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Namibia vs South Africa

Years: 1966-1988
Battle deaths: 10,000 [1]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]
Namibia, South Africa

Published prior to 2013 | Altered: 2014-08-10 17:11:44
During the 1960s, as the European powers granted independence to their colonies and trust territories in Africa, pressure mounted on South Africa to do so in Namibia, which was then South West Africa. On the dismissal (1966) by the International Court of Justice of a complaint brought by Ethiopia and Liberia against South Africa’s continued presence in the territory, the U.N. General Assembly revoked South Africa’s mandate.

Also in 1966, the South-West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) began guerrilla attacks on South Africa, infiltrating the territory from bases in Zambia. After Angola became independent in 1975, SWAPO established bases in the southern part of the country. Hostilities intensified over the years, especially in Ovamboland.

In a 1971 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice upheld UN authority over Namibia, determining that the South African presence in Namibia was illegal and that South Africa therefore was obligated to withdraw its administration from Namibia immediately. The Court also advised UN member states to refrain from implying legal recognition or assistance to the South African presence.

International pressure for independence

In 1977, Western members of the UN Security Council, including Canada, France, the West Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States (known as the Western Contact Group), launched a joint diplomatic effort to bring an internationally acceptable transition to independence for Namibia. Their efforts led to the presentation in April 1978 of Security Council Resolution 435 for settling the Namibian problem. The proposal, known as the UN Plan, was worked out after lengthy consultations with South Africa, the front-line states (Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), SWAPO, UN officials, and the Western Contact Group. It called for the holding of elections in Namibia under UN supervision and control, the cessation of all hostile acts by all parties, and restrictions on the activities of South African and Namibian military, paramilitary, and police.

South Africa agreed to cooperate in achieving the implementation of Resolution 435. Nonetheless, in December 1978, in defiance of the UN proposal, it unilaterally held elections in Namibia which were boycotted by SWAPO and a few other political parties. South Africa continued to administer Namibia through its installed multiracial coalitions. Negotiations after 1978 focused on issues such as supervision of elections connected with the implementation of the UN Plan.

Negotiations and transition

Intense discussions between the concerned parties continued during the 1978-88 period, with the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, Martti Ahtisaari, playing a key role. The 1982 Constitutional Principles, agreed upon by the front-line states, SWAPO, and the Western Contact Group created the framework for Namibia’s democratic constitution. The U.S. Government’s role as mediator was both critical and disputed throughout the period, one example being the intense efforts in 1984 to obtain withdrawal of South African defense forces from southern Angola. The so-called ’Constructive Engagement’ by US diplomatic interests was viewed negatively by those who supported internationally-recognised independence, as amongst others the ’engagement’ aimed to restrain Soviet-Cuban influence in Angola by linking it to the attainment of Namibian independence. In addition, the ’engagement’ encouraged the South Africans to delay inidependence by taking initiatives that would keep the Soviets-Cubans in Angola, such as dominating large tracts of southern Angola militarily while at the same time providing surrogate forces for the Angolan opposition movement, UNITA.

In May 1988, a U.S. mediation team, headed by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester A. Crocker, brought negotiators from Angola, Cuba, and South Africa, and observers from the Soviet Union together in London. Intense diplomatic maneuvering characterized the next 7 months, as the parties worked out agreements to bring peace to the region and make implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 435 possible. On December 13, Cuba, South Africa, and the People’s Republic of Angola agreed to a total Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola. The protocol also established a Joint Commission, consisting of the parties with the United States and the Soviet Union as observers, to oversee implementation of the accords. A bilateral agreement between Cuba and the People’s Republic of Angola was signed in New York on December 22, 1988. On the same day a tripartite agreement, in which the parties recommended initiation of the UN Plan on April 1 and the Republic of South Africa agreed to withdraw its troops, was signed. Implementation of Resolution 435 officially began on April 1, 1989, when South African-appointed Administrator Gen. Louis Pienaar officially began administrating the territory’s transition to independence. Special Representative Martti Ahtisaari arrived in Windhoek to begin performing his duties as head of the UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG).

The transition got off to a shaky start on April 1 because, in contravention to SWAPO President Sam Nujoma’s written assurances to the UN Secretary General to abide by a cease-fire and repatriate only unarmed insurgents, approximately 2,000 armed members of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), SWAPO’s military wing, crossed the border from Angola in an apparent attempt to establish a military presence in northern Namibia. The special representative authorized a limited contingent of South African troops to aid the South West African police in restoring order. A period of intense fighting followed, during which 375 PLAN fighters were killed. At Mount Etjo, a game park outside Windhoek, in a special meeting of the Joint Commission on April 9, a plan was put in place to confine the South African forces to base and return PLAN elements to Angola. While the problem was solved, minor disturbances in the north continued throughout the transition period. In October, under order of the UN Security Council, Pretoria demobilized members of the disbanded counterinsurgency unit, Koevoet (Afrikaans for crowbar), who had been incorporated into the South West African police.

Source: Wikipedia | Article | Published under the GNU Free Licence

SOURCES: FATALITY DATA

Data Sources

[1] Battle deaths: PRIO Battle Deaths Dataset v3.0 (link) (1946-88) ID: #101
Low: 10,000 High: 25,000

More about sources

NOTE ON NATION DATA

NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.

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