Thursday, 5 July 2012

December 1975 Enter UNITA

Up to now our alternative timeline has largely ignored UNITA's role in the events leading up to Angolan independence and beyond.

We suspect that the South African secret service and/or special forces are behind an arms deal in Vienna that may have been aimed at obtaining Bulgarian weapons for Savimbi's forces. With the failure of the FNLA to take Luanda, either from the north with the support of white mercenaries and Zaire, or from the south with the support of the SADF, the role of UNITA in the war is going to get bigger.

So, what do we know about UNITA? Blogger Jim Hale has written a very pithy account of the real history that we'll use to build our counter-factual

UNITA was both smaller and out-gunned by the other two factions and like the FNLA had fought the MPLA as much as it had fought the Portuguese. Although supported by China, the vast distance from Tanzania, where the Chinese mission was located and the hostility of Zambia, who relied on the Benguela railway line that UNITA kept attacking, made supply difficult. Zaire was very much behind the FNLA, so that route was out of the question too. During the Liberation War therefore, UNITA became self-reliant, built up an infrastructure within Angola and took what it needed from its enemies when it could.

Occupying the Central and Southern regions of Angola, UNITA were in a much better position to receive aid from South Africa. Portugal had previously secured Namibia's northern border, making insurgent (SWAPO) operations over it very difficult. Now that this security had gone, the South Africans wanted to create a new 'buffer zone' in its stead. By aiding UNITA against the MPLA and securing their aid against SWAPO forces in Southern Angola, they believed that this could be achieved. Despite ideological differences, UNITA and the South Africans shared a common enemy, the Soviet-backed MPLA....

South Africa's forces at this time were not the ultra-modern force it was later to become, at this time, but it was able to supply basic weapons and the men to undertake training UNITA troops with them (commencing 14th July 1975). UNITA had established its own diamond and other concerns within the areas it held and South Africa acted as its main trade route to get them out of the country.'

Jim also neatly sums up South Africa's stance in 1975

'The South African plan was to fortify the main UNITA stronghold Huamba, establish a formal training camp at Silva Porto 'flying columns' and assembled a strike force; 'Task Force Foxbat', which blunted the MPLA advance and was subsequently followed by 'Task Force Zulu' to take on the advancing MPLA, clear them from Southern Angola and then take Luanda, so as to install UNITA as the de facto government before independence in November.
So, in our counter-factual, there is room for shadowy elements in the South African security forces and military establishment to have quietly worked at supporting UNITA while their more visible colleagues embarked on the invasion of Angola that was foiled by Colonel Menendez and his comrades.

As Cuban personnel and Soviet equipment pour into Luanda, and as the Cuban led MPLA forces start to push north against the remnants of the FNLA, and south against the retreating SADF/FNLA, UNITA will become increasingly important.

Like the MPLA, UNITA is a client of more powerful intervening players, in this case South Africa and, indirectly, the USA. Again like the MPLA, UNITA has its own objectives, and whilst these are sometimes part of their common ground with the supporting power(s), they may just as often be entirely different. UNITA is based in central and southern Angola, and its support base is amongst the Ovimbundu peoples. It appears that once again ethnic divisions may be cloaked in 20th century ideological differences, a consequence of the fact that the Europeans who carved up Africa had scant regard demographic realiy on the ground and drew their borders along lines of latitude or convenient (to the cartographers) rivers.

So, it's December 1975. The Cubans and MPLA are advancing. European mercenaries are meeting in airport hotels in London and Paris. South African troops are heading south but BOSS and SADF Special Forces are organising supplies of weapons to UNITA cadre in Huamba and the surrounding area.

Peter de Jong, a Dutch arms dealer with family and commercial connections in South Africa has just purchased a former New Zealand Airways passenger aircraft through a Luxembourg registered shell company. The aircraft is refitted in Capetown to carry freight. A freighter registered in Greece has just picked up a shipment of 'machine tools' from Beloslav in Bulgaria. The machine tools are to be shipped to Robert Harbour near Luderitz in South West Africa. Then, who knows where they will be taken to?

I feel a game or two coming on...

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