Union provided assistance to Neto’s regime, but it was Cuban troops which held the frontline against Pretoria’s forces. In this class, we will look at the motives for and consequences of these various interventions into a conflict which brought together the global Cold War with the aftermath of Portuguese decolonisation, the liberation of Namibia, and the fate of apartheid South Africa. Saunders and Onslow provide an introduction; Westad, Gleijeses and Miller provide new evidence on the agency of the USSR, Cuba and South Africa at the point of the internationalisation of the Civil War in Angola.

Class/Essay questions

  1. Why did the USA and the Soviet Union intervene in Angola, 1974-75?
  2. South Africa and Cuba acted proxies of the superpower in Angola. Discuss
  3. How decisive was the Cuban intervention for the ultimate success of the MPLA in Angola?

Class readings

Christopher Saunders and Sue Onslow ‘Southern Africa in the Cold War 1975-1990’, in Melvyn P. Leffler & Odd Arne Westad (eds), The Cambridge History of the Cold War, vol. III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 222-43. [e-book]

Piero Gleijeses, 'Havana’s Policy in Africa, 1959-76: New Evidence from Cuban Archives: New Evidence on the Cold War in the Third World and the Collapse of Detente in the 1970s', Cold War International History Project Bulletin Issues 8-9, (Winter 1996/1997), pp. 5-8, available from

Odd Arne Westad, Moscow and the Angolan Crisis: 'A New Pattern of Intervention, New Evidence on the Cold War in the Third World and the Collapse of Detente in the 1970s' Cold War International History Project Bulletin Issues 8-9 (Winter 1996/1997), pp. 21-32, available from

Jamie Miller, ‘Yes, Minister: Reassessing South Africa’s Intervention in the Angolan Civil War, 1975-76’, Journal of Cold War Studies, 15 (2013), 4-33.

General readings

Gary Baines and Peter Vale (eds), Beyond the Border War: New Perspectives on Southern Africa’s Late-Cold War Conflicts (South Africa: UNISA Press, 2008).

Graham Evans, ‘The Great Simplifier: The Cold War and Southern Africa’, in Alan P. Dobson, Shahin P. Malik, and Graham Evans (eds), Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Cold War (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999).

Edward George, The Cuban Intervention in Angola, 1965-91: From Che Guevara to Cuito Cuanavale (London: Routledge, 2005).

Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington and Africa, 1959-1976 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

Piero Gleijeses, Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

Piero Gleijeses, ‘Havana’s Policy in Africa: New Evidence from the Cuban Archives’, Cold War International History Project Bulletin, 8-9 (1996-97), 5-8.

Piero Gleijeses, ‘Truth or Credibility: Castro, Carter, and the Invasions of Shaba’, International History Review, 18 (1996), 70-103.

Piero Gleijeses, ‘Cuba and the Independence of Namibia’, Cold War History, 7 (2007), 285-303.

Christine Hatzky, Cubans in Angola: South-South Cooperation and the Transfer of Knowledge, 1976-1991 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2015) [e-book].

Linda Heywood, ‘UNITA and Ethnic Nationalism in Angola’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 27 (1989), 47-66.

Stephen F. Jackson, ‘China’s Third World Foreign Policy: The Case of Angola and Mozambique, 1961-1993’, China Quarterly, 142 (1995), 388-422.

Ryszard Kapuściński, Another Day of Life (London: Penguin, 1987).

Miles Larmer, ‘Local Conflicts in a Transnational War: The Katangese Gendarmes and the Shaba Wars of 1977-78’, Cold War History, 13 (2013), 89-108.

William Minter, Apartheid’s Contras: An Enquiry into the Roots of War in Angola and Mozambique (London: Zed, 1994).

Sue Onslow (ed.), Cold War in Southern Africa: White Power, Black Liberation (London: Routledge, 2009).

Sue Onslow and Simon Bright, ‘“The Battle for Cuito Cuanavale”: Media Space and the End of the Cold War in Southern Africa’, in Artemy Kalinovsky and Sergey Radchenko, The End of the Cold War in the Third World (London: Routledge, 2008), 277-96.

Justin Pearce, Political Identity and Conflict in Central Angola, 1975-2002 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015) [e-book].

Roger Pfister, Apartheid South Africa and African States, 1961-1994 (London: IB Tauris, 2005).

Jakkie Potgieter, ‘Taking Aid from the Devil Himself: UNITA’s Support Structures’ in Jakkie Cilliers and Christian Dietrich (eds), Angola’s War Economy: The Role of Oil and Diamonds (Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies, 2000).

Leopold Scholtz, The SADF in the Border War, 1966-1989 (Cape Town: Tafelberg, 2013).

Elizabeth Schmidt, Foreign Intervention in Africa: from the Cold War to the War on Terror (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 103-42 [e-book].

Vladimir Shubin, The Hot “Cold War”: The USSR in Southern Africa (London: Pluto Press, 2008).

Vladimir Shubin, ‘Unsung Heroes: The Soviet Military and the Liberation of Southern Africa’, Cold War History, 7 (2007), 251-62.

Ian Taylor, ‘The Ambiguous Commitment: The People’s Republic of China and the Anti-Apartheid Struggle in South Africa’, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 18 (2000), 91-106.

Stephen L. Weigert, Angola: A Modern Military History, 1961-2002 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011) [e-book].

Odd Arne Westad, ‘Moscow and the Angolan Crisis 1974-76: A New Pattern of Intervention’, Cold War International History Project Bulletin, 8-9 (1996-97), 21-32.

Elaine Windrich, The Cold War Guerrilla: Jonas Savimbi, the US Media, and the Angolan War (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992).