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The Tripartite Accord, Three Powers Accord or New York Accords granted independence to Namibia and ended the direct involvement of foreign troops in the Angolan Civil War. The accords were signed on December 22, 1988 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City by representatives of the governments of Angola, Cuba, and South Africa.[1]



Angola's Cuando Cubango province

In 1981 Chester Crocker, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs for newly elected President Ronald Reagan, had developed a linkage policy, tying apartheid South Africa's agreement to retreat from Angola and to relinquish control of Namibia in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 435 to Cuba's troop withdrawal from Angola.[1][2] On September 10, 1986 Fidel Castro accepted Crocker's proposal in principle. The South African government also accepted the principle of linkage and proposed the concept at the UN 7th Plenary Meeting on 20 September 1986 (the Question of Namibia). The concept was strongly rejected by a Cuban backed majority and a strong statement of opposition was made to the effect of, "...The UN.... Calls upon South Africa to desist from linking the independence of Namibia to irrelevant and extraneous issues such as the presence of Cuban troops in Angola as such linkage is incompatible with the relevant United Nations resolutions, particularly Security Council resolution 435 (1978);..."[3]

The Angolan and American governments started bilateral talks in June 1987 while the civil war continued. There is disagreement amongst historians on how the various parties agreed to come to the table:

1. Cuba contends that its military successes against the South Africans in Angola drove the South Africans to the negotiating table. They claim their intervention in the defence of Cuito Cuanavale successfully stopped UNITA and South African offensives. Their view is that UNITA and South Africa retreated after a 15-hour battle on March 23 and moved for negotiations when the stakes became too high.[1][4]

2. The South African viewpoint places the events in the context of the end of the Cold War, with an associated end to the threat of Communist expansion in the region. From an economic perspective, the effect of sanctions was beginning to be felt in South Africa, while Namibia was costing South Africa over 1 billion Rand annually. Also, the South African domestic political lanscape was changing rapidly and the country was under considerable pressure at the United Nations to grant independence to Namibia.[3] The Cubans too faced the economic pressures of the war, as the MPLA government of Angola had stopped paying Cuba for its services.

In the words of Chester Crocker, "Watching South Africa and Cuba at the table was like watching two scorpions in a bottle.."

Initially refusing direct talks with Cuba, the US agreed to include a Cuban delegation which joined negotiations on January 28, 1988 and the three parties held a round of negotiations on March 9 in London. The South African government joined negotiations in Cairo on 3 May expecting Resolution 435 to be modified. Defence Minister Magnus Malan and President P.W. Botha asserted that South Africa would withdraw from Angola only "if Russia and its proxies did the same." As a negotiation ploy, they did not mention withdrawing from Namibia. On 16 March, 1988, the South African Business Day reported that Pretoria was "offering to withdraw into Namibia – not from Namibia – in return for the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola. The implication is that South Africa has no real intention of giving up the territory any time soon." However the UN plenary meeting of 1986 indicates that the South Africans were linking Namibian independence with Cuban withdrawal.[3] The Cuban negotiator, Jorge Risquet, announced that Cuba would stay in Angola until the end of apartheid, probably also as a negotiation ploy (Apartheid ended over 4 years after Cuba left Angola).

According to the Cubans, the US wondered whether the Cubans would stop their advance at the Namibian border.[5] Jorge Risquet, head of the Cuban delegation, rejected the South African demands, noting that “South Africa must face the fact that it will not obtain at the negotiating table what it could not achieve on the battlefield.”[6][7]

According to the book "32 Battalion" by Piet Nortje, South Africa introduced its new secret weapons, the G5 and G6 howitzer guns during their campaign. The cannons can fire a projectile over 40 kilometres (25 mi) with a high degree of accuracy. The guns were used to halt the southern Cuban advance and raised the specter of yet another unaffordable arms escalation between two medium sized military powers. The South Africans assert that the new weapon raised Cuban fear of yet more casualties in a war where Cuban fatalities had outnumbered South African fatalities by a factor 10. Conversely, the Cuban air force held air superiority, as was demonstrated by the bombing of the strategic Calueque complex, and the overflights in 1988 of Cuban Mig-23's of Namibian airspace. According the David Albright, the South African's believed that the discovery of preparations for a nuclear weapon test at the Vastrap facility created an urgency amongst the superpowers to find a solution.[8]

The negotiations reached a deadlock, that was broken by the South African negotiator, Pik Botha, with an ingenious sense of tact in convincing Jorge Riquet that, in the words of Pik Botha "...We can both be losers and we can both be winners..." Pik Botha offered a compromise that would appear to be palatable to both sides while emphasizing that the alternative would be detrimental to both sides.

While the hostilities in Angola continued, the parties met in June and August in New York and Geneva and finally all approved an outline agreement of Principles for a Peaceful Settlement in South Western Africa on July 20[9] During the negotiations the South Africans were asked for the release of Nelson Mandela as a sign of goodwill, which was denied.[6] Mandela remained in captivity until 2 February 1990 when the ANC African National Congress ban was lifted. A ceasefire was finally agreed upon on August 8, 1988.[10]

The negotiations were finalised in New York with Angola, Cuba and South Africa signing the accord on December 22, 1988. It supplied for the retreat of South African forces from Angola, which had already taken place by August 30, the withdrawal of South Africa from Namibia and Namibia’s independence and the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola within 30 months.

The agreement followed the American linkage proposal that was also pushed by South African on numerous occasions in 1984 and in 1986 (the UN plenary meeting). Namibia was to be given independence on terms that South Africa had set out, including multi-party democracy, a capitalist free-market economy and a transition period.


The South African Army left Angola by August 30, 1988, before the conditions for Cuba’s withdrawal had been agreed. Cuban troops began withdrawing on January 10, 1989 and the withdrawal was finalized in stages one month early on May 25, 1991.

The Angolan government offered an amnesty to UNITA troops.[10] under the premise that UNITA would be integrated into the MPLA under a one-party state economy. This concept was rejected by UNITA and the situation in the country was anything but settled and it continued to be ravaged by civil war for more than a decade.

According to the book "Presidents of Foreign Policy" by Edward R. Drachman and Alan Shank, a series of meetings and accords between UNITA and the MPLA brokered by various African leaders failed horribly. MPLA stood strong to the one-party state premise which insulted UNITA. A combination of MPLA dismay for the communist system and intervention from the USA (backing UNITA and forcing a shift in power) lead to the MPLA dropping the one-party state and opening the door to a multi-party democracy (based on a capitalist free market economy) with the inclusion of UNITA as a competing party. After some 18 years of war, a tremendous breakthrough was finally reached.

Although elections were declared "generally" free and fair, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi would not accept the results and refused to join the Angolan parliament as opposition. Again UNITA took up arms but this time the USA opposed UNITA and attempted to pressure Savimbi to accept democracy. Peace only returned to Angola following Savimbi’s death in 2002.

Free elections in Namibia were held in November 1989 with SWAPO taking 57% of the vote in spite of apparent attempts by Pretoria to swing it in favour of other parties.[11] Namibia gained independence in March 1990. It should be noted that SWAPO was originally a Marxist party with the intention of installing a one-party state. This notion was rejected by the South African government up until the fall of the Soviet Union and the assurance that SWAPO would employ a multi-party democracy with a capitalist free market economy. South Africa held onto Namibia's economic port of Walvis Bay for a further 18 months until the South African government felt sure that SWAPO would respect the newly founded constitution and the multi-party democratic fundamental.

As part of the Tripartite Accord, agreement was reached that the African National Congress (ANC) - Marxist-leaning guerilla/freedom movement actively executing guerilla attacks in South Africa would have its bases removed from Angola and would stop receiving support from the Angolan MPLA movement. The ANC was then forced to move their operation to Zambia and Uganda. Later the ANC also dropped their Marxist philosophy paving the way for acceptance into the South African Democratic Movement for change and, eventually, leading to successfully winning elections in South Africa and becoming the ruling party of a multi-party democratic South Africa based on a capitalist free market economy.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Tvedten, Inge. Angola: Struggle for Peace and Reconstruction, 1997. Pages 38-40.
  2. ^ COLD WAR Chat: Chester Crocker, Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs CNN
  3. ^ a b c "Question of Namibia". United Nations General Assembly. 1986-09-20. Retrieved 2009-08-01.  
  4. ^ Kahn, Owen Ellison. Disengagement from Southwest Africa: The Prospects for Peace in Angola and Namibia, 1991. University of Miami Institute for Soviet and East. Page 79.
  5. ^ Gleijeses, Piero: Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 (The University of North Carolina Press) quoting: “Entrevista de Risquet con Chester Crocker, 26/6/88”, ACC
  6. ^ a b "Une Odyssee Africaine" (France, 2006, 59mn) directed by: Jihan El Tahri
  7. ^ Gleijeses, Piero: Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 (The University of North Carolina Press) quoting: “Actas das Conversaçôes Quadripartidas entre a RPA, Cuba, Estados Unidos de América e a Africa do Sul realizadas no Cairo de 24-26.06.988”, Archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, Havanna
  8. ^ David Albright (July 1994). "South Africa and the Affordable Bomb". Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: 44.  
  9. ^ Agreement Among the People's Republic of Angola, the Republic of Cuba, and the Republic of South Africa
  10. ^ a b Alao, Abiodun. Brothers at War: Dissidence and Rebellion in Southern Africa, 1994. Pages XIX-XXI.
  11. ^ The Guardian, July 26, 1991


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