U.S. and South Africa Foment Terrorist Wars
By Sean Gervasi
Covert Action Quarterly Fall 1984
South Africa has been conducting an undeclared terrorist war on the
Front-line States, and in particular on Angola Lesotho, Mozambique. Tanzania
and Zimbabwe, for more than three years. This war has been waged across
an entire subcontinent, using every means of modern warfare from armored
divisions and squadrons of bombers to economic sabotage, subversion and
Moreover, the Reagan Administration is a willing partner in the secret
war in southern Africa. It has thrown the weight and power of the United
States behind South Africa's campaign to destabilize the Front-line States.
South Africa and the U.S. are now full partners in an almost invisible war
to change the political balance in the region and to preserve and reinforce
the principal institutions of the apartheid system.
Indeed, from its inception, it was clear that the Reagan Administration
would seek to preserve the status quo in South Africa as part of an anti-Socialist
crusade, just as it announced it would do in El Salvador. It has therefore
pursued a "two track" policy, revealing its commitment to South
Africa and its antagonism to radical change, but concealing many of its
actions in support of South Africa's war. The war against the Front-line
States has been much more complex than many observers have suspected. And
the Central Intelligence Agency has inevitably played an important role
in it, carrying out a second, secret ''track" of U.S. policy, coordinating
various programs of covert warfare and undertaking important operations.
The 1981 Southern Africa Policy Review
When the Reagan Administration took office, the new President's foreign
policy advisors shared the view that the U.S. had to become actively engaged
in southern Africa. The Administration, however, needed a coherent position
and a consistent set of policies for the region.
In early 1981, therefore, President Reagan ordered a major review of
U.S. policy towards southern Africa which was carried out in the National
Security Council by an inter-departmental committee which included senior
representatives of the Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency,
and the Department of Defense. The review resulted in a classified policy
paper offering the President a number of alternative courses of action in
southern Africa. By the summer, the President had ''signed off" on
an option, in a secret National Security Decision Directive, which was to
carry the U.S. into a tacit alliance with South Africa in its terrorist
war against the Front line States.
What follows is a reconstruction of the policy towards southern Africa
settled upon by the Reagan Administration in the summer of 1981, based upon
official speeches (in quotations), public documents, and known U.S. actions.
President Reagan decided upon a general posture which would be supportive
to South Africa in a region increasingly threatened by instability. The
United States would seek " to encourage peaceful evolutionary change"
in order to forestall mass revolutionary violence" within South Africa.
Beyond South Africa's borders, the U.S. would seek ''to counter Soviet influence
in the region." In particular, U.S. policy would seek "to help
bolster the security of South Africa," that is, "to foster regional
security'' by means which would meet South African needs.
To pursue these objectives, the President decided upon the following
specific lines of action:
With regard to South Africa, to move towards closer and more supportive
relations with the Government of South Africa; to encourage the Government
of South Africa to move to wards a "nonracial liberal democracy'' by
moderate reforms of apartheid; to support, politically, financially, and
by other means, "those elements inside and beyond the Republic which
foster peaceful and evolutionary change there"; to assist South Africa
in resisting the international efforts to isolate it, especially at the
In Namibia, to help "end the guerrilla warfare that has continued
in northern Namibia and southern Angola for 15 years"; to seek the
removal of Cuban troops from Angola; to seek a "peaceful solution"
of the Namibian question which would allow South Africa to retain control
of the country and yet be acceptable internationally.
In the region as a whole, to seek to end "the dangerous cycle
of violence in the region'' and to direct "the impetus toward change
into peaceful channels"; privately to encourage South Africa "to
pre-empt any armed threat-guerrilla or conventional-from its neighbors"
and ''to use its military superiority for that end"; to apply strong
pressure, with others, against Angola and Mozambique and eventually to seek
radical changes in the internal political balance in those countries; to
apply pressure against the governments of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe
and gradually to draw them closer to the West; to cooperate closely with
South Africa in mounting pressures against the Front-line States; to use
U.S. diplomacy "to help establish the rules of the game that will limit
and discourage the application of outside force" in the region.
And publicly, to maintain strict secrecy about active collaboration
in support of South Africa; to maintain strict secrecy about certain actions
taken against the Front-line States; to mount an extensive campaign of political
action and propaganda in Africa, Western Europe, and the United States to
ensure that actions of the U.S. government remain invisible or are accepted
by public opinion.
The strategy chosen was essentially an extension of the military doctrine
of coercive diplomacy, according to which a nation can sometimes achieve
certain limited political objectives by combining carefully measured doses
of military force with diplomacy. Selective force can be used against an
adversary who resists one's demands, while "negotiations" with
him are continued. In some cases, inducements of aid or other incentives
may be offered. The idea is that an adversary may be "persuaded"
to accept one's demands when enough military pressure has been applied,
and when suitable inducements are offered.
The Reagan Administration chose to embark on an exercise in coercive
diplomacy jointly with South Africa. By the summer of 1981, they were working
together to apply increasing military, economic, political, diplomatic,
and other pressures against the Front-line States. But this strategy did
not produce the results which were expected of it. The U.S. and South Africa
were really demanding much more of the Front-line States than they were
prepared to give, even under pressure. What began as coercive diplomacy,
therefore, broke down and be came a full-scale terrorist war. When the Reagan
Administration and South Africa met resistance, they had to choose between
giving up their aims or escalating the war. They chose the latter course.
The War Is Launched
In March 1981, South African commandos raided Maputo, the Mozambican
capital, only a few hours after Secretary of State Haig had declared the
''war against international terrorism'' a priority for United States foreign
policy. Pretoria stepped up its military actions against Angola, initiating
a continuous low-intensity war in the southern part of the country. Its
agents carried out sabotage and assassinations in Zimbabwe. It made an attempt
to mount a coup against Zambia's President Kaunda. South Africa also began
a major effort to build, arm and deploy special military units in Mozambique
to attack roads, railways, bridges and other economic targets, as well as
to sow terror in rural areas.
At the same time, South Africa began preparations for full scale economic
warfare against several of the Front-line States, notably Angola, Lesotho,
Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. During the latter part of 1981, the pressure against
the Front-line States was increased, creating severe economic and political
difficulties. Heavy economic pressure was brought to bear on Zimbabwe.
South Africa disrupted the Zimbabwe railroads at a crucial time by refusing
to lease locomotives and by slowing the return of freight cars, causing
an enormous loss in foreign exchange revenue from exports. The International
Monetary Fund began to press for substantially increased budget cuts by
the Zimbabwe government, insisting on the reduction of key social expenditures.
And, at the very moment that South African commando units were beginning
to operate in the south eastern part of the country, it also demanded a
large cut in the defense budget. Sabotage increased in Zimbabwe, causing
many millions of dollars in losses. At the end of 1981, a bomb blast nearly
destroyed ZANU headquarters in the middle of Salisbury-Harare, killing six
people and wounding many others. However, in 1981 the brunt of the attack
was falling on Angola. In August, South Africa mounted a major invasion
of the southern part of the country, deploying 11,000 men and several battalions
of tanks and armored cars. There was fierce fighting in the center of Cunene
province, and by September 80,000 Angolans from the area had been forced
to flee. South Africa established a permanent military presence in southern
Angola, substantially increased its support for UNITA and began to extend
its own raids further and further to the north.
In Mozambique, South Africa started a veritable war. It reorganized
the Mozambique National Resistance, which had been started by Rhodesian
Military Intelligence to attack ZANU inside Mozambique during the liberation
struggle. MNR units, assisted by South African commandos, were sent again
into Mozambique, where they repeatedly attacked transport links and power
lines in the central provinces. Key road and rail bridges to Zimbabwe were
blown up by South African forces, cutting the movement of goods to and from
that country, including oil. While the Mozambique Army began to react with
some effect in 1981, the scale of the South African operations was very
large and difficult to cope with. Mozambique gradually came under siege.
By the latter part of 1982, the military, economic, political and other
pressures against the Front-line States had become intense. South African
demands, however, were meeting strong resistance.
The Role of the U.S. Since 1981
Considerable evidence can be pieced together from public sources and
from interviews, to give some idea of the extent of U.S. actions aimed at
destabilizing the Front-line States. From 1981, the Central Intelligence
Agency, acting through third parties, began to provide substantial aid to
the UNITA group in Angola, which has been heavily supported by South Africa
for a decade. This aid has included money, arms and equipment. (See Time
magazine, May 16, 1983; Newsweek magazine, October 10, 1983; and Intelligence
Digest Weekly Review, February 17, 1982. ) From 1981, the U.S. has orchestrated
a campaign of economic pressure against Tanzania, demanding persistently
behind the scenes that Tanzania abandon socialist economic policies. This
campaign has succeeded in depriving Tanzania of needed investment, credit,
and aid, thus contributing to the "economic failure'' which the Reagan
In 1981, Zambian security forces thwarted a plot by dissidents and ''South
African commandos" to assassinate President Kaunda and seize power.
It was reported (Africa News, July 13, 1981) that agents of the CIA had
recruited Zambians in an effort to examine ' 'the possibility of an alternative
leader ship in the country.'' According to African sources, CIA Director
William Casey flew secretly to Lusaka and threatened sanctions against Zambia
if the role of the CIA was exposed. In 1981, the Reagan Administration
blocked the implementation of the U.N. plan for a Namibian settlement by
linking it for the first time to a withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola.
While the U.S. continued to state its support for the U.N. plan, Secretary
of State Haig wrote the South African Foreign Minister late in the year
"that the United States would not press South Africa to settle the
Namibian question unless Cuban troops were withdrawn from Angola.''
While the U.S. and South Africa were applying various pressures against
Angola, including substantial and overt military pressure, General Vernon
Walters, a former deputy director of the CIA and now a U.S. special envoy,
made numerous trips to Luanda to persuade the Angolan Government to agree
to the withdrawal of Cuban troops.
In 1981, after South Africa had mounted a large-scale armored invasion
of Angola and occupied a large area in the southern provinces, the U.S.
vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning its actions. (See New York
Times, September 4, 1981.) In the same year, the U.S. vetoed the candidacy
of Salim Salim, the Foreign Minister of Tanzania, for Secretary-General
of the United Nations. It had been expected that the next Secretary-General
would be an African, and Mr. Salim was the choice of the Organization of
African Unity for the position.
During 1982, U.S. officials worked successfully to secure an IMF approved
loan of $1.1 billion for South Africa, although that country did not appear
to qualify for such a loan. (See Washington Post, November 4, 1982; Africa
Now, March 1983; and Africa Confidential, May 25, 1983.) The South African
government uses a substantial amount of foreign exchange to purchase oil
and arms and to finance covert operations.
In August 1982, during a major military effort by South Africa to extend
its control of southern Angola, President Reagan sent a letter, classified
"secret," to President Nyerere of Tanzania, the Chairman of the
Front-line States, urging him to accept the "linkage" of a Namibian
settlement to the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. President Reagan
suggested that if ''linkage" were not accepted soon, the U.S. would
cease to press for implementation of the United Nations plan for Namibi.
Throughout this period, the U.S. has used diplomatic and political pressure
behind the scenes to prevent South Africa being condemned for its destabilization
of neighboring countries. To take one example, the U.S. intervened to prevent
South Africa being named in a Security Council resolution condemning the
attempt to mount a coup against the Government of the Seychelles in late
1981. It was later learned, during a series of trials in South Africa, that
the attempted coup had been officially authorized.
In 1983, the U.S., which was displeased with Zimbabwe's voting in the
U.N. Security Council, cut assistance to that country by almost half. U.S.
officials stated that Zimbabwe's sponsorship of a resolution condemning
U.S. intervention in Grenada and its abstention on a U.S. sponsored resolution
after the Korean airliner incident "played a big part" in the
decision. (See Washington Post, December 20, 1983.) In 1983, when large
numbers of people in Mozambique faced starvation and when tens of thousands
had already died from lack of food, the Reagan Administration deliberately
held back food aid to that country, while it was seeking to "persuade"
it to sign a non-aggression agreement with South Africa. Mozambique has
repeatedly refused to agree to South Africa's demand that the African National
Congress be expelled from its territory. Mozambique began 1984 facing the
most serious food shortages it had known and with a food deficit of well
over 100,000 tons of cereals.
Rebuilding the Cordon Sanitaire
The Reagan Administration had concentrated its efforts on what it considered
Cuba's intervention in Angola. The focus was on the issue of "linkage."
Despite considerable military and economic pressure, however, against all
the Front-line States, and especially against Angola, these efforts failed.
The Front-line States repeatedly rebuffed efforts to persuade them to accept
"linkage" of the "Cuban issue" to the decolonization
of Namibia. The response to this resistance was to escalate the war and
to try to force through a "regional security settlement.'' In practice,
this meant forcing the Front-line States to reduce their support for the
liberation movements. The objective was to re build the cordon sanitaire
of buffer states around South Africa which had been destroyed by revolutions
in Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
In September 1982, shortly after the Frontline States had rebuffed President
Reagan's approach on "linkage,'' William Casey flew to southern Africa.
He visited a number of countries, including South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia,
and Zaire. CIA sources have stated that this was a "familiarization"
trip, with no particular political purpose. This is not true. Casey went
to southern Africa, and particularly to South Africa, to begin implementing
a grand design for rebuilding the cordon sanitaire around South Africa.
Press reports at the time made it clear that South Africa and the U.S. would
demand that the Frontline States cease or reduce their support for SWAPO
and the ANC or face an escalation of military, economic and other pressures.
Casey's discussions with South African officials apparently resulted
in an agreement on implementing the next phase of coercive diplomacy in
southern Africa. Pressures on all the Front-line States would be increased.
The demand for an end to support for the liberation movements would be stated
more openly and more persistently. The U.S. would intensify its diplomatic
efforts, acting as a "mediator" between South Africa and its adversaries.
And the U.S. would coordinate its actions even more closely than it already
had with South African actions against the Front-line States.
The Road to "Settlements"
By the end of 1982, the situation in southern Africa was be coming very
difficult, especially in Angola, Mozambique, and Tanzania. The region was
suffering from the effects of two years of drought. The world recession
had hurt exports badly, and foreign exchange was generally very scarce.
Parts of the region had already suffered serious damage as a result of South
African military and terrorist operations.
The attacks on most of the Front-line States were intensified. South
Africa resumed a low-level guerrilla war against Lesotho, using a surrogate
Lesotho "liberation army." In Mozambique, the MNR attacked transport
routes and terrorized the countryside, mining roads, burning stores, schools
and health posts, poisoning wells, and deliberately mutilating peasants.
In some cases, actions supposedly carried out by the MNR were actually carried
out by regular South African commando units. South Africa had also begun
to infiltrate former Rhodesian commandos into the southern part of Zimbabwe
in an effort to precipitate a ''civil war.''
In December of 1982, South African commandos attacked and destroyed
the oil depot in the Mozambican city of Beira. The raid caused millions
of dollars in damage and cut supplies of petroleum to Zimbabwe. On the same
day, South African commandos flew by helicopter to Maseru, the capital of
Lesotho, and carried out a raid against houses inhabited by South African
refugees. Forty-two persons were killed, and many more were wounded. By
the beginning of 1983, South Africa was carrying out military and paramilitary
attacks against the Front-line States almost openly.
U.S. diplomatic activity in the region was being intensified at the
same time. Anthony Lewis, writing in the New York Times (January 31, 1983)
could apparently begin to see the outlines of coercive diplomacy. The South
African government had "had a year of remarkable successes." "Externally,"
he wrote, ''the last year has seen South Africa use its military power both
covertly and overtly in neighboring black-governed states." And it
had done so "without any significant political penalty,'' although,
he thought, "the United States has privately urged restraint on South
Africa.'' Still, "South Africa's neighbors have in effect been told,
without subtlety, that they can have peace and a chance for economic development
only on South African terms.''
During 1983, economic warfare against the Front-line States, most of
which was covert, continued, and several countries found themselves facing
unprecedented difficulties. They could not export their goods. They could
not attract foreign capital. They could not purchase essential commodities,
particularly adequate supplies of food. They lacked the means to substitute
domestic production of needed goods. Foreign aid projects had to be shut
down, often for security reasons. By mid-l983, drought, war, and a variety
of external pressures had begun to make a difficult situation desperate.
U.S. analysts predicted that the Front-line States would soon be ''on their
The situation which existed by the end of the year in most parts of
the region is hard to describe. In Zimbabwe, millions of people were receiving
emergency food aid. South Africa was again intensifying its efforts to produce
chaos in the province of Matabeleland. It had mounted a further large-scale
invasion of Angola, sending its troops nearly two hundred miles into the
country. While Angola offered strong resistance, this third invasion was
a harsh blow to a country already suffering from drought, a partial economic
blockade and the dislocation and damage caused by previous attacks. South
Africa's UNITA surrogates, furthermore, were extending their military actions
into the center of the country.
Mozambique faced the gravest economic situation it had known. The drought
had continued, further reducing food production. There was insufficient
foreign exchange to make up the difference. The war in the central provinces
had spread north to Zambezi. The war had greatly aggravated economic problems
which might otherwise have been coped with. Emergency food supplies could
not reach those who needed them. More than 100,000 Mozambicans had fled
to Zimbabwe in search of food. In Inhambane province, where the war was
especially intense, the lack of food had caused the death of tens of thousands
of people, and possibly as many as 100,000 people in 1983 alone.
As the war escalated in late 1983, and as the situation of several of
the Front-line States grew increasingly difficult, U.S. diplomats pressed
hard for a series of ''non-aggression'' agreements. They concentrated their
attention on Angola and Mozambique. Behind their diplomatic overtures, however,
there was the threat of South African power being used even more harshly,
and implicitly of further economic pressure. U.S. diplomats said that they
were trying to help bring " peace ' ' to the region . However, a South
African official quoted in the New York Times (January 25, 1983) made it
clear what kind of ''peace" they were offering: ''We want to show that
we want peace in the region, we want to contribute and we can help a lot.
But we also want to show that if we are refused we can destroy the whole
of southern Africa.''
U.S. officials were for the most part more circumspect about expressing
such views. The Reagan Administration could not openly link its proposals
to the Front-line States to such crude threats. But the link was there nonetheless,
and the Front-line States understood this. In late 1983, in an interview
with the Johannesburg Financial Mail (November 18, 1983), Charles Lichenstein,
the Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, made it abundantly plain
that the U.S. and South Africa were working to the same plan. In as clear
a threat as any American official had made publicly, Lichenstein said that
"destabilization will remain in force until Angola and Mozambique do
not permit their territory to be used by terrorists to at tack South Africa."
Thus the ''peace" which South Africa and the Reagan Administration
seemed to be seeking in southern Africa was apparently the same kind which
Nazi Germany sought to impose on Europe after the occupation of the Rhineland.
This account should help to explain why Angola and Mozambique eventually
submitted to some U.S. and South African demands at Lusaka and at Nkomati
some time ago. Something near all-out war, no less menacing for being unseen,
was waged against them to force them to do so. However, the story is not
ended. The Lusaka agreement has already broken down. South Africa has not
withdrawn from Angola. And both South Africa and the U.S. are now seeking
to by-pass the United Nations plan for decolonizing Namibia. Moreover, Angola
has made it quite clear that it will not accept ''linkage." The political
situation in southwest Africa has not changed.
The Nkomati accord, signed on the Mozambique/South Africa border, is
also beginning to break down. South Africa has shown that it will not rein
in its surrogate, the MNR. MNR units carried out an attack on a truck convoy
in central Mozambique only days after the signing of the accord. MNR groups
have staged attacks again in Inhambane province and on the road between
the South African border and Maputo, which had hitherto been considered
safe. There is little doubt that these efforts will continue, although Mozambique
is now much better equipped to defend itself than it was.
In assessing the prospects for the future, it should be remembered that
South Africa and the U.S . have embarked on an extremely ambitious and rash
exercise, that of bringing an end to socialist experiments in the entire
southern African region. It has been clear for some time that they are bent
on overthrowing the socialist governments already established there. In
the spring of 1983, western diplomats at the U.N. were already speaking
of ''the determination on the part of the Reagan Administration and South
Africa to gradually rid southern Africa of Marxist regimes." (Louis
Wiznitzer, ''U.N. Security Council Likely to be Drawn Into Namibian Debate,''
Christian Science Monitor, March 31, 1983. )
This means that the pressure on Angola and Mozambique in particular
is bound to increase. There is now a real danger that, by a combination
of economic, political, and military pressure, South Africa and the U.S.
will continue to seek to overthrow the Machel government in Mozambique,
opening a serious breach in the Front-line States and paving the way to
expanded regional conflict and economic and social chaos.
Before that happens, the Congress and the public should look much more
closely at the role which the Reagan Administration has been playing in
southern Africa during the last three years. For the war against the Front-line
States which it has been waging jointly with South Africa is illegal and
barbarous. It should not be permitted to continue.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker has
said that he wants to see "negotiated solutions" and ''peaceful
change'' in southern Africa. In pursuit of this goal, the Reagan Administration
and its racist ally have unleashed a war which has devastated an entire
subcontinent and cost tens of thousands of lives. This is terrorism on a
scale which has not been seen since the U.S. intervention in Indochina.
Sean Gervasi is a visiting professor of economics at the university
of Paris, and former Assistant in the Office of the U.N. commissioner for