Episode 108 - Cubans start heading towards Calueque Dam and another South African POW
and the Cubans were seething.
American Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker opened up the meeting by presenting the Cubans and Angolans with Pretoria’s comprehensive proposals.
The South Africans made themselves scarce during the presentation, Defence minister Magnus Malan and Foreign Minister Pik Botha were joined by chief of the Defence Force Jannie Geldenhuys as they headed off to the British Commonwealth War Cemetery at Heliopolis to lay a wreath to the fallen South Africans.
They had flowers from home, so took a bowl of Proteas from the first class lounge of the Boeing 747 that had brought the delegation to Cairo.
Then they headed back to the Hyatt el Salaam hotel, site of the conference. The Cuban delegation led by Jorge Kaspaars Risquet was infuriated by Pretoria’s suggestion that Havana move its soldiers out of southern Angola in seven months.
They were even further incensed by the suggestion that UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi be brought into a transition government within six weeks. Risquet said if this was the case, then the system of apartheid had to be added to the agenda and negotiated at the same time.
Pik Botha, never one to stand back, suggested that Risquet’s own Cuban government be also placed on the agenda for its human right abuses, and Chester Crocker like all good referees, called an early break so that all sides could calm down.
No-one mingled that night. The South Africans were now convinced that their rooms were bugged so they marched off to the bottom of the garden and huddled behind a giant colourful umbrella. Meanwhile, Crocker met with the Russian representative Vladilen Vlasev summoned the Cubans and the Angolans to a late night chat behind their own colourful umbrella in a separate corner of the Cairo Hyatt garden.
Miraculously, the Russian intervention led to the Cubans and Angolans managing to find a few common ideas with the South Africans, although they still differed on virtually every point. Still, the talks hadn’t completely broken down and all sides agreed to take the documents home with them to try and find a way to get a consensus before the next meeting.
Less than a month later, on 4th May, a Cuban company attacked a members of 101 Battalion inside southern Angola. The battalion was reconnoitring territory 50 kilometers inside Angola near the Cunene River and was ambushed by a Cuban platoon.
Lance Corporal Hendrik Jacobus Venter was killed and Private Johan Papenfus was lsited missing. This had hardly happened to the South Africans in 23 years of fighting, things were changing. Papenfus was duly wheeled out in Havana, a prisoner of war, now being treated for serious wounds to his leg.