The Soviet Union, China and the West in Southern Africa

Courtesy Reuters

Like Henry Kissinger, most American commentators have interpreted the Soviet intervention in Angola almost solely as an extension of Soviet cold war competition with the West into Africa. In this perspective the outcome in Angola has been viewed as a major gain for the Soviet Union against the West, with the Russians capitalizing on the American disadvantage in its years of support for Portugal. With the South African intervention against the Soviet-backed liberation movement, the Russians also scored an important "diplomatic triumph," as the Organization of African Unity swung around to overwhelming support for the Soviet protégé, against the Angolan leaders who had called in the South Africans. In all this the United States and the West were the big losers.

While this interpretation contains some elements of truth, it is an inadequate framework for analysis of what actually happened in Angola and what may now be in immediate prospect for Rhodesia and Namibia. For it leaves out an extremely important element-the rivalry between the Soviet Union and China for influence in Africa. Only if this rivalry is given the emphasis it deserves can one understand the true nature of the struggle that is now taking place in Rhodesia, and, prospectively, future conflicts in Namibia and South Africa.

The root of the conflict in southern Africa is of course entirely indigenous-that is, it arises from the determination of black Africans to bring an end to the white supremacist regimes there. Most African leaders would much prefer, in their own interests, to see this come about through nonviolent means, as was demonstrated by their response in 1974 to the offer to start talks by South Africa's Prime Minister Johannes Vorster. They will, nonetheless, support violence if no other way seems open, as they do presently in Rhodesia. Similarly, most influential African leaders are hostile to communism and strongly opposed to the intrusion of big-power politics in Africa; but because they see white racism in southern Africa as a bigger menace to them

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