Most African governments maintained generally cautious support of the Luanda regime during most of its first thirteen years in power. African leaders recognized Luanda's right to reject Western alignments and opt for a Marxist state, following Angola's long struggle to end colonial domination. This recognition of sovereignty, however, was accompanied by uncertainty about the MPLA-PT regime itself, shifting from a concern in the 1970s that spreading Soviet influence would destabilize African regimes across the continent to a fear in the 1980s that the MPLA-PT might be incapable of governing in the face of strong UNITA resistance. The large Cuban military presence came to symbolize both Angola's political autonomy from the West and the MPLA-PT's reliance on a Soviet client state to remain in power. By 1988 the party's role in the struggle against South Africa had become its best guarantee of broad support across sub-Saharan Africa.
Pretoria's goals in Angola were to eliminate SWAPO and ANC bases from Angolan territory, weaken MPLA-PT support for Pretoria's foes through a combination of direct assault and aid to UNITA, and reinforce regional dependence on South Africa's own extensive transportation system by closing down the Benguela Railway. At the same time, however, South Africa's right-wing extremists relied on Marxist rhetoric from Angola and Mozambique as evidence of the predicted communist onslaught against Pretoria. The political ties of Angola and Mozambique to the Soviet Union also bolstered South Africa's determination to strengthen its security apparatus at home and provided a rationale for continued occupation of Namibia. Knowing this important prop for Pretoria's regional policies would diminish with the Cuban withdrawal from Angola, South Africa actually prolonged Angola's dependence on Soviet and Cuban military might by derailing negotiations for Namibian independence.
In 1984 South Africa and Angola agreed to end support for each other's rebels and work toward regional peace. This agreement, the Lusaka Accord, was not implemented, however, as Pretoria continued incursions into Angola, partly in response to new arrivals of Cuban forces.
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