The South African Defence Force (SADF), Cuito Cuanavale and the myth
The South African Defence Force (SADF), Cuito Cuanavale and the myth

A Brief History of the South African Defence Force (SADF) 1912 - 1994      Part 1    Part 2           Home

There is this perception or rather call it myth that Cuban and Angolan forces including SWAPO had defeated
the South African Defence Force at Cuito Cuanavale. The big lie.

Images: PW Botha and FW de Klerk (
The Facts
*As for South Africa losing to a 3rd World nation, we didn't. We simply pulled out, there was no surrender.
*The SADF did not loose the battle of CC. Any serious student of modern military history will be able to confirm my
 statement! What South Africa and especially the SADF did loose was the propaganda war! The perception that the
 Cubans/FAPLA defeated the SADF at CC is incorrect! The SADF came out of the series of battles in south eastern
 Angola during the latter part of 1987 and beginning of 1988 as clear military victors!
*I have been doing a vast amount of research on Cuito with sources ranging far and wide from around the globe. The bottom
 line is that there would never have been an ultimate military victor in Angola, the geopolitical situation was laying the
 foundation for the independence of Namibia and ultimately of South Africa - there were many factor splaying a role at that
 time and it  was merely politicians playing for time on all sides of the front. In the end and after many years of bloodshed,
 we saw a peaceful transition in Namibia and SA (if you discount the local violence in the run up to the 94 election as non
 military engagements.) If the ANC wishes to celebrate Cuito as a victory, i would not be surprised. It is just a continuation
 of the smoke and mirrors campaign we see so rife in SA today. Eventually the smoke disappear and the mirror shatters -
 if they regard the “victory at Cuito” as their ultimate achievement in the Angolan conflict, i say to them, wake up, look at
 the stats and if you still regard yourself as the victors, damm, you really need to take a very close look in the mirror - it
 might not be there soon at the rate you carry on.
*Up until then we had no air support at all. It would have helped to make things easier, but was not necessary. We knew
 they had more forces to the North, but even a quarter of the SADF’s current military power, would have wiped them off the
 face of the earth.
*Recently progressive politician Van Zyl Slabbert pleaded with South Africans “not to fall for an invented history”.
 This included what  he called the myth that Cuban and Angolan forces had defeated the South African Defence
 Force (SADF) at the  Angolan battle of Cuito Cuanavale.
*But the world was changing as well. Come 1987 the Russians had already indicated to the Cubans that they were
 interested in some negotiated peace. The Soviet Union was in retreat. So too was Cuba and its economy suffering come
 1987. The treat of diminished Soviet economic support loomed large for Cuba. Internally there was much talk of dissent
 to the Castro regime.
*The SADF were outnumbered: 60000 troops against 15000 South africans who could have called up another 500000
 if we wanted to! Communism is dead! The imperial Cubans were defeated and humiliated. We had surrounded Luanda
 in the 70's and withdrew after driving out FAPLA and SWAPO. If we wanted Angola we could have dropped a nuclear
 bomb on it.

Losses of the enemy at Cuito Cuanavale
 Tanks destroyed: Cuba/Fapla 94, SADF 3
 Troop carriers destroyed: Cuba/Fapla 100, SADF 5
 Logistical vehicles destroyed: Cuba/Fapla 389, SADF 1
 Soldiers injured: Cuba/fapla 1800, SADF 280
 Soldiers killed: Cuba/Fapla 4 785, SADF 31.
 Just over a billion Rand in soviet equipment destroyed or captured
 As a result of this battle the Cuban commander, Genl Arnaldo Oshoa Sanchez and a “Hero of the Republic of Cuba’
 was executed by a firing squad on his return. (Ex chief of the Defense Force, Genl Jannie Geldenhuys in
 reaction to the Cuban/ANC claims)
Division General Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, commander of the Cuban Expeditionary Force in Angola between November
1987 and January this year – the man, in other words, sent in to clean up the mess after Unita and the SADF had thrashed
the MPLA and its Soviet advisers at Mavinga – was executed on charges, principally, of attempting to smuggle cocaine to
the US in cahoots with Columbia’s notorious Medellin cartel.
Or so at least the Cuban people and the world have been asked to believe. The transcripts of those sections of Ochoa’s
"trial" that were broadcast on Cuban television, and other evidence, suggest that the truth is rather different. The general
may, tangentially, have been involved in the drug trade, but that was not the reason for his arrest and liquidation.
Ochoa, according to those who knew him (including diplomats involved in the Angola/Namibia settlement process), was
a man of striking countenance and much intelligence and charisma.
He knew his mission was to preside over Cuba’s last hurrah in Angola and that the "heroic" defence of Cuito was, therefore,
a vainglorious fraud, designed to cover a retreat that had already been decided. The 15 000 new troops who followed
Ochoa came to save Cuban face, not the MPLA.
Defence Minister Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, quoted the general as saying: "I have been sent to a lost war so that
I will be blamed for the defeat." That was, indeed, his view. Source

In the book The Opening of the Apartheid Mind .....Options for the New South Africa it's said:
The ideological confusion and skepticism of black activists about the new politics of negotiation can be traced to such
past indoctrination. The assumption was that the government would make no concessions unless absolutely forced
to do so. But that regime almost outradicalized its opposition in adaptive political maneuvering.
As a result, many activists have manufactured a new myth to explain the contradiction: Pretoria had no
choice but to capitulate at home because it has been defeated militarily in Angola and economically through
international sanctions.
At the July 1991 ANC conference in Durban, outgoing President Oliver Tambo received the loudest applause during his
lengthy report when he said that the South African Defence Force “met their match” at the battle of Cuito
This reveling in an imagined victory was all the more remarkable since no ANC units were involved in the stalemated
siege: the conference delegates were appropriating foreign heroism. Likewise, Andrew Clark, an analyst at the Ottawa
North-South Institute, wrote that Pretoria suffered “a sobering military defeat at the hands of Angolan Cuban and SWAPO
forces at the Cuito Cuanavale” (1991, 46). Similar assumptions are widely cited in European literature on the left as the
main reasons for Namibian independence and the concessions by Pretoria.
Military defeat was also given as the reason for Pretoria’s willingness to negotiate by ANC stalwart Elias
Matsoaledi, a former Umkhonto we Sizwe commander in Johannesburg: “The government mounted talks with the
ANC because it had been ‘shaken militarily’ ” (Cape Times, April 12, 1990). Such explanations are sometimes
combined with exhortations in support of military education: “To shoot down the enemy’s aircraft you need mathematical
knowledge, so get into the classrooms and learn military science,” University of Cape Town students told their boycotting
Other adherents to the insurrection myth see the “armed struggle” as interchangeable with negotiations: “Whether
we enter Pretoria with tanks, mortars and bazookas, or whether it is done via a negotiated settlement, the option is
left to the enemy to decide.
Ironically, in the view of the state it was the military victory of the apartheid forces, rather than their defeat,
that led to the policy changes and to negotiation with the adversary. “The military successes of the SADF in the
late 1980s in Southern Angola paved the way for the political dispensation in South Africa,” declared Magnus Malan on
the day of his demotion and reassignment (Argus, July 30, 1991). The former commander of special forces tells soldiers
of a typical Dolchstosslegende (stab in the back): “You did not lose in Angola. You did not lose in Namibia. You
were betrayed by politicians acting under foreign pressure. Obviously, for both sides the myth of victory seemed
a crucial precondition for realignment. But both cannot be right, and the question remains, Who has the more credible
 James Barber has appropriately commented:
Although South Africa did not lose the war in a strict military sense, after the stalemated battle of Cuito
Cuanavale the cost of continuing the war was considered too high by all sides, including Pretoria.
The South Africans calculated that they could not afford to lose three hundred white soldiers in a full-scale
assault on the newly reinforced Cuito Cuanavale. Although South Africa had lost air superiority in Angola,
owing to the arms boycott, it is doubtful that “military realities in Southern Angola had been the single most
important factor forcing the South African government to the negotiating table.Other developments, such as
the increasing cost of the war in a declining economy, together with the end of the cold war and the less adversarial
relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States on regional conflicts, would seem far more important
causes for the shift. The war in Angola had long been unpopular among those on the far right, who viewed it as an
American-inspired adventure. With the ANC weakened—cut off ideologically and financially by its disintegrating
East European sponsors—the National Party saw a unique opportunity to gain global legitimacy, especially after the
demise of the unpopular P. W. Botha after a stroke.

Sources - SA Army through history - Brief history of the SA Army
military history of South Africa
South African Defence Force
SADF Photos
Castro explains why Angola lost battle against the SADF
surrounding Op Savannah had led to propaganda victories for the communists, the SADF released this account to reveal
the actual course of events.
How Washington Lost its Nerve and how the Cubans subdued Angola The author, Robert Moss, shows that the United
States, having begged South Africa to put troops in to offset the Communist intervention, lost its nerve and failed to
stop the great build-up of men, guns and aircraft from across the seas, which had started, trucked right across the
African continent, way back in 1964.
Battle of Death Road
MOSCOW’S NEXT TARGET IN AFRICA  What the Russians learned from Angola is that war by proxy pays off.
The Battle of Bridge 14 An account of a major defeat of the communist forces in Angola during Operation Savannah.
The South African bushwar 1966 - 1989