Portugal and South Africa: Close Allies or Unwilling Partners in Southern Africa during the Cold War?
The popular perception of the existence of a straightforward alliance between Portugal and South Africa as a result of the growing efficacy of African nationalist groups during the 1960s and early 1970s has never been seriously questioned. However, new research into recently declassified documents from the Portuguese military archives and an extensive overview of the Portuguese and South African diplomatic records from that period provide a different perception of what was certainly a complex interaction between the two countries. It should be noted that, although the two countries viewed their close interaction as mutually beneficial, the existing political differences effectively prevented the creation of an open strategic alliance that would have had a greater deterrence value instead of the secretive tactical approach that was used by both sides to resolve immediate security threats. In addition, South African support for Portugal’s long, difficult and costly counterinsurgency effort in three different operational theatres in Africa – Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau – was not really decisive since such support was never provided on a significant scale.