Secret ColIaboration:

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 assassination.

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 United Nations.

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.


Coercive Diplomacy

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 Administration decries.

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 knees.''

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 Namibia.

Home Page