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I t
Jan van Eden

bio - biography

Stories of our life in the foreign


1974-1975 Angola [English]


Jumping the timetable to the 7th April 1974 when I first entered Angola, I want to enlarge our personal story with the historical events related to the struggle for independence within Angola and the role of the Cubans. The contribution of the Cubans to the end of apartheid is acknowledged by African leaders (but largely hidden for the European public). Working for a South African Company in Angola we were finding ourselves on the wrong side of the political divide. Knowing the country and its people from first hand experience I have observed the aftermath of the indepence struggle in some detail and the international solidarity of Cuba has made a deep impression on me.


The chronological account below is based on extracts from (1) an article by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, first published in the magazine Tricontinental, edition 53, of 1977 [GGM], (2) letters written by Pepa to her parents [Pepa], (3) some eyewitness reports of the battles around Luanda in 1975.


Jan talking with locals during an orientative field trip (April 1974)  [74-Angola-fieldtrip]


4 May 1974  Next week JCI will decide  if we have to go to Angola. They are looking for a sedimentologist/geophysicist and the chief of Angolan operations Jake de Villiers has decided I am the ideal man for the job.  This will be a countrywide appraisal for uranium. For the first stage until November of this year there is a budget of Rand 250.000.


 Without counting personal friends already made with the Portuguese, for example with the 2nd head of the Institute of atomic energy in Lisbon, who it seems that we have known him throughout life, anyway I am not going to tell everything in detail but people in Angola welcomed us very well and it is sure that we will live there for them. If we go, furniture will stay here (in Sourh Africa), and the company will provide housing in Luanda, we will have a  company car and an extra 45% of salary. Jan has to go to the United States to visit typical uranium deposits [Pepa] 


Luanda -  boulevard that runs along the coast (1974)  [74-Luanda-boulevard]
(Note the offices of the BCCI bank from Saudi Arabia,
his fraudulent bank was a cover for CIA operations in
Afghanistan in the 70ties and 80ties)


 7 April 1974 Jan went to Angola "Luanda" with intentions to return last Wednesday but he is still there and yesterday the company told me that I will prepare everything I need that I go two or three weeks... Bibi seems to me to take it to a nursery of dogs "Cannels" will not think of anything better. Ana was looking after the House and plants and the office I'm going to give a scare when I tell them that I'm going on vacation. And this is the story of always going from one side to another... Angola was a Portuguese colony with problems of terrorists on the border with Congo (Brazaville), but it has nothing to do with the area where they work and although within five or ten years Portugal may have to give the independence at this time there is none of that. U tell you, if you hear something do not worry, think in terms of a country that is no longer stable companies remove their capital and geologists will be taken out. [Pepa] 


A llegar el dia 7 de abril de 1974 en Angola por la primera vez, habian 3 movimientos de liberacion activos en Angola.


 The oldest liberation movement of Angola was the MPLA, established in 1956, and was the only one who was implanted with a wide popular base especially in the cities. Its President was Agostinho Neto, medical profession. NET, is also author of poems that exalt the Angolan culture. Contacts between the Cuban revolution and the Popular Movement of liberation of Angola (MPLA) had been established for the first time and had been very intense since August 1965, when Che Guevara participated in guerrillas in Congo. The following year he was in Cuba the own Agostinho Neto accompanied by Endo, the Commander in Chief of the MPLA, which had died in the war, and both were then interviewed with Fidel Castro. The second movement was the national front for the liberation of Angola (FNLA). Its leader Holden Roberto, married the sister of Mobutu Sese Seko, was recruited by the CIA Agency since the first half of the 1960's. In 1975, at the outbreak of the civil war, he received the support of South Africa and USA. Under the command of Jonas Savimbi's UNITA joined the Portuguese colonialists years before independence. In 1975, after the fall of the fascist regime in Portugal, it strengthened its relations with the regime of Apartheid in South Africa. [MARQUEZ] A few weeks after our entry into Angola, there was an important change in the political situation with the Carnation Revolution the name given to the military uprising of April 25, 1974  in Portugal bringing down the dictatorship Salazar that dominated the country since 1926.
Life in Angola remains quiet the only problem is that with so many strikes of carriers, providers, etc. Food is scarce and prices skyrocketing, you can not imagine how everything is going up since we arrived, but in the end it is not only here, in the whole of Europe inflation is tremendous and if read the planning for the future it is  even worse , and everyone is talking about doing something and nobody does anything, everyone carries on as if we have reserves for many years... Well, it is best to not become bitter ... [Pepa]


10 June 1974 
 Waiting for visas for Angola and the USA and preparing to stay on a more permanent basis in Angola. Jan will go several weeks to the USA while Pepa will fly to Madrid and stay during that time in Huesca and later on in the Netherlands for one week. We will send to Angola books, Lp’s, personal belongings.


Travel to the USA together with Jake de Villiers for a study tour of uranium mines in New Mexico and Arizona.


Flying back over Portugal.


 In Lisbon, apart from a few visits to the Nuclear Energy Board the rest of the time was for us and as transport by bus and train were good we have got to know nearly everything along the coast. Portugal is lovely but is still much poorer and backward than Spain. The Portuguese airliones have been on strike and caught us just when we had to go back, you must say that in the last two days alone, we slept five hours and the rest of the time we spend it in the airport, the plane would leave at 11 but they retarded it untill 1 o'clock,  but the control tower did not give permission, they were striking up to three o'clock in the morning and then the crew had already made part of their schedule and they can no longer start with an 8-9 hour flight, at 6 in the morning another crew came and then we were leaving, at three in the afternoon we arrived in Luanda. [Pepa]

 3 Sep 1974 since yesterday we are in Luanda where everything seems quiet although changes are expected and people have opinions of all kinds, for the time being the company continues with all its programs and Jacques and Pam de Villiers were happy to have us here again. Each person has a different opinion about the future, at the moment the only change that is noticeable is that censorship does not exist and you can see phenomenal films that before and in Spain only could be projected in arthouse cinemas. You must find an appartment and wait til they give it to us, meanwhile we shall travel to Malange with David Garnett [...] Going to the field is the best thing you can do. [Pepa]

I have illusions with the House in Sabayes, if we are there, we will not run from one side to the other...




Our fieldcrew Dave Garnett (geologist), Jan van Eden, Domingo, Paolo, Daniel, Curado (assistant), Tono y Voluntad at a location east of Malange (September 1974)  [74-fieldcrew-Malange]


Pepa Santolaria and Dave Garnett on an improvised bridge (September 1974)   [74-Pepa-and-Dave-Garnett-Malange-area]


 14 Sep 1974 are already a week in this town (Xandel) [is about 150 km east of Malanje] small dry and ugly where we have an old House which is from where we leave for the field, the idea is to have here maps tents etc and start from here to camps in different NTS areas. We have two Portuguese assistants and 11 Africans, two of them working in the house and kitchen. The chef cooked for two assistants but sometimes I stew for everyone because it gets me a little sorry...
At end of September we will have an appartment in Luanda, on a hill and looking out from there over the port and sea, close to the centre and office and close to the market, but at the same time it is in a quiet place because of its location in a park the, the apartment has three large galleries and two air-conditioned rooms...

View of the city center of Luanda from our apartment (October 1974)  [74-LuandaApartment-01]


 Monday 16th we went camping for four days, going with three landrovers, eight Africans and the two Portugese assistants. We slept in a tent that is mounted on top of the car, on a wood covered steel roofrack and the our tent. I take care about what we eat is clean, the water boiled and put through a filter with a chlorine tablet, all those things in the hands of the chef, who does not understand why it should be done.


[ ...] Bad roads and the towns with phenomenal landscapes, real Africa; It is to be  seen because you can not describe it with words. Part of the job is to ask for water at each site, to analyse it and know if there is any uranium near there etc. In each village the people are curious but they treated us very well. They carry bows and arrows, axes, ceramic jars and all those things that they make themselves. Friday we visited a camp of another company we met two young English couples, very nice people, and on Saturday they visited us at Xandell. In all this area Diamang and another company exploit the diamonds, there are also many traffickers and people becoming very rich buying and selling diamonds to Africans who know them all and take them (from the rivers) without machinery, the police going after them, but many get what they want. There was a time that you were shot from helicopters used by the mining company if they saw someone digging. Angola is rich, the companies are investing and taking much and fearing that with the change of Government it may not be so easy. The situation here is quiet...

 One of the English couples that Pepa mentions above was Kevin Elford who worked as a field geologist with Condiama and his girlfriend Jane Whitelaw, who was also a qualified geologist. We came across their camp by chance and as we found Jane all by herself and not much to do, we employed her on the spot on a part-time basis to do geological reconnaissance for us.

25 Sep 1974 are still in the hotel, maybe Saturday or Monday we can go to the appartment, but for furniture we have to wait...


26 September Jan is in Luanda, he has a meeting with the heads of exploration of Rhodesia and South Africa, and he has to talk about his impressions on his visit to the USA. Our program in Angola will be ciscussed and apart from that we have to entertain them... [Pepa]

25 Sep 1974 are still in the hotel, maybe Saturday or Monday we can go to the appartment, but for furniture we have to wait...

Salon and dining corner of our appartment in Luanda (October 1974)  [74-LuandaApartment-02]





 1 nov 1974 we just got back from the field to our house of Xandell, we have been all the week out and tomorrow we go to Malange where we will take the plane to Luanda... The fields are green because it rains every day. The grass gets higher by the day and makes it more difficult to walk out there, we are in the rainy season, now until December there are small showers and from January to April the are heavy, this is the same as in Zambia where field work is impossible in these months and camps were closed until the rains ceases, here we do not close down, but you are limited to do what you can. Apart from the inconvenience of the life in the field, the heat, mosquitoes, etc. It's great to be there, the peace and quiet is unmatched. We love it here but I have to admit that life here is hard work throughout the day with much dirt and the meals not much more than... cod, cans of sausages, soups from packages and we improve on it taking high concentrated juices and fruit that sometimes we buy it in the market of Luanda to bring it here. Yesterday we had a visit of a snake that is called in English "Pofadder" very poisonous and the worst thing is that it does not move out of the way. It stays motionless under the grass and if stepped on it, it bites you. The pofadder in the camp was swallowing a toad, this is something to see. We were watching it until the toad was almost inside and we killed it before it had an empty beak. It was very impressive, allready  dead and even then you could see the frog moving inside.... We have serums for treatment, just in case...



Lobito - graffitti from UNITA and the MPLA (November 1974) [74-Angola-Lobito]










Geologists and partners of Cominan in Lobito, November 1974
Alex Meddlecock, Brinden and Don Page Green, Jan van Eden,
Jake de Villiers, Dorien and Pat Cochran, Jenny Page Green,
Bob Ingram, Charlie Hoffman, Steward Comlin  [74-Lobito-geologistsCominan]


 The coming week to Lobito to spend three days meeting with geologists and women and then a weekend at the camp of Novo Redondo. [...] the days we spend flying, Jacques de Villiers cares much of its staff and makes our life as pleasant as possible, not only because he always calls us to go out for dinner, but it is also the absolute freedom he gives to Jan with his work. Which makes for a real friendship with Jan and me. I just hope that things here continue as usual and that we can stay here in Angola for a long period. [Pepa]

12 nov 1974 this Pepa on Novo Redondo (now called Sumbe) in idyllic camp Don Page Green and Jenny, while Jan and Jacques de Villiers in Johannesburg talking with directors of JCI.


Derek Anderson, Jan van Eden, Jenny and Don Page Green - Novo Redondo camp on the beach (nov 1974) [74-Novo Redondo-Jenny-DonPageGreen-01]








From Novo Redondo Pepa writes: We have radio contact with Luanda and other camps at 6 every day and Luanda has told us that there were many problems last weekend, but now it seems more relaxed, except that drivers are on strike, there are no buses and they have barricaded the roads, many things occur but this does not reaslly affect us, and if we hear the news it sounds much worse than what we experience. We, even when we are in Luanda hear nothing of it until the next day. [Pepa] 

 9 Dec 1974 after a week in Xandell, another week in the Lunda province, close to the Congo, visiting diamond mines, and on Thursday we will return to Luanda where we will stay until the first days of January. The visit to the mines was very interesting... We visited a mine, a diamond washing plant and then areas that Jan was interested to see. In Dundo we visited the Museum and it surprised me of the wonders that I saw there, I could tell you many things, but what most impressed me were three sculptures, one of a dancer... if I only could take it with me..., but this, ofcourse, you cannot find or buy. These pieces of art have been in Europe allready and have been purchased by Diamang to bring them back to their site of origin. As a curious thing, in one of the skeletons of a crocodile they foud a small bell and a rare flat stone, for those two things a man recognized the crocodile that had swallowed his wife long before, the poor witch always wore the bell hung on her waist and the flat stone she used to clean or scrape in the kitchen, she kept it in her pocket,The crocodiles have stones and even tin cans which are swallowed into their stomach and they are living with it. [Pepa]

At the start of the civbil unrest the Dundo museum was looted and several ethnographic objects from centuries past, were lost. The museum was closed in 1992 but in January 2002 again a 16th century tribal mask was stolen. Unfortenately the diamond areas were held by the armed gangs of Savimbi UNITA up till his death in 2002. UNITA's ability to mine diamonds and sell them abroad, provided funding for the war.According to the United Nation's Fowler Report, Joe De Deker, a former stockholder in De Beers, worked with the government of Zaire to supply military equipment to UNITA from 1993 to 1997.The UN also estimates that UNITA made at least $3.72 billion of diamond sales, despite international sanctions.

 Life in Angola remains quiet the only problem is that with so many strikes of carriers, and suppliers, food is scarce and prices skyrocketing, you can not imagine how much everything has gone up since we arrived, but finally it is not only here in Europe inflation is also tremendous and if ryou read the plans for the future it will get even worse , and everyone is talking about doing something and nobody does anything, everyone follows the events as if we had reservations for many years... Well, it's best to not become bitter in life
Christmas it will spend calmly in Luanda. Jan has holidays until January 9, he will be painting in the morning, but in the afternoon he goes to the office, because he has to finish a report on the Karoo, for which he has not had time to do it and they are waiting for it in South Africa. [Pepa]

Gathering of collegues, Don Page Green,
Pat Cochran, Pepa, Pam de Villiers, Dorien Cochran,
Jake de Villiers (Director of Cominan) and
Derek Anderson at the terrace of our apartment
in Luanda (20th December 1974?)  [74-Luanda-GatheringCollegues]


 20 Dec 1974 began the day 20 with lunch. At night all the people Cominan, directors, assistants, geologists (40 in total) went to celebrate the feast of Christmas the company Tropico Hotel


23 dic 1974   Curado y Rosa, los asistentes de Jan vinieron a cenar.

I remember that, on the occasion of the christmas dinner, Rosa, who’s father had a farm where he was breeding these animals, brought a life turqey with him. For a start we had it on the balcony and killing the animal without the right tools was not easy. Two men to control his powerfull wings and me hacking away at its neck to cause it to bleed. Only very slowly you felt life drain away. I was amazed at the strenght of such an animal, and although I think I should be enough man to slaughter an animal, at the time I did not enjoy the experience.


24 dic 1974    The good night with Teresa, Eduardo, and three children.


First week of 1975  trip to Novo Redondo y Benguela (2 or 3 weeks)



5 January 1975 The three 'movimientos de liberación' MPLA, FNLA y UNITA meet again in Mombassa, Kenya and agreed to stop fighting each other, further outlining constitutional negotiations with the Portuguese.


Alvor accords: negotiations held for six days, in 10-15 January 1975, between the Government of Portugal, in quality of metropolis, the Popular Movement for the liberation of Angola (MPLA), the only one who truly fought for independence and a better future for the people, and organizations fantoches of the national front of liberation of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Integration of Angola (UNITA), in order to organize the process of decolonization of that African nation.

They established the formation of a transitional Government composed of representatives of the four parties, for the January 31, 1975


4 february 1975 you will see Luanda on TV these days, last week took charge the provisional Government, today arrived the MPLA President Agostinho Neto (one of the three parties). Tension and fear in the streets, people with flags and singing, it is a holiday, shops and offices are closed, so those who do not want hassles can stay at home, Jan has been painting. Africans enjoy a big day, as trucks give free tansport to and from the airport whenever somebody of the politicians arrive, they will get on these trucks, no matter of which party, they sing and make all the noise that is needed, of course there are also people who know what is happening but they will not be more than 25%. [Pepa]

A day off "Pintando" at home in Luanda 4th february 1974   [

The MPLA had an overwhelming majority in Luanda and the arrival of Agostinho Neto must have been quite an event. Nearly everybody we knew was associated or supported the MPLA. I knew only one person (a white) who supported UNITA and the FNLA had no support other than de Angolan refuges in the Congo. I witnessed the entry of the FNLA in Luanda and it was certainly the most remarkable. They had reserved the entire hotel Tropica, which was just a block away from our flat and I have seen them arrive there in luxury Mercedes (?) cars, the women dressed in beautiful colourful robes with spectacular headdresses in true Congolese style. All speaking French and not a word of Portuguese. These were true strangers arriving for a real party. 


Offices of the MPLA in Lobito, 1975  [75-Angola-MPLA-offices-Lobito]


Call for a Constituent Assembly on 30 April and the subsequent celebration of elections to elect the Executive and legislative branches.

22 March 1975
We went for a meeting to Paris with the executive director in charge of exploration of JCI, Bernard Smith and the director of the Angolan operations Jake de Villiers to present our planning for the uranium exploration in Angola. The European partners were the Instituto de Energía Atómica de Lisboa (ENUSA?), British Electricity Board, the german Urangesellshaft and the French Minatom. The presentation went well and the executive director of JCI congratelated me with my convincing arguments and perseverance. The project was accepted and could go ahead, but because of the negative future developments and war in Angola, I am not sure if signatures were ever placed under the agreement. The whole exercise was of course a blatant infraction of the United Nations boycot of the Portugese ‘province’ of Angola (but I did’t know at the time).

On arrival in Paris the airline had lost the suitcases of Jake and myself, and Air France gave us blankets to wear in a wintery Paris. It was cold, I recall the prostitutes posted in front of our luxury hotel wearing furcoats. It took more than a day to recover our belongings.


25 March 1975 regular Zairian troops, well-trained and supplied, had penetrated into Angola from the 25 of  March.  And they had proclaimed a Government in Carmona, presided by Holden Roberto, leader of the FNLA and brother-in-law of Mobutu [president of Zaire, later on Congo], and whose links with the CIA were  public knowledge. [GGB]

7 May 1975 last week when, here in Luanda, there was trouble, we were very quiet on the job in the Novo-Redondo beach camp. We returned to Luanda on Friday and brought lots of food because they said that it was scarce in Luanda. People of the office were happy to see us, because it coincided that Jake was not in Luanda either and they felt somewhat abandoned.  They could not leave their homes because of the trouble and shooting in the streets, but fortunately all were well. There was much hassle and many dead, imagine those mortars launched on the suburbs that have no houses but barracks, where not a single family lives, but three or four in each... As always, the poor are those who pay, the rest of the city, as if nothing had happened, there is a large refugee problem, people without jobs and no one sees the solution, it is very unfortunate. We are thinking of moving the office to Sa da Bandeira in southern Angola 4 hours from the border with South West [Africa] at least until after the elections (November 11) as it is not easy to move the staff it will cost at least a month and a half before we have everything organized. Jan and I want to get things there before leaving for Europe on June 26 and by the end of August when we come back, we will directly go there. 

From our flat you could hear the impacts of mortar shells in the evening hours. During curfew hours in Luanda there was a strange silence over the city and we enjoyed the music we produced on our Transcriptors  turntable. Our director of the company, Jake de Villiers loved the Fotheringays LP, so this was  an obligatory number. [It was an exceptional situation, as women and children had been evacuated to South Africa, but Pepa had refused to leave. So our appartment became a hospitable gathering place.] We had nice evenings with collegues and friends who visited our apartment in the evenings, often ignoring the curfew. One of our friends, Jeff Watkins, on his way from our appartment to the nearby hotel Tropico [which already had been abandoned by the FNLA] nearly got arrested for breaking the curfew! One day Pepa got mixed up in a shooting incident during daytime in the vegetable market but it was not too bad, but she had to hide under a counter. On another occasion, a few days later, my Landrover was returned to me with a neat row of 6 or 7 bullet holes of an automatic weapon in the front door just above the seat. One of my assistants had been on a short trip just outside Luanda. He survived the incident lying in a ditch alongside the road when they were shooting.

The reasons and the course of the fighting were never very clear, but you would guess that the MPLA could use its popular support to maintain its hold on the subburbs militarily as well. The centre of Luanda was quite safe for us as it was controlled by the remaining Portugese forces.

It was known that much of the countryside was controlled by the superior armed FNLA, who had a great number of French Panhard armored cars. There were stories about real public anger of the local village populations, mostly women, because the MPLA men were concentrated in trainingcamps, and how they chased the FNLA congolese men away with kitchenknives. The overwhelming superior arms of the FNLA administered by the CIA never played a role of importance in the battle for Luanda. Probably because of poor motivation of these mercenaries. 

 May 1975 when the Portuguese were preparing to withdraw from their colonies in Africa, the Cuban Commander Flavio Bravo met in Brazzaville with Agostinho Neto, and he asked help to transport a shipment of weapons, and also consulted him about the possibility of a more extensive and specific assistance. As a result, commander Raúl Díaz Argüelles three months later, moved to Luanda at the head of a civilian Cuban delegation and Agostinho Neto was then more to the point although not more ambitious: requested the sending of a group of instructors to found and direct four military training centres. 480 specialists who, within a period of 6 months, had to install four training centres and organize 16 infantry battalions, as well as 25 batteries of mortar and anti-aircraft machine guns. As a complement, they sent a brigade of doctors, 115 vehicles and appropriate communications equipment. The first contingent was transported in three makeshift boats. [source: Marquez]

Three separate political movements jockeyed for power: the leftist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), strong in the centre of the country; the Front for the National Liberation of Angola (FLNA) based in Zaire; and the southern-based Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
Both the FLNA and UNITA were CIA-funded and UNITA degenerated into simply being an SADF (South African Defence Force) puppet.

The MPLA which was in the least advantageous military situation. It had Soviet weapons, but lacked trained staff to handle it. [Marquez]


 Pepa next to a Welwitschia plant in the Cunene (June 1975)


Cominan camp in the Cunene (June 1975)  [75-Angola-Cunene-05]

4 June 1975 Sa de Bandeira is ideally situated, cold compared to the rest of Angola and there are fruit trees, cows and much agriculture. We will be there for the weekend and on Monday will go to Pediva where geologists had a meeting on the 4th, we are going to a camp in Otchifenga and the 5th to the camp of Cunene again in Pediva the 6th and the 7th in Sa de Bandeira , from where Jan will fly to Luanda to collect the chemist that comes from Jo'burg and together will go to Malange on the 17th. We are planning to carry things like our recordplayer, amplifier, sewing machine, etc. to Sa de Bandeira before going to Europe for the congrees and on a  vacation, it seems to be safer there, than here in Luanda. We will be busy until we leave for Europe. We're very busy moving house (again) our personal things will be sent by plane to Johannesburg and our furniture, along with the whole office they will take to  Sa de Bandeira. [Pepa] 




Don Page Green, Jake de Villiers and Pepa Santolaria in a one way lane (?) - Cunene beach (June 1975)   [75-Angola-Cunene-02]









Jan - Cunene coastline (June 1975)   [75-Angola-Cunene-03]









Sanddunes at the Cunene   [75-Angola-Cunene-04]










14 June 1975  We are all very pessimistic about our future in Angola, the situation is very bad and it is almost certain that by 1 or 2 years it will be impossible to work here, it gives us very sad leaving employees out of work and especially our people in Xandel, I will tell you when we are together. [Pepa]



26 June 1975 Leaving for Europe to attend the Sedimentological Congress in Nice and planning to come back to Angola at the end of August to continue working from Sa da Bandeira. It wasn’t easy to get out of Angola on a regular flight. There were masses of people wanting to leave Angola and I remember to line up at the airport for three days and nights, as necessary we were relieved by personnel of Cominan (the company I worked for).


It is quite unreal that we were thinking of the south as being safe to keep our personal belongings. We packed all our things in improvised wooden crates, prepared for transport by road to Lobito. As things turned out, the goods never got any further than Lobito, as the geologist in charge was evacuated at some date in July at very short notice in advance of a South African Defense Force (SADF) incursion. The cargo of goods from Cominan personnel was entirely lost. Early on in the war, Lobito was overrun by troops of UNITA supported by the South African Defence Force (SADF) and in February the next year it must have been retaken by government troops. Never a trace was found of these personal belongings, which taught us to give less importance to material possessions. We did not loose any paintings as we were taking them to the Netherlands at every opportunity. Hpwever a great deal of geological information we collected over the last year was lost.



The following remarks on the development of the independence struggle and the interference of foreign troops from the Zaire, South Africa and Cuba are taken from press reports.


26th July 1975 when Cuba had already received the first call for assistance from the MPLA, Fidel Castro asked the coronel Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho in Havana that he should manage to get the authorization of the Government of Portugal to send resources to Angola, and Saraiva de Carvalho promised to get it, but its response has not yet come. [GGM]


5th August, 1975 regular troops from South Africa, through the occupied territory of Namibia,  had crossed the southern border of Angola.


4th October 1975 the "Heroic Vietnam" came to port Amboim at 6:30 in the morning; "Coral Island" arrived the day 7 and "La Plata" became arrived on the 11th at Punta Negra. They came without permission from anyone, but also without opposition from anyone. These three vessels are responsible for transporting the majority of instructors; others make the journey by plane. There are 480 men, and together there arrive at Angolan soil, 12.000 rifles Czech R-52, pieces of mortar, anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, as well as uniforms and food, to provide units of the FAPLA (Popular Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola).

As planned, Cuban instructors were welcomed by the MPLA, and put to work immediately four schools of instructors. One in Delatando, which the Portuguese called Salazar, 300 kilometers east of Luanda; an other in the Atlantic port of Benguela; an other in Saurino, old Enrique de Carvalho, in the remote and deserted Eastern Lunda province, where the Portuguese had a military base that destroyed before it was abandoned. [GGM]



The 14th of October the Zulu advance of the SADF penetrated Angola, without that the Governor moved a finger. The Portuguese garrison in Moçâmedes (a company of paratroopers and a maritime ship) left the position, coordinated with the South African invaders. Luanda is increasingly threatened to the North and South alike. It is well clear, the collusion of the imperialist powers to prevent independence. In that assault, United States marching forward, flanked by Zaire and South Africa. England and France formed a support in the rearguard. This was the coalition that was created in the summer of 1975 behind UNITA and the FNLA". [GGM]

It was a Sunday stroll. South Africans carried equipments of cassettes installed in tanks with party music. At the end of this week South Africans had penetrated more than 600 km in the territory of Angola, and advancing towards Luanda about 70 kilometers daily. On November 3 they had attacked the scarce personnel of the training for recruits at the CIR Benguela Centre. So Cuban instructors had to leave school to confront the invaders with their apprentices of soldiers, which they gave instructions in the intervals between  the battles. Even doctors revived their practices of militia and went to the trenches. The MPLA leaders, prepared to fight guerrillas, but not to a massive war, understood then, that the conspiracy of their neighbors, composed by the most violent and devastating forces of the imperialists, could not be defeated without the help of the international solidarity.

In the North, the head of a mercenary column ran operations aboard a Honda sportscar, next to a blonde as in the cinema. With an air of holiday, without an advance party of exploration, and did not even have an idea where the rocket came from that blew the car to pieces. Of the woman they only found a dress, a bikini, and invitation card for the festivities of victory that Holden Roberto had already prepared for Luanda. [GGM]


23 October 1975 with the aim of taking Luanda, the attackers from the North had tried twice break the defense of the FAPLA in Quifangondo, located 22 kilometers from the capital.

2 and 3 November at Catengue, Cuban military instructors and their students located in the South of Benguela, tried to halt the advance of the South African armoured column, which progressed from Namibia to the North of Angola from October 14th Angolan in the direction of Luanda. That was the first organized resistance encountered by the invaders, who despite suffering from sensitive loss, can overcome their situation and continue moving northward because of its superiority in men and media. Angolan and Cuban blood was shed together for the first time. [GGM]

In summary, a mechanised column of Zulu elite troops from the SADF entered Angola from South West on its way to Luanda. The column was held up at Benguela by Cuban instructors and MPLA trainies, but they were not prepared and many MPLA youth and dozens of Cubans lost their lives in this first encounter. I got notice that I had lost one of our assistants and a dear friend in those encounters. The MPLA was doing what it could to retard the South African advance, but the column arrived more or less on schedule at the ‘gates’ of Luanda, a few days before the critical date of 11th november on which the Portuguese were scheduled to leave Angola and its capital Luanda. The South Africans were shelling the city with their long range artillery and managed to cut off the water and electricity supply to the town. 

On the 8th of November the Cubans got permission of the Portuguese authorities to land two planes in Luanda without support of the control tower, without lights and during torrential showers. Later on the Cubans, with the overwhelming popular support of the MPLA managed to bring 122 mm mortars and a battery of BM21 through the port of Luanda, which they could use in the decisive battle the 10th of November. They must have made a deal with the Portuguese to get the last remnants of their army out of Luanda safely.

10th November in the third and final assault offenders prepare a powerful and heterogeneous grouping: the  regular hosts of the FNLA and Portuguese mercenaries were reforced by at least two infantry battalions and several armored vehicles of the regular army of Zaire, a general and 25 officers of the apartheid regime well equipped with haevy cannons, brought by plane from South Africa and several paramilitary officers from the CIA. Th racists also had a plane to explore the FAPLA positions.

The defense of Quifangondo was also reinforced. The participants in the defense mentioned above, were joined by 200 infantry Katangese soldiers and two batteries of artillery of Cuba: a 120 mm mortar and a battery of reactive BM21 rockets reached the port of Luanda. [GGM] [ Katanga was  a rebellious province of the Zaire at that time]

Very early on the morning of 10th November starts the fight. The attackers undergo a crushing defeat. The armoured vehicles are inactivated and their infantry, under the fire of the BM21, suffer numerous casualties. This provoked a real panic. [GGM]
A first hand account of the Battle of Quifangodo from a mercenary fighting for the FNLA tells us that the ability of the BM-21 MLRS to deliver multiple projectiles at a fast rate of fire was devastating to  poorly trained, inexperienced or poorly motivated troops and this was undoubtedly decisive for the panic and stampede of the FNLA and Zairian troops in Quifangondo.

11th November 1975 Luanda was saved. Just a minute after 12 o'clock of the evening of the 10th, the President Agostinho Neto proclaimed at a massive rally, the birth of the people's Republic of Angola. Then, that same day 11, under the orders of Diaz Argüelles unit special troops March direction South to establish a line of resistance to the invaders. [GGM]

Crónica: Operación Carlota, por Gabriel García Márquez
revista Tricontinental, edición 53, de 1977


After the departure of the Portuguese a fleet of Cuban supply vessels entered the harbour of Luanda. Agostinho Neto with his characteristical modesty, was embarrassed to see so much Cuban vessels in the port, which had arrived on his request for help to his country.

Luanda was saved. It is important to note that the in the view of some high U.S. officials was, that the sweep up the Angolan coast in November by the South African and mercenary mechanized cavalry columns could not be blocked. They were expecting them to take Luanda and destroy the MPLA forces within a few days. This apparently accounts for the failure of the U.S. government to intervene more forcefully at this time. Later in November, after the formal independence of Angola, the South Africans committed some 4,000 to 6,000 regular ground troops with air support of two wings of fighter-bombers to battle in the Angola campaign. The U.S. President Ford authorized the Central Intelligence to organize "the largest covert operation ever undertaken outside Southeast Asia". The purpose of this operation was to supply FNLA and UNITA with sufficient funds and arms to ensure that they would in the end defeat the MPLA. After 15 November, they also flew tactical missions from a carrier task force of the shore of Angola. However, the government of Angola forces were being supplied with heavy equipment, in particular Soviet 122 mm rocket launchers and the South African advance towards Luanda from the south was halted in early December near Novo Redondo, a number of heavy battles took place in the area, in which the South African and mercenary forces suffered heavy losses in men and equipment. It was not until the 27th of March 1976 that the last regular South African troops retreated to their South West Africa territory. (Based on a press briefing sponsored by the American Committee on Africa, at 305 E. 46th St., New York, N.Y. 10017,  by Sean Gervasi on December 19, 1975)

At this time, we were staying again, much against our liking, in Johannesburg. Pepa went back to her old job at the Pharmaceutical Company and I started a project on uranium in the Karroo. It was curious to live under a regime that was at war with the country and a people that we loved so much – Angola! It also revealed the machinations of a country at war and the inevitable loss of the truth with the propaganda in full swing. Officially, South African troops were not engaged in Angola. The populace including the intellectuals maintained that South African troops had not entered Angola and occasional victims among the white elite troops where ascribed to terrorist actions in South West Africa. Reports to the contrary in the international press were done away as propaganda. Apart from a group of collegues that had been on  the job with us in Angola, you would find nobody in South Africa that would not accept the government version of events.


Extracts from the article by Gabriel García Márquez, taken from the magazine Tricontinental, 53 Edition, 1977, collect only the first stage of "Operation Carlota", because the author concludes with the defeat of the forces that invaded the nation Angolan and the beginning of the gradual withdrawal of Cuban troops in 1976, when it seemed that it was all over.

However, as they had agreed the Presidents Fidel Castro and Agostinho Neto, a minimum number of troops remained in Angola to ensure its sovereignty. The situation was complicated and in 1987, when again South Africa got his hands on Angola, and in this way began a new phase of the "Operation Carlota", [better known as the battle of Cuito Cuanavale] which, 14 years later, finally defeated the South Africans. Only then returned the last Cuban soldier, it was may of 1991. Says Fidel Castro in his biography in two voices [Ignacio Ramonet, 2006] that there in Angola fell 2,077 compatriots.

The Cuban intervention was the decisive factor in garanteeing the sovereignty of Angola, assuring independence for South West Africa (which became Namibia in March 1990, under president Sam Nujoma). It was also a significant contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe and the disappearance of the odious apartheid regime in South Africa (Mandela, 1995).

In summary, the Cubans arrived in Angola as volunteers, motivated to rescue their "comrades" in the final battle against apartheid. The cuban airforce of Migs-23s dominated the South African airspace. The USA government worried about the Cuban presence in Southern Africa. This turn of events is considered to have been the major impetus to the success of the ongoing peace talks leading to the New York Accords, the agreement by which Cuban and South African forces withdrew from Angola while South West Africa (now Namibia) gained its independence from South Africa. Mandela was liberated a few years later and apartheid abolished.


Foregoing part of the story: 1972 South Africa


In August 1975 we were returning to the Republic of South Africa, after our trip to Europe. I started  work on an exploration program for Uranium  in the Karroo. We were waiting for a compensation by JCI for the considerable loss on personal belongings in the war of Angola, and I was starting to look for job opportunities elsewhere in the world.




Recent work of Jan van Eden

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