Battle of Cassinga - Political Consequences

Political Consequences

According to General Geldenhuys the raid was a "jewel of military craftmanship", but politically it was a disaster for the Apartheid regime. A media campaign had been carefully prepared well in advance of the operation and media releases managed in order to counter negative reports on South African military actions and claims of killing innocent civilians. This campaign included the fabrication and distortion of SWAPO actions. One of the parachute battalions was specifically tasked to take photographs and instructed to focus on images supporting the South African cause; bodies were only to be photographed with weapons by their side, negative images, such a suffering victims, were to be avoided. Nevertheless, in spite of these instructions, pictures of bodies without weapons and of dead SADF paratroopers were taken.

The Angolans were first to publish details of the attack, followed shortly thereafter by SWAPO press statements that supported and elaborated on the Angolan account. They described the base as a refugee camp and claimed the SADF had slaughtered 600 defenceless refugees. The bodies were buried in two mass graves at Cassinga; pictures of the mass graves were used extensively for propaganda purposes, and for many people therefore became the imagery that they associated with the event.

"The position of SWAPO and all the organizations and governments that were supporting it by 1978 benefited from the moral outrage incited by a 'surprise attack' on a 'refugee camp.' In the aftermath of the raid, SWAPO received unprecedented support in the form of humanitarian aid sent to its exile camps and offers from governments to educate Namibians in their countries."

The debate over whether Cassinga was a military camp or a refugee camp (or both) continues to rage. Weapons and military installations were present and documented at the camp. In 1998 the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission also concluded that

It is clear that from the SADF’s perspective, Kassinga was a military facility rather than essentially a refugee camp or refugee transit facility, as SWAPO has always claimed. The photographic evidence shown to the Commission at the SADF archives suggests a military dimension to the camp. This cannot, however, be taken as conclusive evidence that Kassinga was a military base. In the context of the ongoing war in Angola, some defensive fortification of any SWAPO facility, whether civilian or military, would have been standard practice".

The United Nations invited SWAPO-leader Sam Nujoma to address the council before issuing United Nations Security Council Resolution 428 on 6 May condemning South Africa for "the armed invasion of Angola carried out on 4 May 1978". The Council condemned apartheid and the continued occupation of Southwest Africa and commended Angola for its support of the Namibian people.

After independence, the new government of Namibia declared 4 May as "Cassinga Day", a public holiday to commemorate the loss of life during the raid.

Official celebration of this event by the SANDF ended only in 1996, two years after Nelson Mandela was elected president. Veterans of the various South African parachute battalions still privately celebrate Cassinga Day in remembrance both of the extent of the victory and of those who died that day.

Read more about this topic:  Battle Of Cassinga

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