Angela Merkel has stated that she negotiated in bad faith with Russia, and that the Minsk accords were only a time-saving device to allow Ukraine to build itself up1. Many commentators appeared shocked by these admissions. However, any close reading of US policy in Southern Africa would have shown that this sort of behaviour was the standard operating procedure for the US. For reasons which we will reveal later, Western commentators ignore the evidence trail from Africa, as if Africa was a non-historical geo-time zone.
Let us consider the US policy to Southern Africa in the lead-up to South Africa’s independence. Historically, the US has supported apartheid South Africa and Britain has been the local agent for the US, assisting in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba etc. US manipulated the price of cocoa to bring down Nkrumah, much in the same way that the US later manipulated the price of oil with the assistance of Saudi Arabia in order to crush the former Soviet Union.
Media similarities are more impressive: We have the same invention of history. The big question according to Chas Freeman was ‘How did the United States, which had no significant historical ties to southern Africa and few concrete interests there, come to play a central role in the resolution of that region’s problems? 2 America’s involvement in the development of South African mining interests are ignored. As in Ukraine, parts of the media pretended that the US was a non-combattant, as did Chas Freemen with regards to Southern Africa.
There was a great similarity in the use of proxies. South Africa was a US proxy pursuing agendas of different factions within the US. Without US support apartheid South Africa would have collapsed many decades earlier. UNITA also played the role of US proxy, moving from being indirect through South Africa to direct:
‘…. the US government, following the repeal in 1985 of the Clark Amendment of 1976 (which prevented President Ford from involving the United States in war in Africa by supplying weapons to UNITA) had used renewed arms supplies and routes through friendly Zaire to strengthen its hold over UNITA to a point where this was now possibly greater than the traditional South African influence.’ 3
As in Ukraine, the US provided its proxies with the latest weaponry such as providing UNITA with Stingers. 4
LIES & DISINFORMATION
We have the big-lie of US seeking the removal of ALL ‘foreign forces’ in the region while remaining in control of its own proxy forces, the SADF and UNITA. US media followed the same line on emphasising divisions in the other side, while explaining every action of the other side as a response to either military defeat or setbacks just as we have witnessed in Ukraine.
Promise of constitutional reform in 1990:
It is with regard to the peace settlement following the catastrophic strategic defeat of South Africa at Cuito Cuanavale that the future was written large. This agreement was largely negotiated between Chester Crocker (for US), Cubans and Angolans.
For a variety of political reasons, the true cause of South Africa’s debacle has not been revealed before. A full explanation will be provided later but the key summary is: the Soviet Union was collapsing and Gorbachev wanted out of regional conflicts. South Africa egged on by the US believed that the Soviet Union was looking for a way out of Southern Africa and a military defeat would provide an appropriate excuse. Looked at objectively the Soviet commanders set themselves up to be defeated. South Africa and the US took the hint. Accordingly, South Africa transferred an enormous mass of its military towards Cuito Cuanavale thus denuding the Namibian borders. Castro, who was outraged at Soviet commanders behaviour and read it accurately, realised that South Africa’s SADF had set themselves up for a fall given the position of Cuban troops. In effect, the South Africans were the victims of a double bluff, however unintentional. As Castro said at the time, this was a battle that would be won without fighting. That it was won without fighting meant that uninformed SADF members could continue to deny the defeat. Where were the dead bodies they say? That is not the way of strategic defeats.
It had been part of the understanding of the Peace Accords that followed that the ANC would be unbanned and Nelson Mandela would be freed none of which make any sense except within the context of a move towards fully democratic elections. It can be forgotten that Mandela put conditions on his release.
De Klerk’s understanding of the context was confirmed by his own presentation of Mandela’s release from prison in 1990:
‘Declaring that “the season of violence is over,” President F. W. de Klerk also committed his government to negotiations whose aim would be “a totally new and just constitutional dispensation “.’ 5
However, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 allowed South Africa with US complicity to renege on that agreement and ignore any process towards democratic reform. Western commentators took the position that it was absurd for Mandela to expect the West to keep to previous agreements when Soviet Union had collapsed and a new neo-liberal world order was now dominant. This confirmed that it was the Western view that agreements would only remain in force as long as they were convenient for the West.
This reveals a continuity in US policy and behaviour. Anyone paying attention would have been able to anticipate US behaviour in Ukraine. But of equal importance for African historians and intellectuals, it would have shed light on the true capacity of ‘white’ South Africans to play a role in the future of Africa.
There are however some darker similarities. We have all discovered that the US allowed Europeans to have the appearance of independence and autonomy just as the US allowed white South Africans to appear autonomous. This illusion was even more powerful to the extent that many members of both European society and white South African society genuinely believed in their autonomy. The truth also sheds light on some aspects of South Africa that had puzzled me. Many Africans previously believed that South Africa was a technology society. When I was told that the telecom infrastructure was installed by an AT&T subsidiary of the US company, I was puzzled. When I visited the South African Meraka research institute two decades ago, I found it more like a sixth form than an advanced research centre. When I repeated some claims made to me by these uber techies to senior executives of US Tech firms at a UN meeting I was met with utter derision. When my open source organisation, FOSSFA, fired them from hosting us due to incompetence we discovered that they had no real IT skills as they hired technical support from a deeply right-wing anti-Black US organisation that itself was shocked when we outed them. These were the so-called ‘white’ South African techies working in an ICT research institute! When I threatened to expose what was going on I was entreated to keep quiet as it would upset a delicate political relationship with the white professional class who kept threatening to leave South Africa.
I appreciated their concern as a few years earlier as Tax Partner in a City firm in London I was looking to hire staff and a South African candidate came up for review. HR indicated he was ‘unsuitable’ with no further explanation. However, Mandela had indicated that the war was over so I insisted on talking to him. Without much prologue, he indicated he wanted to leave South Africa and get a job in England because there were ‘too many Blacks’ around him now. I put the phone down.
Equally, we discover the US is happy to leave the European nations feeling independent and presenting themselves to the world and their constituents as autonomous when in fact they were not. Africans approached white South Africans in the post Independence period as if they were autonomous when in fact it would now be clear they were not. This situation was confused by the fact that many white South Africans thought they were autonomous.
Apartheid in Ukraine
In the darkest similarities, Ukrainians flirted with imposing apartheid on Russian speakers. This should now be undeniable. Denying them their own language, religion and schooling and making them second class citizens in their own country comes from the apartheid playbook, and the apartheid playbook comes from certain sections of the US. It should be remembered that Nazi Germany, when looking for a model of how to treat Jews in a negative manner, found US treatment of Blacks and native Americans too extreme for them. A full understanding of this must complicate Russia’s demand for denazification in Ukraine. How about de-Americanisation? It is possible to argue that Ukraine did not have a full apartheid regime but this would be a misunderstanding. What was the direction of travel? If Russian language was ‘cancelled’ what would be the next step? This is the crucial question: if the US navy is in Crimea what would be the next step? If US nuclear weapons are on Russia’s border what is the next step? If Russian language is forbidden in schools in Ukraine what is the next step?
One great irony is the discovery by former members of SADF that they gained more from defeat than from fighting, that as Velthuizen explains:
‘Many of those generals and politicians who to this day still stubbornly claim that the SADF was victorious at Cuito Cuanavale, are in fact enjoying favourable business opportunities with their former Angolan adversaries.’ 6
As with all proxies, it takes them some time to realise they were not fighting in their own interests. They had all along been pursuing the interests of certain factions in the US policy nexus.
We stated earlier that we would reveal the underlying reason for western commentators ignoring these historical elements. At the root of this behaviour is the deep-seated Kantian/Hegelian assumptions of Western commentators. Kant and Hegel believed that Africa was a non-historical place. This wish to turn a strategic defeat into a non-historical stalemate, evidence in so much of the academic writing by ex-army officers in South African military journals, reminds me of a visit to the Israel Museum In Jerusalem some years ago. There was a report there that Armageddon was a draw. It was obvious that for some Israeli scholars a catastrophic defeat by an African king was unacceptable and could be countered by simply denying it, despite its echo throughout history as the by-word for military catastrophe. This commitment to a Kantian/Hegelian perspective meant that not only was there no history here, but also no lessons of history to be learnt from Africa either. Believe that at your own peril.
Postscript: This topic deserves a greater in-depth reading and telling which will follow later as a full article but this is written to meet the immediate timeliness of the topic.
1. (Ritter, 2022)
2. (Freeman Jnr, 1989, p. 2)
3. (Berridge, 1989, p. 466)
4. (Velthuizen, 2009, p. 112)
5. (Phillips & Danaher, 1990, p. 377)
6. (Velthuizen, 2009, p. 118)
Berridge, G. R. (1989). Diplomacy and the Angola/Namibia Accords. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), 65(3), 463–479. https://doi.org/10.2307/2621723
Freeman Jnr, C. (1989). The Angola/Namibia Accords. Foreign Affairs.
Phillips, M., & Danaher, K. (1990). South Africa: The Road Ahead. World Policy Journal, 7(2), 377–393. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40209152
Ritter, S. (2022, December 5). Scott Ritter: Merkel Reveals West’s Duplicity. Consortium News. https://consortiumnews.com/2022/12/05/scott-ritter-merkel-reveals-wests-duplicity/
Velthuizen, A. (2009). The Significance of the battle for Cuito Cuanavale: Long-Term foresight of the current strategic landscape. Scientia Militaria: South African Journal of Military Studies, 37(2). https://doi.org/10.5787/37-2-71
updated: 30 Dec 2022