Outside Support

Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy

Chapter 19

By Morgan Norval

Copyright 1989 Published by: Selous Foundation Press, Washington DC

ISBN: 0-944273-03-3 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 89-62602

NOTE Page numbers appear between [square brackets] at the start of the page. Footnotes appear in red, and appear at the end of the chapter, although in the original book they appear at the foor of the page in question.

An analysis of revolutionary wars has shown that, from the revolutionaries' point of view, getting outside support for their cause is a vital and fundamental principle of revolutionary strategy.
It is also a vital principle of counterinsurgency warfare that the governing power should also seek outside support.1 In many instances outside support is crucial otherwise the insurgency will topple the government. A poor country faced with a revolutionary force that is receiving massive amounts of outside help may not be able to offer much resistance to the rebels. It takes political will and a massive mobilization of resources by a government to defeat an established revolutionary movement in a long protracted war-requirements that are beyond the reach of most countries. Thus, outside aid is of crucial importance to a successful counterinsurgency program.

This is because, the revolutionaries can concentrate their efforts as they wish, in critical or rural, undefended parts of the country, while the government must try to defend all its people and all of its territory and critical assets. Such an effort is often beyond the means and will of the country involved, especially the developing nations where insurgencies are most likely to occur.
Even if the country can afford its counterinsurgency efforts from an economic standpoint, it will also require political support in the world arena if for no other reason than to counter or neutralize the political efforts of the guerrillas.
It has been no different in the Namibian situation. Outside support has loomed large and, even though the jury is still out as this work goes to print, it may be the determining factor in who will ultimately rule in the new independent Namibia.
[208] SWAPO has had outside support in spades. As mentioned earlier, it has gotten and still continues to receive massive amounts of Soviet Bloc aid. It is also the beneficiary of vast amounts of political and propaganda support from the socialist international community, the Organization of African Unity and the anti-Western Third World in general.
The United Nations has adopted SWAPO like an orphan, given it money (estimated as high as a billion dollars total over the years), facilities and a platform for its propaganda efforts on the world stage.
SWAPO even gets money from the free world in the form of direct subsidies from countries such as Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries. Religious organizations such as the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches and many mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches give it direct cash donations. SWAPO uses these donations to help fund its war of terror on innocents inside Namibia.

Angolan assistance in both material, training and base facilities as well as giving actual physical protection to SWAPO in The People's Republic of Angola benefits SWAPO enormously. It has enabled SWAPO to continue its efforts for as long as it has in spite of its declining fortunes in conducting its revolutionary war.
Without this outside help, SWAPO long ago would have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Instead, it stands to gain solely through the efforts of its international friends that which it has utterly failed to attain on the battlefield-political power in Namibia.
South Africa, on the other hand, has suffered severely from its lack of outside support. The total arms embargo against South Africa initiated by the United Nations has deprived the South Africans of the ability to purchase or obtain material that would have eased their counterinsurgency burdens.
The example of helicopters will suffice to show their predicament. The helicopter is a tremendously adaptable combat and logistical support weapon in a counterinsurgency campaign. Helicopters can quickly transport troops and supplies over long distances to carry the fight to the guerrillas; provide supporting fire to ground elements; transport wounded to treatment facilities and provide a high degree of tactical flexibility to counterinsurgency efforts, to name just a few of their more obvious capabilities.
The South Africans had a fleet of Alouette and Puma helicopters, purchased before the arms embargo. However, they could not buy replacements nor spare parts and this affected the way in which they could be used. The South Africans simply didn't have the luxury of using helicopters in a vigorous counterinsurgency role as, for example, the French did very effectively in their Algerian War. Inability to get a sufficient fleet of modern [209] helicopters dictated and limited the South African tactical approach to the war against SWAPO.

The oil embargo was also an impediment to their effort in Namibia. The counterinsurgency campaign in the desert environment required vast amounts of petroleum-based fuel and lubricants. In spite of the UN's oil embargo, South Africa could still get some of its oil from conservative anti-communist Arab states, especially Iran under the Shah. After his ouster, Khomeini shut off this major source of oil. South Africa had built two synthetic plants to take advantage of its vast coal deposits by converting that coal into oil. This has not been a cheap process, but it has ensured that South Africa would have its own source of oil. That source, coupled with what it can buy on the world spot oil market, has provided the Republic with its essential oil products. The effort does extract a cost-precious resources that could be used in other ways within South African society are expended to get oil.

The South African's had to fall back on their own devices and they have adapted well. Nevertheless, their inability to tap into the world's modern military arsenals has added costs, in both money, men, material and time, to their counterinsurgency efforts against SWAPO.
South Africa was not able to generate much international political support for its efforts in Namibia. Its pariah status among the nations of the world meant that South Africa had to go the effort alone.
There were many individuals of stature throughout the world that could see the true nature of SWAPO. Many gave vocal support to South Africa's efforts in Namibia. But they were few and far between when compared to the cacophony of support generated by the UN, the Soviets, and the socialist community throughout the world. Their voices were drowned out by this chorus of SWAPO sympathizers.
South Africa was helped more by the political and diplomatic incompetence of SWAPO than it was by its own efforts to generate support on the world stage. SWAPO has been perhaps one of the least sophisticated of the Marxist revolutionary movements and Sam Nujoma is not noted for his charismatic personality He often proved a liability to his cause. In numerous interviews with journalists, he has come off as an arrogant radical Marxist thug who preferred the uniform of expensive Saville Row suits and the luxury of elegant five-star hotels to the fatigues and bush huts of his People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) comrades in the war zone of southern Africa.

In spite of these warts, SWAPO had at its beck and call the worldwide propaganda network of the Soviets and their front organizations, the left-liberal religious network of the World Council of Churches and the[210] publicity organs of the United Nations.
South Africa was totally outmatched in the international popularity contest.
The weak link in SWAPO's armor was its true nature as a Marxist Soviet puppet. This became the centerpiece of South Africa's attempt to counter the pro-SWAPO propaganda blitz. As time went on, more knowledgeable people became aware of SWAPO's brutal nature. But, many rational people especially in the Carter Administration, preferred to ignore reality The South Africans were never able to roll back or neutralize the effects of SWAPO's massive propaganda effort.

The advent of the Reagan Administration did bring a bit of a respite. When Reagan took office the general attitude of the United States changed from the outright hostility of the Carter Administration, to one of guarded neutrality Ronald Reagan had made a career out of being a vehement anti-communist. At least the new administration would not easily accept the pronouncements of the United Nations about its protege SWAPO as the gospel truth.
The new administration's policy towards South Africa was termed "constructive engagement." This meant that negotiations would replace confrontation in U.S. dealings with South Africa. This new attitude did not mean the outright support of the South African counterinsurgency program in Namibia. In fact the U.S. was, at times, too quick to condemn South African actions in the war. This usually occurred when the South Africans were launching one of their incursions into Angola. Then, like Pavlov's dogs, the U.S. State Department would add its shrill barks to those howling with hypocritical indignation over the latest South African action.

The South Africans, however, did have a unique source of outside support. That source was the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
UNITA was the guerrilla movement headed by Dr. Jonas Savimbi. They were trying to liberate Angola from the Marxist government in Luanda, which was giving aid and support to SWAPO.
UNITA's support was not in the form of an alliance nor did it send its forces into Namibia to fight alongside those of the security forces. It was a marriage of convenience: UNITA was fighting the Marxists in Angola and SWAPO was helping the Luanda regime against UNITA. Therefore, there was, in this instance, a mutuality of interests between South Africa and the Savimbi movement.
Savimbi himself had long called for independence in Namibia. The newly emerging internal political, social and economic programs that were [211] evolving in Namibia were not hostile to his long-held views on an independent Namibia. His support, overt or covert of the process towards independence did not represent a change of his political views.
Last, but not least, the South Africans had been helping his guerrilla movement with supplies and other support. South Africa's Operation SAVANNAH, its intervention in the 1974-76 Angolan civil war, was intended to assist UNITA in achieving a military stalemate and to force a negotiated settlement in the internal dispute in Angola.2 The escalating Cuban and Soviet presence in Angola knocked that scheme into a cocked hat.

Nevertheless, UNITA was valuable to South Africa's counterinsurgency efforts in Namibia. By the end of 1985 at least half of PLAN's terrorists were tied down helping the Angolan Army fight UNITA. Thus some 4,000 terrorists were not available for the SWAPO terror campaign in Namibia.
UNITA guerrillas were operating throughout Angola in areas where the South Africans could not go. Yet the intelligence gathered by the guerrillas was often shared with the South Africans. This was extremely valuable to South Africa because, in addition to SWAPO camps in Angola, the African National Congress (ANC) also had training facilities in Angola. From these camps they infiltrated through Botswana and Zimbabwe into the Republic of South Africa to launch terrorist attacks. South Africa was interested in any information about them, their training and personnel movements. Often, such information came from the observations by UNITA guerrillas.

UNITA was also in a good position to observe the activities of the Soviet Bloc and Cuban advisors who were becoming more and more involved with the affairs of SWAPO.
The intelligence provided by UNITA was extremely valuable to the security forces' counterinsurgency efforts in Namibia.
The area of southern Angola under the total control of UNITA provided a buffer zone between SWAPO and their targets in northern Namibia. It lay north of the Kavangoland and the Caprivi Strip and was a key factor in eliminating SWAPO influence in these areas, especially the Caprivi Strip.
The French counterinsurgency expert, Roger Trinquier, advocated forming guerrilla bands, maquis as he termed them, against the enemy. Under his concept, he would have advocated forming guerrilla bands to divert the efforts of the Angolans away from supporting SWAPO to fighting for its own survival.

[212] Trinquier based his theory largely on his experiences in the FrenchIndochina War in the early 1950's. As a major, in 1951, he was given command of all behind-the-lines military operations in Indochina (Vietnam). This effort was the idea of the French commander-in-chief in Indochina, Marshal jean de Lattre de Tassigny. De Lattre had decided to turn the Vietminh's skill in fighting behind the lines (guerrilla warfare) against the Vietminh itself by putting anti-communist guerrillas deep inside Vietminh territory These units were known as the GCMA (Groupements de Commando.r Mixtes Aeroportes-composite airborne commando groups).

Within two years Trinquier had over 20,000 men under his command. This figure had risen to 54,000 when the whole Indochina War was brought to a close by the fall of Dien Bien Phu and the GCMA's passed away into history.
Despite the debacle of the battle and the loss of the war, Trinquier did not feel his maquis teams were a failure: "The action of French maquis teams did, however, permit the evacuation without loss of the fortified camp of Nacan; the reconquest by Laos of the provinces of Phong-Saly and Sam-Neua without the help of regular troops; the total interdiction of the direct road from Lao-Kay to Dien Bien Phu for the entire duration of the siege, as well as the immobilization of more than fourteen battalions of the Vietminh regular army on Route R.P 41, the umbilical cord of the besiegers; the recovery of hundreds of prisoners, etc.

"And yet, the establishment of maquis in the Tonkinese Upper Region, right in the middle of an area under Vietminh control, seemed a gamble when it was undertaken in 1952. This potential of the maquis command, although scarcely noticed at the time and already forgotten, ought not be lost sight of."3
South Africa did not need to follow Trinquier's blueprint and create maquis in Angola. UNITA was already in place and had been there prior to the outbreak of hostilities in Namibia. Working with UNITA was a logical step to take in the South African counterinsurgency effort.

One should not get the mistaken impression that the South African-UNITA cooperation was a one-way street in favor of South Africa. The objective of at least three South African incursions into Angola was solely to assist UNITA. They were: Operation SAVANNAH 1974-76; the air and ground support to thwart the Soviet-directed conventional dry season offensive in 1985 against UNITA's capital, Jamba; and the 1987-88 [213] Operations MODULAR-HOOPER-PACKER which halted the latest Soviet directed attempt of FAPLA (Peoples Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola) to seize Savimbi's capital.

The other South African incursions into Angola had been aimed at SWAPO bases and infrastructure. These sometimes also had a beneficial effect on UNITA. It relieved Angolan and SWAPO pressure against UNITA and huge amounts of Soviet-supplied materiel captured by the South Africans during these incursions found their way into UNITA's arsenals.
Was UNITA helpful to South Africa? It was in many ways. In addition to the obvious military ways-tying down SWAPO, providing a territorial buffer and intelligence gathering-it also showed the South Africans were capable of working with and assisting black African leaders, something that went contrary to the false preconceived image of the stereotypical racist South Africans.
It is in the interests of both UNITA and South Africa that a free and independent Namibia comes into being. A Marxist Namibia would quickly seal its borders with Dr. Savimbi's area of Angola as well as with South Africa. Instead of getting aid and comfort from Namibia, a Marxist regime there would be positioned to stab UNITA in the back, and would no doubt do so with alacrity
A Marxist Namibia would also open its territory to the African National Congress and help it export its Marxist-Leninist terror campaign across the border to South Africa. South Africa would then face the prospect that all of her northern borders, with the exception of Botswana, would be manned by hostile Marxist, or Marxist-leaning regimes, committed to the utter destruction of its government and society. Anything that could help stave off that frightening scenario would be of extreme value to the Republic of South Africa.


1 McCuen, op. cit., p.69.

2 "Cuban Involvement in the Angolan Civil War: Implications For Lasting Peace in Southern Angola," Pretoria, Institute for Strategic Studies, University of Pretoria, Bulletin, 4/88, p.4.

3 Trinquier, Rodger, Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency, Praeger, New York, 1964, p.110.

@ A Forgotten War
@ No more heroes
@ What happened to the boys on the border?
@ In conflict

@ Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy Chapter 6
@ Chapter 7
@ Chapter 12
@ Chapter 13
@ Chapter 14
@ Chapter 15
@ Chapter 16
Chapter 18
@ Chapter 20
@ Chapter 21

@ Civil supremacy of the military in Namibia


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