Day of the Liberation of Southern Africa in Angola Date in the current year: March 23, 2024

Day of the Liberation of Southern Africa in Angola A new public holiday, Day of the Liberation of Southern Africa, was added to Angola’s official calendar in 2018. It is celebrated on March 23 to commemorate the ending of the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, which was one of the most important engagements during the Angolan Civil War and South African Border War.

The South African Border War, also referred to as the Namibian War of Independence, and the Angolan Civil War were closely interconnected. Namibia was occupied by South Africa during World War I. When South Africa refused to grant independence to Namibia in the 1960s, South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) initiated an armed struggle for independence, which grew to become known as the South African Border War.

Angola used to be a Portuguese colony. It was granted independence in 1975, following the collapse of the Portuguese Colonial Empire. Right after Angola became independent, two former liberation movements, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), began to struggle for power. Each of the movements was aided by other states.

The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, also known as the Battle of the Lomba River, was the largest engagement of both wars, as well as the biggest battle on the African continent since the Second World War. It was fought between UNITA, aided by South Africa, and MPLA, aided by Cuba, SWAPO and the African National Congress.

During 1986, MPLA made a number of failed attempts to take the UNITA strongholds of Jamba and Mavinga. In response, UNITA and the South African Defense Force launched Operation Moduler in August 1987. The operation is considered to be the first phase of the Battle of Cuinto Cuanavale.

The battle was fought intermittently for over seven months. It ended on March 23, 1988, with both sides claiming victory. On the one hand, MPLA suffered heavy losses and abandoned its attempt to capture Jamba and Mavinga. On the other hand, most UNITA and South African troops withdrew from Cuito Cuanavale instead of attempting to capture it. But most importantly, the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale is credited by some with opening a path towards the negotiation that would secure the withdrawal of South African and Cuban troops from Namibia and Angola.

In 2016, the then-Minister of National Defense of Angola João Lourenço proposed that March 23 be celebrated as the Day of Liberation of Southern Africa at the SADC summit in Mozambique. SADC (the South African Development Community) is an inter-governmental organization that unites 16 South African states with close historical, political and socio-economic ties. Its member states are Angola, Botswana, Comoros, DR Congo, eSwatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Not all member states supported Lourenço’s choice of the date. For example, Malawi proposed to celebrate on March 3 instead (the country’s Martyrs’ Day) and Tanzania on August 17 (SADC foundation anniversary). So it took two more years for Lourenço’s proposal to be adopted. SADC officially established Southern Africa Liberation Day at its 2018 summit in Namibia, and the government of Angola immediately declared it as a public holiday.

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Day of the Liberation of Southern Africa in Angola, Southern Africa Liberation Day, holidays in Angola, public holidays