The 1988 Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Southern Angola led to the stunning defeat of apartheid South Africa’s military supremacy in Southern Africa, paving the way for Namibian independence and accelerating the demise of apartheid. On the 25th anniversary of this key moment in history, Gwen Schulman talks to Ameth Lô of the Group for Research and Initiative for the Liberation of Africa on the decisive role played by Cuban forces in the battle and the ensuing changes.
In 1987/88 the battle became an important episode in the Angolan Civil War (1975 to 2002). Between 9 September and 7 October 1987, the Angolan Army (FAPLA), in an attempt to finally subdue the Angolan insurgent movement UNITA in south-eastern Angola, was decisively repelled in a series of battles at the Lomba River by the South African Army (SADF), which had once more intervened on UNITA’s behalf. With FAPLA retreating to their starting point at Cuito Cuanavale, the SADF and UNITA went on the offensive and started the siege by shelling Cuito with long-range artillery on 14 October. A major battle ensued and Angola, fearing a defeat, requested help from Cuba. With Cuban reinforcements, Cuito was held and the South African advance ended after six unsuccessful attempts to overcome the FAPLA-Cuban defences between 13 January and 23 March 1988. The SADF withdrew but continued to shell Cuito from a distance.