I've been waiting for this day. It has been two week since I've seen yjonas Savimbi and I've got questions to ask.
We have seen that he controls a lot of territory here in the "Land at the End of the Earth." We have been alble to move through open country by day and by night free of ambushes, air strikes and meeting engagements, that marvelous military euphemism for accidental contact with the enemy. We have seen his well-armed battalions. We have seen prisoners and clinics and schools and collective farms sufficiently well-planned that they produce tobacco to satisfy the cravings of the troops.
What I'm wondering is whether there is an external benevolence behind this enterprise. Specifically, where do the South Africans fit in? That's the burning issue among politicians and lobbyists and newspaper editors in Western Europe, the United States and Africa itself. So let's get it out on the table.
Patience, we are told this morning. Savimbi will see us in due course. But first, there is another program. For a change it is not a sign-along or a dance marathon. It seems designed, instead, to change the perceptions of two white journalists who, presumably, walk around with a lot of silly and racist pictures in their heads.As I read it, the statement that UNITA -- Savimbi's Union for the Total Independence of Angola, which opposes the Marxist government in Luanda -- wishes to make is this:
"We are not African rabble or savages. We are intelligent and resourceful people who are creating something out here in the bush you cannot imagine is possible from a black guerrilla army."
I am guilty of some of those perceptions. So is Fred Bridgland, my journalistic traveling companion from Britain. He finds it hard to believe that an African soldier can shoot down a Soviet aircraft with an SA7 missile, even though the weapon is as easy to operate as a shotgun. I find it hard to believe that a guerrilla force can develop the skills and discipline for conventional warfare. The guerrilla I saw in Zimbabwe two years ago were hopeless in that sense.
So UNITA intends to respond to our racism or skepticism, whichever is the case. Would we please visit the secretarial school where women are being taught touch-typing and how to take dictation in English, Frence and Portuguese? Would we now visit a 120-bed hospital and watch a self-taught surgeon perform an appendectomy?
Next, we go along to the communications center, where radio operators are trained and electronic intelligence is gathered. Just over there is the armory, where our hosts repair captured weapons and manufacture rockets. Here is the vehicle repair center, the blacksmith shop, the tinsmith, the teacher training school. For our spiritual sustenance we are taken to Protestant and Roman Catholic church services, where both the gospel and Savimbi's politics are taught. Finally, for our entertainment, we watch a soccer game, and exhibition by boys from the karate class and a snappy drill by the Boy Scout troop.
We did it all. The day is over and Savimbi at last agrees to a meeting. As we sit down with him, there is one further interruption.I slip on a jacket to fend off the cold and immediately begin cursing and howling. A caterpillar with poisonous fur has gotten inside the sleeve and has stung me badly. The whole are is covered with welts and a rash. A medic is summoned who ministers to my grievous affliction with rubbing alchol and a pill -- antihistamine, Iguess.
That out of the way, I ask Savimbi directly how he is financing this operation. He replies this way:
"What I can say is that from 1977 to 1979-80 we received a total of about $10 million from several sources outside. From the end of 1979 and through 1980 and 1981 we did not receive any really substantial money, but we have been managing. The major suppliers of funds [Arabs] have stopped. The minor ones are still there but it is $500,000 or $250,000, not those [Arabs] who used to give us millions. They cut us off because they had no encouragement from any major power. But it is true that many people have given us money . . . independent Africian countries [Morocco, Senegal, the Ivory Coast], Arab countries [Saudi Arabia, Qatar] and others; not money to buy weapons, but to buy medicines and various other things. No Western European governments have given money; in Europe only individuals friends and some companies."
I expressed skepticism that he could run a war and build an army over three years for $10 million. His reply was that UNITA had no payroll -- no one from the lowliest soldier to himself was paid. The uniforms were donated by Morocco and the weapons came from three sources -- a few items left over from the CIA largesse of 1975, 550 tons of material shipped in by China in 1978 and many, many weapons (40 percent of the total) captured from the MPLA -- the ruling Popular Liberation Movement of Angola.
Now, I said, let's speak to the South African question: what is the connection? "We don't run away from the issue of South Africa," he said. "We don't run away from that issue of South Africa," he said. "We know the implications. We know how bad it is for us, but we can talk about the issue objectively."
Beginning in 1978, he said, South African and UNITA people began to cooperate on certain matters. Specifically, the South Africans agreed to allow UNITA people to bring badly wounded troops across the Namibian border for treatment. They agreed to sell UNITA medicines, trucks, gasoline, food and miscellaneous items. They also agreed to buy ivory and diamonds from UNITA.
But, said Savimbi, South Africa provides no weapons and engages in no joint military operations with UNITA.
It is often suggested that they share military intelligence, and I believe it. I have no proof, but logic compels that conslusion: they share a common border, Namibia's, and by Savimbi's own statement do business through two trading posts run by South African intelligence agents. It is also alleged that Savimbi supplies information on the activities of SWAPO (Southwest African People's Organization), the guerrilla force seeking to free Namibia from South African control. The territory Savimbi claims to control adjoins the SWAPO bases in Angola. Detailed maps of Swapo camps and units are kept up to date in UNITA's intelligence center here at Savimbi's headquarters. There has been bad blood between SWAPO and UNITA in the past.
Savimbi now says he supports SWAPO in its Namibian objectives and believes SWAPO easily would win an election there. But just four years ago, Savimbi told my Washington Post colleague, Leon Dash, of his implacable hostility to SWAPO. So there is at least a resonable doubt as to Savimbi's true posture toward SWAPO and his dealings with South Africa on that issue.
I have seen no evidence at all of direct military cooperation with the South Africans. It is possible and perhaps probably that certain joint military activities were conducted in the recent past when MPLA troops were dislodged from their bases along the Namibian border in the southern part of this providence. It is also possible -- as the MPLA and other Savimbi critics have claimed -- that many of Savimbi's "captured" weapons were turned over to him by South African troops. From the weapons I have seen, that seems less plausible than some of the other speculations. The reason for that a lot of these captured weapons are badly damaged; trucks are shot half to pieces, radios are inoperable because they are shot through with rifle slugs and mortar fragments, mortars lack base plates, some artillery pices have blown breeches. That is not the kind of stuff you would offer as military aid.
At our first meeting near the air strip, Savimbi had referred to South Africa briefly and said that it "hurts me" to have any dealings with the South Africans. But tonight he is philosophical:
"I want to stress that we are against apartheid," he said. "We don't agree with a government that has a constitution based on racial discrimination. . . . But people in this region are bound to have some sort of relations with South Africans liberalize their own system it will facilitate those relations.
"But are we to say, as Nyerere does [Julius Nyerere, president of Tanzania], that black Africa must raise an army to fight the South Africans? The consequences of that would be catastrophic for everybody in this region. We prefer dialogue opn the South African issue . . . When people say to us you have contacts and trade with South Africa, it is not something we need to apologize about. We all of us feel and hope South Africa will change its internal policies. But the contacts [in any case] will remain."
We talked of other things, a lot of them relating to the past and to Bridgland's particular interests as Savimbi's biographer. At the end of it -- about 8 o'clock -- Savimbi suggested we meet again before midnight. He has strange working habits, frequently holding meetings all through the night. We obliged and finished up well after midnight. As usual, I was long since ready for bed. But tonight, I grumbled less because in 24 hours I would be back at the airstrip, would get aboard that crippled Convair and would head out in the direction of another 12 hours on the unspeakable Star truck failed to break my spirit.
If I had known what was coming, I might have started walking south.