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n Journal for Contemporary History - Suid-Afrika se strategiese posisie en die "Slag van Cuito Cuanavale", 1987-1988

Volume 37, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0258-2422
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Abstract

The purpose of this article is a critique of the strategic approach to the so-called Battle of Cuito Cuanavale by the leadership of the South African Defence Force (SADF). The article starts with an analysis of South Africa's strategic position on the eve of the campaign in 1987. It concludes that the country was internationally isolated, and that it would have to fight basically alone against FAPLA (the Angolan Army), PLAN (Swapo's army), and possibly also the Cuban forces in Angola - in other words, an overwhelming force. At the same time, the white South Africans viewed the war as an existential struggle which they could not afford to lose.


Against the above-mentioned background, the thinking in SADF circles is then analysed. It is shown that leading SADF military thinkers were of the opinion that any campaign would have to be well thought through and concluded quickly, before international pressure became unbearable. Against a much stronger enemy, it was also thought that a brutal head-on clash would be unwise, and that South African forces would have to follow Sir Basil Liddell Hart's "indirect approach".
The article subsequently analyses the haphazard way in which the SADF became sucked into the campaign. In the beginning, no clear political objective existed, the South Africans became involved incrementally, they naïvely tried to keep their involvement secret, and threw their indirect approach convictions overboard and opted for exactly the brutal frontal attacks against which their leading thinkers previously warned. The final conclusion is that, although the SADF fared extremely well on a tactical and operational level, their strategic handling of the campaign was not good.

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/content/contemp/37/2/EJC133203
2012-12-01
2016-12-09

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