Southern African Liberation Movements and the Global Cold War ‘East’ – Transnational Activism 1960–1990

By Lena Dallywater, Chris Saunders, and Helder Adegar Fonseca

Abstract (in German)

Der Sammelband „Southern African Liberation Movements and the Global Cold War ‘East’“ bettet die südafrikanischen Befreiungsbewegungen des späten 20. Jahrhunderts erstmals akteurszentriert in den Kontext des Kalten Krieges und der dazu gehörenden Frage nach der Rolle des sogenannten „Ostens“ ein. Indem die Autor*innen sich in Fallstudien einzelnen Individuen, deren Mobilitäten sowie transregionalen und -nationalen Netzwerken zuwenden, bringen sie Licht ins Dunkel der so charakteristischen, aber teils widersprüchlichen, ja wechselhaften Geschichten der Akteur*innen und Allianzen dieser Bewegungen. Zugleich beleuchten die Befreiungsbewegungen und ihre weltumspannenden Verbindungen den globalen Kalten Krieg erstmals jenseits traditioneller Forschungsgegenstände wie den Institutionen der Blockstaaten und ihren Beziehungen. „Southern African Liberation Movements and the Global Cold War ‘East’“ schließt damit nicht nur an die neuere Forschung zu Befreiung südafrikanischer Länder von Kolonialismus und Apartheid an, sondern leistet auch einen wichtigen Beitrag zu den Global und Area Studies, insbesondere aber auch zur Frage nach prägenden Globalisierungsprozessen in Osteuropa und darüber hinaus.

As part of the series “Dialectics of the Global” (DeGruyter Oldenbourg), the authors’ concern in “Southern African Liberation movements and the Global Cold War ‘East’” lies with the manifold entanglements and transnationaland often transregionalencounters of liberation movements in Southern Africa with people in the countries that were regarded, during the Cold War, as belonging to the ‘East’. Recent studies have tried to illustrate the complexities involved in Southern Africa’s liberation from colonialism and apartheid in the late twentieth century and to situate liberation movements in global processes. The authors in this volume argue that the links between the liberation movements and the Global East must be understood in their local contexts, including personal agendas and internal conflicts, rather than primarily in the traditional framework of Cold War competition.

The volume aims to trace the entanglements of local contexts and global processes, the multiplicity and multipolarity of connections, the fluidity and re-positioning of actors and ideas, and the languages and lessons learned through encounters of Southern African liberation movements with the ‘East’. To illustrate this history, the authors present case-studies of individual examples and biographies using actor-centred methods ranging from micro-level analysis and biographical studies to prosopographical approaches. These approaches demonstrate the complexity of networks and relationships and the contradictory and changing nature of alliances and individual mobilities.

The seven case-studies draw on archival materials, published interviews, correspondence, interrogations and other types of reports, as well as personal narratives from Angola, Southern Africa, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Tanzania, Portugal, the Soviet Union, and Germany, to name a few. Starting this dialogue across methods, sources, languages, and disciplines is a small, though important contribution to the growing interest in the multiplicity of global processes during the Cold War. The academic field has welcomed this approach as a “breath of fresh air in the institution-centered research concerning southern African liberation struggles”[1]a motivation for other researchers to join the investigation of these blurry micro-level interactions.

Inevitably, the volume has its gaps and shortcomings. Tracing global dialogues through different languages, jargons, and regions comes with certain linguistic pitfalls, as reviewers have pointed out.[2] With regards to authorship, this also requires diversity in perspectives and expertise, and, thus, comes with the idiosyncrasies of international English. Then again, at the level of methodology, case-studies can only illustrate complexity and areby naturefar from comprehensive.

This only proves we need more of these studies if we want a clear picture of the relationship between the liberation movements and the ‘East’. While the reviewers point to the lacunae of short collections like this volume, they also derive pathways for future research.[3] Archives that are fragmented, dispersed, and often not easily accessible may challenge a “comprehensive grasp of the existing literature but also meticulous research of primary sources and access to witness accounts”.[4] Unfortunately, the scarcity of materials often obscures the decisions and motivations of the liberation movements, and political and institutional change complicates the small-scale and actor-based research presented in this volume.

While the concealment or anonymisation of image sources and image content (i.e. place, time, persons) was taken very seriously for good reason, image rights and creators are often no longer comprehensible. For the photo below from the holdings of the IDAFInternational Defence and Aid Fund (London)which in the 1970s–80s built up a large photo archive to supply the international solidarity or anti-apartheid movement, we can only assume, for example, that it was taken in Lubango. Neither a photographer nor any other provenance is given. In the course of democratic change, institutions such as the IDAF were dissolved, archives were handed over, and mismanagement and disorganisation did the rest.

According to IDAF information: “Commanders of SWAPO detachments receiving political and military education at an Angolan base near the Namibian border”. Identification in the National Archives: photo no.13286. Original number in IDAF: LA 195-3-5.

Yet, as more and more material becomes available, research can now focus on, for example, the Zimbabwean liberation movements and their local, regional, and global entanglements.

Conceptually, the edited volume is an invitation to further explore and discuss how to understand the “Global Cold War ‘East’” and its transregional entanglements, and how to frame transnational solidarity beyond the paradigm of “national” liberationas the reviewers said.[5] Not only with the recent developments unfolding around the globe, namely the COVID-19 pandemic with its impact on social, cultural, political, and economic life, as well as the renewed eruption of protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd, uniting under the proclamation that Black lives matter, do patterns of past and present forms of solidarities “deserve special attention”[6].

The crucial role of racism and gender still needs to be explored fully, and indeed, further work needs to be done “on the connections and disconnections in ideas about gender in the ideologies of liberation movements and of state socialism”.[7] The editors hope that further volumes and monographs will sustain their momentum and contribute to a growing field of inquiry that can only increase in importance: the dialectics of the global.


[1] Radoslav Yordanov. Southern African Liberation Movements and the Global Cold War ‘East’: Transnational Activism 1960–1990. Slavic Review, 79 (2) 2020, pp. 432–434.

[2] Cf. Justin Pearce. Southern Africa, the Cold War and Transnational Activism. Journal of Southern African Studies, 46 (4) 2020, pp. 817–819, DOI: 10.1080/03057070.2020.1784632.

[3] Pearce, Southern African Liberation Movements, op cit.

[4] Yordanov, Southern African Liberation Movements, op cit.

[5] Nemanja Radonjic. Southern African Liberation Movements and the Global Cold War East. Transnational Activism 1960–1990. Tokovi istorije, 2 2020, pp. 315–319.

[6] Yordanov, Southern African Liberation Movements, op cit.

[7] Pearce, Southern African Liberation Movements, op cit.

Lena Dallywater is a researcher and coordinator at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography Leipzig, Germany. Her research focuses on transnational intellectual history, (Pan-)African philosophy, aesthetics and literature, and modes of Black solidarity in a global perspective.

Chris Saunders is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town. He is a former head of the Department of Historical Studies at that university.

Helder Adegar Fonseca is Professor of Contemporary History, former head of the Department of History, and coordinating researcher of CICP-Research Center in Political Science at the University of Évora (Portugal).

Citation: Lena Dallywater, Chris Saunders, and Helder Adegar Fonseca, Southern African Liberation Movements and the Global Cold War ‘East’ – Transnational Activism 1960–1990, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 05.11.2020,

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