The Soviets, Cubans and the Last Phase of Decolonization of Namibia

This paper will analyse some of the legacies of the process leading to Namibia’s independence in 1990, both for Namibia itself and for the countries in the region. While recent books by Henning Melber and Roger Southall have begun to explore those legacies for Namibia itself ,[i] the wider consequences of the way in which Namibia moved towards independence in 1990 have not been tackled systematically. Namibia’s liberation struggle had very direct consequences for Angola, from where the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) operated from late 1975, as well as for Zambia and South Africa. A Cuban military presence remained in Angola because of South African attacks on SWAPO. I do not, however, agree with some of what Piero Gleijeses has to say in Visions of Freedom. Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the Struggle for Southern Africa, the major new work on the Cubans in Angola, concerning the key role of the `victory’ of the Cuban forces in early 1988 in making Namibian independence possible and helping to bring about the end of apartheid. [ii] What was the relationship between the Namibian liberation struggle and the end of apartheid in South Africa? Did the Cuban presence in Angola help instil a culture of authoritarianism in Angola, and to a lesser extent in Namibia itself? How did relations between the African National Congress (ANC) and SWAPO in the years of struggle influence relations between Namibia and South Africa in the years after Namibian independence? These are among the questions the paper will tackle.

[i] Henning Melber, Understanding Namibia (London: Hurst, 2015); Roger Southall, Liberation Movements in Power (Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu Natal Press, 2013).

[ii] I have begun to critique Visions in a roundtable in H-Diplo, a review article in the Journal of Southern African Studies (December 2014) and a forthcoming review article in Historia (November 2015).

About the Author

Chris Saunders is Emeritus Professor, Historical Studies, University of Cape Town.


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