Savimbi’s legacy: a question of political hypocrisy and conspiracy

By Lt Gen(Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

I fully understand that democracy involves freedom of association and choice. It is also well known that politics is a dirty game, yet there are people who deliberately associate themselves with a dirty game. It is important, however, that before one associates with a dirty game one must be conscious enough to avoid being labelled with bad names.

This article briefly covers the political landscape of Angola with emphasis on late Dr Jonas Savimbi. Angola endured the longest period of Portuguese colonialism in Africa for a solid 500 years. It also had a history of liberation struggle and civil war.

Savimbi started his political career early 60s with the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) led by Dr Antonio Agostinho Neto. He joined the MPLA with the political ambition of wanting to quickly climb the ladder to the upper structure. As he failed to get into the mainstream structure of MPLA, he quit and joined the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) led by Holden Roberto in 1964.

Driven by political ambition, he felt he was suffocating politically in FNLA and decided to also leave that party. Eventually, Savimbi founded his political home in 1966, known as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

As president of UNITA, he was politically satisfied as he was not subordinated to anybody but himself. Initially, UNITA was founded to fight for the liberation of Angola but while the liberation war continued, Savimba signed a collaboration pact with Policia Internacionale de Defesa do Estado (PIDE) and became an agent of Portugal fighting against MPLA.

Before Angola’s independence, the South African Defence Force (SADF) of the apartheid regime invaded that country to install a puppet government in power, led by Savimbi, the most appropriate puppet. SADF fought their way to the outskirts of Luanda, the capital of Angola.

The invasion strategy aimed to prevent the MPLA communist-led government coming closer to the apartheid regime’s doorstep in Namibia. However, the strategy of capturing Luanda was thwarted by MPLA government forces with the support of Cuban internationalists.

Whilst battles were raging in several parts of the country, President Antonio Agostinho Neto of MPLA declared Angola’s independence on 11 November 1975. The failure by the apartheid regime to capture Luanda in 1975 led to their decision to support Savimbi of UNITA with arms to be able to continue the fight against the government in Luanda.

As the civil war went on for year, the American administration led by President Ronald Reagan stepped up support by supplying UNITA with arms with the aim to prevent communism expanding its territory in southern Africa. By so doing, it was also to prevent SWAPO from taking over Namibia as SWAPO was considered a communist movement, in terms of which taking over Namibia would mean the democratisation of South Africa and the end of white dominance in the region.

During the period of civil war in Angola, UNITA was used as the surrogate of both the American administration and South African apartheid regime to disrupt the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), the military wing of SWAPO from waging its war of liberation struggle.

In this connection, much of PLAN war efforts were partly directed at UNITA instead of directing them squarely to the SADF. Namibia’s delay to self-determination and independence was, therefore, caused by those who were supposed to be outside the game, namely the American administration and UNITA. Sound-minded people would as well recall that UNITA military operations continued even after independence by killing and terrorising our people from across the border.

Savimbi’s notorious history ended when he was killed in action on 22 February 2002 after 27 years of bloody civil war. After his death was confirmed, it culminated in peace and stability in Angola, as all UNITA members and followers flocked to Luanda for a new life. It became obvious that Savimbi was the only centre of gravity and once that centre was broken, the entire fighting structure collapsed.

It is now all history that Savimbi got a dignified reburial on 1 June 2019 in his home village, 17 years after his death. We learnt that his reburial was attended by some dignitaries from the United States of America, South Africa and many more from other countries, including Namibia.

As said earlier, democracy is about freedom of association and choice. While I fully understand why Americans and South Africans would attend the reburial, I have a serious political problem to stomach if there were really some Namibians who attended that event.

Should it prove to be true that some Namibians attended that event, it shall only be construed as politically shocking. Some of us who fought for this country and made supreme sacrifices for our independence would not understand that there are still some Namibians who are so political naïve and immature, who are unable to understand how our people suffered at the hands of South African regime and UNITA. No wonder there are some Namibians out there that say, “There is nothing to cerebrate of our independence.”

In order to understand who Savimbi was, let us zoom in with our critical minds. Savimbi was naturally an ambitious politician who had been shuttling from one political party to another. In his early political career at youthful age, he started with MPLA, then moved to FNLA before he founded UNITA.

He founded UNITA ostensibly to fight for the liberation of Angola. In the process, he ended up an agent of PIDE. After Angola’s independence, Savimbi and UNITA became surrogates and cannon fodder of the South Africa regime and American administration fighting for his political ambition.

Savimbi and UNITA were in the forefront of delaying Namibia’s independence, killing many of our comrades in combat. Savimbi was instrumental in rebel incursions into Namibia, terrorising and killing our people after our independence. Those incursions only ended after our government decided to launch military hot pursuit operations into Angola that caught UNITA off balance.

After zooming in, would that still make a genuine Namibian think of attending the reburial of that notorious individual who for all his political ambition had no respect for human dignity, including Namibians’ dignity? If it is true that some Namibians attended that event to commemorate with those who were at the forefront to kill our people and delay our independence, then there is so much politically to be desired in the Land of the Brave.

Democratically, there are Namibians who are always very critical against whatever the government does, instead of supporting its efforts. There are Namibians whose political allegiance appears to be with outsiders instead of with this country and its people.

There was a time when I wrongly convinced myself that there are no Namibians who can praise Savimbi as their hero but there are people here who opted to celebrate the evil deeds committed by Savimbi against our people.

As a trained and battle-tested soldier myself, I never celebrated the death of enemy soldiers, neither did I mourn it. Why mourn Savimbi’s death and his reburial? Namibians must grow to be politically mature or be harshly judged by history because of their political hypocrisy and conspiracy.

Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is the former chief of the Namibian Defence Force, a holder of Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies, HOD and senior lecturer at IUM. These are the author’s independent reflections and views.

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